Diplomats spar over North’s rights

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Diplomats spar over North’s rights

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul on Tuesday denounced North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong’s attempt to defend his country’s human rights situation at a United Nations meeting in Geneva.

In his first address to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Ri decried a 2014 report based on a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) investigation of the human rights situation in Pyongyang, saying it was based on false defector testimony and demanding that a UN resolution based on the findings be revoked.

Cho labeled Ri’s reasoning as “a pitiful effort born out of desperation.”

In his keynote address, Ri criticized “hostile forces” such as the United States for only listening to the “scum of mankind, as these so-called defectors from the North fled, abandoning their parents, wives and children after committing crimes at home.”

“The act of cooking up a report on the Commission of Inquiry based on the lies of a few criminals is itself a misdeed,” the veteran North Korean diplomat continued at the council’s four-day high-level meeting.

Ri also referred to controversy over the fabrication of parts of the best-selling memoir by high-profile North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk.

“As a fellow diplomat and descendent of the same blood, I couldn’t contain an overwhelming sense of sorrowful pity,” Cho said, responding to Ri’s speech.

“The minister knows better than anyone else about the horrific human rights situation in the DPRK. ... Yet, he exploited a refugee’s confession about changes in his account in an attempt to conceal the truth,” he continued, referring to Shin.

Cho lauded the adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution based on the findings of the COI report, which recommended referring North Korea’s leaders responsible for human rights atrocities to the International Criminal Court. The UN Security Council also included the issue on its official agenda last December.

The South Korean diplomat also spoke of his concern for North Korean asylum-seekers who risk repatriation and urged regular family reunions for those separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

In his keynote address to the council, Cho called on Japan to “urgently address” its wartime transgressions and urged Tokyo to show accountability for its sexual enslavement of thousands of young Korean women and girls during World War II.

“Genuine efforts by the Japanese government to resolve this thorny issue will pave the way for Korea and Japan to build a new future of co-prosperity,” he said.

He added that the “comfort women” issue was a serious human rights concern but that “this is a historical issue as well.”

“The scars of the Second World War are gradually healing with the passage of 70 years, but the sexual violence perpetrated during the war still remains as a deep trauma for the victims,” Cho said.

Cho praised German leaders’ efforts to heal the wounds of the war and quoted German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent speech commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. “Crimes against humanity are not time-limited,” he said.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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