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S. Korea's top diplomat considers attending U.N. rights council meeting

2018/02/14 11:33

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SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top diplomat may attend a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council this month where she is expected to touch on the issues of the North Korean human rights situation and Japan's wartime sexual slavery, informed sources said Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is considering joining the high-level meeting of the panel scheduled for Feb. 26-28 in Geneva, Switzerland, and making a keynote speech, according to the sources.

She is expected to touch on North Korea's dire human rights situations, an issue that has been drawing renewed attention in recent years.

The U.S., in particular, has been active in shedding light on human rights violations by the North Korean regime. President Donald Trump invited a North Korean defector to his State of Union speech and Vice President Mike Pence met a group of escapees from the North during his visit to South Korea last week.

Kang's trip to Geneva would come at a sensitive time when South Korea is actively engaging with North Korea, deemed to be one of notorious countries in the world for human rights violations.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang for what could be the third inter-Korean summit. Moon has yet to formally accept the invitation but expressed hopes of creating the right conditions for the meeting to take place.

"All things considered, our government would take a cautious tone (on the North)," a government official said on condition of anonymity.

Since the Geneva-based human rights council has adopted a resolution condemning the North's human rights situations every year since its launch in 2006.

Another sensitive topic likely to be raised by South Korea is Japan's sexual slavery of Korean women during World War II.

The previous conservative government did not mention the matter during the previous two years in an apparent bid to respect the 2015 deal with Japan over the so-called comfort women issue. Under that deal, the two agreed to refrain from criticizing the other on the international stage.

In January, Kang said that the comfort women issue has not been resolved by the deal and emphasized that "relevant" countries should help the victims recover their dignity and heal their wounds from the harrowing wartime experience.

This was based on a monthslong review by a government task force of the 2015 agreement that concluded that sufficient efforts had not been made to reflect the opinions of the victims and their families before reaching the much-criticized deal.

Japan has protested against changing the government-to-government deal, saying any attempt to modify or scrap it could negatively affect bilateral relations between the neighbors.

Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese troops during World War II. Korea was under Japan's colonial rule from 1910-45.