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U.S. human rights report markedly muted on N. Korea's situation

All Headlines 04:43 April 14, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, April 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea continues to control political activity and ban or limit political opposition, while maintaining a network of political prison camps, the U.S. State Department said in its annual human rights report Wednesday.

But the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 was markedly muted and dry, compared with previous ones, about the North, and did not use expressions like "deplorable," "grim" or "among the worst in the world" to portray the situation.

It was unclear if it reflects a lack of U.S. interest in the issue or it was an intended restraint at a time when a American college student has been held in the communist nation after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda sign.

"Historically authoritarian regimes like the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Cuba, China, Iran, Sudan, and Uzbekistan continued to control political activity and ban or limit political opposition," the report said in the introduction.

"The most recent national elections, held in March 2014, were neither free nor fair," the report said. "The government operated a network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life threatening, and included forced and compulsory labor."

The rest was largely the same as the 2014 report, including an account that the North subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, movement, and worker rights.

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

But the North has bristled at such criticism, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

The North's human rights problem has drawn renewed international attention thanks to the 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry report that concluded that Pyongyang commits "widespread, systematic and gross" violations of human rights, and the International Criminal Court should handle the problem as "crimes against humanity."

The landmark report led to the U.N. General Assembly adopting a historic resolution later that year calling for referring the North to ICC and the U.N. Security Council discussing the issue for the first time. A similar General Assembly resolution was again adopted last year with calls for ICC referral.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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