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Human rights can’t be ignored, says UN envoy

Oct 25,2018
A UN investigator raised concerns Tuesday in Washington that North Korea’s human rights situation was being ignored in U.S. and South Korean talks with the regime, stressing that nothing has improved in North Korea.

The remarks, relayed by Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s special rapporteur on North Korean human rights issues, came amid reports that Japan and the European Union were drafting a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the North for human rights abuses. The Assembly has adopted similar resolutions every year since 2005, which the Pyongyang regime has adamantly rejected.

Quintana, an Argentinian lawyer in the field of human rights, said he endorsed the peace negotiations and summits by the leaders in Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang, but wasn’t sure if human rights in the North were ever discussed.

“The human rights situation at the moment has not changed on the ground in North Korea despite this important progress on security, peace and prosperity,” Quintana told reporters in a press conference, according to Reuters. What’s needed now, he continued, is “a signal from North Korea that they will discuss human rights at some point.”

North Korea called the planned UN resolution an “intolerable mockery and insult to justice and human rights” on Tuesday in an editorial by its state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.

“This is a product of the criminal plot to tarnish the image of the dignified DPRK and stifle its inviolable socialist system and a revelation of the deep-rooted evil practice of confrontation,” an English version of the article read.

DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The newspaper accused Japan and the EU of leading an “anti-DPRK smear campaign” in order to intensify sanctions and pressure on the regime while disrupting the “trend of dialogue and peace” on the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul was specifically warned not to play along.

“If south Korea values the north-south relations and the climate for dialogue and peace prevailing in the Korean peninsula,” read the report, “it should stop playing to the tune of foreign forces but behave itself with its own views in conformity with the desire of the fellow countrymen for national reconciliation and unity, peace and reunification.”

Both the Panmunjom Declaration and Pyongyang Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on April 27 and Sept. 19, respectively, made no mention of Pyongyang’s dismal human rights situation. Neither did the Sentosa agreement signed by Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12 in their first summit.

Moon implied in an interview with BBC earlier this month that the issue was nowhere at the top of his agenda with the North.

He said the human rights issue is “very crucial” and that he believed North Korea needed to “walk the path of universal human rights.” However, he quickly noted, international pressure on the country wouldn’t lead to immediate improvement.

“The most effective way is to engage in South-North cooperation,” he said, “and for the North to cooperate with the international society.” To that end, Moon said the country’s human rights situation will improve when it opens up to the outer world and becomes a more normal state.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]