April 23, 2009 12:40
Ahead of the UN Human Rights Commission's review of North Korea's human rights record later this year, leftwing groups in South Korea including the Sarangbang Group for Human Rights and PeaceNetwork on Wednesday said they compiled their own report to publicize their views of the situation.
The groups said they submitted their report to the UNHCR on Monday. So far leftwing groups in South Korea have ignored human rights abuses in North Korea and accused people of harboring "impure" political motives whenever they raised the matter.
But in their introduction to the report, the groups say there are "alarming" areas in the activities of South Korean groups seeking to improve human rights in the North as they are using their work to justify or conceal human rights abuses in South Korea. They have got things backwards. Every time the appalling human rights situation in North Korea is highlighted, leftwing groups in South Korea try to stifle the issue by raising human rights problems in the South.
The report says even considering the realities of North Korean society, it is true that there are areas of concern. The groups say they are "deeply concerned" about the North Korean government's view, as stated in the official Rodong Sinmun daily on Jan. 18, 2008, which says human rights are "impossible to even mention."
Freedom of ideology and conscience are "not completely" guaranteed in North Korea, the report says, due to the wide application of criminal laws banning political activity, such as Article 61 on "Anti-State Propaganda" and Article 67 on "Treason." The groups said North Korea was using the death sentence to generate fear and called on the regime to conduct an independent study of its concentration camps and unveil the results. That is certainly a step in the right direction.
But the report is too abstract, making it impossible to recognize the true conditions in North Korea. This is especially clear when comparing it to the U.S. State Department's report on North Korean human rights issued in February. On the first page of its report, the State Department says extra-judicial executions, missing people, arbitrary confinement, torture and political prisoners are constantly brought to the attention of human rights watch groups. The U.S. report cites specific accounts of such abuses based on the testimonies of North Korean defectors, those who have visited the communist country and officials with international organizations.
The reason leftwing South Korean groups have begun to address North Korean human rights abuses is probably because they are in a situation where they can no longer ignore that issue. They should use this opportunity to start looking at human rights abuses in North Korea from a humanitarian perspective rather than an ideological one.
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