US envoy says North Korea’s ‘appalling’ human rights record hinders relations

Sunday, January 10, 2010

US envoy blasts ‘appalling’ NKorean human rights

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s ‘appalling’ human rights situation must improve before the country can expect to normalize relations with the United States, President Barack Obama’s special envoy on the issue said Monday.

In comments certain to anger North Korea, Robert King blasted its human rights record even as a U.S. citizen remains under detention for crossing into the communist country last month without permission.

“It’s one of the worst places in terms of lack of human rights,” King told reporters after meeting South Korea’s foreign minister. “The situation is appalling.”

He said that the situation is preventing the normalization of ties between Washington and Pyongyang, which have never had diplomatic relations and remain locked in a standoff over the North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.

“Improved relations between the United States and North Korea will have to involve greater respect for human rights by North Korea,” he said.

King, who is on his first visit overseas, also called on North Korea to release the U.S. citizen it is holding, but acknowledged that Washington had little information on the person’s condition.

“We are actively working to find out where he is being held and to urge that he be released,” King said. “We have requested that our protecting power in Pyongyang determine his condition and we have not heard yet what that is.”

In the absence of diplomatic relations, Sweden represents the United States in North Korea.

North Korea announced late last month that it was holding a U.S. citizen, though did not identify him. He is widely believed to be Robert Park, an American missionary who South Korean activists say crossed into the country several days earlier to raise the issue of human rights in the North.

King declined to say whether Washington believes Park is the one being held, citing privacy issues and State Department regulations.

North Korea has long been regarded as having one of the world’s worst human rights records. The country holds some 154,000 political prisoners in six large camps across the country, according to South Korean government estimates.

Pyongyang denies the existence of prison camps and often reacts strongly to foreign criticism regarding human rights in the country.

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