North Korean human rights and money laundering discussed in the Lords

A transcript of the discussion in the House of Lords earlier this week

North Korea: Human Rights

Portcullis, ParliamentQuestion
2.57 pm Tuesday February 2nd 2010
Tabled by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of alleged human rights violations in North Korea following the publication of the report by the National Human Rights Commission in South Korea; and how they will raise awareness of those issues.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare a non-financial interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My Lords, we remain concerned about the grave human rights situation in North Korea and we will raise this at the international donor conference on North Korea in Seoul on 4 February. Our concerns will also be highlighted in the FCO’s 2009 annual human rights report, to be published in March. Both bilaterally and with the European Union, we will continue to look for other opportunities to raise awareness of these issues, including encouraging North Korea to restart the human rights dialogue and to allow access for the UN special rapporteur.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Can she tell the House anything about the detention of Mr Robert Park, who entered North Korea on Christmas Day to highlight the plight of the 300,000 political prisoners in North Korea? Will she examine claims that Europe is being used for money-laundering purposes to safeguard the private fortunes of North Korean leaders, details of which I have given to her office? Will she consider convening an international conference or summit on human rights to cast light on the public executions, torture, forced labour, re-education and starvation that are bringing such misery to the people of North Korea?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord, who is correct to raise the continuing detention of Robert Park. Another US citizen also recently found himself held by the authorities in North Korea. The Swedish embassy has formally requested consular access to Mr Park and the other US citizen who is reportedly being held by the DPRK, but that has not been granted. It has been told by the DPRK authorities that Mr Park is in good health and is apparently eating and sleeping well, but we have not been informed of his whereabouts. The authorities have not yet given details of the identity of the other US citizen who is being held. I am pleased to report that Chatham House proposes to hold a conference on human security in DPRK later this year, which we will support. Our embassy in Seoul is participating in the international donor conference on North Korea on 4 and 5 February, which will bring together NGOs and others who will evaluate successful approaches that can be taken and the role that the media can play in raising awareness about human rights in North Korea.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, may I press the Minister further on money-laundering and sanctions on the ruling family? This is officially a communist regime, but it appears to be very corrupt in terms of the ruling family pushing its money out of the country and getting themselves out of the country. Can we be assured that the tightest possible sanctions on the Kim family are being used and that we are co-operating with as many other countries and their banking systems as possible in this regard?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I can indeed reassure the noble Lord that UN sanctions and those adopted by the European Union in line with the UN cover individuals, including the royal family, and entities with dubious connections that need attention. There is also of course the issue of money-laundering, to which the noble Lord refers. Luxembourg was implicated in this, but we have been assured that its anti-money-laundering framework is today of the highest international standards from both the legal and implementation points of view. We have sought those reassurances and believe that to be the case.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, following the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, may I ask what further steps Her Majesty’s Government have taken to urge the North Korean regime to allow the UN special rapporteur on human rights to enter the country in order to carry out a full assessment?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: Again, I can reassure the noble Baroness that we take every opportunity to raise the issue of human rights abuses, including the need for the UN special rapporteur to go in to pay attention to those abuses. Ivan Lewis, my honourable friend in the other place, held a round-table meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, NGOs and academics to discuss human rights. We urge North Korea to allow access to the UN special rapporteur on North Korea. Our embassy in Pyongyang also tries to engage practically on every possible issue related to the abuses of human rights, which clearly exist in North Korea.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the BBC film “On the Border”, which shows the dangers facing North Koreans who try to escape into China across the Tumen river? It is known that, if they are caught and repatriated by the Chinese authorities, they will certainly face torture and execution. Will the British Government urge the Chinese Government to accept their convention obligations to grant sanctuary and to facilitate safe passage for these desperate refugees to South Korea?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Baroness. We are indeed extremely concerned about the fate of North Korean economic migrants who are returned to North Korea for illegally entering China. We regularly raise this with Chinese officials; we did so most recently when Ivan Lewis visited China in September 2009 as part of the UK-China dialogue on the issue. We pursue this issue practically and in every possible way, but it remains extremely difficult, as the noble Baroness is well aware. We have also pressed China to grant the UNHCR access to the border region to carry on the appropriate negotiations and investigations.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: In the light of the previous question, will the Minister tell us whether there is any co-operation from China on the issue of money-laundering? Such co-operation would in many ways be as much in the interests of the Republic of China as it would for us in this country. Has China been approached to try to build a co-ordinated response to this troubling development?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I assure the noble Baroness that we are engaging with China on this and many other issues of concern, but I am sure that she will know that this is very difficult, because the Chinese tend to be reluctant to have these discussions with the European Union or, indeed, the United Nations. It is proving to be difficult, but I can assure the noble Baroness that we will continue to pursue these issues of concern. China is one of the party of six responsible for monitoring what occurs in North Korea. Perhaps we should ask it to take its task more seriously.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm the reports in the American media that a large-scale shipment of weapons from North Korea, confiscated in Bangkok in December, was destined for Iran, contrary to UN sanctions? Since the export of weapons is the primary source of funding for the regime, which, in turn, uses that funding to gain support from important people to prop up the regime, what is the United Nations doing to enforce the sanctions and to make certain that everyone traps weapons shipments destined to prop up that regime?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I of course agree with what the noble Lord says. The income that arms exports bring to North Korea is critical to its ability to survive in the way that it does. Certainly, as we know, its population barely survives. On UN sanctions, we follow the situation closely and are attempting in every possible way to increase the pressure on the North Koreans and to create greater awareness of the fact that UN sanctions are being breached if arms shipments are travelling across the oceans as freely as they clearly are. I read the press coverage, as did the noble Lord, but I have had no specific confirmation of the points that he raised.

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