British Parliamentarians call for peace talks after visit to North Korea

Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Cox of Queensbury returned yesterday from  heir third visit to North Korea, and called on the international community to acilitate a peace conference to turn the Korean armistice into a permanent peace agreement. They are also advocating engagement with North Korea to address human rights, in a process similar to the Helsinki Process initiated by Margaret  Thatcher and Ronald Reagan with the Soviet Union.

In their report, Building Bridges, Not Walls: The Case for Constructive,  ritical Engagement with North Korea, released today, the two Parliamentarians argue that "the current armistice on the Korean peninsula, sixty years after the outbreak of hostilities, is a completely unsatisfactory and destabilising  ituation". They call on a neutral country, such as Switzerland or Sweden, and a former combatant country, such as the United Kingdom, to work with China to facilitate a peace conference in Beijing to negotiate a peace treaty.

During their visit Lord Alton, Chairman of the UK's All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for North Korea, and Baroness Cox, the APPG's Vice-Chairman, met senior North Korean officials including the Speaker of the Supreme People's Assembly, Choe Tae Bok, the Vice Foreign-Minister, Kung Sok Ung, and the  hairman of the DPRK-EU Friendly Parliamentary Group of the Supreme People's  Assembly, Ri Jong Hyok. They also visited the Supreme Court. Their visit  oincided with the tenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic  relations between North Korea and the UK, and followed their previous visits in 2003 and 2009.

In all their meetings, Lord Alton and Baroness Cox raised concerns over North  Korea's human rights record, including public executions, torture, violations of religious freedom, women's and child rights and the country's notorious prison camps. They delivered copies of reports from the former UN Special Rapporteur for North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN's Universal Periodic Review of North Korea's human rights record, Human Rights Watch as well as their own summary of  concerns and recommendations.

Lord Alton said: "Our visit came at a historic time, following the recent  hanges in the North Korean leadership and coinciding with both the tenth  anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries and the sixtieth  anniversary of the start of the Korean War. We believe it is vital to engage with the North Koreans, and to make it a priority to seek a permanent solution to the instability on the Korean Peninsula. The current situation, which is either war nor peace, cannot be allowed to continue. We also believe it is time to engage robustly on human rights, in what we call 'Helsinki with a Korean Face'. We urge the North Koreans to invite the new Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, to visit the country, and open its prison camps to access for international monitors, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. We also urge the United States to seize the  pportunity and engage in meaningful dialogue with North Korea on a range of issues, including peace, security and human rights. It is time develop a new approach in the search for peace on the Korean peninsula."

Baroness Cox said: "During our visit, we raised important concerns, and we also saw some small, incremental signs of change in North Korea. We believe these changes, particularly in education, health care and the economy, should be  ncouraged by increased cultural and educational exchanges, and greater access  to the country for international humanitarian organisations. We visited the three official churches in Pyongyang, the Russian Orthodox, the Catholic church and the Protestant church, and while we recognise that these are not  epresentative of the situation for Christians in the rest of the country, we welcome some developments, including the establishment of a Protestant seminary which we visited. We urged the North Korean authorities to improve religious freedom for all North Koreans, and to allow the Catholic Church to have a  riest. We also raised recent reports of the arrest of 20 Christians and the execution of three. It is essential that we engage in constructive, critical dialogue with North Korea, so that we have an opportunity to raise these  mportant issues with the authorities there and encourage an opening up. The North Korean people do not deserve isolation. We urge the international  ommunity to build bridges to the people of North Korea."

For a copy of the report, please contact Benedict Rogers on or all 07823 329664 or Lydia Tanner at the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) on +44) (0)208 204 7336, or email

David Alton
(Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool)
House of Lords

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