The world’s three largest international human rights organizations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), along with 40 other organizations from around the world, yesterday released an open letter to Kim Jong-un, the heir-apparent to the leadership of North Korea.
The letter, by members of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), urges General Kim to reverse the decades-long pattern of human rights violations and abuses committed by the government in Pyongyang against the North Korean people.
Ha Tae Keung, President of Open North Korea and a member of the ICNK Coordinating Committee, said, “Kim Jong-un should look to his legacy. He has the opportunity to be remembered as the leader who restored freedom to the people of North Korea. He can bring his country out of isolation and assure peace and security on the Korean peninsula. But he can do this only by respecting the basic human rights of the North Korean people. He should open the country to international human rights monitors, close the prison camps and set the captives free.”
Human rights violations cited in the open letter include:
- Over 200,000 men, women and children held for political reasons in a system of prison and labor camps;
- Relatives of political prisoners incarcerated through “guilt by association”;
- A population of 24.5 million people living in fear that their loyalty to the regime will be questioned, leading to their arbitrary detention, disappearance, torture or death;
- Widespread hunger, malnutrition and lack of health care while a political elite lives like royalty.
The open letter calls on Kim Jong-un to live up to the rights enshrined in international treaties which North Korea has signed, and grant access to human rights monitors, especially the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The ICNK includes human rights campaigners from around the world, including Asia, Latin America, North America, and Europe. Reflecting the global commitment to hold the North Korea government accountable for widespread and systematic violations, human rights organizations such as People In Need and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea have joined forces with organizations such as Kontras (Indonesia), Odhikar (Bangladesh), Conectas (Brazil) and the Inter-American Federation of Christian Lawyers to put the spotlight on one of the world’s most abusive human rights situations. Survivors of North Korean prison camps, and their groups such as Free NK Gulag, added their support to the Coalition.
I asked David Knaute, head of the Asia Desk at Paris-based FIDH, what the international community can do to put pressure on the new regime in North Korea to end rights abuses and move towards a free society. I also asked him what the single most important step that General Kim could take to move his country in the right direction. Mr. Knaute said that “The ICNK believes that an international commission on human rights violations in North Korea has to be immediately established. The new regime in DPRK needs to understand that the international community is united to denounce the massive impunity that prevails in the country and open itself to dialogue on key issues such as the living conditions in prison and labor camps and the release of all political prisoners. ”