Tuesday, August 16, 2005

North Korea Human Rights

Regarding my plans to take some personal steps against the situation in North Korea, I wrote a letter and sent it out to all Queensland members from the House of Representatives and to the Senate. The contents of the letter are below and anyone and everyone is, of course, welcome to use any/all information to write their own letter, especially if it is to Australia's members of parliament:

I am writing to express my concern over the issue of North Korea’s human rights record. The situation in North Korea is desperate and Australia needs to be doing much more than it has done so far to alleviate the suffering that is going on.

The deplorable human rights situation in North Korea has several dimensions. In North Korea, many people do not have the right to food, a basic tenet of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which both Australia and North Korea are signatories. Up to 2 million lives have been lost since the country sank into famine in the mid 1990s. Even after recognising the extent of food shortages, the North Korean regime has persistently refused to allow organisations such as the UN World Food Program and others adequate access to ensure distribution of aid. Without proper monitoring of distribution there is no way to guarantee that food is going to people in need. Meanwhile, the people of North Korea are still dying en mass from starvation some ten years on.

The North Korean regime, under Kim Jong Il, has established an extensive and deadly efficient network of prison labour camps. Prisoners are sent to these camps without trial and without formal charge. Worse yet, it is not just the suspected criminal who is incarcerated but three generations of the family. The crimes can include things such as not properly cleaning a picture of Kim Jong Il, or his father, Kim Il Sung, watching banned TV channels or listening to banned radio stations. In such camps, it is well known that there are executions, forced abortions, and slave labour conditions. Food is scarce forcing prisoners to eat rats, snakes and any scrapes of food that can prolong their life.

Survivors of these camps are now actively involved in encouraging the world to take action against the regime. I would like to alert your attention at this time to the Kang Chol Hwan’s book, “Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in a North Korean Gulag”, and the publication by David Hawk for the US Committee on Human Rights in North Korea, “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps” for more detailed information on the horrors occurring in these places.

Given the inhumane and desperate conditions in North Korea, it is not surprising that many North Koreans have fled into China. However, rather than finding refuge across the border, new dangers await them. Foremost among these is the threat of repatriation. China, despite being obligated under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, refuses to recognise fleeing North Koreans as refugees or to allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access in blatant violation of their commitment under UN Convention. The penalty in North Korea for defection is death and most of those sent back are summarily executed. A further, no less harrowing danger is the high rate of human trafficking that is going on at the North Korea-China border. The victims of trafficking are mostly women and children and they are often abducted and sold either to men as wives or concubines or to clubs for prostitution. Rape is common in this business by the sellers and buyers.

In this letter I have only mentioned very briefly some of the horrors occurring in North Korea. There is abundant and undeniable evidence of the tragic conditions in North Korea and this is not an issue that Australia can afford to ignore. And it is an urgent issue. With this in mind, Australia’s response must consider all facets of human rights violations occurring in both North Korea and China. It is clearly not sufficient for Australia to advocate human rights issues by signing treaties if we are not prepared to speak up and enforce the spirit and principles of those treaties. This is not just a matter of our legal and international obligation; it is also matter of conscience and what we stand for as a nation.

In 2004 the US passed The North Korea Freedom Act. I am enclosing a copy for you and you may access it via the web at: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=108_cong_bills&docid=f:h4011enr.txt.pdf. This important piece of legislation aims to:
1. to promote respect for and protection of fundamental human rights in North Korea

2. to promote a more durable humanitarian solution to the plight of North Korean refugees

3. to promote increased monitoring, access, and transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance inside North Korea

4. to promote the free flow of information in to and out of North Korea

5. to promote progress toward the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic system of government

Australia needs to adopt similar legislation to promote human rights in North Korea. In addition to the legal and moral reasons cited above, Australia, as one of the few countries that maintains formal ties with North Korea is in a unique position to promote improvements in human rights in North Korea.

It has been a trend to push the issue of human rights aside while the world focuses on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. However, this is a disingenuous approach that neglects the destruction and death the North Korean regime is already committing against its own people. While nuclear weapons on the peninsula is a critical issue that requires our attention, it is not the only important issue that we need to be addressing with regard to North Korea.

I strongly urge you to take up this issue in Parliament. Australia needs to be more vocal in appropriate settings such as the UN to make our stance more clear and to take a lead role in forming coalitions within the UN to speak out against North Korea’s human rights record. At the same time, I urge you to initiate procedures that will allow Australia to promptly introduce and pass a Bill for human rights in North Korea. I am sending this letter to all Federal Parliamentarians from Queensland (both chambers) and am posting the contents of this letter on my blog (www.kathreb.blogspot.com) where I will be informing and encouraging others to take action and noting our progress.

I look forward to hearing your views on the human rights situation in North Korea and your plans for ways in which the Australian government could be doing more.

I will be updating any progress from the letters I will post and update future letters, steps taken to address the human rights situation in North Korea.

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"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui