Kang calls on Pyongyang to abandon its nukesSouth Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha called on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and missile programs and invest more of its resources in its people to protect and promote their rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday.
“North Korea must heed the call of the international community and abandon its nuclear and missile programs,” said Kang in her keynote address at a high-level meeting during the 37th session of council. “My government will continue to join the international community in urging North Korea to change course, both on the security and human rights fronts.”
Kang’s remarks come at a sensitive time, with a detente on the Korean Peninsula amid the Olympics, which could set conditions for further dialogue.
But Washington has been emphasizing North Korea’s human rights atrocities in recent weeks, with U.S. President Donald Trump having met with North Korean defectors at the White House at the beginning of the month and Vice President Mike Pence, during his trip to Japan and South Korea to attend the PyeongChang Olympic Games in Gangwon, highlighting North Korea’s human rights abuses.
Kang went on to emphasize that the Winter Olympics, which wrapped up Sunday, “sent a message of peace and prosperity across the Korean Peninsula and beyond.”
Kang added, “It is imperative to ensure that the spirit of PyeongChang lives long after the Games so that peace can take firm root on the Korean Peninsula and the dire human rights situation in the North can be improved.”
The PyeongChang Winter Paralympics, set to kick off on March 9, “will demonstrate the greatness of the human spirit, irrespective of disabilities and indeed the heartfelt aspiration for peace,” Kang added.
She also urged the resumption of inter-Korean family reunions torn apart during the 1950-53 Korean War. She called the matter urgent, as many separated family members have died and the survivors are now over the age of 80.
“My government continues to call upon the North to resume talks for the reunions,” said Kang.
She added that the “immediate release of the South Korean nationals as well as other citizens detained in the North is also pressing.”
The 47-member Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution condemning the North’s human rights situation each year since its launch in 2006.
Kang also emphasized the empowerment of women and Korea’s focus on eradicating violence against them. She continued, “The Me Too movement, which is spreading in many countries, including in my own, demonstrates how much more needs to be done in this regard.”
The minister went on to address the issue of sexual violence committed during war times, adding, “We must remember and learn from the past, including the ‘comfort women’ issue.”
Kang pointed out that victims of the Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery during World War II, euphemistically referred to as comfort women, are now in their 80s and 90s, and stressed the importance of restoring their “dignity and honor” by embracing “the principles of truth and justice and a victim-centered approach.”
“My government has humbly acknowledged that previous efforts to resolve the issue had clearly lacked a victim-centered approach,” said Kang, adding that the Moon Jae-in government “will take steps to help heal their scars” by honoring the testimonies of the victims and survivors and working with their families and civil society support groups.
She went on to emphasize that “it is crucial to ensure that current and future generations learn from their painful history so that the mistakes of the past are never repeated.”
Kang did not specifically refer to the Dec. 28, 2015 bilateral deal with Japan under the Park Geun-hye administration, aimed at resolving the issue of wartime sexual slavery, which included an apology by the Japanese government and a 1 billion yen fund ($9.35 million) for the victims.
Neither did Kang directly name Japan during this address.
In January, Kang announced that Seoul will not scrap or renegotiate the 2015 bilateral deal, following a month-long review of it, but also underscored that the agreement is not a true resolution of the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery. President Moon Jae-in has called the deal “flawed” and insufficient.
The comfort women issue was not raised by Korea at the council sessions in 2016 and 2017, following the 2015 agreement.
Junichi Ihara, Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, in turn lodged a complaint to Korea over Kang’s remarks on the comfort women issue at the Human Rights Council.
He told reporters afterward that Kang’s remarks were “totally unacceptable,” stressing that the 2015 agreement was “final and irreversible.”
“It is not appropriate to link Minister Kang’s remarks to the agreement,” Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters in Seoul Tuesday. “The minister’s remarks expressed our government’s principle that we will work toward efforts to restore the honor and dignity of the comfort women victims and to leave it as a lesson in history.”
Kang on Monday also signed an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to formally establish an office in Korea.
President of the ICRC Peter Maurer said in a meeting with Kang that the Red Cross will continue efforts to facilitate the reunion of families separated by the Korean War and expressed appreciation to the Korean government for expanding humanitarian contributions, according to the Foreign Ministry.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]