Text: Lord Alton on North Korea

 Catholic peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool is expected to open a debate on North Korea in Parliament today, with the following speech: My Lords: Last November I tabled the Unstarred Question that gives rise to our brief debate this evening. The question allows us to consider both the international crisis sparked by North Korea's decision to reopen its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, and its continued serial abuse of human rights. Unfolding events in Iraq have inevitably distracted us from the arguably even more dangerous crisis posed by North Korea. If North Korea reactivates its plutonium reprocessing plant, also located at Yongbyon, it could reprocess 8000 spent fuel rods and would be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium within weeks, accumulating enough material for about six bombs before the end of the year. The US Government believes that North Korea may already have nuclear weapons. As the former US Defence Secretary, William Perry, recently remarked: "I believe that Korea is the most dangerous spot in the world today." In 1994 the Clinton Administration concluded the Agreed Framework with Pyongyang. From its inception the Accord, which had a price tag of $5 billion, fell significantly behind its schedule - most notably in failing to deliver two light-water reactors in return for the abandonment of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) nuclear programme. By 2000, while the North Korean missile talks were collapsing, North Korea had clandestinely recommenced the HEU programme. This was exposed by US Intelligence in July 2002. Kim Jong Il conceded that he had broken the Agreement; he expelled the International Atomic Energy Authority monitors, and pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Since then Pyongyang has been demanding bilateral negotiations with the Bush Administration, characterised in Washington as "reward for bad behaviour" - and the belief that giving in to blackmail only leads to more blackmail. So far, the US response has been very measured; both to the provocation of the recommencement of the HEU programme and the intimidation of a US plane in international airspace, and this week's ballistic tests in the Sea of Japan. This evening, given the Prime Minister's declaration that he sees North Korea as the next challenge for the international community, I hope that the Government will share with us their view of this crisis. Do they believe that there is any realistic prospect of a new comprehensive mechanism to replace the 1994 Agreed Framework and a commensurate abandonment of the HEU programme and any possible plutonium based programmes, in return for a non-aggression pact? Can the Minister tell us what progress is being made in engaging regional players - most obviously China, Japan and Russia? Following the recent visit of Mr. Bill Rammell to the region, what role is Her Majesty's Government and the EU playing in creating conditions for negotiations, and what is our view of the demands by North Korea for bi-lateral talks in comparison with the insistence by the US and others on a multilateral approach? The Minister will have seen the view expressed earlier this week by Yoriko Kawaguchi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, that the UK could play the role of an honest broker. What is the Government's view of this and of the use of sanctions and isolation, containment, and negotiation, and an analysis of the events that would pave the way for the use of force? For instance, does she believe the US would be forced to intervene if North Korea attempted to export nuclear weapons or directly threatened the US mainland? Can she give us an assessment of the dangers she believes are posed to South Korea and to Japan? Could she explain what Mr. Rammell meant when he said last week: "I think this is going to get worse before it gets better"? My Lords, the threat to international security posed by North Korea may best be viewed through its actions against its own citizens. North Korea's Stalinist dictatorship has treated its own people with unbelievable brutality and viciousness. The people are starving, the hospitals are without medicine and a whole generation has grown up stunted and mentally retarded because of malnutrition. 60% of the people starve. During the past decade up to 3 million people are estimated to have died of famine and aid agencies estimate that 70,000 children will die in the next few months. Those who dare to dissent are sent to re-education camps or prison. I tabled this unstarred question because in October last a North Korean Christian who had escaped from the country came to see me here at Westminster. His story was harrowing and disturbing. He told me how he had seen his wife and all bar one of his children shot dead by Kim Jong Il's militia. Subsequently he escaped across the border to China with his son. The boy died en route. He encouraged me to read the prison memoirs of Soon Ok Lee, in which she describes in detail the brutality and barbarism of the system in North Korea. Anyone who believes it right to appease this dictator should read The Eyes of the Tailless Animals, Soon Ok Lee's account of the sham judicial system, the show trials, the starvation, the forced labour, the degradation, humiliation and rape of prisoners. Through her eyes we get a glimpse of this corrupt, paranoid and tyrannical regime. Other noble lords will return to the plight of refugees who have been repatriated by the Chinese into North Korea. Some have been executed. Up to 300,000 North Koreans are now living in China. Where returned, they face torture, interrogation and humiliation. Any woman who became pregnant while in China is forcibly aborted, supposedly to avoid the birth of babies "contaminated" by foreign influences. There are reports of repatriated North Koreans being corralled and bound together with wire being passed through their wrists or noses. In January I wrote to Mr. Straw about the failure of the UNHCR to enforce the 1995 agreement on refugees made with China. Mr. Rammell replied on February 12th saying that it was for “the parties involved to interpret their obligations under this agreement." I am sure I am not alone in not being entirely clear what this means. I am sorry we have not taken a more robust position. I hope the Government will also review their rejection of the suggestion I made to them that the UK should designate part of the funds it provides to the UNHCR specifically for North Korean refugees in China. Organisations such as Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have done us all a service by carefully documenting what is known about their plight. Becoming a Christian in North Korea is a serious crime. Many are thrown in camps or prison - where they are kept in horrific conditions. There is evidence of water torture, severe beatings, sexual assault and violation, as well as psychological and verbal abuse. Up to 1 million people are incarcerated in these gulags of North Korea. On March 2nd at the 4th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, held in Prague, the catalogue of human rights abuses was systematically documented. Professor Man-ho Heo, Professor of Law at Kyungpook National University listed the human rights abuses in the detention camps. According to the Sunday Times of March 9th, children of the elite in addition, bizarrely, to triplets are taken from their parents by the age of 2 and are placed in special schools to break family bonds and to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the regime. The regime teaches its children to hate the outside world, especially the United States. Simultaneously the late Kim Il Sung has been elevated and is revered as a god to be followed with unswerving obedience. In 1998, Medecins Sans Frontieres pulled out of North Korea because aid agencies were denied access to the so-called 9-27 camps in which sick and disabled children were dumped under a decree issued by Kim to "normalise" the country. My Lords, This repressive and powerfully armed communist regime has subjugated its own people and now threatens and blackmails the world's democracies. It does so by threatening nuclear war unless the free world accedes to its demands. In particular it insists that the international community recognise the permanence of its borders and that the international community continues to pay Danegeld. In any agreements made with this regime, human rights practices must established and subsequently monitored. This was the process which was used by the US Government in negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1972, and it should form an integral part of any political-security negotiations with Kim Jong Il. By championing the cause of those who are suffering in North Korea the international community will create the conditions for the establishment of democracy. The establishment of secure borders in 1975 as the Helsinki Process ensured, led to free exchange of people, open borders and family reunification, and the people very quickly learnt the true nature of their repressive government. Helsinki's animating genius was to elevate human rights into the most lethal weapon targeted at totalitarianism. The victims of the gulags became the icons for hope and liberation. This was also a standard around which the free world was able to unite. Learning the lessons of Helsinki we must do nothing to licence the regime in Pyongyang to commit further atrocities against its own people. We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights such as free exchange of people and religious liberties. We must also do more to promote democracy. In that connection perhaps the Minister will tell us what BBC World Service broadcasts are transmitted in Korean to North Korea and whether Intelligence agencies have, for instance, been asked to expand satellite imagery of gulags, so that this can be disseminated to human rights organisations; and by offering opportunities and platforms to defectors and dissidents. By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. Kim Jong Il has exploited our present preoccupation with Iraq to test our resolve. The threat posed by North Korea is, in my view, even more serious than that presented by Iraq. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.

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