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EDITORIAL – Focus on Human Rights

The Korea Herald

A three-day international conference on North Korea ‘s human rights abuses starts today in Seoul , with about 40 organizations and foreign officials and activists participating. The “Seoul Summit” is the first international event held in South Korea to focus on the North’s rights conditions.

The Seoul Summit is the highlight of the Dec. 5-11 ” North Korea Human Rights Week” designated by organizers. The week features a wide variety of programs, including a photo exhibit, forums, concerts and a street march. Organizers expect about 300,000 people will attend a candlelit vigil on Saturday.

Thinking about the plight of North Koreans suffering from persecution and injustice at the hands of the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang and poverty and famine, one can rightly say that events of this scale should have come to Seoul much earlier.

This thought reflects the fact that South Korea , its government in particular, has not been as attentive to rights problems in the North as the international community. Just look at what some others have done: the United States and the United Nations named a special envoy and a rapporteur, respectively, and just last month, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution.

These point to the reality that human rights violations in North Korea have reached a point where the international community can no longer overlook them. The accounts of North Koreans who fled poverty and oppression in their homeland and the increased availability of cell phones, digital cameras and home video cameras help the outside world get a closer look at torture, illegal detention, public execution and other atrocities perpetrated in the isolated country.

Given the situation, we hope the Seoul Summit will serve to put pressure on both the South Korean and North Korean governments. Some say it is a little understandable that the Seoul government does not speak up against the human rights issue in order to not annoy Pyongyang with the nuclear standoff at hand. Nonetheless, it is wrong to look away from the predicament faced by none other than our brethren. Moreover, those undergoing hardships in the North include South Korean abductees and prisoners of the Korean War.

In this regard, it is quite ill-advised for the head of the National Human Rights Commission and other senior government officials to stay away from the conference. It is also wrong for some pro-North groups claim that conservatives are using the human rights issue to their political and ideological advantage.

Above anything else, the Seoul conference should awaken the North Korean leadership to the fact that its human rights problems cannot remain its own domestic problems and that in South Korea, too, it cannot rely on the government to keep the issue in the dark. We also hope the North will not use the growing pressure on its rights issue as another pretext to revert to its brinksmanship in dealing with the South and the six-party nuclear talks.