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Activists Urge Switzerland to Freeze North Korean Assets


A North Korean defector calls for reform in the North during a rally in Seoul, South Korea, seeking for improvements in the human rights situation in North Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

A North Korean defector calls for reform in the North during a rally in Seoul, South Korea, seeking for improvements in the human rights situation in North Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Twenty North Korean defectors urged Switzerland to block all assets of the North Korean leadership immediately. The 20 have fled North Korea. They said the country’s leaders are directly responsible for human rights crimes against their own people.

The group wrote an open letter to Swiss President Didier Burkhalter. In it, they argued that freezing assets could help reduce human rights violations that have been happening in North Korea for many years.

Mr. Burkhalter said he understood why the group was angry at the country’s leaders. But, he said he could not freeze North Korean assets without orders from the U.N. Security Council.

Ahn Myeong Chul is a well-known North Korean defector. Mr. Ahn said he was not happy about President Burkhalter’s response.

Mr. Ahn served as a prison camp guard in North Korea from 1987 to 1994. He says that, as a result, he knows how badly political prisoners are treated in that country.

Mr. Ahn now leads a nonprofit organization called NK Watch. It aims to help end North Korea human rights violations. The organization is based in Seoul, South Korea.

Mr. Ahn said no one knows how much money North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and other top North Korean officials have in Swiss bank accounts. But, he said many people claim that North Korean assets could be as high as $4 billion.

And, Mr. Ahn said the money came from illegal or oppressive activities. He spoke through an interpreter.

North Korea at the International Criminal Court?

Mr. Ahn spoke to the U.N. last year about the human rights situation in North Korea.

He said it was very important to send North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un to the International Criminal Court for trial. Mr. Ahn said putting Mr. Kim on trial would send a strong message to the people in North Korea that their leader is a criminal.

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote Tuesday whether to advise the ICC to consider the case of North Korea.

The U.N. has already warned Mr. Kim to improve oppressive conditions in his country. If he does not, the group said he could face justice for past and present crimes.

Some reports have said the human rights situation has improved since North Korea released some American prisoners. But Mr. Ahn said the country is only using the issue to improve its image.

* Lisa Schlein reported this story. Kelly Jean Kelly wrote it for Learning English. Jeri Watson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

assetsn., something owned by a person, company or country

defectorn., someone who leaves a country goes to a different one that is a competitor or an enemy

interpreter n,. a person who translates words that someone is speaking into a different language

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