President. The next item is the debate on North Korea and human rights violations(1).
István Szent-Iványi (ALDE), author. – (HU) Mr President, the primary objective of our debate today is to save the life of an innocent man. Song Jong Nam is a North Korean man aged 48, who was arrested and tortured by North Korean authorities in January 2006, and was subsequently sentenced to death without a court procedure. The date of the execution is not known. We strongly hope that he is still alive, and will be released as a result of the pressure exerted by the international protest.
Son Jong Nam is an innocent man. His crime is that he left his country, because he was unable to bear the oppression; he subsequently became a Christian, the Chinese authorities returned him to North Korea, and in the meantime he made comments criticising the system. All he did was exercise his human rights. Today, this is punishable by death in North Korea. His case reflects the direness of the situation of human rights in North Korea. Tens of thousands of people are imprisoned in camps and forced labour camps, political prisoners are constantly tortured, many are executed, the majority of the population are destitute, and millions of people are starving in this country. The leaders of the country are responsible for their citizens, and I strongly hope that they will not manage to avoid being called to account.
The European Union has indicated on several occasions that it is ready for a dialogue on human rights, but the North Korean authorities have always rejected it. We are also ready to provide humanitarian assistance, but only if it can reach those who really need it; we do not want to support the government authorities with our aid.
Finally, the practice of the Chinese authorities is unacceptable. Chinese authorities have been continuously returning North Korean refugees, fully knowing that the majority of the refugees will be locked up in camps straight away; therefore we call on the Chinese authorities to address this issue in conformance with the international standards of refugee rights. Also, we call on the European Commission and the European Council to act more firmly against the North Korean government, to inform them more firmly that we are not indifferent to the way people live in North Korea, that we support them, and we want North Korea to observe human rights.
Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL), author. – (NL) North Korea has caught the eye of journalists and scientists who collect knowledge about this state as being the world’s most remarkable country. It is moody and unpredictable in negotiations with other countries, and its people appear to be living in unimaginable unanimity and discipline, with boundless loyalty to the mysterious leader and in unrivalled mourning should that leader pass away. Despite its virtually complete isolation from the outside world, the country has developed an urban environment and its own nuclear industry.
Some people outside North Korea sing the praises of the remarkable successes that have been publicised by its regime. In their view, those successes were achieved thanks to a superior system and despite the opposition of the hostile outside world since the end of the war in 1953. People peddling those successes have a hard time convincing anyone, though. Apart from a handful of admirers, it is said that hardly any Europeans could live there, or would want to live here for that matter. The success stories were followed by the food shortage. Also, there is no longer a deafening silence with regard to what eventually happens to the people in North Korea who do not fit into that model.
Despite the constitutional freedom of religion and despite the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, anyone who could pose a threat to the regime is dealt with at its own discretion. The death penalty is also applied as a political instrument. Repression and hunger mean that tens of thousands of people have fled to China.
In the motion for a resolution, it was decided not to repeat dozens of years of cold war language, but instead it contains sensible proposals, addressed to the government, on human rights, the death penalty, the release of prisoners, freedom of expression, the adaptation of legislation and permission for international inspections. Neighbouring countries are also asked not to return refugees, and food aid is supported. My group welcomes this approach.
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE), author. – (PL) Mr President, more and more frequently, alarming information is reaching us from North Korea about widespread infringements of human rights. The intimidation of citizens, torture and public executions have become part of the miserable everyday existence of the country, not to mention the restrictions on freedom of speech or religious faith.
Numerous witnesses testify that more than 200 000 people could be held in Korean forced labour camps. Prisoners are subject to torture, and live in inconceivable conditions. All opposition and resistance to the governing Korean Workers’ Party is firmly put down, and punishment is meted out not only to the oppositionists, but also to their entire families. The death penalty, which is still used in North Korea, is imposed mainly for political reasons. Local media are censored, and access to international media is extremely limited.
Besides the political situation, the economic situation is also very difficult in North Korea. The local population is escaping to China en masse, not only because of political repression, but also because of growing problems relating to hunger. Against a background of general shortages, the authorities are distributing food in such a way that high-ranking party and military officials are favoured, and ordinary citizens are missed out. The North Korean Government consistently refuses to allow access to the country for United Nations observers or for non-governmental organisations working in defence of human rights. What is more, Korea completely ignores the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
Given the lack of any kind of will or cooperation on the part of the North Korean Government, the international community cannot sit back and watch as individual lives and human dignity are disregarded in the country. We have to react to the current situation in the country in order to force the North Korean Government to respect basic human rights, and at least as a first step to open the borders for independent international organisations willing to provide humanitarian aid to the local population.
Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE), author. – (DE) Mr President, the situation in North Korea, if one thinks about it at all, appears depressing and hopeless, but I find myself having, time and time again, to think back 25 years to the days when I was a young assistant in this House and was fortunate enough to have had a hand in the first resolution – which was in support of Charter 77. There were three MEPs who worked very hard at the time to bring it about: Klaus Hänsch, who is still a Member here; Otto von Habsburg and Jiří Pelikán, who used to sit as an MEP for Italy.
Today, we find ourselves debating human rights under the chairmanship of a Czech president, with a Czech Commissioner, the Iron Curtain – not least thanks to the courage of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe – having disappeared some 15 or 16 years ago. That should strengthen us to hold fast to the truth that the inhuman communist regime in North Korea must disappear as well, and that it will do so.
Along with Cuba and a few others, it is among the last Communist terror regimes on earth, and we should deploy all peaceful means of exerting pressure – whether political or economic – in working towards the overthrow of this Communist dynasty and its repressive system, towards the release of the campaigners for freedom and resistance fighters in it, of whom there are over 200 000, for these people – who want nothing more than to practice a religion or to express their opinions freely – to be able to enjoy freedom of conscience, and the setting at liberty of those persons from Japan, South Korea and many other countries, who, on the flimsiest of pretexts, have been locked up in North Korea. In the case of many of them, it is not known whether they are still alive, and an urgent enquiry needs to be made in order to find out where these individuals are; that is the very least that this regime must do.
It is for that reason that I would like to make it clear that we are right to make the demand contained in the motion for a resolution, namely that we should resume the human rights dialogue with this country that was suspended in 2003 and that we should ask the Commission and the Council to conduct, in that context, in-depth conversations on human rights. We in this House, though, have, over and above that, the task of exerting massive pressure and of ensuring that the response to this is not in the form of words alone, but also of deeds and of the necessary political and economic pressure.
Bastiaan Belder (IND/DEM), author. – (NL) As a historian, I have, through my studies, acquired some knowledge of the atrocities meted out by the totalitarian regimes in the 20th century. What would it have been like for the citizens of those dictatorships, though? As Mr Posselt has already said, it is difficult for us in the free West to imagine. This afternoon, we will briefly dwell on the Communist reign of terror in North Korea. Mr President, the juxtaposition of North Korea and ‘human rights’, words so often used by this House, is essentially shocking and should prompt us to be quiet. By doing this, though, we would leave the so ill-treated North Koreans to their own devices.
Needless to say, the beloved leader Kim Jong Il has every reason to favour our political inertness. Moreover, there is no need for us to expose him and his cronies, for, shockingly, regimes of terror have a habit, in the first instance, of taking care of that all by themselves, even though Pyongyang has been sealed as hermetically as possible and reports from and about the place are few and far between. Indeed, the accounts of North Korean refugees speak volumes.
The urgent question that arises here is: what is the European Union to do about this depressing situation in North Korea? In my view, the Council and the Commission should primarily urge China to apply its growing influence in its neighbouring country North Korea in a positive way, in the sense of an urgent and external restraint of Pyongyang policy. In the final analysis, Beijing stands to benefit from this as well.
This may sound very pragmatic, but this message only aims to ease the material and spiritual suffering of North Korean citizens. People, fellow creatures of God, subject to like passions as we are, yearn for freedom of movement and, lest we forget, thought, speech and, above all, faith.
Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE), author. – (ES) Mr President, sadly, North Korea remains a constant in terms of human rights violations.
Furthermore, far from helping to improve its image, certain attitudes on the part of the North Korean Government are simply worsening it. One example of this is that government’s repeated decision not to allow access to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, as well as several humanitarian and human rights NGOs.
Numerous reports warn of the increasing numbers of people leaving the country as refugees, as well as the existence of practices such as torture, summary executions, arbitrary detentions and imprisonment in inhuman conditions and without any guarantees of legal defence.
Any opposition to the regime is prohibited and any criticism of government policy leads to harsh reprisals. The case of Sonj Nam, who has been tortured and sentenced to death, despite repeated calls for the case to be reviewed with greater guarantees, is just one example of this, as previous speakers have mentioned.
For all of these reasons, we must once again take this opportunity to call upon the North Korean Government: firstly, to comply with the human rights principles and commitments laid down in international law and to incorporate them into its own legislation; secondly, to abolish the death penalty; thirdly, to release all prisoners jailed for wishing freely to exercise their fundamental rights; and, finally, to guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of movement.
Furthermore, we must call upon the neighbouring People's Republic of China to cease repatriating refugees fleeing North Korea towards South Korea.
Finally, bearing in mind that the European Union was the first and only body to establish a dialogue on human rights with the North Korean Government, and bearing in mind also that this practice ceased when in 2003 the Council of Ministers sponsored a declaration on human rights in North Korea within the High Commission on Human Rights, it is also urgent that we re-establish that dialogue as soon as possible in order to restore that forum, as has been said.
Ryszard Czarnecki (NI). – (PL) Mr President, it is no accident that the motion for a resolution on communist North Korea was tabled by almost all political groups in our Parliament. It means that, in this case, we speak with one voice. This is good news, because by doing so we strengthen our position.
We are speaking today about a peculiar kind of political Jurassic Park, about a regime that froze in time 50 or 30 years ago. It is the only situation of its kind in the world, because even in Fidel Castro’s Cuba there is opposition, and Castro cannot put everyone in prison. We must speak openly about this political archaeological site. We must support the diplomatic activities of the Troika. As has already been mentioned, we should put a stop to the forced repatriation of refugees from North Korea, who have been hiding in China, strange as this may seem. It is good that there are no differences in Members’ views of communist North Korea. Let us hope that the European Commission and the Council share our position.
Koenraad Dillen (NI). – (NL) Mr President, as various speakers before me have already pointed out, freedom, our first European value, for which many of the new Member States have had to fight for half a century, is the most important human right here on earth. Alongside Cuba, North Korea, which is today’s topic, is one of the world’s last remaining Communist tyrannies. Unless one is a faithful slave of the regime, human life is worth nothing to this ruthless Communist regime.
As has already been pointed out, in this Communist paradise, what little food there is goes to the privileged elites, the military and the security services. The rest of the population is forced to abide by a rationing system, the so-called public distribution system, that has been designed in such a way as to ensure that everyone remains immobile and obedient. Recently, the operations of the World Food Programme were suspended by the regime and the private sale of grain was banned. A similar criminal policy in the early 90s claimed the lives of millions of people, and to think that some groups in this House fraternise with the people who keep such a regime alive.
Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, North Korea is one of the most problematic countries that the European Union has passed an opinion on in connection with respect for human rights.
This applies for two fundamental reasons: first, there is a regime of rigid control in place in North Korea, and therefore the public receive only scraps of information on human rights abuses in the country. Secondly, North Korea views international intervention on human rights as a covert attempt to destabilise their society or even to overthrow their government. As an example of this attitude we might recall their recent reaction to the motion for a resolution on North Korea submitted by the European Union to the UN General Assembly last year. Korea afterwards demanded that the European Union and other donors terminate their humanitarian aid programmes. We might also recall the explosive reaction to the letter sent by the UN special rapporteurs in April warning about the situation of Mr Son Jong Nam.
North Korea has one of the worst human rights records in the world. For this reason the Commission and the Member States of the EU have been raising the question of human rights in talks with North Korean officials, and they will continue to do so. They hold fast to that position despite the fact that a recent meeting of three political leaders was postponed in retaliation for the UN General Assembly resolution.
The impending execution of Mr Son Jong Nam and the unusually large volume of information that has come out about this and about his imprisonment is extremely significant. Representatives of the Commission and of several Member States met with top North Korean officials on 2, 3, 11 and 24 May in order to express their serious concerns over this case and to emphasise their increasing alarm over the state of human rights in North Korea generally. In this context they referred particularly to the death penalty.
I would like to assure you once again that the Commission will continue to cooperate closely over all of these issues with the country holding the presidency and will maintain contact with the European Parliament.
In view of the fact that the Chinese authorities are sending refugees back to North Korea, the EU has repeatedly expressed serious concerns over the situation within the framework of the human rights dialogue with China. The lack of will on the part of the Chinese authorities to pursue this problem does not in any way weaken the EU’s determination to find a proper solution to this problem. The issue is still under discussion.
Ladies and gentlemen, the human rights situation in North Korea is a theme that we must pursue and we will pursue. Of this I am in no doubt.