The United Nations has opened a new office in Seoul to monitor North Korea’s human rights record, prompting a warning from Pyongyang of “resolute toughest” action against what it termed a grave provocation, Guardian said quoting AFP and NK News, part of the North Korea network.
The office was formally opened in a ceremony on Tuesday attended by UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, despite the North’s repeated threats of “merciless punishment” against South Korea if the mission was launched.
The North has already announced it will boycott next month’s World University Games in the southern South Korea city of Gwangju in protest at the office.
“The Seoul office will monitor and document human rights issues in North Korea,” Hussein said in a statement to mark the opening, “building on the landmark work of the commission of inquiry and special rapporteur. We firmly believe this will help the basis for future accountability,” he said.
The anticipated opening took place in Seoul’s Jongo district, intensifying tensions between the two countries.
“When he wakes up in the morning, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should realise that there is now a team of dedicated professional investigators working full-time to add to the factual record that will ultimately see him and his top officials brought before an international court,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch said in a release.
‘Politically motivated provocation’
The UN first proposed opening the field office following a searing report it published last year, which concluded the DPRK was committing human rights violations “without parallel in the contemporary world”.
Based on the testimony of hundreds of North Korean exiles, the commission detailed a vast network of prison camps holding up to 120,000 people and documented cases of torture, summary executions and rape.
North Korea reacted strongly to the new office, calling it part of the smear campaign and threatening to “ruthlessly punish” UN staff members.
An article in North Korean newspaper Minju Joson declared the opening: “a heinous politically motivated provocation and an open declaration of war to block the improvement of inter-Korean relations and stifle the DPRK at any cost”.
More than 20 activists rallied against the opening of the mission, saying it would be used to “bring down” the North Korean government and would aggravate already strained inter-Korean relations.
Speaking at conference on the implications of the UN office in Seoul, Kim Sung-han, president of the Ilmin International Relations Research Institute welcomed the UN’s new presence in South Korea.
“This will bring about a game-changing effect to the human rights problems in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Kim said in comments carried by the Korean newspaper, Dong-A Ilbo.
Cross-border tensions have remained high this year due to a series of North Korean ballistic missile tests, nuclear threats and annual US-South Korean military exercises.