South Korea summons conference to discuss human rights abuse in NKorea

Human rights activists in South Korea said Monday they would hold an international conference on abuses in North Korea to raise awareness about a problem they say is being put aside amid reconciliation efforts with the communist regime. The conference, scheduled for Dec. 9, is the second of its kind following a similar one held in Washington in July under the sponsorship of Freedom House, a U.S. pro-democracy organization. The July conference drew about 1,000 people.

"There is a hole in the international alliance" against the North's human rights abuses, said Shin Ji-ho, a leading South Korean conservative activist. "That is South Korea."

South Korea's government has largely remained silent on human rights problems in North Korea because it might anger the communist regime, thus complicating efforts to reconcile and resolve the standoff over the North's nuclear programs, according to the AP.

In recent years, Seoul has either abstained or did not participate in votes to adopt U.N. resolutions on the issue. North Korea has strongly protested the resolutions, claiming they are part of a U.S. plot to "stifle" the communist state.

"My heart was aching and I felt guilty as a human being to see our government's indifference," said Lee In-ho, a diplomat-turned-professor, who co-chairs the committee organizing the December conference.

Organizers said they will also declare Dec. 5-11 the "North Korean Human Rights Week," during which a music concert, seminar, candlelight vigil and photo exhibition will be held.

Among the "advisers" to the organizing committee is Hwang Jang Yop, the highest-ranking North Korean ever to defect to the South.

"Safeguarding human rights should be the starting point in efforts to democratize the North, to resolve the North Korean (nuclear) issue and to peacefully reunify our country," Hwang said. Since his 1997 defection, Hwang has been a vocal critic of the communist regime.

Other organizers include Kang Chul Hwan, the author of the "Aquariums of Pyongyang" on a decade of abuses he suffered in a prison camp where he was sent as a child with his family. Kang, who works as a reporter for the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo, met with U.S. President George W. Bush in June.

On photo: Shin Ji-ho, a leading South Korean conservative activist.