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NK human rights advocacy 'turns corner': activist

All Headlines 01:13 June 02, 2012

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, June 1 (Yonhap) -- The international community needs to maintain momentum in its efforts to address North Korea's human rights violations, a U.S.-based activist said Friday.

"We have turned a corner in North Korea human rights advocacy," Suzanne Scholte, head of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, said in an emailed letter. "We are no longer debating its importance as we have for so many years. It is on the agenda now."

She was describing the results of the annual North Korea Freedom Week event in Seoul to raise public awareness on the urgency of tackling human rights abuses in the communist country.

Scholte is known for more than a decade of work to publicize North Korean human rights issues.

She won the Seoul Peace Prize in 2008.

"We have seen governments finally making human rights as equal a concern as the security issues," she said.

South Korea's conservative government of Lee Myung-bak has openly voiced concerns about the matter, even the fate of North Korean defectors in China, bearing the brunt of subtle diplomatic tension with a key trade partner.

The Barack Obama administration has also constantly talked about its interest in the well-being of North Koreans.

Scholte noted a growing number of North Korean people are fleeing their homeland in pursuit of freedom, not just to escape hunger.

She attributed the trend to access to foreign news and culture through DVDs, mobile phones and other technology.

Citing testimony from North Korean defectors, she said USB flash drives(thumb-size data storage devices) are perhaps the best tool since they are easier to hide and carry.

"The dramatic changes inside North Korea occurring over the past decade, especially the information explosion that has hit there and the market explosion with people no longer dependent on the regime to survive, makes North Korea vastly different today than the last transition in 1994 when Kim Jong-il assumed power," she said.

Kim's son, Jong-un, became North Korea's new leader after his death in December.

There are no specific signs yet of social or political upheaval stemming from the recent leadership change.

lcd@yna.co.kr

leechidong@gmail.com
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