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Activists Say North Korea Talks Need to Include Human Rights

South Korean rights activists shout slogans outside the Chinese embaasy in Seoul on February 21, 2012 during a rally demanding that Beijing scrap plans to repatriate arrested refugees from North Korea.
Activists Call for Need to Address North Korean Human Rights Abuses
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South Korean President Moon Jae-in was able to reach several agreements with North Korea’s leader during a three-day meeting last week.

Moon’s trip also added energy to slowing talks on efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he could hold a second meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, in his words, “quite soon.”

But some observers worry that North Korea’s human rights record has not been a part of the discussions.

In 2014, the United Nations Office of Human Rights' Commission of Inquiry released a report. It accused North Korea of “gross human rights violations.” It said many of the violations may be crimes against humanity.

The report went on to say that the human rights violations in North Korea were unequaled in the world. It said North Korea seeks to control its citizens’ lives and “terrorizes them from within.”

In a statement, South Korea's presidential office said Moon plans to work with the international community to develop a plan for peace between the two Koreas.

The office added that South Korea is ready to work with the international community on issues like peace, development and humanitarian aid. It also said it would discuss human rights and climate change. The office added that South Korea would like to increase its cooperation with the UN.

Human rights not part of current discussions

But human rights supporters told VOA they are concerned. Steps toward peace, reconciliation and even reunification, they say, are good signs. But, human rights has not been part of the talks.

Greg Scarlatoiu is Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. He said agreements have been reached between South and North Korea in declarations from meetings in Panmunjom in April and in September. But, he said, human rights policies have not been involved in the South’s discussions with the North.

None of the discussions dealt with North Korea’s human rights violations, said Scarlatoiu.

Phil Robertson is Deputy Asia director for the group Human Rights Watch. He did point to one point of progress: "the important humanitarian reunification between the separated families." In August, North Korea permitted some families from the South to visit with their relatives who were separated by the Korean War..

South Korea's Ministry of Unification administers the Council on North Korean Human Rights and "works closely together with other agencies."

The ministry said it will put forth a plan for human rights in North Korea and carry out policies that support it.

In an email to VOA, the unification ministry wrote, "The government places emphasis on human rights.” The ministry also said it works to “continuously improve the quality of life for North Koreans."

The message said that the easing of military tensions and additional agreements will lead to the improvement of human rights in North Korea.

Pressure needed

Rights supporters, however, say more needs to be done.

They suggest increased international pressure is needed to ensure that North Korea discusses human rights issues.

Robertson said “human rights can’t be left off” the discussion, although he agreed that peace talks and unification issues are the most important.

Scarlatoiu added that avoiding the issue of human rights during the early talks will make it more difficult to raise them later.

After praising the leader of North Korea, "I don't know how president Moon is going to move to a position where he raises human rights concerns,” he said.

The unification ministry said the government will find “measures to enhance human rights of North Koreans." But the ministry has given no details on how it plans to do that

Robertson says there has been a lack of progress on North Korean human rights issues by the South Korean government.

"The North Korean human rights act was passed by the South Korean Parliament two years ago," Robertson said, "and still two years later, we have no real progress on implementing…that law.”

I’m Susan Shand.

VOA’s Steve Miller reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. The editor was Mario Ritter.

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Words in This Story

grossadj. very obvious or noticeable act

reconciliation n. the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement

emphasis - n. the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement

enhance – v. to increase or improve

implement – v. to begin to do or use something, such as a plan