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National Human Rights Commission of Korea Express Its Stance on North Korean Human Rights Issues

     The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Korea, chaired by Mr. Ahn Kyong-Whan, announced "the Stance of the NHRC on North Korean Human Rights Issues" on 11 December 2006, which contains, among others, (i) the background of the announcement, (ii) the basis and scope of the announcement and (iii) recommendations concerning the basic approach and policies towards North Korean human rights issues. The outline of the press release is as follows.

     Since 2003, the NHRC has conducted research and listened to experts' views on the human rights situation in North Korea. In accordance with the resolution of the Plenary Committee in December 2005, it established the Special Committee on North Korean Human Rights Issues, composed of five commissioners and chaired by Ms. Young-Ae Choi (a standing commissioner). The outcome of the examinations by the Special Committee was deliberated upon, adopted and announced by the Plenary Committee this time.
     Within the framework of "North Korean human rights issues", the NHRC addresses not only the human rights of the North Korean population living in the territory of North Korea but also those of the people who have left the territory, including North Korean refugees living in other countries or being settled in South Korea. The concept also includes human rights issues occurring in the context of inter-Korean humanitarian cases, such as separated families, South Koreans abducted by the North and South Korean POWs (prisoners of war) captured by the North.
     The NHRC also confirms that North Korean human rights issues should be addressed in a peaceful and systematic manner, on the basis of correct understanding of North Korean society and human rights as well as sober recognition of the realities in the Korean Peninsula.
     Concerning the jurisdiction of the NHRC, Article 3 of the South Korean Constitution provides that the territory of the Republic of Korea shall consist of the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands. Nevertheless, the NHRC concludes that human rights violations committed in North Korea, where the South Korean government can hardly exercise effective jurisdiction, cannot be included within the scope of its investigative activities in the light of Articles 4 and 30 of the National Human Rights Commission Act. On the other hand, when it comes to individual human rights cases concerning South Korean POWs, South Koreans abducted by the North, separated family members and North Korean refugees living in South Korea, the NHRC finds it possible to deal with them since South Korean citizens are directly affected.
     In order to improve the human rights situation in North Korea, the NHRC recommends an approach based on the following principles:

  1. The universality of human rights, which has been advanced through the diverse efforts of the international community, should be respected in the improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea;
  2. Since peace in the Korean Peninsula is directly connected to the right of the people of South/North Korea to lead a peaceful life, the improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea should be pursued through peaceful means;
  3. Discussions on and approaches to North Korean human rights issues should be directed to the effective improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea; and,
  4. In dealing with North Korean human rights issues, the government and civil society should complement each other's efforts through critical advice and cooperation.

     On the basis of these principles, the NHRC presents the following policy directions.

  1. The government should make efforts to ensure the effective improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea by establishing and activating solidarity and cooperative relationship with the international community. Bearing in mind the principle of the universality of human rights, the reality of the South-North division in the Korean Peninsula and the unique nature of the inter-Korean relations, the government should also make active efforts to alert the international community to the need for wiser responses to North Korean human rights issues.
  2. The government should separate humanitarian support projects for the North Korean population from political issues and promote them in a continuous manner with a view to ensuring their right to survival. To that end, the government should take appropriate measures to ensure transparency of the process of distributing humanitarian aid. At the same time, the government should strive to develop more fundamental solutions to the chronic food shortage in North Korea.
  3. Along with active diplomatic efforts to deal with serious violations of the human rights of North Korean refugees outside the territory of North Korea, the government should develop institutional mechanisms to ensure the protection of their human rights, including through the placement of more officials in charge of these issues. The government should, in turn, develop systematic and positive measures to protect the human rights of North Korean refugees being settled in South Korea.
  4. The government should take more positive and concrete measures to resolve humanitarian issues, such as separated family members, South Korean POWs and South Koreans abducted by the North. The government should be involved in the negotiations concerning these issues with the North Korean authorities without any conditions, while seeking to heal the wounds and pain of the victims. Effective measures should be taken to compensate the victims for their physical and emotional damage and to rehabilitate their compromised reputation, including by assigning more officers to the relevant departments.
  5. The effective improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea can be ensured only on the basis of correct facts. Since North Korean human rights issues can be distorted by unconfirmed information, the government should have correct understanding of these issues through objective and thorough information gathering, surveys and evaluation.

     The NHRC also expresses its commitment to continue to be involved in a broad range of activities to improve the human rights situation in North Korea, such as making recommendations and expressing its views concerning government policies, strengthening cooperation with international human rights organizations as well as NGOs in and outside the country and actively conducting fact-finding surveys and policy research on humanitarian cases.

Source: The website of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea [Korean]


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