Thursday, February 12, 2009

UK Lord: More focus needed on North Korean rights abuses

The international community’s exclusive focus on the North Korean nuclear threat is a mistake, a British legislator said Wednesday, charging that the issue has overshadowed the country's human rights violations.

"We have made a mistake in the last 10 years in being so obsessed by the nuclear question that we have forgotten the human rights issues," Lord David Alton -- who has chaired a committee in the House of Lords on North Korea since 2004 -- told a human rights symposium at South Korea's National Assembly.

"We need a Helsinki process, with a Korean face," said Alton, who emphasized that in that accord nuclear issues and human rights abuses were addressed simultaneously. The Helsinki Accord, which was signed in 1975 and aimed to reduce tensions between the West and the Soviet bloc, raised the profile of human rights in world affairs, provided a forum for dissidents in the East and helped reduce abuses.

Shin Dong-hyuk, who also spoke at the symposium, called the human rights situation in the country dire. “There are 200,000 people still imprisoned in gulags in North Korea, constantly tortured and put to forced labor until they die of diseases and hunger,” said Shin, who was born in a North Korean prison camp and later defected.


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