Allow visits by UN inspectorsHuman rights in North Korea are expected to emerge as a hot issue at the UN General Assembly that starts tomorrow in New York. Separate ministerial-level meetings on the situation will be held on the sidelines of the General Aassembly. Foreign ministers from Korea, the United States, Japan and key European countries will participate in the meetings to review an ealier report issued by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and discuss a beefed-up resolution.
Controversy over the North’s dire human rights record is nothing new. After a compelling resolution was adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights after the COI report, the international community’s concern grows ever deeper. The commission is determined to set up a UN body solely aimed at dealing with North Korea after establishing a mechanism for penalizing human rights violators according to international law. As a result, a UN office devoted to monitoring North Korean human rights will open soon in Seoul.
The U.S. government also is preparing to increase pressure on the North. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last month urged the recalcitrant Pyongyang regime to “immediately shut down labor camps across the country.” Sydney Seiler, a new U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks, hinted at the possibility of taking a “two-track approach” by linking nuclear weapons and human rights as policy goals.
Pyongyang’s remarkable shifts - as seen in the dispatch of its foreign minister to the UN General Assembly for the first time in 15 years; releasing its own voluminous reports on human rights on the Internet; and confronting the global community’s increasing anxiety with a willingness to accept dialogues on human rights with other countries - seem to be a reaction to the hostile atmosphere toward North Korea in Amercia. It’s a noticeable departure from the past, when it showed knee-jerk reactions to outside pressure by branding it as outright “interference with internal affairs and an attempt to subvert the nation.”
But Pyongyang’s makeover is not enough. Instead of brushing aside the COI’s report as a “trash document combining worthless testimonies by North Korean defectors with malicious intentions,” it must allow UN inspectors to visit the secluded country and guarantee them wider access. If Pyongyang really recognizes the severity of its human rights situation, it must come to the table for a face-to-face meeting to find effective ways to ease the international community’s concerns, before it’s too late.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 15, Page 30