The recent killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half brother with a toxic nerve agent constitutes a serious human rights violation, South Korea's unification minister said Friday.
"North Korea readily takes human lives in order to maintain power, and that's the reality of North Korea's human rights situation," Hong Yong-pyo told a forum in Seoul on the reclusive country's human rights conditions.
Kim Jong-nam, the first son of late former leader Kim Jong-il, died last month at an airport in Malaysia after two Asian women allegedly smeared VX nerve agent on his face. The agent is a chemical weapon banned around the world.
"North Korea's use of a banned lethal chemical substance to kill Kim shows the seriousness of the inhumane act carried out by the country," Hong said.
The forum was hosted by the Ministry of Unification to mark the first anniversary of the passage of a law aimed at improving Pyongyang's human rights conditions.
The law, which took effect in September last year, calls for documenting and investigating North Korea's human rights violations.
"We need to consider that North Korea's nuclear weapons development poses a threat not only to national security but to human beings' dignity," the minister said.
North Korea has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The North does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.
The ministry said Thursday that it plans to push projects that will help North Koreans gain access to outside information when a state-run foundation on North Korea's human rights is launched.
Due to the main opposition party's delay in filing up candidates for board members, Seoul has yet to launch the body, which will be in charge of research on Pyongyang's rights records and humanitarian assistance and support activities by non-governmental human rights organizations.
The government said it plans to consider ways to make ordinary North Koreans gain access to outside information, but failed to provide details.
Supporting local activists who send anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border will likely be excluded, it said.
"South Korea should craft a strategy to spread outside information among North Koreans in a tailored manner that takes into account various factors such as regions," Kim Soo-am, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said at the forum. (Yonhap)