Global Policy Forum

Koreas Working Closely at UN


More Conciliatory Approach Seems to Be Easing Pressure on Pyongyang

By Yoshikazu Shirakawa

Yomiuri Shimbun
October 29, 2007

In a sign that tensions between North and South Korea are beginning to ease, the two nations have shown an increasing willingness to cooperate on issues being taken up at the United Nations. The shift followed the inter-Korea summit that took place earlier this month, and was evident at a meeting Friday of the U.N. General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, known as the Third Committee, when the South Korean delegation refrained from condemning North Korea over human rights violations and instead emphasized the importance of the summit meet.

The two Koreas have stressed the progress made in the six-nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs, and have tried to rally support from the international community despite there having been little concrete progress on the nuclear issue and the abduction of Japanese by North Korea. Anti-North Korean alliances that were formed in the wake of Pyongyang's nuclear test in October last year also have been adjusting their position. At Friday's committee meeting, Vitit Muntarbhorn, a U.N. Human Rights Council special rapporteur on North Korea, highlighted human rights problems in the country, including state-backed persecution and the abduction issue.

However, Muntarbhorn also expressed optimism that progress in the six-nation talks, including through Japan-North Korea and other bilateral meetings, would have a positive impact on human rights in North Korea. The South Korean delegation backed this view, and emphasized progress made in the six-nation talks. The delegation also said the inter-Korean summit meeting would help create a firm basis for real progress on human rights issues.

The delegation from Seoul did not mention the abduction issue nor Pyongyang's human rights abuses, and instead chose to focus on what the international community needs to do to address food shortages in North Korea. Observers say this approach reflects South Korea's desire to both encourage Pyongyang to soften its stance and seize the initiative in resolving North Korea-related issues by promoting a conciliatory mood in the international community and between the two nations.

The North Korean delegation reacted relatively calmly to the criticism it received at the committee meeting, insisting only that it was improper for the United Nations to name and condemn a specific nation. This attitude was in stark contrast to that displayed at a committee meeting last year, when the North Korean delegation walked out, saying that Pyongyang would oppose any anti-North Korea resolutions passed by the United Nations.

The Japanese delegation pointed out that no progress had been made over the abduction, nuclear and missile issues. It also indicated its skepticism over Muntarbhorn's claims of possible progress by asking whether any new developments had been observed in the human rights situation in North Korea since the six-nation talks began.

The two Koreas already have submitted a joint draft for a General Assembly resolution supporting a declaration made at the inter-Korean summit meeting, which was signed by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong II. The resolution is expected to be adopted Wednesday and is a demonstration of efforts to meet the goal announced at the summit of improving cooperation between the two nations on the international stage.

Meanwhile, Japan and the European Union plan soon to submit a draft resolution to the Third Committee for the third year in a row that would condemn North Korea's human rights violations and demand a quick resolution to the abduction issue. Last year, a resolution proposed by Japan and the EU was adopted with the support of 91 countries in the 192-nation assembly. But some observers believe the number of supporting votes could be smaller this year because of the emphasis the two Koreas have placed on their conciliatory approach. In the wake of Pyongyang's nuclear test, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for sanctions to be imposed on North Korea.

But even in the council, there has recently only been support expressed for the progress made in the six-nation talks, rather than a concerted push for continued pressure for the thorough implementation of sanctions. In addition, if further progress is announced at the talks, such as the disabling of North Korea's nuclear facilities, China will inevitably press for the sanctions to be lifted or at least frozen. International pressure on Pyongyang appears to be waning.

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Sanctions Against North Korea


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