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U.S. Intensifies Efforts To Promote Human Rights in North Korea

05 April 2006

Search continues for "durable solutions" for North Korean refugees

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States has been intensifying its efforts to promote human rights in North Korea since the 2004 passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act.

In its annual report documenting U.S. efforts to promote human rights around the world, the State Department said the law was enacted "to raise awareness of the serious human rights situation in the country [North Korea], and to find durable solutions for North Korean refugees."

The report, Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005-2006, was released by the Department of State April 5. (See related article.)

It is a follow-up to the U.S. Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released March 8. (See related article.)

In August 2005, President Bush appointed a special envoy for human rights in North Korea. That envoy has urged other countries, including the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan, to join the growing international campaign urging the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to address and improve human rights.

In 2005, the United States also funded a series of three conferences to raise awareness of the crucial need to press for human rights in North Korea.  Freedom House, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), hosted the first conference on the issue in Washington; the second conference was held in Seoul, South Korea; and a third will be in Europe in the spring of 2006. (See related article.)

In addition, the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor continued to support the National Endowment for Democracy to support ROK-based NGOs in their efforts to improve and expand monitoring of and reporting on the human rights situation in the country.

UNITED STATES WORKING WITH OTHER CONCERNED GOVERNMENTS

Bush administration officials regularly raise concerns about North Korea's human-rights abuses with other governments and urge other countries to call for "concrete, verifiable, and sustained improvements" in North Korean human rights as an important component of their bilateral relations with that country, according to the State Department report.

For the third consecutive year, the United States also worked with other concerned governments to win passage of a resolution condemning North Korea's human-rights record at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. The resolution called on North Korea to fulfill its obligations under human-rights accords to which it is a party. The resolution further urged the North Korean government to invite U.N. special representatives to visit the DPRK, and to ensure that humanitarian organizations have free access to the country.

In November 2005, the United States co-sponsored a similar resolution before the U.N. General Assembly that condemned the country's poor human rights record, marking the first time the General Assembly passed such a resolution on North Korea. (See related article.)

The report also said the United States is continuing to work to find durable solutions for North Korean refugees by urging governments in the region to protect, assist and help permanently resettle North Korean refugees.

Most especially, the United States "consistently urged China to fulfill its international obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and as a signatory to its 1967 Protocol," the report says.  China has deported North Koreans to the DPRK, where many faced severe punishment, including execution in some cases.

The United States continues to call upon China to allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to this vulnerable population to assess needs and determine its status.

North Korea remains "one of the most repressive countries in the world," according to the State Department report.  An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons -- many of whom are tortured and starved -- are believed to be held in detention camps in remote areas.

The regime, under the absolute power of Kim Jong Il, controls many aspects of citizens' lives, denying freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly and association, the report says.

In 2005, the secretary of state again designated the DPRK a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for severe violations of religious freedom. The DPRK was designated as a Tier 3 country in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report and is subject to U.S. sanctions for its failure to address trafficking in women and girls. (See related article.)

The full text of the report is available on the State Department’s Web site, as are East Asia and the Pacific excerpts.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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