Seoul Summit Concludes with Declaration on North Korean Human Rights

The landmark three-day Seoul Summit concluded on Saturday with a declaration agreed by the hundreds of international participants to bring a stop to the human rights abuses in North Korea.

Christian activists, politicians and human rights groups from around the world affirmed in unanimity a common interest and concern for North Korean human rights.

Heated discussions over the past few days focused on the severe human rights abuses and the passive path that the South Korean government had decided to take against their neighboring country's continual violation of its people's rights and freedoms. South Korea had abstained from a vote that passed during the United Nations General Assembly in November expressing serious concern on the human rights situation in North Korea.

"Many summit participants are saddened by the South Korean government's silence and passiveness towards the summit and the refusal to participate in the summit by some civic organizations that claim to promote democracy and human rights," said a statement in the Seoul Summit Declaration on North Korea's Human Rights.

While the South Korean government says that it is being cautious not to hinder their relations with the North in pursuit of six party talks, many prioritize human rights at the top of the agenda to improve South-North relations.

"Since the improvement of human rights is a necessary step for North Korea to gain the trust of the international society, we are certain that an active discussion on North Korea’s human rights will contribute to the real improvement of South-North relations and the establishment of lasting peace in Northeast Asia," said the statement.

Jay Lefkowitz, who was appointed U.S. envoy for North Korean Human Rights in August, stated the responsibility of the United States and the international community at large to improve the situation of the millions suffering in North Korea.

"The United States feels very strongly that it is our duty and, indeed, the international community's duty to try to improve the lives of North Koreans," he said at an earlier news conference during the summit.

Japan appointed on Tuesday a special envoy on human rights, Fumiko Saiga, who intends to pursue stronger cooperation with the United States and other countries to handle the cases of Japanese abducted by North Korea.

North Korea has remained on the U.S. Department of State's list of "Countries of Particular Concern" in its annual International Religious Freedom Report for years. Reports have noted no sign of improvement in religious freedom in the North and only a growing number of accounts on its human rights abuses.

Seoul Summit's participants, numbering nearly 1,000, committed themselves to an eight-point declaration.

The following is part of the text of the declaration made on Dec. 9, 2005:

Through the Seoul Summit, we plan to pressure the North Korean regime by establishing an international coalition to stop the abhorrent human rights abuses in North Korea and will cooperate based on the agreed framework below:

1. The North Korean government must stop retaliating against the escapees. The North Korean regime punishes the escapees using torture, coerced abortion, and imprisonment in political labor camps. It is unacceptable that a state that cannot meet the minimal needs of its own citizens should punish those who flee to find means to survive.

2. North Korea must dismantle the concentration camps where approximately two hundred thousand people are imprisoned. Prisoners are forced to work and are treated like animals; they are starved and beaten. The tragedy of Auschwitz must not be repeated in the twenty first century.

3. During the Korean War, over eighty thousand South Korean citizens and captured soldiers have been either abducted by North Korea or prevented from returning to the South. Since the Korean War, 480 South Koreans and an unknown number of Japanese have been abducted by North Korea. These people must be accounted for, and those who are living must be repatriated. The unspeakable pain inflicted on the abductees and their families must end immediately.

4. North Korea must end the human rights abuses that include the absolute obedience to the great leader, imprisonment without trials, guilt by association and the punishment of up to three generations, use of food as a political weapon, and public executions. Only when North Korea ends these horrifying practices will it take the first step towards guaranteeing basic human rights.

5. North Korean children are suffering from malnutrition. The right to health care and education is seriously breached by the North Korean government. The future of North Korean society is dimmer by the day. International food aid and medicine must be quickly and efficiently distributed to the children so their conditions will not further deteriorate.

6. We ask the South Korean government to have a genuine interest in the human rights condition of North Korea. It should be the South Korean government which must show the most sincerity for the human rights condition of the Northern brethren. Instead, the South Korean government continues to abstain on resolutions calling for the improvement of North Korean human rights at the UN. We hope that the South Korean government’s attitude towards the North Korean human rights issue will earnestly reflect the domestic and international trends. To those who struggled for the democratization of South Korea, we ask for a change in your silence towards the North Korean human rights issue.

7. The passing of the resolution on North Korean human rights at this year’s UN General Assembly has raised more interest in North Korean human rights. Let us remember that 20 million North Koreans are caught up in a tragic existence totally different from our existence.

8. In order to promote human rights in North Korea, we the concerned citizens will meet around December 10, International Human Rights Day, every year to sustain an international campaign calling for the improvement of human rights in North Korea. To accomplish this objective, we the participants at the Seoul Summit will create and launch an international network to promote North Korean human rights.