WASHINGTON -- North Korea's human rights situation has not changed despite its recent diplomatic engagements with South Korea and the United States, a United Nations expert said Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on North Korea's human rights, said the issue should not be sidelined in nuclear negotiations between the North, and South Korea and the US.
"North Korea has argued that human rights have been used for political purposes," he said, referring to Pyongyang's long-running claim that accusations of human rights abuses by the regime are a US-led attempt to topple the regime.
"So, the challenge and the risk at this point is that, in fact, if we sideline human rights then that will reconfirm that human rights were used for political purposes," said Quintana, according to a transcript provided by the AP.
The two Koreas have held three summits this year, while the US and North Korea held an unprecedented summit in Singapore in June. The talks focused on dismantling the regime's nuclear weapons program and reducing tensions between the sides.
"Together (with) their important initiatives of engaging the South Korean government and the US government and some others, it is the time for North Korea to show commitment to the human rights agenda some way or another," the rapporteur said. "We have seen nothing from North Korea in this respect. And the most important challenge, which has been there for many, many years, is the possibility to access -- to gain access -- to North Korea."
The North has long been accused of gross human rights violations, including torture, public executions and keeping an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some for religious reasons.
The European Union and Japan have been leading the drafting of a new resolution condemning the abuses. It is poised to be submitted to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly next week, and the General Assembly is expected to adopt it in December for the 14th straight year.
North Korea's official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, blasted the EU and Japan for spearheading the move.
"Frankly speaking, there exists such human rights issue in Western countries plagued with widespread misanthropy and abnormal lifestyle," it said in a commentary Tuesday. "This being a hard reality, their pulling up the DPRK is absurd."
At Japan, it said: "It is an intolerable mockery and insult to justice and human rights that Japan, a brazen-faced human rights abuser, is recklessly taking the lead in the campaign against the DPRK, talking about someone's non-existent human rights issue."
DPRK stands for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. (Yonhap)