North Korea

UN rights expert urges prisoner amnesty ahead of Trump-Kim summit

He has previously warned that any denuclearisation deal will be fragile if it sidelines the rights of North Koreans

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 6:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 6:44pm

A top UN rights expert called Thursday for North Korea to begin freeing prisoners under a “general amnesty” ahead of next week’s historic nuclear summit.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, called on Pyongyang to “issue a general amnesty to release hundreds of prisoners”.

He hailed North Korea’s recent release of three American prisoners, and urged the country to broaden its “amnesty” to anyone being arbitrarily detained there, which he said was basically all prisoners.

“There is no rule of law in the country … no due process of law,” he said.

He said he understood prisoner releases would be part of a possibly drawn-out process and that Pyongyang would not throw open the doors to all of its prisons immediately. But “a good signal of the government would be to start releasing prisoners”.

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US President Donald Trump is due to meet the North’s leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12 and is under mounting pressure to get international monitors into the regime’s political prison camps and penal colonies as a precondition to any denuclearisation agreement or easing of sanctions.

Ojea Quintana insisted that human rights needed to be addressed as part of the security negotiations.

Earlier this year, he warned that any “denuclearisation deal will remain fragile if it sidelines the rights and needs” of North Koreans.

Meanwhile, UN efforts to access to the reclusive state and knowledge of alleged crimes against humanity has remained hampered despite Kim’s rapprochement with South Korea and the US in recent months.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul is pushing ahead with monitoring and documenting human rights abuses in North Korea, and assisting governments and NGOs to reduce cases within the reclusive state.

Trials will give the victims the chance to explain to the world what was done to them
Signe Poulsen

The office was opened in June 2015 after a February 2014 report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights alleged cases of murder, torture, rape, abductions, enslavement, starvation and other cruelties perpetrated by Kim’s regime.

“We have been asked to investigate crimes against humanity and holding individuals who commit such crimes accountable is a requirement under international law and that has not changed since the North has been engaged in talks with South Korea or the United States,” said Signe Poulsen, who heads the Seoul office.

But the unit’s task “has not got any easier”, despite North Korea’s apparently new-found willingness to engage, said Poulsen, with the ongoing lack of access to the country remaining the main challenge.

North Korea has repeatedly denied human rights abuses and even the existence of political prisons.

Poulsen called for public trials on the abuses alleged in the North’s camps.

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“Trials will give the victims the chance to explain to the world what was done to them and it will

give the accused the chance to explain their actions,” he said.

“At the same time, it is crucial that people in North Korea are provided with much needed humanitarian assistance and that we take steps to improve the situation, for example, through providing advice on implementing basic rights.”

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse