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US envoy calls for human rights dialogue with N. Korea after regime's criticism

Nov. 9, 2023 - 09:32 By Yonhap
Ambassador Julie Turner (left), the new US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, and Lee Shin-wha, South Korea's ambassador-at-large for international cooperation on North Korean human rights, attend a press meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The new US special envoy for North Korean human rights made an overture for dialogue with the recalcitrant regime Wednesday, after Pyongyang accused her of "distorting and slandering" its rights records.

Ambassador Julie Turner made the call, underscoring that the North Korean rights records have been "well documented" as highlighted in the 2014 report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on the situation in the reclusive country.

"I would welcome the opportunity to have a conversation with the North Korean government about their human rights record," she told reporters, noting the United States is "open" and "willing" to be transparent about its own records as well.

"We are not perfect. No government in the world is perfect," she added.

Turner called attention to the COI report that showed evidence of North Korean human rights abuses as she underscored she is not "making up" things to "inflame" the North Korean regime.

"The 2014 UN COI report lays out over 400 pages of evidence demonstrating the conditions and the egregious human rights violations and abuses being committed by the North Korean government," she said.

After Turner made her first trip to South Korea last month shortly after her inauguration, a spokesperson for the North's Korea Association for Human Rights Studies accused her of having warped the North's rights records and made a "sinister" attempt to tarnish its image.

Turner appeared unperturbed by Pyongyang's tirade.

"There continues to be refugee and escapee testimony that corroborates the information that was collected in that (COI) report. There continues to be open source satellite imagery that corroborates that the prison camp system still exists," she said.

Asked to comment on diplomacy with China to prevent North Korean escapees from being sent back to the North, Turner reiterated that the US government "regularly" raises the issue of "forced repatriations" with Beijing.

"In terms of numbers (of the escapees), I prefer not to focus on the exact number," she said. "I think the bigger problem is the fact that these forcible repatriations are occurring and that the international community should come together to urge the Chinese government not to refoul North Korean asylum seekers."

South Korean human rights groups said China forcibly sent hundreds of North Korean defectors from its northeastern border regions back to the North in recent weeks.

The South Korean government has confirmed the repatriation had taken place, without specifying the number of those who were repatriated.

As Pyongyang's key ally, China does not recognize North Korean defectors as refugees and regularly repatriates them to their home country, where they can face harsh punishment.

Lee Shin-wha, the ambassador-at-large for international cooperation on North Korean human rights, also attended the press meeting.

Lee said she and Turner are pushing to issue a joint statement with other "like-minded" countries to address the refugee issue.

Turner took office last month, filling a vacancy that had lasted more than six years. Her official swearing-in ceremony took place Monday. (Yonhap)