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UN official urges Seoul to address NK rights violations

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea. (AFP-Yonhap)
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea. (AFP-Yonhap)
The United Nations investigator of human rights violations in North Korea on Wednesday called on South Korea to address the North’s rights violations in nuclear talks and to seek economic and humanitarian exchanges in a human rights-based framework.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on North Korea human rights, urged the South Korean government to take action in a report to the UN Human Rights Council.

“We are not hesitant to follow up on those recommendations,” a senior Unification Ministry said. The ministry handles inter-Korean affairs.

The UN rights official also asked Seoul to enforce its neglected law on North Korea human rights, which passed in 2016 under the conservative Park Geun-hye government supporting a hard-line agenda on Pyongyang.

The Moon Jae-in government, which came to power in 2017, is seeking to reverse Park’s approach and avoid friction with the North, as it has refused to deal with the issue. Moon’s former foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, said human rights issues are not the priority in the inter-Korean agenda.

The UN investigator advised expanding the freedom of speech as well, so South Koreans could better communicate with North Koreans. Some have speculated he was referring to Seoul’s recent ban on anti-Pyongyang leafleting.

“That recommendation is brought to attention every year. We take the suggestion as meaning we should be ready to back stronger exchanges prompted by the inter-Korean talks from 2018,” the senior Unification Ministry official said.

Seoul is accused of trying to appease Pyongyang with the latest contentious legislation that banned South Koreans from taking part in cross-border launching of propaganda leaflets to deliver anti-North Korea fliers, along with food and medicine, to North Koreans.

Pyongyang has demanded a halt to the campaign, which Seoul said could aggravate the North and endanger South Korean border residents, who have often been the target of the North’s retaliation.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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