PN's Voice 47

Peace Network Korea
PN's Voice 47, 25-06-2015
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PN's Voice No. 47  25. 06. 2015 
Small steps, Road to peace

UN's N. Korean Human Rights Office Opens

A UN field office aiming to document human rights abuses in North Korea opened in Jongno in downtown Seoul on Tuesday. The opening follows a North Korea human rights report by a UN Commission of Inquiry in February last year. The center will interview defectors about human rights abuses in the North and set up a database.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se, and Unification Minister Hong Yong-Pyo attended the opening. Zeid, a member of the Jordanian royal family and former Jordanian ambassador to the U.S., said the field office will "lay the basis for future accountability." It aims to bring a change to the human rights conditions in the North through cooperation with other UN member states, state agencies, and civil societies. "Less than 50 miles from here lies another world marked by the utmost deprivation," he said. "Millions remain trapped in the grip of a totalitarian system which not only denies their freedom but increasingly their basic survival needs."

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea and activists welcomed the opening of the office, but some far-left groups held a protest rally, claiming that the field office will "exacerbate tensions on the Korean Peninsula." North Korea, perhaps predictably, reacted to the office’s opening with anger. Pyongyang condemned the opening of the field office, calling it an unacceptable provocation aimed at realizing unification by absorbing the North. The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, argued that the office is designed to undermine the North and is a "blatant challenge" to the North's dignity. The paper also said that the South Korean government’s provocations over the North’s human rights issue are part of its efforts to enhance cooperation with the UN to put pressure on the North. The North threatened that it will mercilessly punish South Korea and the U.S. if they intensify pressure, that the opening of the office was an "open declaration of war" against Pyongyang and that there would be "catastrophic" consequences for inter-Korean ties.
Source : Yonhap News, Chosun Ilbo, KBS News

S. Korea & Japan Begin Sharing Military Information

South Korea and Japan are said to have begun sharing military information on North Korea. A U.S. Defense Department official, who spoke to Yonhap News on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday that South Korea and Japan have begun to exchange intelligence under the existing information sharing agreement among South Korea, the United States and Japan. Although the three nations signed an agreement to share information regarding North Korea's nuclear weapon and missile threats in December, meaningful exchanges had not occurred as relations between South Korea and Japan have been strained. The intelligence sharing deal is considered an effort to get around the frayed relations South Korean-Japanese relationship. The United States is said to have urged Seoul and Tokyo to share information on the North at a security meeting among the three countries in Washington in April.

Relations between South Korea and Japan have been strained for years due mainly to Tokyo's attempts to whitewash its wartime atrocities and colonial occupation. Their relations worsened further after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came into office as he took a series of nationalistic steps. However, their ties have shown signs of improvement recently; on Monday, Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye visited each other's embassy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations. Seoul's foreign minister, Yun Byung-Se, also visited Tokyo this past weekend for the first time since taking office. The U.S. has called for Seoul and Tokyo to come to terms with each other. Frayed relations between the two key Asian allies are cause for concern for Washington as it seeks to develop three-way security cooperation in an effort to keep a rising China in check.
Source : Yonhap News, KBS News, The New York Times

S. Korea Ready to Support N. Korea over Drought

South Korea is ready to support North Korea as the North has been suffering from what Pyongyang called the worst drought in a century, Seoul's top man on inter-Korean affairs has said. Hong Yong-Pyo, the Unification Minister, has said that North Korea is likely to see its crop production fall by up to 20 percent this year if the dry spell continues through early July. Minister Hong said Seoul is willing to offer the necessary support to the North if the North's situation deteriorates, but added that the South will wait for Pyongyang's request. "At a time when the two Koreas are coping with drought, I think that this situation can be a chance to promote cooperation," Hong said in a meeting with a group of reporters on Tuesday. "If North Korea faces tougher situations, South Korea is willing to provide the necessary support to North Korea." He did not elaborate on the kinds of support.

Seoul, however, does not have any immediate plans to make such a proposal to the North preemptively, he said, hinting that Seoul needs Pyongyang's request for help. "The South is carefully reviewing how to approach this matter," he added. In 2014, the North reported its smallest rainfall in 15 years and the United Nations has warned that North Korea is likely to suffer from serious food shortages this year. The North has relied on international handouts since 1995 to help feed its people in the face of chronic food shortages. A U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea's 24.6 million people suffer from food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutrition.

Meanwhile, Hong expressed regret over the North's boycott of the upcoming Summer Universiade in South Korea due to political reasons, saying that the sports competition could be a good chance for dialogue. Last week, the North issued a rare statement that it is ready to hold dialogue with Seoul if certain conditions are met, including the suspension of the South's joint military drills with the United States. Hong said North Korea looks "passive" in its efforts to improve the strained inter-Korean ties, noting the North's offer is seen as a step forward in bilateral ties, but it is regrettable that Pyongyang attached preconditions for dialogue.
Source : Yonhap News

North Korea Gives Life Sentences to Two South Koreans

North Korea sentenced two men from the South to hard labor for life on espionage charges on Tuesday, the same day the United Nations opened an office in Seoul to investigate human rights in the North. Details of the trial were sparse and analysts have interpreted the timing of the sentences as retaliation for the opening of the U.N. office in Seoul. The North has repeatedly called the office a grave provocation. Officials in South Korea have denied Kim Kuk-Gi and Choe Chun-Gil were involved in espionage and have demanded they be released. Under North Korean law, the sentences are final and can’t be appealed.

North Korea announced the arrests of the men in March. On Tuesday, the North’s state-run Korean Central Television said the country’s highest court had convicted Mr. Kim and Mr. Choe of “collecting secrets on our party, state and military, and plotting to spread a bourgeois lifestyle into our republic,” calling the actions part of American and South Korean attempts to undermine the government. The North has not disclosed the circumstances of the arrests, except to say that the men operated out of Dandong, a Chinese city on the border with North Korea, and that they were caught after illegally entering the North. The North reported that the two acknowledged their acts during what was described as a news conference in Pyongyang; North Korean authorities in the past have staged news conferences at which foreign detainees made statements that they later recanted after their release.

The South Korean government reacted with displeasure at the North Korean handling of the arrest and subsequent sentencing of the two men: “By unilaterally carrying out a show trial without any kind of prior notification to the South Korean government or to the families of the accused and by unfairly sentencing them to life in prison, North Korea is in flagrant violation not only of international practices but also of human rights and the humanitarian spirit,” said a statement released by the spokesperson of the Unification Ministry.
Source: The New York Times, The Japan Times, The Hankyoreh

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