Human rights should be on agenda of North Korea talks: U.N. expert

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (Reuters)

By Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. expert has called for the United States and other powers to put human rights firmly on the agenda of their talks with North Korea, saying it would help make any progress towards denuclearisation "sustainable". Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), urged the country to start releasing prisoners under a gradual general amnesty. He was speaking at a news briefing in Geneva on Thursday, days before the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set for Singapore on June 12. "What I am saying is that at some point, whether the next summit or other summits to come or meetings, it is very important that human rights are raised. Otherwise first it will be a problem in terms of building a sustainable agreement with DPRK with regard to denuclearisation," he said. Not raising such issues would be a "wrong message" he said. Trump, who has called for North Korea to abnadon its nuclear weapons, said on June 1 after meeting its envoy Kim Yong Chol that Pyongyang's human rights record was not discussed at that meeting. "I am not of the opinion that a human rights dialogue will undermine the opening and the talks on denuclearisation at all. I don't think that there is a dilemma here," Ojea Quintana said. On the contrary, a willingness by North Korea to open up to human rights mechanisms will give them "credibility ... in their intention to denuclearise" and "show that they want to become a normal state", he said. North Korea does not recognise Ojea Quintana's mandate and his recommendations are not binding. He said he had met U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats in Geneva this week to discuss his proposals. North Korea's political prison camps should be "on the table" in future talks, Ojea Quintana said. In a landmark 2014 report, U.N. investigators said that 80,000 to 120,000 were thought to be held in camps in the isolated country, where Ojea said there was "no rule of law" or due process. "I can say that they exist, I have met with people who recently left DPRK and they told me about their fear to be sent to these places. They told me people they know who suddenly disappeared from their townships and were sent to these places. "My call is for an amnesty, a general amnesty that includes these prisoners and it is a concrete call," Ojea Quintana said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Tom Miles and Andrew Roche)