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Rights advocates call for renewed focus on North Korea 10 years after UN report

By Jung Min-ho

February 20, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

US envoy urges world to ‘reinstall sense of urgency’ to act to accelerate progress

Human rights advocates called for renewed efforts to bring international attention to North Korea on Monday, as this month marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of a landmark U.N. report that sheds light on “unspeakable atrocities” committed by the regime.

At the inaugural Seoul Freedom Forum held in Seoul, North Korean defectors-turned-activists shared their messages of hope, saying international efforts to spread the truth about North Korea and the outside world helped make some progress there, albeit slowly.

“Some argue that there has been little substantive improvement in North Korean human rights activism … (Yet) changes are being brought about in North Korea and its people,” Kim Il-hyeok, one of the speakers, said. “North Korean residents, who were previously unaware of the concept of ‘human rights,’ are now using the term ‘human rights violations.’”

Citing testimonies from those who escaped North Korea in recent years, the activist said the term had been used by some residents there, in a hopeful sign of outside information flowing into the country — and affecting their perceptions.

“These testimonies demonstrate that when the international community continues to pressure the North Korean regime’s human rights abuses based on detailed and verified information, it can lead to better outcomes,” Kim said, adding that such international efforts also provide “a glimmer of hope” for ordinary North Koreans.

In 2014, a U.N.-commissioned report on human rights violations in North Korea shocked the world with its “unspeakable atrocities” committed under Kim Jong-un and his predecessors. It noted that the regime in Pyongyang “has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity," which it said "raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community.”

That message continues to ring true today, said Julie Turner, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights.

“While we have some successes, including establishing the OHCHR office based in Seoul, many of the report’s concrete and powerful recommendations remain unimplemented,” she said in a video message. “I hope during this 10th year anniversary there will be a renewed focus on the COI’s (U.N. Commission of Inquiry) recommendations and our shock and horror are renewed to reinstall a sense of urgency to act.”

Speakers there said that the most effective way of making progress is to provide ordinary North Koreans with accurate information about the regime. Park Jung-oh, an activist who has sent bottles containing rice, medicine, money as well as outside information into the North by ocean currents, said that facts are the most feared force for the regime, which is founded upon lies and propaganda.

The previous day, South Korea, the United States and Japan released a joint statement urging North Korea to take “immediate” steps to end all human rights violations.

“We call for a reinvigorated effort to bring justice to victims of human rights violations and abuses in the DPRK,” the statement says, referring to North Korea by an abbreviation of its official name. "And we urge the DPRK to abide by its obligations under international law, take immediate steps to end all human rights violations and abuses — including the immediate resolution of issues involving abductees, detainees, and unrepatriated prisoners of war — and engage with the U.N.’s human rights experts for that purpose.”


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