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UN opens human rights office in Seoul to monitor N. Korea

Yun Byung-SeThe United Nations Tuesday opened a new office in Seoul to monitor North Korea’s human rights record, after accusing the isolated regime of abuses “without parallel in the contemporary world” in a report published last year.

The office was formally opened in a ceremony attended by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se, despite Pyongyang repeatedly threatening “merciless punishment” against South Korea if the mission was launched.

South Korea urged the North to stop criticising the new UN office after it suddenly announced it would boycott next month’s World University Games, also known as the Universade, in the southern city of Gwangju.

In a message emailed to the Gwangju Universiade organising committee last week, a North Korean sports official said the UN office in Seoul drove inter-Korean relations to “the extreme situation” and “cooled down our atmosphere to participate in the games”.

“Less than 50 miles from here lies another world marked by the utmost deprivation,” Hussein said in a statement to mark the opening, according to Yonhap news agency.

“Tens of thousands of Korean people have escaped that reality and through hazardous means reached a new life in (South Korea). But millions remain trapped in the grip of a totalitarian system which not only denies their freedom but increasingly their basic survival needs,” he added.

The United Nations proposed opening the field office following a searing report by a UN commission published in 2014 that concluded North Korea 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.

The report formed the basis of a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly urging the Security Council to consider referring Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court.

Pyongyang has categorically rejected the findings of the UN commission, labelling it a work of fiction authored by the United States and its allies.

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.

Pyongyang sees the joint drills, most recently carried out in March and April, as a rehearsal for invasion.

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