§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
rose to call attention to the security and human rights questions posed by the actions of the Government of North Korea; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, good fortune in the ballot enables me to place the Motion before your Lordships today. I will touch on security concerns, human rights, the treatment of refugees and the humanitarian crisis.
Our last debate, on 13 March 2003, was overshadowed by North Korea's decision to reopen its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Having expelled United Nations inspectors, reneged on its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, sought to enrich uranium, produced enough plutonium for half a dozen nuclear weapons, test-fired cruise missiles and developed intermediate range missiles, North Korea was rightly described by many of your Lordships as posing a serious threat to regional and world stability.
Beyond the secrecy and speculation about North Korea's ability to design and fabricate nuclear weapons, it is in no doubt that North Korea has hundreds of Scud missiles available for export. Revealingly, Libyan sources have recently claimed that they had weapons links with Pyongyang. The No Dong missiles have a range of 1,300 kilometres, and the Taepo Dong 2 system could have a range of up to 10,000 kilometres. That arsenal and tangled spider's web has made the world deeply wary of North Korea and entrenched the isolation of what was always known as the hermit kingdom.
The continuing six-party talks have not resolved those issues, but at least some of the sabre rattling and dangerous brinkmanship has been replaced by a desire to find a non-military solution. In parenthesis it might be worth adding that it is not unrealistic or fanciful to seek a Libyan outcome in North Korea. Engagement—though not appeasement— will unlock the door and remove one of the potential quartermasters of worldwide terror and allow economic and political reform to proceed. But is that a realistic approach?
Following our previous debate, with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—who is currently visiting refugee camps on the Burma border and greatly regrets being unable to participate in the debate today—I had a frank exchange with North Korean diplomats. I asked whether we might travel to North Korea to raise our concerns directly. In September, that led to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I visiting Pyongyang. We met senior officials, including Kim Yong Nam, the president of the Presidium, and Choe Tae Boc, the Speaker of their Assembly.
Outside Pyongyang, we went to Anju, 80 kilometres north of the capital and to the inaptly-named demilitarised zone at Panmunjom where, following the deaths of an estimated 2 million people during the Korean War, the 1953 armistice was signed. The Asian Wall that we saw at Panmunjom, which divides the two Koreas, deserves the same fate as the Berlin Wall that divided Europe.
294 On our return to the United Kingdom we published a report. I am grateful to the Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide for facilitating our travel and the report. In Washington, we subsequently presented our findings to members of Congress and discussed our conclusion that engagement is possible with the Assistant Secretary of State, James Kelly.
Last November, the All-Party Parliamentary British-North Korea Group, of which I am chairman, was created. In March, with the assistance of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, we welcomed Choe Tae Boc, North Korea's Speaker, who led the first such delegation to a western democracy. Detailed exchanges took place with Members of both Houses, including the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford, Lord Jopling, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, and my noble friend Lord Chan. Detailed discussions were held also at the Foreign Office with the Minister, Mr Bill Rammell. The delegation discussed religious liberties, at Lambeth Palace, with His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It is therefore clear that I believe that hard-headed, Helsinki-style engagement is worthwhile. The Helsinki Final Act 1975 linked foreign policy to basic human rights principles. That measure recognised that increasing the pressure for human rights, in combination with a firm policy of military containment, could act as the catalyst for change.
The history of the DPRK suggests that mere threats will be counterproductive, inducing paranoia, isolationism and the destabilisation of the region. Nor should we underestimate the deep patriotism of North Koreans, their memories of Japanese occupation or their fear of what they perceive as enemies at every gate. However, the regime knows that the status quo is not an option. The DPRK now needs a face-saving exit strategy.
The alternative—that is, military engagement, possibly leading to nuclear conflagration—would be catastrophic for North and South Korea and their regional neighbours. During our discussions in Pyongyang, senior figures consistently stated their willingness to give up their nuclear programme and to accept a process of verification. They said that their conditions are a commitment to no first strike by either side and a pledge of peaceful coexistence. Surely nothing would be lost by testing the sincerity of that position.
We concluded that a peaceful outcome is possible; that the DPRK is exhausted; and that for the world community the present crisis is an unwelcome distraction at a time of confrontation with radical Islamic terrorist groups. In our report we also detail numerous "small steps" that could be taken. For instance, the US should be encouraged to establish a diplomatic presence in Pyongyang.
It was a concern about human rights that prompted our debate a year ago. These issues are not part of the six-party talks, but they are inextricably linked with the way in which North Korea is perceived in the West. Issues such as security have not gone away either. Last autumn, David Hawk produced a chilling report entitled The Hidden Gulag. In February, a BBC programme made disturbing claims about chemical weapons being tested on camp inmates. There are now concerns for the safety of Kang Pyong Sok, whose son gave damning evidence to the BBC.
295 On 1 March, at a meeting in Warsaw with North Korean refugees, I heard harrowing accounts that make for sobering reading. Professor Leon Kieres told that conference that,hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives in the camps",and estimated that,about 150–200,000 prisoners are still being held in them".One defector and prison inmate who had earlier served as part of the presidential bodyguard, Lee Young-Kuk, graphically described the degrading situation in prison. This was his testimony:From the very first day, the guards with their rifles beat me. I was trampled on mercilessly until my legs became swollen, my eardrums were shattered, and my teeth were all broken. They wouldn't allow us to sleep from 4 am till 10 pm and once while I was sleeping, they poured water over my head. Since the conditions within the prison were poor, my head became frostbitten from the bitter cold. As I was trying to recuperate from the previous mistreatment, they ordered me to stick out my shackled feet through a hole on my cell door, and then tortured them in almost every possible way. Not a single day passed without receiving some form of torture and agonizing experience".Forced repatriation to these prisons, in breach of China's obligations under the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, has led to cruel treatment and even execution of repatriated refugees. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is denied unimpaired access, both in the DPRK and in China. Only last week, the Jubilee Campaign reported that the Chinese shot dead a North Korean attempting to enter Mongolia. Seventeen others were arrested. At the Warsaw Conference organised by the Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, Byyn Nanee described to me her treatment in China and how her brother was executed after repatriation.
When the Minister replies, perhaps she could say whether welcome reports that China may be about to allow safe passage of refugees directly to South Korea have been confirmed and whether Her Majesty's Government have pursued China over its failure to co-operate with the UNHCR. The Government deserve our congratulations on the role they played last Thursday, at the 2004 meeting of the UNHCR in Geneva. They ensured the passage of a resolution which was supported by 29 countries and raised serious concerns about human rights violations. The resolution also calls for the appointment of a special rapporteur to monitor the situation in the DPRK— something for which many Members of your Lordships' House have been calling. Perhaps the Minister can say when she expects the special rapporteur will be appointed and what the terms of reference will be.
Of course, North Korea disputes many of the accusations that have been laid at its door. However, its failure to allow independent inspection makes it impossible to separate fact from fiction.
Many of your Lordships have rightly expressed concern about the treatment of religious minorities in the DPRK. On a positive note, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I were able to visit the Protestant church of Bongsu and the Catholic cathedral of Jangchong. The opening of a Protestant seminary at Bongsu is extremely welcome, as is the construction of 296 an Orthodox church. However, no Catholic priest has been permitted in the country for more than 50 years and there are no diplomatic relations with the Holy See. At Anju, we were moved to learn from Mrs Kim. the mayor, of a Catholic church destroyed half a century ago in the ruins of which believers have continued until this day to meet weekly.
Throughout our visit we persisted in raising cases such as that of the Rev Dong-shik Kim and that of Reverend Ahn Seung Woon—a South Korean pastor who was working in China when he was abducted by North Korean agents. Reverend Woon was shown on North Korean TV but has not been seen since 1995. Reverend Kim disappeared in January 2000 after assisting some North Korean refugees. To date we have not received a response from the DPRK about the fate of either of those clergymen, but those abductions, and those of several Japanese civilians, have soured relations and impeded political progress. If the DPRK truly wants an end to international isolation and, ultimately, reunification with South Korea, it will have to realise that that can come about only by the creation of more openness, more tolerance and an end to such violations.
I turn finally to the humanitarian crisis in North Korea. United Nations officials told the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and myself that there is "an unlimited need" for healthcare. They said that following food shortages and famine—an estimated 2 million people have died in North Korea over the past decade—there arc not many elderly people left in the DPRK".They said that in the north-east, on the border with China, orphaned children whose parents had died in the famine were living on the streets—"street swallows" as young as seven years old.
DPRK officials told us that their daily food target per person is just 600 grams of rice. They manage to provide a meagre 350–400 grams each day per person. Food should never be used as a weapon of war. The World Food Programme says that, by and large, food is reaching those for whom it is intended. To those especially in the United States who have been arguing that humanitarian aid in the form of food should be withdrawn, I say that that would be the wrong approach. Surely we can welcome the presence of about 50 independent monitors now assessing food delivery. If we do not tackle the humanitarian crisis and ensure the flow of food, the flow of migrants and refugees from the country certainly will not be abated.
Emergency aid should be complemented by development aid. A priority should be small, micro projects such as the water irrigation and purification programme established by the Irish aid agency, Concern, that we saw at Anju, and which has dramatically improved rice yields.
The DPRK has specifically asked that students should come to the United Kingdom, and I welcome the links that are being developed with Cambridge University. The British Council should open an office in Pyongyang and meet the huge demand for English as a foreign language, which could form an important 297 part of a small steps strategy. It also strikes me that we are brandishing a great many sticks when some carrots might be equally well deployed.
Economic initiatives such as the proposed railway to link the north and the south should be expedited, and passenger transport as well as cargo should be encouraged. This would inspire confidence as well as family reunification and social cohesion.
As their Speaker's delegation learnt during a visit to Cambridge Science Park, there are huge opportunities for economic development and co-operation between Britain and North Korea. But all this is impeded by the stalemate over security and human rights concerns. Investors and non-governmental organisations are wary of an uncertain future. Surely many more would come if those key questions were resolved.
This has been a brief summary of the security, human rights, refugee and humanitarian issues facing North Korea. As Speaker Choe Tae Boc was leaving the recent meeting in the IPU Room here at Westminster, a South Korean student approached him. She told him that he was the first North Korean that she had ever met. Rather movingly, he told her, "You are my daughter-. Sometimes human encounter underlines the consequence of painful divisions. At Panmunjom, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I remarked that more of our political energies should be deployed in building bridges rather than walls.
North Korea is often described as "the land that never changes". Yet, the president of its Presidium, Kim Yong Nam, told us—I use his words—that,change can take place more quickly than we might have thought possible".It is my strong belief that we should encourage that spirit and use the not inconsiderable expertise and influence of our own country to help North Korea to make a peaceful transition. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Lord Clarke of Hampstead
My Lords, once again this House has reason to be grateful to the noble Lord. Lord Alton of Liverpool, for providing noble Lords with the opportunity to debate the situation in North Korea. I should like also to thank both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for the final report of the delegation visit made last September to North Korea, which is well worth reading. In addition, I should like to place on the record my thanks to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for making possible the recent visit and meeting that took place here in Westminster with Mr Choe Thae Boc, chairman of what I understand is the Supreme People's Assembly. In my view, that meeting was both useful and cordial, showing a way to achieve proper discussion about some of the matters that concern us here. They were debated openly and face to face.
I want to concentrate on one particular aspect of' the human rights abuses in North Korea; namely, the fate of North Korean defectors who escape into China, but who are then repatriated. Obviously the fact that the Chinese Government seem happy to repatriate them to face an uncertain future in their own country is very worrying, 298 but that issue belongs to another debate for another day. This debate seeks to concentrate on North Korea and I want to focus on the fate of such people once they are repatriated to their home country.
The NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, has interviewed many survivors from North Korea. From these testimonies and from other accounts, it is clear that people who escape from the brutal regime in North Korea, but who are then caught and sent back, suffer very severely. All are interrogated, most are beaten and tortured, and some are executed.
I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will share my concern about the case of Mr Kang Byong-sop. He is the source of the documents on chemical experimentation on political prisoners which were featured on the BBC film, "Access to Evil", shown in February this year. In September 2003, Mr Kang, his wife and his younger son managed to escape from North Korea into China. However, when on 3 January this year they attempted to flee into Laos, they were caught by Chinese border guards.
Since China has a very dishonourable record of sending captured North Korean refugees back to North Korea, it was immediately apparent to human rights groups that Mr Kang was in great danger. Sure enough, he appears to have been handed back to the North Korean Government at some point before the end of March. He has subsequently appeared at what seems to have been a stage-managed press conference in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, along with his family. Human rights representatives now fear for their safety. I therefore urge Her Majesty's Government to make strong representations to the North Korean authorities with regard to this particular case. It is clear, imperative, urgent and understandable. In their own way, our Government could make some difference to this case.
I should like to bring before noble Lords another case, that of the family of Lee Young Kuk. Mr Lee was a bodyguard to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. However, he became disillusioned with life in the dictatorship and, in 1994, he escaped to China. He was captured by the North Koreans through a deliberate ruse and taken back to North Korea after having been bound and drugged. What happened to him once back in North Korea is a salutary reminder of the sort of fate that awaits repatriated North Koreans.
He was held in Pyongyang for six months in an underground detention cell by the bo-wi-bu police from the National Security Agency. He was subjected to kneeling torture by being made to kneel motionless for hours at a time, not even turning his head. He was also subjected to water torture, being held down by five or six agents who poured water into his mouth and nose until he gagged and almost suffocated. He was also severely beaten on the shins, eyes, ears, head and mouth. Six of his teeth and one of his eardrums were broken. Years later, he still suffers from double vision in his left eye and his shins remain damaged.
Mr Lee believes that his torture was intended solely as a punishment for having fled to China. There was certainly no further information for the North Korean 299 police to beat out of him as he had openly criticised the North Korean regime when he was in Beijing. At the time he thought that he was talking to a South Korean diplomat, although his confidante turned out to be a North Korean.
Mr Lee was then sent to a labour camp where he quarried stones for 14 hours a day for four years. Eventually he was released, and in 1999 he escaped once again into China and, finally, into South Korea.
One of the particularly insidious aspects of the regime in North Korea is that it implements a policy of guilt by association, under which relatives are punished, often harshly, for the supposed misdemeanours of individuals. Mr Lee is therefore very worried about his family members still in North Korea, in particular his mother, Park San-Ok, his 13 year-old son, Ri Sung-kwang and 12 year-old daughter, Ri Sun-kyung, and his four sisters, Ri Geum-soon, Ri Kyng-hee, Ri Bok-hee and Ri Sung-hee. Through the NGO, Mr Lee has asked specifically for the British Government to make representations on their behalf and I hope that, if I pass on the details to my noble friend on the Front Bench, she will take this forward.
Concerns about the policy of forced repatriation are referred to in the excellent report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, after their visits. It is well worth reading. It states:We also know of the harsh consequences for anyone repatriated to North Korea who has attempted to go to a third country. Those consequences include execution".After setting out a list of people, they detail the way that refugees, especially those coming through from the humanitarian aid agencies, have been treated.
Even as we speak, there are other North Korean refugees in China who are also in danger of being repatriated. One of these is Mr Park Young-chol, whose alias is Jo Yong-su. Mr Park was arrested on 18 January 2003 after being involved in helping the attempted escape of North Korean refugees from China by boat. On 22 May 2003, a court in Yantai in Shantung Province sentenced Mr Park and four others to terms of imprisonment. Mr Park received a sentence of two years' imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 RMB.
Mr Park is currently in Wei Fang prison, but it appears that he may now be released on 1 May. He has expressed his absolute terror as the release date approaches. He believes that he will be repatriated to North Korea, which he describes as a "death sentence". Indeed, accounts of the treatment of those who have been repatriated would support his assessment. As I alluded to earlier, many who have returned with much lesser offences chalked up against them have been subjected to horrific torture and execution.
The Government have done wonderful things—as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, we should recognise that they have tried very hard—but I would implore them to continue to put human rights at the heart of their stated foreign policy. The North Koreans must be left in no doubt that if they want to be accepted into the world community they must stop this inhuman treatment of refugees who are forcibly repatriated.
300 I conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, once again, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Chan
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool on securing this important debate regarding a country that causes grave concern for global peace and security.
As secretary of the British-North Korean All-Party Parliamentary Group, I particularly welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate—all the more so, as my noble friend said, as it was only in mid-March that a delegation of North Koreans, led by the Chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly, Mr Chae Thae Bok, visited the United Kingdom. It was a tremendous opportunity to open the eyes of the parliamentarians of the DPRK Parliament—which meets for only two days a year—to the workings of our parliamentary system. It was also an opportunity for them to understand our concern about certain issues in their country.
Earlier this month I was in Geneva for a meeting of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, at which I chaired a session. I welcome the commission's decision to appoint a special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Having voted in favour of the resolution, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government also welcome this appointment.
In view of the reports from my noble friend Lord Alton and the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, I hope that the special rapporteur will be able to pay close attention to the conditions in North Korean prisons. I hope that in her response to the debate the Minister will tell the House that Her Majesty's Government will be offering support to the special rapporteur and his staff to gain access to North Korean prisons in order to assess humanitarian needs, to conduct interviews with inmates and to hold meetings with prison authorities.
The United Nations resolution also requests that the special rapporteur should seek credible reports on human rights from all relevant people inside and outside North Korea. These, of course, will include defectors who are now living outside the DPRK. Given that some of the most serious reports recently emerging from North Korea concern the lethal testing of chemical weapons on human beings, I look forward to Her Majesty's Government giving support to the special rapporteur and his staff to investigate these reports fully and to gain access to sites within North Korea where tests are alleged to have occurred or are occurring.
As regards the issue of North Korean refugees in China, because of what has been said so far I shall focus on only one incident. Only last week I was asked to bring to the attention of Her Majesty's Government the case of Mr Park Yong-choi, also known as Jo Yong-su, a North Korean who was arrested and sentenced in China but now faces repatriation and likely execution in his home country. Mr Park was arrested on 18 January 2003 in connection with the 301 attempted escape of North Korean refugees by boat. On 22 May last year, a court in Yantai, in Shantung Province, China, sentenced him and four others to terms of imprisonment. Mr Park received a sentence of two years' imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 Chinese yuan.
It appears that Mr Park may now be released on I May. He has expressed his absolute terror at the approach of his release date because he believes that he will be repatriated to North Korea to face torture and then execution. Mr Park is now in Wei Fang prison, some five hours' drive from Yantai airport in Shantung Province in north China.
His co-defendant, Mr Choi Yong-hun, was also transferred to Wei Fang prison in mid-January this year. Choi is a South Korean sentenced to five years' imprisonment. His case has received some attention in South Korea. As a result he has been able to send letters to his family. In a recent letter to his wife, Choi mentioned Mr Park's possible release on 1 May and asked for intervention on Park's behalf. Choi states that the thought of what may happen to Park in North Korea torments him so badly that he sometimes contemplates suicide.
According to the reply to a Written Question that I put to the Minister, some 20,000 Chinese students have entered the United Kingdom to enrol in further and higher education. Given the better and improving relations between Britain and the People's Republic of China, I call upon Her Majesty's Government to enter into discussions with the Chinese Government about the situation of North Korean refugees in China.
I am well aware that the Chinese Government turn a blind eye to the torture of religious minorities in China. The case of the abducted pastors was referred to by my noble friend Lord Alton. I ask only whether Her Majesty's Government will continue to inquire of the DP RK what has happened to the two ministers of religion—the Reverend Ahn Seung Woon and the Reverend Kim Dong Shik —both of whom have disappeared without a trace over the past few years.
I hope that the Government will take up this difficult issue with a country which has only recently been open enough to allow a delegation to visit here and one party of British parliamentarians to visit North Korea. From what I heard when I was around the table with Mr Chae, he believes that the United Kingdom is the best friend of the North Koreans in the West. I heard a similar statement made by Mr Hu Jintao when he was Vice-President of China and visited Britain three years ago. Given the great hope and statements made about the reputation of the United Kingdom Government, I have no doubt that they can intervene successfully.
§ 3.49 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Edmundsbury and Ipswich
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on his dedication and particularly his persistence in bringing the situation in North Korea to your Lordships' House, including the 302 appalling details which we have heard. I also applaud his commitment to engagement and to his "small step strategy".
Despite the huge development in the mass media, it seems that human beings cannot take in a very wide canvas. Consequently, the current focus on Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the so-called war on terror diverts attention from other places of acute suffering. At the same time, such regimes as that in North Korea are acutely conscious—paranoid may not be too strong a word—about the perceived attitudes of other countries towards them and, in the case of North Korea, particularly the perceived attitude of the United States.
When I contacted Canon John Peterson, the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion this week about his last visit to the Korean peninsula, he said that the National Council of Churches in Korea was very eager for him to go to North Korea and felt that an initiative from the Anglican Communion would have been helpful, particularly in relation to justice and peace issues. However, the visit was not to be. The barrier was possibly because of the timing, which was shortly after Mr Bush's famous "axis of evil" pronouncements in his State of the Union address. The National Council of Churches in Korea was hoping that a visit from the Anglican Communion might have dispelled some of the fear that resulted from that speech. But the same fear denied the opportunity for a visit.
As with so many severely repressive regimes, fear plays a major part, not just in terms of what the regime inflicts on its people but also in what motivates the regime in feeding its insularity and, at times, its paranoia. It is because of this that the visit of the parliamentary delegation to North Korea in September of last year was so important. It may have achieved even more than it realised.
Nothing can replace the meeting of human beings with each other, and I think the delegation should be congratulated on its determination not to shy away from critical questions, as well as its ability to identify ways in which practical help can be given. It has been able to come back and tell a real story at first hand. Much of that story is totally shocking, as we have heard this afternoon, but much of it is also hugely hopeful. It is especially encouraging to read about and hear about the brave and courageous people who have worked for justice and peace over many years, especially the martyrs—many thousands of them—who have died for their faith and beliefs and in the service of the Korean people.
In the debate of March of last year in your Lordships' House, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said that she hoped that our own Churches would give greater recognition than has been given so far to the martyrs of Korea. I hope that our Churches will take that plea to heart. The stories need to be told and retold, not just to honour those who have died but to give hope to those who currently suffer so that they know that their history as well as their suffering is acknowledged and celebrated.
303 As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, a return delegation from North Korea came to this country last month and was able to meet with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He presented members of the delegation with, among other things, Bibles in their own language. Something of the response of the delegation can be gauged from its invitation to the most reverend Primate to visit North Korea. These are hopeful steps.
Another step would be the reopening of an American embassy in North Korea. Even during the Cold War, the United States retained their diplomatic presence in other countries. Such a presence in North Korea could be an important means of progress at this time and might promote more understanding and less fear.
In focusing on hopeful ways forward, we should not lose sight of the situation on the ground for very many in North Korea who suffer acutely. Repatriation from China, as has been mentioned—and, last week, even repatriation from South Korea—means an almost certain threat of death.
I am sure that our thoughts and prayers are with those who suffer and die in North Korea, but also with those who work so courageously for justice and change, including members of our own government.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, we last debated this subject just over a year ago, thanks to my noble friend Lord Alton, to whom we are again indebted. I am not clear, however, whether there has been real progress since then, among either the neo-Stalinists of North Korea or the neo-conservatives of Washington. I therefore invite the Minister to say whether, in her view, some real détente has occurred, whether there has been any progress on missiles and nuclear weapons or, indeed, on the equally important subject of the control of export of small arms. Has the persecution and discrimination against religious believers in North Korea eased at all?
A year ago, we spoke about the need for multilateral dialogue. The Minister said then that she was in touch with British and international NGOs. Have they, in fact, been drawn into the conversations with the North Korean Government? Surely this is wholly desirable, since perhaps they could make some headway where governments may not yet have access.
I quoted the Statement on Principles for US and North Korean Relations drawn up by a distinguished group of American citizens in January 2003. Has anything come of that, I wonder? It seems to have strong affinities with the Helsinki process of the 1970s and 1980s. Have the Government discussed this statement with the United States?
I should now like to look in rather more detail at the situation of refugees and others leaving North Korea. The combination of food shortages and famines with harsh political and religious persecution have forced many people to flee. Some seek temporary respite, others permanent refuge. Because it is very difficult to 304 cross the demilitarised zone into South Korea or to escape by sea, most fugitives go to China. There, if found, they are automatically treated as illegal economic migrants. Some are fined and/or imprisoned for one to two years. All, sooner or later, are sent back to North Korea where, as has been said, they face torture, forced labour and possibly death. The best estimate seems to be that up to 300 people per week are being sent back by China to North Korea without— and this is the important point—any determination of their status.
My noble friend Lord Alton and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised this matter by letter with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Beijing last September. So far, they have had no reply, although they submitted the names and details of more than 100 persons either sent back or still held in China.
I would like to raise the case of the Reverend Ahn Seung Woon, already mentioned by my noble friend. Nothing is known about the fate of this man in North Korea following his abduction. His wife, three children and four grandchildren are obviously deeply concerned. Will the Government discuss this case with the North Korean Government? Will they also raise with China the cases of two aid workers, one clergyman and one journalist, all from South Korea, arrested in January 2003 in connection with the Yantai boat people? Their names are known and have been or will be submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The arrest and sentencing of the journalist is thought to breach China's obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Her Majesty's Government might well point out in connection with this that Japanese citizens arrested in China for communicating with or helping North Korean refugees have generally been released after a mere three weeks' detention.
Wider issues of international obligations also arise. China has ratified the 1951 convention on the status of refugees and the 1967 protocol. In addition, it signed a bilateral treaty on 1 December 1995 with the UNHCR providing unimpeded access to refugees within China. The Chinese Government are in clear breach of their obligations, because they consistently fail to determine the status of North Koreans found on their territory. Will the Government therefore raise this matter on all possible occasions bilaterally in their human rights dialogue with China and in the United Nations at other international circles?
Your Lordships should note the extreme paradox whereby China co-operates fully with the UNHCR over some 300,000 refugees from Vietnam in southern China, but refuses any protection—whether by its own activities or through the High Commissioner—to a further estimated 300,000 North Koreans also in China. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination formally recorded that fact in August 2001. This is yet another reason why the European Union should not lift its embargo on the export to China of weapons and military equipment. There can be no doubt that China's refusal to accept 305 its obligations is systematic and stems from the highest levels of decision making. The evidence for that lies in the arrest, sentencing and refoulement of North Koreans, not only in the border areas, but also on the frontiers of Mongolia and Vietnam, in Shanghai and Beijing, notably at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at other foreign embassies.
I wish her Majesty's Government every possible success in their efforts to bring the Chinese to a better and more co-operative frame of' mind. Of course, that may take time. In the interim, however, there is another possibility for providing a safety valve for North Korea's internal problems. Russia has acknowledged that its far eastern provinces in the Pacific regions of Siberia are seriously underpopulated. They lack sufficient young people and key workers in certain industries, particularly as oil and gas production expand. Therefore, will the Government explore, perhaps in conjunction with the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration, whether Russia would agree to accept some of those who wish to leave North Korea? That could make a real contribution to détente and might reduce the prison and labour camp population quite considerably. In any such discussions it will be essential to uphold the principle of family unity.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for sponsoring this debate and welcome the immensely valuable work that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others have been doing to try to build some personal links with this immensely difficult closed society. Everything that can he done to begin to give the authorities and the people of North Korea easier relations with the rest of the world and break down the barriers of fear, ignorance and insecurity that dominate their society is to be welcomed, and we appreciate how difficult that is.
A great deal has been said about the human rights situation there, about particular cases of human rights and about the problem of the Chinese treatment of refugees and economic migrants. I will focus on the regime itself and the possibilities of transition because, after all, the best way to improve the human rights situation in the long run is for North Korea to go through a relatively peaceful transition.
The most interesting and valuable phrase in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was his reference to the possibility of a Libyan outcome. If we can move in that direction slowly, there is some hope. After all, by any criteria, North Korea comes closest to the classic definition of a rogue state. I have always been very unhappy with the use of the term "rogue state". However, a state that is so closed off from the outside world, that makes its money by exporting missile technology, does its best to threaten its neighbours and, in effect, therefore lives by attempted blackmail of its neighbours, is a rogue state by any means.
We are aware of the evidence that the North Koreans have been extensive exporters of missile technology. They have a nuclear programme, although the degree of 306 development of that nuclear programme is contested. The Americans are convinced that it is fully developed, but those who have done their best to explore quite how far they have got with the plutonium process are not necessarily as convinced as the Bush administration claims to be. There have been allegations of heroin smuggling, and there are explicit threats to South Korea. There are immense problems.
North Korea is one of the relics of the Cold War, the only one that has not yet begun to change. Change might include confrontation and a move towards a military crisis that could include a break into conflict. I was in Seoul recently and was very conscious of how close it is to the border. For anyone in South Korea, the possibility of military conflict is a catastrophic alternative.
The second possible outcome is regime collapse. Clearly, the regime has come quite close to collapse over the past 10 years, especially during the famine. The third possible outcome, which we must try to promote if we can, would be some sort of relatively peaceful transition. The briefing that I read before this debate suggests that there are some signs of reform. They are very small, but at least they are better than we have seen over the past 15 to 20 years. There are suggestions that the economy, with some assistance from South Korean companies and others, is beginning to benefit from a relaxation of the old state socialist script and, clearly, as with the visit by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, there is some greater degree of outside contact, with at least a half-opening towards Japan and elsewhere.
The South Korean approach, reinforced by the recent elections in South Korea that were an overwhelming victory for its current Prime Minister, is one that we should wish to promote as far as we can. We must recognise that the South Koreans are not interested in rapid unification. The sheer cost of that, especially on the German example, puts them off. Dialogue, engagement and an attempt to rebuild links between the two halves of Korea is very much the way in which they want to move forward.
To most of us, I suspect, the attitude of the Bush administration at present seems unhelpful. The hostile rhetoric of the Bush administration only reinforces the hardliners in North Korea who wish to resist change. The declaration of enmity makes it easier for them to argue that the world is hostile and that one should therefore resist contacts. The sense that one has from Vice-President Cheney and others is that—with reference to the quote from a former US President who warned against American foreign policy going out to the world to find monsters to destroy—there are those in the Pentagon who want to find monsters and set about destroying them. That would clearly risk disaster for the whole of the Far East.
The way forward must, I suggest, be multilateral—most of all through the six-party talks. In that respect, we must recognise that China is a very important player; it is unsatisfactory in human rights terms and in all sorts of other ways, but it is the outside state with the most influence in North Korea. It is therefore one 307 alongside which we must operate as far as we can, even while recognising that the Chinese attitude towards North Korean refugees is unhelpful.
I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about the role of Russia. That country may play a useful role; after all, a significant Korean diaspora exists in Russia—and, incidentally, in Ukraine, Belarus and other countries—which may be of some assistance in helping a transition within North Korea. Russia thus has a legitimate role to play. As it is going through a period of transition from socialism to at least some form of semi-market economy and semi-democracy, it may have some useful role to play. So, too, does Japan. It is deeply unsatisfactory that the half-opening of the question of those who have been kidnapped has left a great deal of bitterness in Japan, but it has influence and leverage. The six-party talks must be the way forward.
The British response must be partly to recognise that we are only a secondary or tertiary player in this game and that our influence is best exerted through multilateral channels—the European Union, the UN and the Asia-Europe dialogue. After all, there will be an ASEM meeting later this year. Our influence may come through such areas as the UN Committee on Human Rights. There was an EU delegation visit to North Korea some months ago. There is a useful means of influence through the Europe-China dialogue and the UN is doing a certain amount that is very helpful in this regard.
As it happens, I know Masood Hyder, as he used to work for the British Government and my wife was his boss at the time, some 25 years ago. He has an extremely difficult job in North Korea, trying to maintain food aid and a positive role for the UN from the outside. We welcome what the United Kingdom Government have been doing in terms of support for food aid and humanitarian assistance. We hope that the Minister will tell us what more the British Government believe that we can do in that regard, recognising that there is a limit to what we can do on our own. We hope that we are promoting as much multilateral co-operation in this regard as possible.
When one thinks back to the speech that President Bush made about the axis of evil and the labels of rogue states, one can see some movement. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Libya appears to be moving back towards the international community. Iran, in spite of continued hostility from the United States, appears to be playing a relatively positive role in Iraq. Iraq itself, sadly, is now in deep crisis. We have failed so far to rebuild the state after the invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Syria is still a problem for all of us. Again, European and American attitudes to how we bring Syria back into the international community have diverged painfully in many ways.
Then we have North Korea, on which European governments can only work with those in the region and, as far as we can, in influencing American policy, to assist towards a greater opening and a peaceful 308 transition. The aim must be gradually but eventually fully to bring North Korea, as with these other states, back into the international community.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, we are indeed indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for promoting this debate. He has not only issued some fascinating reports and conducted visits with my noble friend Lady Cox to Pyong Yang, but maintained a vigorous after-sale service in arranging meetings here between visiting delegations of the DPRK and members of this House, and meetings with the DPRK ambassador. That forms an important part of the weave of dialogue, connections and contact, which must in turn be part of the longer term solution for this unhappy country in its unhappy position.
Last year, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who cannot be with us today, remarked that the UK had a relatively limited role in unravelling the North Korean problem. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who has enormous expertise in foreign affairs, said much the same thing. It is true that we are not in the front line of the six-party talks, as we are not one of the six parties. However, the reality is different.
In this age of the globalised network system, we are now living right next door to each other, and any threat anywhere in the network is a threat and danger to us immediately and directly here at home. That is the change from the past eras of international disorder. There is now no country on earth that is so far away that we can afford anything but the utmost vigilance. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly said, however distant the origin of the problem seems to be, we must be ready to make a full contribution of ideas, skills and expertise to the resolution of problems that threaten aggressively to destabilise the global network, leading to a whole chain of consequences and to intimate and immediate horrors.
We have learnt, for instance, from the revelations of Dr Kahn's activities in Pakistan and from the Libyans in their new revelatory mood, just how intimate and interwoven the networks are that carry the sinister trade in nuclear weapons information and components, and other contributory components to weapons of mass destruction. I refer, too, to weapons of singular destruction—in other words, weapons which, when placed in the hands of even quite small terrorist organisations, can still inflict the most fearful damage on all our societies.
When the Prime Minister had his recent discussion with Mr Gaddafi and set up the consequent talks, with which I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has been involved—as she has been with other important Middle East and Maghreb developments—I hope that further discussion was encouraged on the network trade of the nuclear components and other dangerous products. I hope that we will learn a lot more about those matters as a result of the more open relationship which, it is to be hoped, we will have with Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyans.
The problem with North Korea is, in a way, even more serious than that. It is a nation that first signed and then flouted the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
309 That threatens us all directly. It threatens us just as much as does the irresponsible export of weapons for terrorist use or abuse or any kind of terrorist attack on Asian cities or other metropolises, however remote—it all comes straight hack to our own front doorstep. I accept that the NPT is not the best regime; in fact, it needs obvious revision, but it is all that we have. If the underlying discipline of that goes, or is allowed to slip away by turning blind eyes to what the North Koreans have done deliberately, we really are all slipping into a new dark age.
As I think the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, asked in the debate last year, to which there have been several references—that debate was also promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton—what do we do now? Do we just make speeches at each other or is there a set of priorities that we can keep in front of us as we proceed in this very dangerous area? The first thing we do is what we are doing now, and what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, does all the time, which is keep up the human rights pressure. Steady and unremitting pressure and criticism, well informed and focused, about human rights abuses in a country such as North Korea are not, as some cynics say, just words and useless, well meaning utterances; pressure does pay off. We must never forget—I am sure that no one among your Lordships will ever forget—what the Helsinki process did to undermine eventually the confidence of the old Soviet regime and open the reform floodgates; indeed, with the result that the flood itself then swept away everything, reforms and all, and finally removed the whole odious apparatus of communist rule. It took a long time. At the time people said that it was hopeless but it worked, if only by the drip-drip process, to undermine the entire structure. That continues and all energies must be mobilised in this area as much as in other areas of international crisis which we now face.
Secondly—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—we should avoid some of the Messianic language coming out of Washington about axes of evil. In the past few days I have read some extraordinary things in the Herald Tribune, that have emerged at a high level in Washington, about America's God-given mission to sell freedom or whatever to every country on earth. I can understand the motivations but the whole tone, and the almost unthinking impulses which one fears lie behind that kind of tone, will not help to unravel and unpick the situation. It is precisely that kind of language that frightens the South Koreans who, after all, are only a missile's throw away from North Korea, and I am afraid has led to a remarkable degree of anti-American sentiment being uttered in Seoul, which is extraordinary when you think how over the years America has helped to safeguard the freedoms of the South Koreans. That is not the right way to proceed. If only we could in the delicate world of diplomacy somehow calm down some of our American friends' enthusiasms and concerns, we would all make a lot more progress.
I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, when he made an analogy with the Berlin Wall situation. I do not make that analogy. I do not think that the situation we are discussing is at all comparable with the East German situation where, if your Lordships 310 remember, it was the East Germans themselves who broke through the wall surrounding them in order to escape from and, indeed, bring down their regime, which they did with amazing rapidity. I do not know whether that will happen in North Korea. Frankly, I do not think that it will, and I do not think that is the way that matters will proceed. If I may take issue slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, nor do I see the prospect of what he calls a "Libyan outcome". If a Libyan outcome means leaving in place the same old dictatorship and the same old regime but just putting on new clothes for the afternoon, as it were, we should be very suspicious, careful and cautious about that. However, I leave those matters there.
Thirdly, we must accept that China is really the key to the whole jigsaw. We may not want to accept it but it is. As your Lordships know, Kim Jong II visited China over the weekend. According to the Xinhua News Agency, he now says that he wants to resume the six-party talks, which I suppose is welcome. I think that it is welcome even though it is difficult to see progress until North Korea takes definite, positive steps to start closing down its plutonium reactor programme and its highly enriched uranium facilities. In trying to round up where we go on all this, we have to ask what China really needs and what will motivate it to use its undoubted strength and leverage to ensure that North Korea ends its era of threats, missiles over Japan, flouting of treaties and so on and begins to behave in a more responsible way.
Obviously, the first thing that China wants is not to have a hornet's nest on its doorstep. Things are very different from half a century ago at the time of the Korean War. The Chinese economy today is roaring ahead, some say much too fast, it may have to cool down a little, but in doing so it is transforming at least a large section of Chinese life and making the People's Republic of China a more and more significant player—in fact, a decisive player—in the global pattern of things. So, the Chinese interest today is in world stability, which means trading and financial stability and political stability, and it is growing all the time.
There are exceptions. The concern about Taiwan taking an independent course overrides even those concerns of the Chinese Government that I have mentioned, and the same goes for Tibet. There they seem to depart from the logical interests and prosperity of their own country and put these territorial issues above everything. I hope that that will not prove to be their attitude in relation to Hong Kong as well, where steps have been taken which make many people there extremely uneasy about whether the two-nations solution is going to be allowed to exist. I believe that a Question on that very matter will be debated in this House next week. Nevertheless, it is China that will decide just how fast progress is made in the six-party talks.
China controls 80 per cent of North Korea's fuel needs and could very easily bring the country to a standstill and, indeed, has threatened in the past to do so. That threat appears to work with the North Koreans, and, better than bringing them to a standstill, brings them to 311 reason and sense at the negotiating table. I hope that with our help, encouragement and discrete diplomatic efforts, that is what it will now do because not just Asian security and physical safety but our own security and physical safety will be directly threatened by failure on this whole front.
As the noble Baroness herself said in our debate last year, to make progress on human rights issues, about which we have heard so much in such graphic and proper detail in this debate, as we should always seek to do, we have to make progress on the nuclear issue as well; they go together. If we unravel the nuclear issue, the room for further progress on human rights will surely be enlarged. I agree very much with that line of thought and I hope that we can make progress on all those fronts because it is imperative that we do.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising the question of North Korea in the House today. He did so in a characteristically measured and powerful address and, as we all know, he is, indeed, very thorough in his follow-up. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said about the after-sales service of the noble Lord, Lord Alton—it is, indeed, excellent.
Your Lordships have expressed a variety of concerns about North Korea's continued defiance of the international community in respect of both security and human rights. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about the two being inextricably linked. However, as we discussed during our previous debate on this issue, one of the major difficulties that we face in our dealings with North Korea is the question of access to accurate and reliable information from a country that remains largely closed to contact from the outside world.
There are developments to report since our previous debate in March 2003, however. We have heard of some of them in this debate, and I hope to cover others. We saw the launch, in April last year, of the trilateral talks between China, the United States and North Korea to address the nuclear issue. That was expanded in August into a multilateral format—now commonly referred to, as noble Lords have, as the six-party talks—with the inclusion of Japan, South Korea and Russia. Progress is slow, but there is agreement for those multilateral talks to continue.
Sadly, since March 2003, allegations of human rights abuses have continued to emerge more frequently and alarmingly. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights is strongly focused on how to address those issues. As we heard, only last week a second resolution on the DPRK, sponsored by the European Union, was agreed by a substantial majority at the Commission. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation for millions of ordinary North Korean citizens is extraordinarily bleak. I would like to cover those areas, and in doing so I shall try to cover some of the focused questions raised by noble Lords.
312 The noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Howell of Guildford, referred in quite a lot of detail to the six-party talks. Of course, we welcome the establishment of a multilateral process to resolve the nuclear issue. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked exactly what progress was being made. So far, there have been two plenary meetings of the six parties, hosted by the Chinese in Beijing in August 2003 and February 2004. The first meeting agreed the two objectives of the process—the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and the resolution of the issue peacefully through dialogue. The second meeting established a working group to discuss the next steps in greater detail. The working group has yet to convene but will do so before the next plenary meeting, which should take place by the end of June this year.
It should not surprise any of us that progress has been slow. It is likely to continue to be very much uphill work. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to a number of the complex issues which the six-party talks process will need to address before any comprehensive and durable settlement can be reached, but I shall highlight some of those. They include: whether North Korea is genuinely committed to achieving the objective of a denuclearlised peninsula; how to address the difficulties of verification; and whether North Korea tells the truth about the existence of its highly enriched uranium programme, as well as its plutonium-based programme.
As we consider the prospects for the talks process, we hope that it will provide an opportunity to bring greater clarity and some really practical steps which need to be taken to achieve a more stable and secure environment for the Korean peninsula. Specifically, Her Majesty's Government hope that it will aim to clarify understanding of the security assurances which the other parties may offer to North Korea in the context of the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear weapons programmes. That sort of assurance process will have an enormous effect. The talks should aim to pin down exactly what the scope of the dismantling should be.
The talks should also address the very important subject of verification. The particular issues on that will be North Korean readiness to submit all their nuclear programmes to international verification, and how the international community can have confidence in any verification system that can be agreed with North Korea. The DPRK must come clean on its highly enriched uranium-based programme—on which I am afraid that North Korea continues very much to equivocate—as well as on the plutonium based programme, which it readily avows.
As the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Howell, reminded us, the UK is not a party to the six-party talks. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, also said, there are a number of ways in which we can contribute to the success of the process. I agreed very strongly with what the noble Lord. Lord Howell, said about our having a real responsibility to add our voice to the argument. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a depository state for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with all its drawbacks, 313 and a major EU country—one which has diplomatic relations with all six countries involved in the talks—our support for the process is valued by all participants. We speak to all the participants, including the North Koreans, regularly and at a high level.
Our position on the nuclear issue remains clear. We fully support the efforts of the six-party talks process to achieve complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantli ng—CVID—in North Korea. We believe that the six-party process provides the best opportunity to find a comprehensive and durable solution to the issue. It is important that the talks process produces an agreement acceptable to all six participants. After all, they have most at stake in what is going on.
Over the past year, we have again stressed to the North Koreans that real security and, very importantly, prosperity can come only from co-operation and integration with the international community. We have reminded the North Koreans that the United States has stated repeatedly that it has no intention of attacking the DPRK, and that it is prepared to participate in offering North Korea assurances about its security. It is important that we reinforce that message bilaterally with the North Koreans. We continue to inform them that their pursuit of a nuclear weapons programmes, and their continued defiance of the international community, will lead to greater isolation. It is therefore in their own security interests, as well as the interests of regional stability, to dismantle their nuclear weapons programmes promptly and in a way that can be verified.
Those messages have been given clearly at ministerial level on two occasions over the past year by my honourable friend Mr Rammell, the Minister who has responsibility for Asia. He also remains in close contact on the issue with his counterparts in the USA.
The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. referred to the Libyan example. We have encouraged North Korea to look very carefully at Libya's recent decision to dismantle its WMD programmes. The two countries are obviously enormously different, and we do not claim that there is a "one size fits all" solution to nuclear proliferation. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that North Korea can and should draw a lesson and encouragement from the Libyan example.
Dialogue that has taken place both before and since Libya's announcement on 19 December has shown what can be achieved once a strategic decision to come clean about what is really going on has been made. Libya's actions since 19 December serve as an example to others. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that the Libyans demonstrate what can be achieved in a short time, given co-operation from all sides. They show that problems of proliferation can be tackled. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was right: we have to go on trying to unravel the web of proliferation around the world.
The noble Lord was also quite right to refer to the issues around Dr A Q Khan. The recent revelations in the media concerning the relationship between Pakistan and North Korea have been very illuminating. It was reported that 314 A Q Khan visited North Korea and was allegedly shown three nuclear warheads. However, in the absence of a comprehensive inspection, which the North Koreans refuse, it is very difficult to know the real accuracy of such reports. If true, they would not significantly affect our own assessment of what has been known for some time—that North Korea has sufficient material for one or two nuclear weapons, and the technical capability to construct the weapons itself.
It is interesting that Dr Khan admitted, on Pakistani national television, that he had passed nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The activities of Dr Khan's network of suppliers were directed towards provision of uranium enrichment centrifuges—the very equipment that North Korea denies having.
Let me turn to human rights, as all noble Lords' speeches concentrated on that important issue. Of course Her Majesty's Government share the concerns expressed, and it is particularly frustrating that North Korea refuses to provide direct evidence about the human rights situation there. Yet we continue to hear more and more reports about the systematic abuse of human rights. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead, many of the reports come from the many North Korean refugees who flee across the Chinese border. The reports are so similar, regular and numerous that their credibility is difficult to dispute, yet North Korea simply responds to such reports with flat denials.
Earlier this year, we heard new and deeply disturbing reports that political prisoners in North Korea, including children, were being subjected to chemical experiments. Those reports were outlined in the horrific BBC documentary "Access to Evil", shown in February, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to earlier in today's debate and which we discussed at Question Time shortly after the broadcast.
Her Majesty's Government were quick to raise these reports with the North Korean Government, both in London and in Pyongyang. I know that a number of noble Lords have also put their concerns directly to North Korean representatives, most recently, as we heard, during the visit to London by the chairman of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly, Chae Thae Bok. My honourable friend Mr Rammell also raised these issues directly with Mr Chae, expressing our deep concerns. But on every occasion, in response to these queries, the North Koreans flatly denied the allegations. These denials are simply not credible while North Korea declines to co-operate with the mechanisms that exist in the international community for monitoring the observance of human rights. We have not just called on the North Koreans to cooperate. We have set out very clearly and simply the steps that the North Koreans must now take.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us, last week the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva passed its second resolution on the human rights situation in North Korea. As last year, the resolution was passed with a substantial majority. Indeed, 29 out of the 315 53 members of the commission voted in favour of the resolution. I am happy to say that that was one more than last year. It is disappointing that China did not feel able to vote for the resolution. It is perhaps not surprising that Zimbabwe also voted against. The resolution detailed the deep concerns of the international community regarding the systematic and widespread violations, requested the appointment of a UN special rapporteur and called upon the North Korean authorities to co-operate fully with him. In answer to the specific question asked about this, the appointment date and exact terms of reference of the special rapporteur have yet to be decided. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Chan, that the special rapporteur will receive the full co-operation of Her Majesty's Government.
As we have heard, this issue is being pursued by the UK-DPRK All-Party Parliamentary Group. We welcomed the launch of that group last autumn and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on it and thank the noble Lord, Lord Chan, for all his work on behalf of that group. I am glad that together we can ensure that North Korea receives very clear messages about human rights: to admit independent monitors; to comply with international human rights instruments; and to co-operate with the international community. For a country that has for so many years kept itself deliberately isolated from the international community, these may be very difficult messages to digest but I strongly agree with the right reverend Prelate that they must continue to be delivered vigorously to the North Koreans. However, I am bound to say that at this stage I can see no great encouragement to believe that the North Koreans will be any more responsive than they have been in the recent past.
We need to pursue the issue of religious freedom, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Clarke, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate. Despite some positive signs that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, identified during his visit, he is right to conclude that there continues to be no real freedom for North Korean citizens to follow the religion of their choice. Indeed, there is not even the freedom to access information on the range of international religious beliefs.
We will continue to urge the North Korean Government to look at the mechanisms available, through the UNCHR, for special rapporteurs. We shall also take up the cases. We are aware of the two South Korean pastors, Kim Dong Shik and Ahn Seung Woon, which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chan. The resolution that was adopted touched upon the important question of religious freedom. We strongly support that resolution and, in answer to the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, we will ask our ambassador in Pyongyang to raise the matter with the North Korean authorities.
Let me turn to the question of DPRK refugees, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead and about which the noble Lord, Lord Chan, spoke so persuasively. North Koreans are now fleeing their homeland in greater numbers than ever. Since 1953, less than 5,000 North Koreans have 316 escaped to the Republic of Korea in the south via China, yet more than 1,200 of those left during the past year or so. The number has risen dramatically over the past few years. The Chinese authorities have in the past viewed most DPRK escapees as economic migrants and have forcibly repatriated them to North Korea. We, together with other members of the international community, have expressed our deep concern to the Chinese authorities about the detention, treatment and forced repatriation of DPRK refugees. We will continue to encourage China, through dialogue, to allow safe onward passage to those North Koreans fleeing their own country to escape an existence that is, in every sense, miserable.
We are aware of the case of Mr Park raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chan. The European Commission has recently suggested that the EU should raise the matter urgently with the Chinese authorities and this is now under consideration by the EU presidency.
On the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about asking the Chinese to allow safe passage to South Korea, we too have seen press reports from South Korea saying that the Chinese are prepared to allow refugees safe passage direct to South Korea, but there is as yet no confirmation of these reports. I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to seek clarification of that position and I hope that that assurance covers the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.
The humanitarian situation in North Korea also remains extraordinarily bleak and depressing. The North Koreans have just endured another very harsh winter and there are severe food shortages. Again, the North Korean Government deny any responsibility for the situation. They say that the shortfall in the provision of food aid is again linked directly to political factors. They say that the country has been unable to recover fully from a series of natural disasters in the 1990s. They do not say that economic mismanagement is to blame, which it is. They do not say that donor agencies have been denied access to parts of the country to assess the needs of the population, and they have been denied that access.
North Koreans are brought up to believe that they live in a socialist paradise where everything they need will be provided by the Government. Yet the Government cannot feed the people. The World Food Programme estimates that almost 6 million North Koreans require food aid to meet the recommended daily calorie intake and only 52 per cent of the population of some 23 million people are thought to have access to safe drinking water.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked what the United Kingdom is doing. The UK currently has no bilateral development programme for North Korea but the Department for International Development has been active in addressing some of these issues through other agencies. For example, DfID contributes some 19 per cent of the budget of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office and in 2003 DflD's contribution was in the region of 2 million euros. On top of that, DfID recently agreed to contribute £1 million to UNICEF's work on 317 water, sanitation and primary healthcare. In January, DfID contributed £680,000 to a project run by the European Commission to provide emergency nutritional support for malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers. I understand that DID will provide further support in relation to flood prevention work later this year.
I shall cover one more point before I wind up. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about cultural links. I thought his point about taking small steps to try to improve the bilateral relationship was very persuasive. I am pleased to say that the British Council already has a presence in Pyongyang. There is an important English language project already running with British Council teachers based in three universities in North Korea. I can give the noble Lord details of it at a later date if he is interested.
Addressing the problems caused by, and suffered by, North Korea is uniquely difficult because of the lack of information. It is a country that refuses to co-operate at any level and refuses to integrate with the rest of the international community. The North Korean Government unashamedly proliferate missiles, yet they ask for economic and technical assistance. They blame anybody but themselves for the country's misfortune, isolation and economic decline, yet they ask for help in food, healthcare and education. It denies all the allegations which are so clearly chronicled of human rights abuse, yet refuses to admit any inspectors to verify the situation. The effect of so many years of economic mismanagement and ideological falsehoods cannot be undone rapidly.
But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we have to pursue a patient, peaceful and diplomatic path in encouraging North Korea to rejoin the rest of the international community. Once the nuclear issue has been satisfactorily resolved, we will be able to pursue our bilateral efforts more vigorously to the benefit of the North Korean people who are currently suffering so very badly.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, in keeping with the after-sales service attributed to me during the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the Minister, it falls to me to conclude our debate. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in our proceedings for sharing with us their insights about how to resolve the security issues posed by North Korea and for their account of the plight of refugees and detainees.
The 2005 resolution at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, referred to by the Minister, has been the backdrop for our debate. Like your Lordships' speeches, it underlines that the world community is far from indifferent to the events in North Korea. But we have also made it abundantly clear that we are willing to engage as well as to criticise. I am especially grateful to the Minister and to her officials for the approach they have adopted. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.