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North Korea Must be Held to Account for Abuses


FILE - Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and State Department special envoy Robert King, center, listen as North Korean human rights activist Shin Dong-hyuk delivers remarks.

"The world will not, and cannot, close its eyes"

North Korea, said U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Robert King, is one of the worst human rights violators in the world.

Over the last year, the international community has focused on North Korea’s human rights abuses as never before. The independent Commission of Inquiry created by the UN Human Rights Council presented a report of its comprehensive findings to the United Nations Human Rights Council last March, concluding that many of the abuses reported could rise to the level of crimes against humanity. Both the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly adopted strong resolutions calling for accountability for North Korea's human rights abuses.

North Korea remains an authoritarian state. The government maintains a vast network of political prison camps. North Korean defectors and the international media continue to report public executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, arrests of political prisoners, and torture. Even today entire families, up to three generations, are sent to the prison camps when some official determines, usually without trial.

In light of these ongoing abuses, pressure on North Korea is mounting. The Commission of Inquiry report recommended the establishment of a field office under the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to preserve and document evidence of atrocities in order to enable future accountability.

Critical to bringing change to North Korea is increasing the flow of information into and out of one of the most closed societies in the world. There are reported to be over two million cell phones in North Korea, but these phones connect only domestic users and are closely monitored. Internet access is limited to a tiny circle of elites.

But cracks in the information blockade are forming.The latest study by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors found that 35 percent of North Korean refugees and travelers had listened to foreign radio broadcasts inside North Korea, even though it is still illegal to possess a radio that can be tuned.

"Our deep concern for human rights in North Korea and for the well-being of the North Korean people," said Special Envoy King, "reflects the American commitment to the rule of law and respect for individual rights. . . . The world will not, and cannot, close its eyes to what is happening in North Korea."

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