Brits put North in hot seat

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Brits put North in hot seat

On Nov. 20, leaders of a North Korean defector group in Great Britain welcomed guests from Seoul in Kingston, a London borough with a large Korean population. The guests were Park Chan-bong of the National Unification Advisory Council and Lee Jung-hoon, Korea’s ambassador for human rights. The two were in London to attend the Korea-U.K. forum on human rights in North Korea.

The defector group representatives, including Kim Ju-il, secretary general of the North Korean Refugees Association in Europe, said that it was the first time that Korean government officials met with them. Kim said there are about 1,200 North Korean refugees settled in Europe. Many of the defectors in the United Kingdom had been in South Korea before moving there.

However, the U.K. government’s position is different. While they had taken unusual paths, the defectors are granted refugee status if they escaped from human rights infringement in North Korea. The defectors receive £3,000 ($4,900) a month for housing and expenses. The government invites them to talk about the human rights situation in the North and think about ways it can be improved.

In late March, a surprising event happened when Choi Tae-bok, the chairman of the Supreme Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, visited. When the North Korean delegates met with the U.K. government officials, the defectors were in attendance. Then North Korean Ambassador Ja Sung-nam left the meeting and Choi protested that they didn’t want to listen to a traitor. However, the U.K. officials didn’t budge. In the end, the North Korean officials had to listen to advice on human rights to receive a few tons of corn.

Later at the forum, David Alton, a member of the Parliament, mentioned human rights infringement cases in North Korea and said that Pyongyang will be indicted for crimes against humanity if it continues to neglect these cases.

Throughout the visit, Ambassador Lee met with international law professionals and discussed the possibility of indicting North Korea’s highest leader through the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea. However, the situation in Seoul is completely different. Last year, an opposition lawmaker said that the defectors are traitors. Recently, a college professor argued that defectors should be punished. Our politicians have yet to pass the North Korean human rights bill.

Britain is preparing for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in 2015. The British government is highlighting the meaning of the Great Charter of the Liberties of England, which advocated the rights of the citizens by limiting the power of the monarch. British officials said that the North Korean human rights issue is on the agenda.

*The author is the deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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