North Korean Rights Record 'No Less Alarming' Than Nuclear Threat

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - North Korea's "crimes against humanity" -- including starvation of its people and an abysmal human rights record -- are "no less alarming" than the regime's efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to a report released in Washington, D.C. Monday.

"The nuclear threat posed by the North Korean government has raised concerns all over the world," said Debra Liang-Fenton, executive director of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). "But no less alarming is the active involvement of the North Korean government in committing crimes against humanity."

Entitled "Failure to Protect: A Call for the U.N. Security Council to Act in North Korea," the report calls the situation in that country "one of the most egregious human rights and humanitarian disasters in the world today."

"Yet, sadly, because North Korea is also one of the most closed societies on Earth, information about the situation there has only trickled out over time," it adds.

The report was commissioned by V?clav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic; Kjell Magne Bondevik, former prime minister of Norway; and Professor Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate. It was prepared by the law firm DLA Piper US LLP in cooperation with the HRNK.

"For more than a decade, human rights concerns have been relegated to a second-class status for fear of driving North Korea from the nuclear talks," said Jared Genser, a Washington-based attorney with DLA Piper.

"Now that its government has gone ahead with a nuclear test anyway, it is time to have a parallel-track strategy for alleviating the suffering of the North Korea people through Security Council action," Genser said in a statement.

"The evidence and analysis contained in this report is deeply disturbing," the document notes. "Indeed, it is clear that Kim Jong Il and the North Korean government are actively committing crimes against humanity."

According to the report, the first of those "crimes" deals with food policy and famine. "North Korea allowed as many as one million, and possibly many more, of its own people to die during the famine in the 1990s.

"Hunger and starvation remain a persistent problem, with over 37 percent of children chronically malnourished," the document adds. Also, North Korea still denies the World Food Program access to 42 of 203 counties in the country.

Treatment of political prisoners is the second area explored in the report. "North Korea imprisons upwards of 200,000 people in its modern-day gulag, and it is estimated more than 400,000 have died in that system over 30 years."

The document also describes North Korea's involvement in the production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, presenting this information as a context for the way North Korea misallocates its resources.

"Now, with sanctions [imposed earlier this month in response to North Korea's nuclear weapons test on Monday, Oct. 9] the people may inadvertently suffer more," Liang-Fenton added.

The groups involved in producing the report said immediate action from the United Nations "is a necessary international and multilateral vehicle to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people."

Citing the new U.N. policy that each state has "a responsibility to protect" its own citizens from the most severe human rights abuses, the document notes that "the Security Council has independent justification for intervening in North Korea either because of the government's failure in its responsibility to protect or because North Korea is a nontraditional threat to the peace."

The U.N. defines "nontraditional threats to peace" as non-military threats with serious cross-border ramifications.

North Korea's widespread violations of human rights have created a number of nontraditional threats, the report states, among them a vast outflow of refugees - as many as 400,000 North Koreans have fled the country in recent years - and active participation by Pyongyang in criminal enterprises, such as drug production and trafficking and money counterfeiting and laundering.

One of the specific recommendations outlined in "Failure to Protect" is a call for the Security Council to adopt a non-punitive resolution urging the North Korean government to allow open access for international humanitarian organizations to feed its people.

The resolution should also demand the release of political prisoners, as well as insist that the government allow the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea to visit the country.

"We strongly urge the U.N. Security Council to take up the situation of North Korea," the report concludes. "Protecting the people of North Korea requires nothing less."

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