Asia Pacific

North Korea warns U.S. human rights criticism pushing it in a direction Washington 'does not want to see'

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

North Korea has lashed out at the United States for criticizing it over human rights abuses, with the country’s Foreign Ministry warning such moves were pushing Pyongyang in “a direction where the U.S. does not want to see.”

A senior official with the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies was quoted by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency late Saturday as saying that a recent U.S. State Department statement addressing the dire rights situation in the North was “full of falsehoods and fabrications, which stems from a sinister political purpose to tarnish the dignified image” of the country.

“Although the U.S. is making desperate and foolish efforts to bring us down by clinging to the ‘human rights’ racket along with the ‘maximum pressure’ aimed at destroying our system, it should bear in mind that such an attempt will never work against us but instead push us dynamically to a direction where the U.S. does not want to see,” the unidentified Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying.

The warning came amid growing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, which launched a series of short-range missiles over five days earlier this month, bringing a period of more than 500 days without a missile test to an end.

In a statement released last week, the State Department said it was recognizing “the efforts of the North Korean defector and human rights community to continue to shine a spotlight on the dire human right(s) situation” in the country.

“For decades, the regime in North Korea has subjected its people to egregious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” it went on. “Approximately 100,000 individuals languish in political prison camps and their family members and children often suffer by their sides. Further, those trying to flee this oppressive environment, if caught, are often tortured or killed.

“We remain gravely concerned and deeply troubled by these abuses,” it added.

But by bringing up the issue of rights in the North, the Foreign Ministry official said that the U.S. is “turning its back on the June 12 DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement committing to establish new bilateral relations,” a reference to a vaguely worded pledge “to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” that was released after last June’s landmark summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

DPRK is the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“This has laid bare the American ulterior intention that it does not want the improved DPRK-U.S. relations really, but seeks only to overthrow our system,” the official said, calling the State Department statement “clear evidence that the present Administration follows in the footsteps of the previous Administrations in regard of the policy hostile to the DPRK.”

Speaking at a U.N. event on North Korean abductions on Friday, U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen, the acting permanent representative to the to the United Nations, said the North “remains one of the most repressive states in the world,” calling its human rights situation “deplorable.”

“The North Korean government continues to commit arbitrary and unlawful killings, forced disappearances, torture, and other forms of abuse, including sexual violence,” he said. “The regime interferes with nearly all aspects of its citizens’ lives and benefits through the exploitation of its people by operating an economy based on a system of forced labor.”

On Thursday, North Korea — facing fierce criticism of its rights record at the United Nations — denied the existence of political prison camps in the country.

In rare remarks at the U.N. Human Rights Council, diplomats from Pyongyang defended the regime against a barrage of accusations.

“There are still some that persistently insist that political prison camps are operated in our country,” media reports quoted Pak Kwang Ho, a councilor at the North’s central court as saying.

“There is no such thing as a political prisoner, or a political prison camp, in the vocabulary of the criminal law and the criminal procedure law of the DPRK,” he added.

The North was appearing at its Universal Periodic Review, a session during which nations face human rights scrutiny every five years.

A landmark 2014 report by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry documented rampant human rights abuses in the North, ranging from rape, torture and extrajudicial killings to the operation of political prisons.

The regime is estimated to have up to 120,000 people in the camps, where many are said to have been jailed merely for being related to individuals deemed a threat to the state, rather than being convicted of internationally recognized criminal offenses.

Human rights issues have largely been brushed aside as the Trump administration focuses on nuclear negotiations with the North. Those talks have stalled due to large differences over the scope of the denuclearization plan and offers of sanctions relief by the U.S.

Japan, which still lists 17 of its citizens as having been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, has long been a strong proponent of holding Pyongyang accountable for its abuses, though it has tempered its criticism of the Kim regime as the U.S. continues to engage in diplomacy with the North.

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