N. Korean Human Rights is an Int'l Issue, Says U.S. Envoy

The lack of basic liberties and human rights in North Korea is an issue the international community - specifically South Korea - must address, the U.S. envoy for human rights in North Korea argued Friday.

Speaking at a U.S.-supported international conference on North Korean Human Rights in Seoul, Jay Lefkowitz pointed out that despite many developments in human rights around the world, the North Korea issue has not been dutifully taken up by the world.

“We believe North Korean Human Rights is not only a North Korean or Asian issue, but it is an important problem for the world,” he said, according to Christian Today Korea.

Pointing to the South Korean government’s reconciliatory approach to the North, Lefkowitz said Seoul must “participate and be a little more vocal.”

"We do not threaten the peace by challenging the status quo," Lefkowitz said, referring to the South’s reluctance to openly criticize the communist regime. "Indeed, failing to follow this path and take steps towards liberalization is a far greater risk to the long-term security and economic prosperity in the region."

Other attendants also criticized the South Korean government for its lenient policy on the North. One speaker, Representative Kang Chul Hwan, said any economic support to the North is like “raising an army that suppresses the people,” since the communist regime systematically uses external funds to maintain its army.

In response to often raised concerns that the North Korean people would starve to death without economic subsidies, Kang said that the bulk of the three million who had received foreign aid through the 90s have already died.

“Most of those remaining survive without financial support so they are unrelated with funding the North,” he stated.

Meanwhile, during a symposium on future strategies to improve the human rights situation in the North, Lefkowitz said his office would try its best to get information inside the north.

"As dark as the situation may seem today, there may be some light beginning to peer through," he said.

The conference was organized by South Korean human rights groups and Freedom House, a pro-democracy organization partly funded by the U.S. government. The three day conference, which began Thursday, ends on Saturday – the U.N. international human rights day.