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North Korea

Volume 400: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of human rights abuses in North Korea. [98268]

[holding answer 24 February 2003]: Our diplomatic relations with North Korea and a British Embassy in Pyongyang allow us to express our concerns about reports of widespread and serious violations of human rights in DPRK directly to the North Korean authorities on a regular basis. But a lack of hard evidence and access for independent monitors makes it difficult to substantiate allegations, most of which come from defectors' reports. Freedom of expression is curtailed and criticism severely punished (there are reports of up to 200,000 political prisoners). Freedom of movement is restricted within the country and foreign travel is only permitted for a select few. There are reports of widespread use of the death penalty and detention without trial. The DPRK does not participate in international refugee fora, nor is it in contact with the UNHCR. It is at least six years since a UN rapporteur was allowed into the country. The UK has financed human rights training courses for North Korean government officials, and we will continue to request access for international observers, including UK diplomats, to verify negative reports circulating internationally about the situation in DPRK. We are also pressing North Korea to co-operate fully with UN mechanisms and to fulfil its UN reporting obligations.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the South Korean Government on the heightened security situation facing the Korean Peninsula. [98830]

During the last week I have discussed these issues with a delegation of visiting South Korean MPs. I will also discuss them when I meet the new South Korean President in Seoul on 26 February 2003. We have made clear in all our contacts with the South Korean Government, that we support a peaceful resolution of the security problem on the Korean Peninsula through multilateral dialogue.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made on behalf of the Christian community in North Korea. [98829]

Reports of human rights abuses, including religious persecution, in North Korea are of grave concern to the Government. Diplomatic relations with North Korea and an Embassy in Pyongyang enable us to express our concerns about reports of widespread and serious violations of human rights in DPRK directly to the North Korean authorities on a regular basis. Our Ambassador expressed concern about the situation during his high-level introductory calls in December 2002. The FCO has financed a human rights training course for North Korean Government officials in the UK, and hopes to build on this through further contacts with the DPRK authorities this year.