United Nations Human Rights Office Opens in South Korea

kpride, June 23, 2015, 9:24 a.m.

A U.N. office charged with monitoring human rights abuses in North Korea opened Tuesday in Seoul amid tight security following Pyongyang's threats of retaliation. The Seoul office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is a follow-up to last year's U.N. Commission of Inquiry report that recommended the establishment of a field-based office to monitor and document human rights violations in North Korea.

At the opening, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein reminded attendees of the dismal human rights conditions in the North. "Less than 50 miles from here lies another world marked by the utmost deprivation," he said in his congratulatory remarks. "Tens of thousands of Korean people have escaped that reality and through hazardous means reached a new life in the Republic of Korea. But millions remain trapped in the grip of a totalitarian system which not only denies their freedom but increasingly their basic survival needs."

He pledged to ensure that the new office operates with full integrity and in accordance with U.N. principles. "We firmly believe this will help lay the basis for future accountability," the U.N. official said. He also noted that the current drought in the North calls for humanitarian solidarity and support.

North Korea has bristled at any mention of its human rights conditions, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime. On May 29, the communist state threatened to "mercilessly punish" the South for hosting the office, saying it is an "unpardonable provocation" and "open declaration of war against it."

On Friday, North Korea also informed the South of its withdrawal from the Universiade to be held in the South Korean city of Gwangju next month in protest of the office's opening. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se expressed hope that the Korean people will later come to see the office's establishment as a "visionary step."

"Let us work together so that one day the people of North Korea will come to enjoy the same equality, dignity and freedom they so rightly deserve," he said in his congratulatory remarks.

Security guards were placed both inside and outside the building in downtown Seoul, while security checks were conducted at the entrance to the hall where the ceremony was held. The event was attended by dozens of South Korean officials, lawmakers and foreign diplomats, including the U.S. and Japanese ambassadors to Seoul.

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