U.S. Envoy Says China, South Korea Could Do More on North Korean Rights

2007-07-26
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U.S. Special Envoy on North Korean human rights Jay Lefkowitz. Photo: RFA

WASHINGTON—South Korea and China “could be doing more” to pressure North Korea on human rights, a senior U.S. official said, adding that South Korea had grown too supportive of the Stalinist regime without demanding enough in return.

U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea Jay Lefkowitz told RFA’s Korean service, in an interview recorded July 26 and broadcast to North Korea July 27, that Washington was working closely with Asian countries to bring more North Korean asylum-seekers into the United States.

“The issue is in part that a lot of countries in the region are still concerned about facilitating the movement of North Korean refugees,” Lefkowitz said.

China 'much less helpful'

“Obviously with the posture of the Chinese the way it is, obviously being much less than helpful in terms of even threatening to and often repatriating North Koreans, there is a lot of work we have to do to really assure these countries that we are prepared to take these North Korean refugees.”

“We're obviously working closely with our allies throughout Northeast Asia to try to facilitate the movement of these North Korean refugees and to help those who want to come to the United States come,” he added.

North Korea meanwhile continues to commit “brutal” human rights abuses, he said.

Unfortunately the North Korean regime is still an incredibly closed and brutal regime, a regime that is really bent on starving many of its own people, depriving them of basic forms of life and liberty that we take for granted in the West.

Despite a growing international consensus on the issue, “Unfortunately the North Korean regime is still an incredibly closed and brutal regime, a regime that is really bent on starving many of its own people, depriving them of basic forms of life and liberty that we take for granted in the West,” he said.

U.S. taking refugees

“Obviously, I don't think all of the countries take these issues quite as seriously as the United States [does], and I think obviously that the South Korean government is evaluating its appropriate response here and I have been very honest and in some instances critical of what I think is too much support for the North Korean regime without exacting anything in return,” Lefkowitz said.

“And I think frankly we have a situation where the two countries that have the greatest amount of influence in North Korea, China and South Korea, probably could be doing more and could be exerting more leverage on the North Koreans.”

The United States recently began accepting North Korean asylum-seekers into the country. Many have escaped their Stalinist homeland in recent years, to escape political oppression and possible starvation there.

Untold numbers have risked repatriation and certain punishment at home to travel secretly thought China to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries on their way to eventual asylum in South Korea, where some 10,000 North Koreans have settled over the years.

South Korea has said it would accept any North Korean who wants to resettle in the South, but officials there fear a surge in refugee arrivals could strain relations between the two arch-rivals and hamstring international efforts to press North Korea into mothballing its declared nuclear program.

In 2004, South Korea airlifted about 460 North Koreans out of Vietnam in the largest mass defection ever, prompting anger from North Korea and even frostier relations between the two Koreas.

Original reporting in Korean

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