Friday, November 03, 2006

Turn North Korea Into a Human Rights Issue

Vaclav Havel, Elie Wiesel, and former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik have co-authored a powerful argument for confronting Kim Jong Il’s atrocities against the North Korean people. Excerpts follow:

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the North Korean government is responsible for one of the most egregious human rights and humanitarian disasters in the world today.

North Korea allowed perhaps one million — and possibly many more — of its own citizens to die during the famine in the 1990’s. This was caused in part by the government’s decision to reduce food purchases as international assistance increased so that it could divert resources to its military and nuclear program.

Hunger and starvation remain a persistent problem today, with more than 37 percent of North Korean children chronically malnourished. And yet North Korea has requested less food assistance from the World Food Program and refuses to let the program monitor food distribution in some 42 of 203 counties in the country.

As a result of the cuts in food aid, the program has said that millions of North Koreans will face real hardship this winter and many aid groups have warned of another famine.

For more than a decade, many in the international community have argued that to focus on the suffering of the North Korean people would risk driving the country away from discussions over its nuclear program.

But with his recent actions, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, has shown that this approach neither stopped the development of his nuclear program nor helped North Koreans.

Our report recommends that, as a first step, the Council should adopt a non-punitive resolution urging open access to North Korea for humanitarian relief, the release of political prisoners, access for the special rapporteur and engagement by the United Nations.

We also urge the incoming secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, to make his first official action a briefing of the Security Council on this dire situation.

[Excerpts from New York Times Op-ed]

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