(ATTN: UPDATES with report on S. Korea, details)
By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, May 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's human rights conditions remain "extremely poor," the U.S. State Department said Thursday.
In an annual report on political freedom and civil liberties in 199 nations, the department again grouped North Korea with Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Belarus and China.
"Overall human rights conditions remained extremely poor in many of the countries that we spotlighted in our 2010 country reports," said Michael H. Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.
The report said North Korea is an "authoritarian state led by the Kim family for more than 60 years," referring to a recent leadership change in the communist nation to Kim Jong-un, the third son of late leader Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-un's grandfather, the late founding leader Kim Il-sung, was granted the posthumous title of “eternal president.”
"The most recent national elections, held in March 2009, were neither free nor fair," read the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
"Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement and worker rights," it added. "There continued to be reports of a vast network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh and life threatening."
In the previous report, the department described the North's human rights record "deplorable" and "grim."
Responding to Yonhap News Agency's inquiry over if the change of wording has implications, Posner quipped, "I may be running out of words."
He emphasized that Washington is "deeply concerned that the situation remains poor" and without progress.
He cited a separate report by a U.S. nongovernmental group last month that as many as 200,000 people are held in the secretive nation's political prison camps, where human rights abuses are prevalent.
He said the U.S. will continue to raise the issue and hopes that the burgeoning transition of Myanmar, or Burma, to democracy may "inspire" North Korea and other closed societies, including Iran, Uzbekistan, Eritrea or Sudan.
On South Korea, meanwhile, the department's report again took issue with controversies over the National Security Act, which critics view as aimed at cracking down on dissidents and those who support North Korea, along with other laws designed to keep public order.
"The primary human rights problems reported were the government's interpretation of national security and other laws to limit freedom of expression and restrict access to the Internet as well as incidents of hazing in the military," the report said.
It added other human rights problems included some official corruption; sexual and domestic violence; children engaged in prostitution; human trafficking; societal discrimination against foreigners, North Korean defectors, persons with HIV/AIDS; and limitations on workers' rights.
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