Sunday, December 07, 2008

Human rights only a secondary concern in North Korean talks

As six-nation nuclear negotiations resume, let us reflect on an independent report underlining the fact that the discussion of human rights is largely an "issue of secondary concern."

So stated an independent report released last September which urged the United Nations and international nuclear negotiators to more strongly confront what was described as North Korea's dismal treatment of its citizens. The report, commissioned by the former leaders of the Czech Republic and Norway and a Nobel peace laureate, said the world has shied away from criticizing the North's human rights because of fear of its nuclear weapons.

"The international community has far too long neglected the human rights situation in North Korea because of the nuclear threat," former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel said in the report.

The report also urged the world to insist on "immediate, safe and unhindered access to all of North Korea for purposes of ensuring food distribution to the most vulnerable groups of the population."

Harsh criticism of the North's human rights by U.S. lawmakers has often stood in stark contrast with the careful language favored by U.S. diplomats working to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. Although U.S. President George W. Bush once lumped North Korea into an "axis of evil," he and other top officials in recent years have worked to temper language the North finds insulting and that it previously used as a pretext for delaying nuclear negotiations.

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