[Analysis] Park first S. Korean president to call out N. Korean human rights at UN

Posted on : 2014-09-25 18:22 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
With N. Korean ambassador in attendance, Park calls for closure of political prison camps and end of repatriation by China
 Sept. 24. (Yonhap News) 
Sept. 24. (Yonhap News) 

By Choi Hyun-june, staff reporter

During President Park Geun-hye’s keynote address before the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, she mentioned a variety of problems related to North Korea, including human rights, nuclear weapons, and unification.

Park asked the international community for its support for peaceful unification, which requires exchange and cooperation. But despite this, Park brought up the human rights and nuclear weapons issues, even though this provokes North Korea.

Park’s reference to North Korean human rights on Wednesday can be seen as representing a fairly aggressive approach to the North. Park was the first South Korean president to bring up the issue of human rights - which Pyongyang is very touchy about - before the UN General Assembly. She even asked neighboring countries to help with the issue of North Korean refugees’ human rights.

As it happened, the North Korean ambassador to the UN was randomly assigned to sit in the very front row, right in front of the podium where Park was delivering her speech to the UN General Assembly. During her discussion of North Korean human rights, Park was effectively speaking right at the North Korean ambassador.

After mentioning that the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry about North Korean human rights in March, she argued that North Korea and the international community should take the measures that are necessary for implementing those recommendations.

But the recommendations offered by the commission were sweeping. In addition to calling for the closure of concentration camps for political prisoners and the prosecution of those responsible for crimes against humanity, the commission also urged China to abide by the ban on forced repatriation and recommended the UN Security Council to refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court. While Park only briefly referred to the Commission’s recommendations, these in reality include a wide variety of issues related with North Korean human rights.

Park also took a sharp tone on the question of human rights for North Korean refugees. “The international community needs to pay more attention to the issue of human rights for North Korean refugees,” Park said, declaring that they must be allowed to choose their destination of their own free will.

In addition, she said that not only related UN agencies but also affected countries should provide the support necessary for them to do so. This is being interpreted as an appeal for China to adopt a more forward-looking attitude in regard to the issue of repatriating refugees to North Korea. However, in the sense that this appeal was made not by the UN but by the president of South Korea, China’s neighbor, China might view this as interference in its domestic affairs.

Park went on to mention North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. “If North Korea makes the bold decision to give up its nuclear weapons, we will actively support North Korea‘s economic development along with the international community,” Park said, reiterating her previous position that North Korea must abandon its nuclear program before it can receive economic aid. This is a repeat of the ultimately unsuccessful “Denuclearization, Liberalization, 3000” policy tried by the administration of former president Lee Myung-bak.

During the address, Park also proposed setting up channels between North and South Korea in the areas of the environment, people’s livelihoods, and culture and asked for the assistance of the international community. But these are ideas that also appeared during Park’s congratulatory address on Liberation Day, Aug. 15. The rigid stance that the Park administration has adopted not only in the speech on Wednesday but also in its recent handling of inter-Korean relations has prompted critics to talk about a gap between words and actions.

“President Park appears to be actively falling in line with the US habit of treating the issue of North Korean human rights as a new source of leverage against the North,” said Kim Chang-soo, head of research for the Korea National Strategy Institute. Kim predicted that inter-Korean relations and other North Korean issues would become even harder to handle in the future.


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