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U.S. labels N. Korea 'force of instability' over human rights abuses

WASHINGTON, April 20 (Yonhap) -- The United States on Friday labeled North Korea a "force of instability" over its violations of human rights.

In its annual report on human rights practices around the world, the State Department accused the North Korean government of "egregious" human rights abuses ranging from extrajudicial killings to torture and coerced abortions.

"The Governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea ... violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result," Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan said in the preface to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017.

He described as "morally reprehensible" countries that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or undermine fundamental human dignity.

The report on North Korea details the various human rights abuses it is accused of "in nearly all reporting categories."

They include disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and political prisons with often harsh and life-threatening conditions.

Under the section on arbitrary killings, the report cited the murder with a banned chemical weapon of leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother at a Malaysian airport in February 2017.

This graphic image shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)

"The DPRK is one of the most repressive and abusive regimes in the world," Sullivan said in a press briefing, referring to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "As the report makes clear, the Kim regime systematically neglects the well-being of its people to underwrite and fund its illicit weapons programs via forced labor, child labor, and the export of North Korean workers."

North Korea has long been accused of gross human rights violations, a charge it denies as a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

The report comes ahead of a potential summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in May or early June. The meeting is expected to focus on ways to rid the regime of its nuclear weapons.

Amb. Michael Kozak of the State Department's human rights bureau said the nuclear and human rights issues are equally concerning to the U.S.

"I don't think you will see a diminishment in our concern about that issue (human rights) even as we try to work the nuclear issue. It's not a trade-off," he said at the press briefing. "I think the president's laid out a vision there that North Korea can get on a much better path, but it needs to make progress across the board, not just on one issue."

Trump invited a North Korean defector to his first State of the Union address in January and later met with a group of North Korean escapees at the White House.

In highlighting the human rights situation in the North, the administration appeared to increase pressure on the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and care for its own people.

As South Korea's most significant human rights issues, the report listed the government's interpretation and application of the National Security Law, which bans pro-North Korea activities; corruption; domestic violence; and the military's prosecution of male soldiers for homosexual activities, although it noted such action was discontinued under the new government of President Moon Jae-in.

This graphic image shows former South Korean president Park Geun-hye (L) and her close confidante, Choi Soon-sil. (Yonhap)

On corruption, it noted the removal from office of then-President Park Geun-hye in March.

"Park was accused of collaborating with Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend and close confidante, to coerce companies to pay tens of millions of dollars to Choi's nonprofit foundations," the report said.

Samsung's Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was sentenced in August to a five-year jail term for bribing Park, but an appellate court overturned the ruling and sentenced him to probation, it noted.

Under a section on academic freedom and cultural events, the report described the judicial proceedings that followed allegations that some of Park's close aides were involved in compiling a blacklist of some 10,000 artists, authors, filmmakers, singers and actors who were critical of her. (Yonhap)

Lee Sam-sun  edt@koreapost.com

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