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Inter-Korean dialogue crucial for resolving human rights concerns, says UN expert

Inter-Korean dialogue crucial for resolving human rights concerns, says UN expert

Children, pregnant women and nursing mothers are among the DPRK's most vulnerable members of the population
An independent United Nations human rights expert today stressed the need for a quick resumption of dialogue between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to resolve issues such as the reunion of separated families and the situation of asylum-seekers.

Those were just a few of the issues that came up during the 22 to 26 November visit to the ROK by Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The visit, which was to assess the human rights situation in DPRK as it impacts on ROK, included discussions on issues such as abductions, separated families, violations of human rights in the DPRK, trafficking of persons and the abuses that asylum-seekers go through en route to ROK and the situation of refugees.

Mr. Darusman, in a statement issued today, said that he recognized the “gravity of the recent military actions” that have escalated tensions between the two countries.

“While these developments will require careful analysis, I join with others in expressing my sympathy to the victims and calling for restraint,” he stated.

“This underscores the importance and need for resumption of multilateral meetings, involving the DPRK. The DPRK should not find itself in isolation at a juncture when it needs the support and cooperation of the international community the most, both to address the human rights situation and the humanitarian needs.”

Mr. Darusman emphasized, both to ROK and the international community, the importance of continuing to provide humanitarian assistance to DPRK, and to ensure that the aid reaches the neediest population.

“Provisions of humanitarian aid, including food, medical and other urgent humanitarian needs, subject to ‘no access, no aid,’ should not be contingent upon any political conditions,” he added.

While welcoming the resumption of the family reunion of separated families in October 2010, he said it is “regrettable” that the talks between the Red Cross organizations of the two sides for further reunions have been on hold in the wake of the recent artillery firing.

“The number of persons affected by separation of families is so large that there is a need for a more frequent and regular family reunion. I stress this, also keeping in mind that the majority of such separated members are now very old and some are already dead,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur said he also heard the desire on the part of the Government and people of ROK to address the situation of abductees and look at the issue of human rights in the DPRK, and learned of initiatives being undertaken by some parliamentarians to introduce new legislation aimed at enhancing the human rights situation of the people of the DPRK.

“I understand that, among other things, the draft provisions include a proposal for a more systematic recording of the human rights situation in the DPRK.”

On the issue of the DPRK asylum-seekers, Mr. Darusman said there has been a steady increase in the number of persons seeking refuge in ROK. While fewer than 1,000 defectors from the DPRK had made their way to ROK up until the late 1990s, today there are 20,000 of them sheltered in ROK, with a record 2,927 arriving in 2009 alone. Around 77 per cent of these arrivals are women.

“While commending the ROK for integration of asylum-seekers of the DPRK, I call on all other countries where people of the DPRK are seeking refuge or transitioning, to protect, treat such people humanely and respect the principle of non-refoulent, as provided under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.”

Mr. Darusman visited the Hanawon centre, a Government-supported facility housing such asylum-seekers outside Seoul, to interview some of the new arrivals there. He was able to gather first-hand information on the “harrowing” experiences they have gone through, both while in DPRK and en route to ROK, often falling victim to traffickers and sexual abuse.

“While interacting with them, I could see that the scars, such as post-traumatic stress disorders, run deep,” he stated, adding that while they are happy to be in the ROK, they worry for the safety of their loved ones back home. “They fear that the families of those who flee the country are being identified in the DPRK, and face the prospect of harsh prison sentences.”

Mr. Darusman will present his full report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in March 2011. The Special Rapporteur, who works in an independent and unpaid capacity, intends to travel to Japan on a similar assessment mission, the findings of which will also be included in next year’s report.

His request in October to visit DPRK “did not receive a favourable decision from the Government,” he noted.