Int'l North Korea Human Rights Summit Opens in Seoul

Nearly 1,000 human rights and Christian activists, politicians, and North Korean defectors gathered in Seoul on Thursday to highlight the ongoing human rights abuses in North Korea and to shed light on South Korea’s reluctance to take a firm stance in addressing the issue.

The three-day “Seoul Summit: promoting human rights in North Korea” is the first of its kind in the South Korean capital, and is backed by over 40 national and international human rights organizations.

On the first day, attendees criticized the South Korean government for failing to respond firmly to the human rights violations in the North and called for an international response to ease the suffering of the 23 million North Koreans living under Kim Jung Il’s dictatorship.

“The human rights issue should be on all mankind’s conscience; it is the dividing line between democracy and anti-democracy, patriotism and treason, progress and retrogression,” said Hwang Jang Yop, a former secretary for the North Korean Workers’ Party and highest-ranking official to defect to the South. “The North Korean dictatorial regime has left no tactic untried in trying to paralyze human rights in the North.”

Hwang criticized South Koreans who blindly commit to defending the North and oppose the United States by hearing what Kim Jong-Il says.

"This is a disgrace,” he said. "We need more than talk. It's time to take dramatic actions to save human rights in the North.”

Meanwhile, Suzanne Scholte, president of the Washington-based Defense Forum Foundation, criticized both South Korea and the United States for failing to amend the situation in the North.

“The current government of South Korea has turned its back on the North Korean people," Scholte said. “Being silent on human rights while negotiating on the nuclear issue means more death for the North Korean people."

South Korea has not yet sent official representation to the international conference.

The Seoul Summit is sponsored by Freedom House – a U.S.-based group for human rights – in conjunction with other international organizations.

The second day of the Summit will feature a public conference on North Korean human rights improvement, speeches from North Korean defectors and international and domestic experts on North Korean human rights. International leaders and NGOs will hold separate private meetings to discuss future actions on the issue.

The summit culminates on Saturday, the International 2005 Human Rights Day, with the release of a joint-statement on North Korean human rights and a march and rally organized by university students.