North addresses its human rights

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North addresses its human rights

After a barrage of criticism over its dismal human rights record, Pyongyang has taken an unexpected diplomatic step by tackling the situation itself, an issue that is expected to be discussed during the upcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly.

On Saturday, Pyongyang released its own human rights report, which appeared on its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), to serve as a rebuttal to a United Nations assessment of North Korea’s human rights violations and abuses.

The release of such a document was a rare move by the Communist state.

The report prepared by its Association for Human Rights Studies glossed over the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) in February that detailed a wide array of systematic crimes against humanity, including those related to the regime’s labor camps and the torture carried out on its own citizens.

The KCNA said the report, which asserted that Pyongyang enjoyed basic rights such as freedom of speech and religion, was to show “efforts exerted by the country to protect and promote human rights.”

This comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to attend a high-level meeting on North Korea’s human rights situation, according to a Washington source on Saturday, which would take place along the sidelines of the 69th session UN General Assembly that kicks off this week in New York.

“This would be the first time a separate ministerial meeting on North Korean human rights will be held along the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session,” the source added.

Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida are also scheduled to attend the UN General Assembly session, as is North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong.

This marks the first visit by a North Korean foreign minister to New York in 15 years, and appears to be indicative of Pyongyang’s intention to come out of isolation.

The United States is working toward passing a UN resolution on North Korea’s human rights situation, which is likely to be supported by Japan and the European Union, according to diplomatic sources.

However, North Korea may be looking to combat such a move.

North Korean Kang Sok-ju, a veteran diplomat and a secretary of the central committee of the Workers’ Party, is currently in the middle of a rare visit to Europe, during which he is scheduled to stop by Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.

Human rights was a key issue in discussions in Brussels with Elmar Brok, the chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.

On Feb. 17, the UN Commission of Inquiry released a report after a yearlong investigation in which it concluded that senior members of North Korea’s military regime, including leader Kim Jong-un, had committed or overseen a broad range of crimes against humanity and advised the UN Security Council to bring the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

It described reports of victims being summarily executed, subject to rape, forced into abortions and persecuted for reasons including political or religious beliefs.

The report by North Korea came ahead of the trial yesterday for detained American Matthew Miller, according to media reports.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced the 24-year-old to six years of hard labor on charges that he illegally entered the country and then attempted to commit espionage.

In April, Miller arrived in Pyongyang and tore up his visa, demanding asylum in North Korea.

He is one of three U.S. citizens currently detained there.

Jeffrey Fowle, a 56-year-old American tourist from Ohio is also awaiting trial for allegedly leaving a Bible in a club in May.

And Korean-American tour operator Kenneth Bae is currently serving a 15-year sentence in Pyongyang.

He has been held in North Korea since 2012.

“It seems that slight progress has been made following continuous efforts by South Korea and the international community in engaging with North Korea, [both] in it making a strategic decision and in it officially engaging in diplomacy to improve its image as a normal state and escape isolation,” said Park In-hui, a professor in the Graduate School for International Studies at Ewha Womans University. “Our government’s task is to come up with an elaborate diplomatic strategy to transition these short-term changes into our ultimate goal of change in North Korea, which will enable peace and unification.”

BY YOO JEE-HYE, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]















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