December 8, 2005

S.Korea perpetuates N.Korea rights abuse: experts

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - Inaction by South Korea on human rights
violations in North Korea not only perpetuates suffering there
but also encourages misguided and dangerous beliefs about the
communist state, experts and defectors said on Thursday.

Hundreds of human rights advocates and refugees who fled
the North are meeting in Seoul for two days to urge action by
the South Korean government and the international community to
improve human rights conditions in the North.

South Korea's government argues that it does work to
improve human rights but prefers not to make it a high-profile
topic for fear of aggravating Pyongyang.

"The North Korean dictatorial regime has left no tactic
untried in trying to paralyze human rights in the North," said
Hwang Jang-yop, a former North Korean communist party ideology
chief and the highest-ranking official to defect to the South.

Hwang defected in 1997 and has been a vocal critic of North
Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

He said North Korean propaganda devised to keep Kim in
power has reached the South and stirred up "madness" across the

He criticized South Koreans who blindly commit to engaging
the North. People had misguided beliefs about the North that
would be immediately dashed if they visited the country to see
conditions for themselves, he said.

"We have people who choose to defend the North and oppose
the United States only from hearing what Kim Jong-il and his
group say," he said. "This is a disgrace."

"We need more than talk. It's time to take dramatic actions
to save human rights in the North," he said. Rights activists
say the North has a network of prison camps and executes


The South Korean government has chosen to turn its back on
abuses in the North, and concern in Seoul and Washington of a
possible breakdown in six-party nuclear talks has perpetuated
those abuses, a U.S. human rights advocate said.

"The South Korean government has abandoned the North Korean
people," Suzanne Scholte, head of the Defense Forum Foundation,
told the conference.

The government of President Roh Moo-hyun had also chosen to
let conditions persist because of concern for the collapse of
North Korea and a possible nuclear attack, she said.

Seoul places emphasis on engaging the North and improving
its economy to try to ensure stability on the divided

Scholte said that strategy was bound to fail: "If North
Korea won't even allow the monitoring of humanitarian aid, how
can anyone think they will allow monitoring of their nuclear

North Korea has been averse to opening up to monitoring of
humanitarian aid. Aid workers say that is why the North
recently decided to shift from direct international food aid,
which donors often seek to monitor, to indirect development

North Korea brands any criticism of its human rights record
as part of U.S. conspiracy to topple its government.

On Thursday, it demanded the European Union turn its eyes
away from the North to "the hideous human rights committed by
the U.S.." The EU backed a key United Nations resolution last
month that chastised the North for rights abuses.

South Korea's unification minister told Reuters last month
that Seoul favored the carrot rather than the stick in dealing
with the North. But Scholte said time was not on the North
Korean people's side.

"How many more North Koreans have to die before we stop
this failed strategy?" she said.