NKorea family reunion lottery 'extremely cruel': top rights expert
North Korea's use of a lottery system to allow a fraction of the families separated by the Korean War to meet is "extremely cruel", a top rights expert said Monday.
North and South Korea agreed earlier this month to hold a weekend reunion in October for separated families -- only the second to be held in five years -- with 100 people to be selected by each side to take part.
But Australian judge Michael Kirby, head of a UN commission that published a searing report on the rights situation in North Korea last year, noted that the country is believed to have taken some 120,000 South Koreans -- most as the North Korean troops retreated.
With more than 60,000 people in South Korea hoping for reunification with family members -- many who are now "of considerable age" -- North Korea's capricious agreement to sporadically allow small groups to meet is far from enough, he said.
"At the present rate of 100 being given that privilege, many, many will die before the numbers are accommodated," Kirby told reporters in Geneva.
"It is extremely cruel of the administration of (North Korea) and a breach of fundamental human rights to deny the opportunity for families to be reunited," he said, adding: "It is really a barbarous practice."
Kirby said previous reunions had been planned and cancelled for no apparent reason, and that the North Korean approach was exacerbating the suffering of the families longing for contact.
"It is simply unacceptable that (knowledge about) their whereabouts, whether they are alive or dead, what happened to them, and having contact with them is left to a lottery," Kirby said.
- Angry dismissal -
The commission's report accused North Korea of committing human rights violations "without parallel in the contemporary world", including the abductions of an estimated 200,000 foreign nationals from at least 12 countries.
Those findings were debated Monday at special session of the UN's rights council, which North Korea's ambassador at-large, Ri Hung Sik, dismissed as "nearly three hours talking about a non-existent issue."
Asked specifically about widening the family reunion programme, Ri said: "the reunion of these separate families is resolved between North and South (Korea). It has nothing to do with Kirby."
In addition to the many South Koreans taken and held, hundreds of Japanese citizens are believed to have been taken to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs.
With few exceptions, world nations roundly condemned North Korea's legacy of abductions and its refusal to engage with the commission's findings.
Japan's point-person on the abduction issue, Shoichiro Ishikawa, told the council that acknowledging its misconduct was "the only way for (Pyongyang) to gain the chance of reconciliation with the international community."
Kirby stressed that the international community has an obligation to press ahead and try to ensure accountability for the abductions, disappearances and a wide range of other crimes against humanity that have taken place in North Korea.
The longtime practice of international abductions by North Korean agents was "particularly barbarous, and is something akin to international piracy," Kirby said ahead of the debate.
Many of the crimes committed in the country "shock the conscience of mankind," he said, insisting: "It is not open to the world community to turn away."
© 2015 AFP