Fiona Bruce MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, met with a delegation from the DPRK on 10th December. The delegation consisted of Mr. Kim Son Gyong (Director General, European Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Mr. Kim Hak (Section Chief, European Department, MFA), Ambassador Hyon Hak Bong (DPRK Ambassador to the United Kingdom), and Thae Yong Ho (Minister, DPRK Embassy in London).
To begin, Fiona Bruce MP welcomed the delegation and set out the aims of the APPG, namely: To formulate solutions that promote and support human rights, democracy and security in the DPRK; to establish relations with the exiled North Korean community to foster understanding of the DPRK and the challenges which face its people; and to explore meaningful relations between the parliaments of the UK and the DPRK.
Ms. Bruce then extended her concerns for those North Koreans affected by the recent flooding in the DPRK – whilst noting the current flooding in the UK – and asked the delegation about the adequacy of North Korea’s flood defences and whether the North Korean Government had considered diverting resources spent on its military to flood relief efforts.
Mr. Kim Son Gyong responded that flooding had particularly affected the north of the country and that hail had caused considerable damage. International aid agencies were credited for their responses, but Mr. Kim stated that the visit of Kim Jong-un to affected areas had led to many destroyed houses being rebuilt by the military in less than two months.
Ms. Bruce noted that the World Food Programme had estimated that North Koreans consume 25% less protein and 30% less fat than is required for a healthy life and asked whether money spent manning the Korean People’s Army would be better spent on improving harvest yields and addressing severe annual flooding.
Ms. Bruce then moved to note the findings of the DPRK’s Universal Periodic Review and asked which, if any, recommendations had been implemented by the North Korean Government.
Mr. Kim Son Gyong noted that some UPR recommendations were seen by Pyongyang as an ‘insult to its system’, but that the DPRK Government had expressed a commitment to implement a number of accepted recommendations and that its response would take some time to materialise. Mr. Kim stated that Pyongyang’s commitment to the UPR was indicative of its commitment to promoting human rights and that many (unnamed) European human rights experts supported his claim.
Staying on the topic of the UPR, Ms. Bruce asked for specific examples of improvements to the human rights of women, children, and disabled peoples.
Mr. Kim Son Gyong stated that the DPRK is ‘developed in facilitating equal rights towards women’ and that ‘men and women are equal in law’. With regards to children, Mr. Kim quoted a North Korean saying that ‘children are the future, they are the kings of the country’. Mr. Kim then referenced the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled and two EU-funded factories in the DPRK that produce prosthetic limbs.
Moving to the findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, Ms. Bruce asked the delegation when the DPRK would respond fully to the report.
Mr. Kim Son Gyong advised the APPG to approach the COI report in an ‘objective way’ and stated that he totally rejected the report’s findings. Mr. Kim stated his belief that the report was based on ‘distorted information’ and that the APPG should move away from discussions concerning the Commission’s work.
Ms. Bruce noted that she disagreed with Mr. Kim’s assessment of the COI report and commented that the most basic and substantive human rights are universally accepted and that, by volume alone, the testimonies of those who have fled the DPRK cannot all be without merit. Ms. Bruce asked whether the DPRK will work with UK parliamentarians and ordinary North Korean citizens to improve human rights in the DPRK?
Mr. Kim Son Gyong claimed that North Koreans who flee the DPRK are, by and large, criminals and spoke to changes in Shin Dong-hyuk’s testimony. Rather than engage with North Korean refugees, Mr. Kim advised the APPG on North Korea to play a vanguard role in improving bilateral relations between the two countries.
To end, Ms. Bruce questioned the DPRK delegation on inter-Korean relations, with particular reference to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and a question posed by the APPG on the subject.
Mr. Kim Son Gyong said that he saw inter-Korean relations as a primary concern and that there had been gradual improvements in relations between the North and South.
Ms. Bruce thanked the delegation for their time and expressed her hope for improvements in the lives of the North Korean population and for further dialogue between the APPG, DPRK parliamentarians, and the North Korean public.