SEOUL—Activists at a conference here lashed out at South Korea for failing to press Pyonyang on its dismal human rights record and announced plans to meet every year in a bid to keep a spotlight on North Korean abuses.
In a declaration at the end of the conference on Saturday, participants called for more engagement from Seoul on the human rights issue, an end to Pyonyang's concentration camps and executions, and the return of South Koreans and Japanese who were abducted by the North. They also agreed to meet every year around Dec. 10, which is International Human Rights Day.
Hwang Jang-yop, the top-ranking North Korean official ever to flee to the South, was stinging in his criticism of South Korea’s “sunshine policy,” under which Seoul seeks to engage with Pyongyang rather than exchange hostilities with it.
“North Korea’s authoritarian regime’s survival strategy is to destroy the awareness of human rights among its people and to abuse their human rights,” Hwang, who defected in 1997, told the conference.
“The regime destroys children’s ability to develop an awareness of human rights when they are just beginning to learn the language by inculcating in them a rigid personalty cult [of leader Kim Jong-Il] and the myth of absolute obedience to the leader.”
“We have people who choose to defend the North and oppose the United States only from hearing what Kim Jong-il and his group say…This is a disgrace,” Hwang, a former secretary of the ruling communist party, said. “North Korea is sparing no efforts to abolish people’s conscious needs for human rights and to make them spiritual slaves of the supreme leader.”
Suzanne Scholte, head of Washington based think-tank the Defense Forum Foundation, said the South Korean government was content with the status quo in the North for fear that the secretive state might collapse.
“The South Korean government has abandoned the North Korean people,” she said. “How many more North Koreans have to die before we stop this failed strategy?”
Hundreds of officials attended the conference, including the American ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow and presidential special envoy for North Korean human rights Jay Lefkowitz.
The conference was organized by South Korean human rights groups and Freedom House, a pro-democracy organization partly funded by the U.S. government, which held a similar meeting in Washington in July. Another session on the North’s human rights is scheduled for March in Belgium.
Last month, the United Nations resolution accused North Korea of “widespread and grave” abuses. The resolution—the first by the General Assembly addressing North Korean abuses—voiced concern about reports of torture, public executions, political executions, and the extensive use of forced labor.
North Korea regards any criticism of its human rights record part of U.S.-backed efforts to seek the collapse of Kim’s government.
“Rigmarole on human rights made by the U.S. and some other Western forces is, in essence, the theory of overturn of system, regime change and a prelude to aggression,” the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Saturday in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “The U.S. is the worst human rights abuser of the world.”
“Only those imbeciles ... are obsessed by their daydream to ‘bring down its system’,” KCNA said. “Such stupid guys who bark at the moon cannot know about the DPRK [North Korea] till their death.”