Tuesday, April 20, 2010

English Reports on NK Human Rights to Be Issued

By Kang Hyun-kyung
Staff Reporter

The head of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said the organization will keep compiling North Korea's human rights violations by doing extensive interviews with defectors here.

The commission plans to issue English publications based on the interviews to help other countries get a deeper understanding of the issue.

"We will keep the international community posted on the human rights situation in the North," Hyun Byung-chul, chairman of the NHRC, said in an interview with The Korea Times at his office in Seoul last week.

The NHRC has addressed North Korean human rights conditions since 2004 when it created an in-house research team.

Staff, along with experts, took trips to Chinese cities near the border with North Korea, and Laos, Cambodia and Thailand to learn about the routes those escaping from the North follow in their search for freedom.

NHRC staff declined to share information they gathered from the trips, saying disclosure could endanger North Korean defectors.

This year, the commission released the results of two surveys - human rights infringements in North Korean concentration camps, and the trauma that female North Korean defectors suffer from after they settle in South Korea.

The former found that about 200,000 inmates were confined in six gulags in the North. The latter said women defectors are exposed to the sex trade, human trafficking and other types of inhumane treatment during their journey to the free world.

Asked what consequences South Korea would face if reunification comes without thorough preparation for the human rights situation, Hyun said it was hard to predict accurately what the problems would be.

"But one thing for sure is that the South will have to pay a lot for the ill-preparation," he said.

The NHRC is now working on a roadmap for improving North Korean human rights, which will be an action plan for the government to follow.

Hyun said the international community was aware of the inhumane treatment of North Koreans in the reclusive nation.

One North Korean defector, who was born and raised in a political prison near Gaecheon, South Pyeongan Province, witnessed the public execution of his mother and brother when he was 15.

Shin Dong-hyuk said the two were executed after they were caught by security guards, following a failed attempt to escape the concentration camp.

For Shin, beatings, torture and starvation were part of daily life until 2005 when he escaped.

Hyun recalled that there was a tense atmosphere in a U.N. human rights meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, last month.

A North Korean delegate presented the North's position on a set of recommendations on human rights made by the international community during the 13th session of U.N. Human Rights Council.

Hyun said few representatives from other nations were convinced by the North's presentation as they knew how the communist nation treated its people.

North Korea's human rights violations have drawn international condemnation since the mid-1990s after defectors testified how they suffered under the Kim Jong-il regime.

The tricky thing is that being informed of the reality is one thing, making progress is another.

Experts say this is because domestic issues make it difficult for people outside the nation to take appropriate action. It is only North Korea that can improve the condition, they said.

Hyun admitted that his hands are tied, too.

But he is convinced that change will be inevitable when South Korea works closely together with international organizations such as the United Nations to improve human rights in the North.

"North Korea is an isolated nation, but it will find it difficult to survive when pressure for change is mounting," he said.


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