- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

North Korea’s human rights record is so bad it constitutes a threat to regional peace that demands U.N. Security Council action, according to a detailed report by a leading human rights group.

The report, commissioned by former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel of the United States, warned that the North’s abysmal human rights record could become even worse because Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test has increased the regime’s international isolation.

With new U.N. sanctions in place, “the [North Korean] people may inadvertently suffer more,” said Debra Liang-Fenton, executive director of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, which worked with the law firm DLA Piper to prepare the 140-page report released this week.

The secretive North Korean regime has long had one of the world’s worst human rights records, but the report said international action has focused more on Pyongyang’s nuclear and military threats.

South Korea worries that an overemphasis on North Korean human rights violations could undercut its program of gradual rapprochement, but Mr. Havel, Mr. Bondevik and Mr. Wiesel said the North’s Oct. 9 nuclear test, carried out in defiance of international warnings, showed that softening criticism of the North’s human rights record did not restrain Pyongyang on other fronts.

The report argues that U.N. Security Council action is justified because North Korea’s treatment of its people constitutes “a nontraditional threat to peace,” creating instability that could spill easily into neighboring countries.

Although North Korea receives international food aid, government policies have contributed to multiple famines in recent years that have killed at least 1 million people, the report estimates. Despite hardship and widespread malnutrition, North Korea blocks U.N. food program operatives from traveling to more than 20 percent of its counties.

The North also maintains a vast network of political prisons, where up to 200,000 inmates live in “near-starving conditions,” the report’s authors said.

North Korea’s human rights violations represent a threat to its neighbors, which face a massive refugee problem if the regime weakens or collapses, the report says. With few legitimate means of earning foreign currency, the North has relied on drug trafficking and currency counterfeiting to earn money abroad.

The report calls on the U.N. Security Council to pass a non-punitive human rights resolution demanding that the North open all its territory to U.N. aid agencies, release all political prisoners and allow a U.N. special rapporteur on North Korean human rights to visit the country.

If the nonbinding resolution does not produce results, the authors say, the Security Council should consider a second, binding resolution that could be backed by force.

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