[Newsmaker] FM urges North Korea to improve human rights in UN speech

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Feb 27, 2018 - 17:12
  • Updated : Feb 27, 2018 - 18:02
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Monday called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs and improve human rights of its people in her keynote speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

Kang also raised the issue of Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, saying a controversial 2015 deal between Korea and Japan on “comfort women” lacked a “victim-oriented approach.”

“North Korea must heed the call of the international community and abandon its nuclear and missile programs. It should invest more of its resources in its people and the protection and promotion of their human rights,” Kang said in her speech to the high-level meeting of the 37th UN Human Rights Council session.

“My government will continue to join the international community in urging North Korea to change course, both on the security and human rights fronts,” she said. 


She called the human rights situation in North Korea “dire,” but did not specifically describe cases of human rights violations under the reclusive regime, apparently mindful of the current thaw in inter-Korean relations.

The two Koreas have seen a rare rapprochement with North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang.

Kang’s address came as a high-level North Korean delegation, including senior ruling party official Kim Yong-chol, was in South Korea on a three-day visit for the closing ceremony of the Olympics. Kim met with ranking South Korean officials and discussed ways to improve inter-Korean ties and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula, the Unification Ministry said.

She also urged the North to agree to the resumption of reunions of Korean families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, citing that most members of the separated families have already passed away, and those surviving are now over the age of 80.

Touching on the global #MeToo campaign against sexual violence, Kang referred to the issue of “comfort women,” a euphemism for women forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military from the 1930s to the end of World War II. Kang did not name Japan directly in her speech.

“My government has humbly acknowledged that previous efforts to resolve the issue had clearly lacked a victim-centered approach,” she said. “And thus, honoring the testimonies of the victims and survivors and working with their families and civil society support groups, my government will take steps to help heal their scars and restore their dignity and honor.”

Japan immediately protested her speech.

“Japan is of the view that Minister Kang Kyung-wha’s bringing up the issue in her statement this morning is totally unacceptable and I myself conveyed our position to (South Korea’s) permanent representative here,” Junichi Ihara, Japan’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, was quoted as saying.

The two countries signed the deal on Dec. 28, 2015, to “finally and irreversibly” settle the comfort women issue, which has long been a key source of tension between the two countries. Under the agreement, Japan apologized and paid 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) to a Korea-run foundation to support the victims in return for Seoul’s promise not to raise the issue again in international forums.

Japan maintains the issue was solved under the 2015 agreement, while South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration concluded that the deal, inked under the previous conservative government, was “seriously flawed” and failed to resolve the issue.

Kang met with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto on the sidelines of the UNHRC meeting on Monday, according to the Foreign Ministry. She called for support for South Korea’s diplomatic efforts to open talks with North Korea on denuclearization during the meetings, the ministry said.

Kang was set to attend an arms control conference on Tuesday.

By Ock Hyun-ju (