*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)
U.N. Appoints New Human Rights Envoy for North Korea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva appointed on June 18 Indonesia's Marzuki Darusman as its special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, it said in a statement.
Darusman, 65, will succeed the outgoing Vitit Muntarbhorn who has served in the job since its creation in 2004.
The new envoy, a former attorney-general who also served as chairman of Indonesia's national human rights commission and a legislator, has been a co-chairman of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. ASEAN refers to the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
"Darusman is widely recognized by the U.N. human rights council for his wealth of experience in human rights activism," one diplomatic source in Seoul said.
The term of the rapporteur is one year, but Muntarbhorn served consecutive extended terms since he was first named to the position in 2004.
North Korea refuses to recognize the position, calling it an American scheme designed to undermine Pyongyang's sovereignty.
During his six years on the job, Muntarbhorn was never granted a visit to North Korea as Pyongyang refused to receive him.
In his latest report in March, Muntarbhorn accused the North Korean regime of turning the country "into one big prison."
Pyongyang denies any violation of human rights in the country, refuting reports by the outside world and its defectors accusing the iron-fisted regime of prevalent torture, public executions and other human rights abuses.
North Korea has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world.
The socialist regime of leader Kim Jong-il does not tolerate dissent and holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps across the nation, according to media reports and various sources.
South Korea welcomed the appointment of the U.N.'s new envoy on North Korean human rights, saying on June 19 it will work closely with him to help improve the rights situations in the communist nation.
"Rapporteur Darusman is expected to perform his duties excellently in light of various activities he has engaged in to promote human rights not only in Indonesia, but also in Asia," Seoul's foreign ministry said.
"Our government welcomes his appointment and plans to cooperate actively for his activities," it said. "We also hope that he will talk smoothly and cooperate closely with North Korea to contribute to substantially promoting human rights situations in North Korea."
The United States also welcomed the appointment of Darusman as the U.N. rapporteur.
In Washington on June 21, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said, "The United States hopes the North Korean government will grant Mr. Darusman access to North Korea to observe conditions inside the country and hold direct discussions on human rights issues."
"The United States recognizes and thanks Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn for his six years of outstanding service as the first special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK," he said. DPRK stands for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Crowley praised the work of Darusman's predecessor Vitit Muntarbhorn, who never set foot in North Korea in the six years he served as the first official to occupy the U.N. post.
"Professor Muntarbhorn eloquently gave voice to the North Korean people, strongly advocating for the North Korean government to improve its human rights record," he said.
North Korea never allowed entry to Muntarbhorn. Likewise, neither Ambassador Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, nor his predecessor, Jay Lefkowitz, have been allowed entry into North Korea, although they frequently visited South Korea, China, Japan and other countries to collect information on the North.
"The United States remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in North Korea and the plight of North Korean refugees," Crowley said. "Human rights are a top U.S. priority, and addressing human rights issues will have a significant impact on the prospect for closer U.S.-North Koreans ties."
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