(LEAD) U.S. envoy urges N. Korea to begin ‘reform’ process to improve human rights

The U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights called on Pyongyang Wednesday to launch a "reform" process to enhance its rights situation, stressing promoting respect for human dignity in the reclusive state remains a "top" priority for Washington. Ambassador Julie Turner made the remarks as she marked the 10th anniversary of the release of a landmark U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) report that accused North Korean officials of "systematic, widespread and gross" human rights violations and made related recommendations. "Today, 10 years later, I urge the international community to reflect on those recommendations and to consider what more can be done to carry them forward," she said in a video message released by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. "We call on the DPRK to initiate a reform process to implement the recommendations of the 2014 U.N. COI report and to respect human rights," she added, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The COI report included recommendations that Pyongyang undertake "profound and institutional reforms without delay" to introduce checks and balances on the powers of the nation's leader and the ruling Workers' Party, including the introduction of an independent and impartial judiciary and a multiparty political system. Turner also pointed out that Washington reinforced the COI recommendation to China and other countries to respect the principle of non-refoulement and abstain from forcibly repatriating anyone to the North "unless treatment there, verified by international monitors, markedly improves." Noting that Pyongyang will undergo a universal periodic review later this year, she expressed hope that the review will serve as an opportunity to improve respect for human rights. The review is a mechanism that calls for each U.N. member state to go through a peer review of its human rights record every 4.5 years. The ambassador also reiterated America's commitment to enhancing human rights for North Koreans. "P romoting respect for human rights and human dignity in the DPRK remains a top priority for the U.S. government," she said. Turner has been stressing the importance of human rights in the North as she has said that security and human rights are "inextricably" linked. Her thinking is that a repressive political climate allows the North Korean regime to divert public resources to its weapons programs without objection from its people. "We remain committed to shining a spotlight on human rights abuses and violations, promoting accountability for those responsible for them, increasing access to information inside the DPRK and supporting civil society efforts," she said. The ambassador also expressed her appreciation to those working for North Korean human rights. "Thank you for continuing to speak out on behalf of the millions of North Koreans who are denied the right to speak out on their own behalf," she said. "To the North Korean people, we see you and we will continue to advocate for improved conditions an d for your rights to be respected." Source: Yonhap News Agency