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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 274 (August 8, 2013)

2013/08/08 10:42

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

U.N. Commission Begins Investigation into N. Korean Rights Abuses

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A United Nations commission on human rights abuses in North Korea began its official investigation by interviewing North Korean defectors in South Korea for the first time since its launch earlier this year, sources said on July 31.

The sources at Free the NK Gulag, a defectors group in Seoul, said two working-level officials from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry for North Korea (COI) arrived here on July 29 and carried out interviews with people who escaped from the communist country.

It said the officials met eight people from July 30 onwards and heard testimonies that they had been personally subjected to human rights abuses or witnessed such acts being performed on others. The COI investigators from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plan to meet with more defectors until Aug. 7 and continue their work with other North Korean human rights bodies in South Korea.

There are some 25,000 North Korean escapees living in the South, who can provide firsthand accounts of living conditions in the country.

An official at the defectors group said three other investigators from the UN commission, including Commissioner Michael Donald Kirby, a former Australian Supreme Court justice, will arrive in Seoul later in August to hold a five-day hearing on human rights conditions in the North. A total of 35 defectors will be invited to the public hearing to be held in Seoul from Aug. 20, the official said.

They will examine claims of abuses carried out in political prison camps and other abuses of North Koreans by the state. They will also determine discrimination between genders, suppression of freedom of speech and movement restrictions, as well as other basic human rights violations.

The commission is to conduct their inquiry mainly in South Korea as the commissioners were not given access to the communist country. It also plans to visit Japan later this month to carry out similar activities.

Commissioner Kirby said in an interview with Yonhap in Geneva that he has sent a letter to North Korean authorities to allow COI officials to visit the country from Aug. 11-17.

Kirby said investigation in North Korea is essential for COI's task of investigation and that the COI will carry out investigation in every possible way.

The independent U.N. body is scheduled to submit its final report, containing findings and recommendations concerning imprisonment, torture and kidnapping by the North, to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March next year after submitting an interim report to UNHRC in September and to the U.N. General Assembly in October.

South Korea plans to actively support the COI's activities here. The National Human Rights Commission plans to offer translation services for local human rights bodies and individuals who want to submit documents and information about North Korea's human rights abuses to the COI.

The Korean national human rights commission got a request from the COI to hand out materials about the North Korean human rights conditions on July 22 and delivered the request the next day to South Korean organizations related to North Korean human rights issues.

Meanwhile, a Japanese government source in Tokyo said COI officials will visit Japan in late August to collect information about Japanese citizens who were abducted to North Korea. The three COI commissioners will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other Japanese government officials and family members of the Japanese abductees.

North Korea has been accused of grave human rights abuses ranging from holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in concentration camps to committing torture and carrying out public executions. The country, however, has denied the accusations, calling them U.S.-led propaganda to topple its regime.

The U.N. established the COI under the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, the first-ever U.N.-approved body to investigate human rights conditions in the reclusive country, amid increasing international concerns about the dire human rights environment in the communist North.

The UNHRC passed the resolution for the establishment of an independent investigation commission on March 21 during the 22nd session to approve the establishment of the COI.

The resolution called for the COI to be launched to conduct in-depth investigations into human rights abuses in North Korea and report its findings at the next sessions of the U.N. General Assembly and the UNHRC.

Human rights advocacy groups have long called for international efforts to stop genocide and crimes against humanity which they claim are being systematically carried out by North Korean authorities.

International demand for the United Nations to establish a commission to investigate human rights crimes in North Korea has been rising, and the voices calling for the organization of the U.N. commission have grown after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12. The test is viewed as the country sacrificing the needs of its people for its so-called military-first politics.

(END)