A high profile conference on North Korean human rights begins in Seoul Thurs., focusing attention on human rights abuses in North Korea, and an urgent call for South Korea to take a firmer stand for human rights.
The international three-day "Seoul Summit: Promoting Human Rights in North Korea" will bring together Western and Asian human rights campaigners, Christian human rights organizations, and the U.S. and Japanese special government envoys on North Korean human rights issues.
The conference aims to increase public awareness of the plight of North Koreans and discuss ways on how to improve the situation.
The situation as reported in the seventh annual Religious Freedom Report, released in early November, redesignated North Korea as a "Country of Particular Concern" for severe violations of religious freedom. In another report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, it exposed, particularly among Christians, the ongoing persecution and the execution of North Koreans.
South Korea has come under criticisms for abstaining to address North Korea's human rights record in order to keep from provoking problems between the two regions, by consistently avoiding to vote on an international forum on measures that would be critical to North Korea's human rights record.
The most recent incident occurred last month when Seoul abstained from voting on the first ever U.N. General Assembly resolution, sponsored by the European Union (EU) on human rights in North Korea. The EU submitted the resolution to the U.N which expressed "serious concern" of "systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights," and reports concerning torture, public executions, and the imposition of the death penalty.
The South Korean foreign minister said at the time that it was abstaining despite its concern about human rights conditions because of risks posed on the two Koreas attempts to resolve the nuclear weapons disarmament.
Christians who supported the resolution said that they welcomed the step made by the international community to recognize the seriousness of the human rights concerns in North Korea.
"[North Korea] is one of the most serious violators of human rights in the world and we cannot turn a blind eye to the excessive suffering being inflicted upon the country's population," Elizabeth Batha, CSW's International Advocate said. She will be one of the participants who will speak at the Summit, the Agence France-Presse reported.
The "Seoul Summit" was organized by South Korean human rights groups and the Freedom House, a pro-democracy organization partly funded by the U.S. government. The meeting in Seoul is the second conference of its kind, following the meeting in Washington in July. The next one is scheduled for March in Belgium.
Other organizations involved include, the Defense Forum Foundation, the Hudson Institute, Human Rights Without Frontiers, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, among many others.
The conference will end on the 57th anniversary of the UN General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, whose drafting committee included the United States, Australia, Chile, China, France, Lebanon, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, who all agreed that the idea of universal rights and freedoms must be upheld.