Human rights conditions in North Korea are "abysmal," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill. "Every day, that the people of North Korea continue to suffer," he said, "represents an unacceptable continuation of oppression." Speaking before a congressional committee, Assistant Secretary Hill said, "The North Koreans don't like to hear the term 'human rights,' but that does not mean that we shouldn't raise it."
North Korea continues to operate an extensive prison camp system in which it is reported that inmates suffer torture, forced abortions, and in some cases execution. It is also unacceptable that North Korean refugees, who flee their country in search of a better life, often face suffering or repatriation, said Assistant Secretary Hill.
Improvement in human rights is critical to North Korea's efforts to normalize relations with the United States and the rest of the international community. As Assistant Secretary Hill said, "Human Rights is not only a U.S. priority -- frankly, it's an international priority."
The South Korean National Assembly is considering legislation addressing North Korean human rights. U.S. Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz, plans to travel to Seoul soon. The U.S. is looking for every opportunity to work with its partners in the region on the shared goal of a better future for the people of North Korea.
A case in point is the food assistance the U.S. has provided to North Korea in response to severe shortages. The United States began providing food aid in June after establishing a framework to ensure that the supplies will reach those most in need. The United States also assisted U.S. non-governmental organizations in providing aid to fight the outbreak of infectious diseases, and improve the supply of electricity at provincial hospitals in North Korea.
"The United States’ dedication to improving the lives of the North Korean people will never wane," said Assistant Secretary Hill, "and we continue to seek all available opportunities to improve this heartbreaking situation."