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HRNK report sheds light on human rights abuse of N. Korean nuclear scientists

By Yonhap

Published : May 18, 2024 - 10:17

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In this file photo, US Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues Julie Turner speaks to media at the US embassy in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 14. (Reuters) In this file photo, US Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues Julie Turner speaks to media at the US embassy in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 14. (Reuters)

WASHINGTON -- South Korean and US officials have stressed the need to address an "inextricable" link between North Korea's human rights and security issues, claiming Pyongyang's repressive political climate has led it to divert its scarce resources to its weapons programs without public pushback.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a US-based nongovernmental institute, issued a report Friday to further substantiate the claim as it sheds light on how the reclusive regime has utilized its nuclear scientists and engineers to maintain and advance its sprawling nuclear program.

Casting the North's nuclear science personnel as "slaves to the bomb," the report delves into the human rights context of the North's nuclear program -- an aspect eclipsed in part by North Korean media highlighting the ostensible loyalty and devotions of the regime's scientists and related workers. Robert Collins, a senior HRNK advisor, authored it.

"Along with our South Korean counterparts, we've been very outspoken over the past few years in our belief that the DPRK human rights issues and the DPRK security issues are inextricably linked," US Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Julie Turner said at a HRNK event on the report's publication.

DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"It's the DPRK's repressive political climate that allows the government to divert such a large share of its budget and resources to weapons without comment from the population, which continues to suffer from severe economic hardships and malnutrition," she added.

The report focuses on the predicament of the North's nuclear scientists, engineers and workers who work at nuclear laboratories, uranium mines, nuclear testing sites and other related installations. Citing a 2010 estimate, it put the total number of the North's nuclear-related personnel at 6,000.

It underscores that the nuclear workers are compelled "from grade school until the end of their lives" to serve the regime's nuclear program "in any way they are directed."

"This includes studying nuclear program-related subjects, living where they are told, marrying who they are told, eating what they are provided, confessing weekly to their shortcomings relative to regime ideology and workplace performance, working in unsafe conditions," it said.

It also debunks the speculation that nuclear scientists and engineers hold a prestigious place in North Korean society due to their skills and contributions.

"That is not the case," it said. "As such, the treatment of Kim's 'slaves to the bomb' reflects the rigid structure of the North Korean regime and constitutes violations of international human rights law."

Meanwhile, Turner underscored the United States' commitment to addressing human rights concerns, including about the North's labor practices involving workers at home and abroad, through sanctions, import restrictions, business advisories and other tools.

"We will shine a light on the DPRK source of labor practices both within its borders and among the workers it sends abroad to labor in mining, logging, seafood processing, information technology and other industries," she said. (Yonhap)