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A visiting American human rights specialist has urged Japan to put North Korea’s human rights record on its agenda for the upcoming normalization talks scheduled with the reclusive state.

“The Japanese government will be in a strong position,” consultant David Hawk said at a symposium Tuesday organized by Japanese lawyers and the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a nongovernmental organization. “It is expecting foreign aid to revive the North Korean economy, (which) will basically come from Japan.”

Hawk, a former director of the Cambodia Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote the 2003 report, “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps.” The report, based on interviews with 35 former North Korean prisoners in exile in South Korea, describes the country’s prison camps and their living conditions.

Those prison camps are “the worst part of the entire country,” which does not respect any human rights, he said. North Koreans could be sent to the camps for extremely minor infractions and forced to engage in hard labor on little food, he said.

Kim Young Sun, a former prisoner who attended the symposium, said she was sent to a labor camp in 1970 because she uttered the birth name of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, his wife’s name, and the fact he was born in the former Soviet Union, in a conversation at a souvenir shop for high-ranking North Korean officials.

She spent eight years at the camp, where “earthworms were a special food” and she was treated as “nothing less than the worms.”

Kim, who now lives in South Korea, said her parents, husband and four children were sent to the camp with her. Her parents died from malnutrition.

Hawk said guilt by association extends to three generations.

The symposium was attended by relatives of Japanese abductees who rushed to Tokyo after hearing Tuesday that the government would hold a high-level meeting on the issue with North Korea next week.

“The reports today made me aware of the source of the evil of North Korea,” said Sakie Yokota, whose daughter, Megumi, was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977 at the age of 13, and, according to Pyongyang, died in the Stalinist state.

“The problem must be solved now and I’ll do my part,” she said.

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