Sunday, June 05, 2011

Time for Implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act

Excerpts of a testimony by Robert King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues: 

My position exists because North Korea remains one of the worst human rights violators in the world. State security forces reportedly commit severe human rights abuses and subject political prisoners to brutality and torture. Elections are not free or fair; the judiciary is not independent; and citizens are denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. In addition, the DPRK imposes severe restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of movement. Finally, we hear continuing and widespread reports of severe punishment of repatriated asylum seekers and of trafficking of women and girls across the border into China.

In my recent trip to Pyongyang, I engaged directly on human rights issues with Kim Kye-gwan, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and other high-level officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was the first time the United States’ Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues was granted entry to the DPRK and the first time we were able to engage in a direct dialogue about ways in which North Korea can improve its human rights record. This is a significant first step.

We have made no decision on whether we will provide food aid to North Korea. … The DPRK must first address our serious concerns about monitoring and outstanding issues related to our previous food aid program, which North Korea abruptly suspended in March 2009 and our humanitarian personnel were ordered to leave the country and forced to leave behind approximately 20,000 metric tons of U.S. food items.

In visits to North Korean resettlement and assistance centers in the ROK, including Hanawon, I have seen the extent to which the ROK has invested in providing opportunities to the 21,000 North Koreans they have resettled. I have learned from North Korean refugees themselves, about the grim conditions inside the DPRK and their often perilous journey in seeking a better life in the ROK.

Editor's Note: In more than 6 years since the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, the United States has resettled only 120 North Korean refugees and their families.

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