Put Human Rights First in North KoreaQuote has been trimmed
By Kay Seok
North Korea stands at a crossroads. After half a century of rigid isolation and its notoriously failed policy of "self-reliance," this impoverished country has cautiously begun to seek better diplomatic ties and more foreign investment. Now, British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell has been invited to visit this once-hermetically sealed country. Mr Rammell begins historic talks with North Korea in Pyongyang on Sunday.
Nuclear proliferation will be one important focus of Rammell's visit, but the meetings also look set to include another key issue in Mr Rammell's brief: human rights. He is accompanied on his trip by the head of the human rights division at the Foreign Office. North Korea's readiness to receive the delegation is, put simply, extraordinary.
When confronted on its human rights record, the regime of the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, who has proved a shrewdly capable dictator, has always flatly denied that a problem exists. After Human Rights Watch and others submitted reports on North Korea to the United Nations human rights commission last year, the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) - as North Korea is officially known - responded with a terse English-language statement: "There exists no 'human rights issue' in DPRK as all its people form a big family and live in harmony helping and leading one another...