N. Korea rights abuses under U.N. scrutiny

By JOHN ZAROCOSTAS   |   April 2, 2003 at 2:25 PM
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GENEVA, Switzerland, April 2 (UPI) -- The European Union has sponsored the first draft resolution calling on the U.N.'s top human rights body to censure North Korea for torture, public executions and kidnapping of foreigners, senior diplomats said Wednesday.

"Its really about time the commission looks at one of the worst situations of human rights in the world," Reed Brody, special counsel at New York-based Human Rights Watch told United Press International. For years, North Korea's violations "had been on nobody's agenda," he said.

But now with Pyongyang's nuclear blackmail a serious threat to global security, "it's simply impossible not to take up the rights problems of North Korea," another human rights diplomat declared.

The EU confidential draft circulated this week to interested parties of the 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission singles out North Korea for a long list of abuses. They include capital punishment for political motives, the existence vast detention camps where the rights of prisoners are not respected and widespread child malnutrition.

Mike Smith, Australia's ambassador to the commission, said Pyongyang's human rights situation "gives cause for serious concern." South Korea and Japan are also expected to support the EU initiative.

It appears likely the United States will sign on as well. The State Department published a report Monday that concluded North Korea's government has "continued to commit numerous serious abuses." Even more telling were pointed remarks late Tuesday by the head of the U.S. delegation to the human rights body, former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.

"The commission must confront North Korea on its abominable humans rights record and demand accountability by its leaders," Kirkpatrick said. "It's hard to imagine the possibility of a country whose citizens endure a worse or more pervasive abuse of every human right."

That situation combined with its famine conditions "makes (North Korea) truly a hell on Earth," she added.

A North Korean diplomat declined to comment how his country will respond. Earlier, in response to a damning U.S. statement submitted to the forum on North Korean rights abuses, the Pyongyang delegation countered the United States should wash its hands of its own violations.

According to diplomatic sources, North Korea may get a country friendly to Pyongyang to call for a no-action motion in a bid to try prevent the draft resolution going to the floor for a vote. China has used this tactic to derail similar censure motions sponsored by the United States.

A final EU draft will be submitted for a vote in the second half of April and is expected to be supported by South Korea, Japan and the United States. Some human rights experts and Asian diplomats are apprehensive, however, saying a resolution could backfire in Pyongyang and cause further abuses.

The resolution also calls for North Korea to cooperate "without restrictions" with the commission's mechanisms. It specifically points to the U.N.'s special experts on torture and on the right to food -- which normally implies an expected invitation to visit the country. Other expert groups include those on arbitrary detention and forced and involuntary disappearances.

It also urged Pyongyang not to punish returning citizens who have been to neighboring countries for humanitarian motives, charging them with treason and subjecting them to prison terms, degrading treatment or the death penalty. The wording is a diplomatic reference to refugees forcibly returned from the countries to which they fled, mainly China.

Alluding to the refugees, South Korea Ambassador Chung Eui-yong told delegates, "A growing number of desperate people from failed states flee from their economic plight and political oppression to neighboring countries in search of food an freedom, often risking their lives in the process."

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