Thursday, April 23, 2009

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 says, 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,” says Lord David Alton, who has chaired a committee in the House of Lords on North Korea since 2004.

“We need a Helsinki process with a Korean face,” says Alton, who emphasizes 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.)

North Korean activist Shin Dong-hyuk calls the human rights situation in North Korea 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.”

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