UN to open human rights office in Seoul

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UN to open human rights office in Seoul

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will open a field office in Seoul on Tuesday to directly address the dire human rights conditions in North Korea.

The regime is suspected of running political prison camps that subject up to 200,000 prisoners to inhumane conditions.

According to the Voice of America, the office will be located in the Seoul Global Center in Jongno District, central Seoul.

“It will be staffed by one manager and several assistants,” the anonymous source was quoted as saying.

The field office in the capital will directly focus on the numerous reports of dire human rights conditions in the state, which is accused of detaining citizens at political prison camps for showing signs of opposition to the regime or for guilt by association.

The launch of the office comes 16 months after the Commission of Inquiry into human rights in North Korea, led by retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, issued a damning report last year shedding light on human rights abuses perpetrated by the Kim Jong-un regime.

In it, the three-person panel said there was compelling evidence proving the existence of state-orchestrated torture, arbitrary imprisonment and execution in the North. The report likened the atrocities against North Koreans to those perpetrated by Nazi Germany towards Jews.

The strong move by the multinational body, led by South Korea-born UN head Ban Ki-moon, has sparked international condemnation of the alleged brutalities committed by the isolated regime towards its own people.

Kirby, the chair of the special panel, wrote a letter to North Korean leader Kim after a year of collecting evidence and testimonies from former inmates of the prisons in the reclusive state, informing him that he could face trial at the International Criminal Court for his responsibility in the atrocities.

“The commission wishes to draw your attention that it will therefore recommend that the United Nations refer the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [the formal name for North Korea] to the International Criminal Court to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for the crimes against humanity,” Kirby wrote in the letter.

North Korea lashed out at the news about the UN’s new investigative field office in Seoul, warning that it would be its “first target of retribution” for a groundless smear campaign against the regime through its state-run Korean Central News Agency in March. Pyongyang also branded defectors who gave testimonies of suffering inside prison camps as “human scum.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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