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(LEAD) Kerry to attend high-level meeting on N. Korean human rights on sidelines of UNGA

All Headlines 08:00 September 13, 2014

(ATTN: CHANGES slug, headline; UPDATES with Kerry's decision to attend; ADDS to byline)
By Roh Hyo-dong and Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has decided to attend a high-level meeting on North Korea's human rights situation slated to take place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later this month, sources said Friday.

The U.S., South Korea and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have been organizing the meeting to bring together foreign ministers of U.N. member nations to discuss the seriousness of the North's human rights situation and rally support for a UNGA resolution on the issue, sources said.

It would be the first time that a ministerial meeting on North Korea's human rights record is held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The event is scheduled to take place in New York during the "leaders' week" of the General Assembly, the sources said.

On Friday, a diplomatic source familiar with the issue told Yonhap News Agency that Kerry has decided to attend the event. The decision, which came despite U.S. efforts to cope with the crisis in the Middle East, reflects Kerry's commitment to speak out about the North's human rights issue.

In his Asia policy speech last month, Kerry called strongly for an immediate shutdown of all North Korean political prison camps, known as "gulags," stressing that such "deprivation of human dignity just has no place in the 21st century."

Kerry's participation is also expected to prod foreign ministers of other countries to follow suit. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is also sure to attend the meeting.

"Any other country in the world that is willing to take part, whether it's other Security Council members like Australia, Chile and Jordan or any other country that's interested in North Korea's human rights record ... are welcome to participate," John Sifton of the Human Rights Watch told Yonhap News Agency.

North Korea's human rights record has drawn greater international attention after the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) issued a report in February after a year-long probe, saying that North Korean leaders are responsible for "widespread, systematic and gross" violations of human rights.

The report also said the International Criminal Court should handle North Korea's "crimes against humanity."

Earlier this week, a group of former American officials, scholars and activists sent a letter to Kerry, urging him to participate in the event, saying his participation would help generate widespread support of a strong U.N. General Assembly resolution on the North's human rights record.

"A side-event in particular ... would provide an excellent opportunity for ministerial-level discussion of the key findings of the Commission of Inquiry's report, and help lay the groundwork for widespread support of a strong UNGA resolution," they said in the letter.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies made the letter public on Friday.

The group of 14 people, who undersigned the letter, included former U.S. Assistant Secretaries of State Morton Abramowitz and Lorne Craner; Victor Cha, chief analyst on Korea at the CSIS; and Roberta Cohen, co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

The group also welcomed the U.S. interest in co-sponsoring a draft resolution on North Korea currently being written by Japan and the European Union, and called on the U.S. to ensure the resolution condemns the North's human rights violations "in the strongest possible terms."

They also urged the text contain language urging the Security Council to consider new targeted sanctions against those who are most responsible for crimes against humanity, prioritize the commission's call for immediate access to North Korea's prison camps for human rights monitors and humanitarian groups, and endorse the creation of a field-based office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

North Korea has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The communist regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps across the nation and keeps tight control over outside information.

But the communist nation has bristled at any talk of its human rights conditions, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.


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