He called the North’s human rights abuse “unacceptable” at a press conference held on the second day of his first visit back to his homeland since assuming the top position at the United Nations last year, according to The Korea Times.
“North Korea should also take necessary measures to improve the human rights situation … there are still many areas in the world whose human rights are not properly protected and promoted, and even abused,” Ban said, according to Voice of America. “This is a very undesirable and unacceptable situation.”
His comment comes just a week after the world applauded North Korea’s turnover of important documents related to its nuclear programs. But human rights groups have criticized the six-party talks for not giving priority to human rights in negotiations.
North Korea has arguably the worst human rights record in the world. Citizens are publicly executed for arbitrary reasons, herded into political prison camps for criticizing the government, and have absolutely no religious freedom.
Christians are seen as one of the worst enemies of the state, and believers are executed, tortured, or imprisoned. There is also no freedom of the press or movement in the reclusive, totalitarian country.
But South Korea, a member of the six party talks, has reversed its policy towards the North and made human rights a high priority in its diplomacy after President Lee Myung-bak was elected last year.
The two previous liberal South Korean administrations followed an appeasement policy towards the North, trying to maintain peace on the peninsula by giving in to the Kim Jong-il regime.
Former President Roh Moo-hyun had practiced a “sunshine policy” where aid and other help were given to the North without conditions. South Korea had also previously resisted criticizing North Korea in public, including abstaining from voting against the North’s human rights record in the United Nations for fear of upsetting its ruthless neighbor.
But Lee, South Korea’s first conservative president in a decade, vowed to take a tougher stance against North Korea.
“Constructive criticism will make Pyongyang healthier in the end,” the former Hyundai CEO said in December. “If we try to point out North Korea’s shortcomings, with affection, I think that would go a long way toward improving North Korean society.”
Ban, who was South Korea’s foreign minister from 2004 to 2006, said this week that he is willing to visit North Korea to help with the regime’s nuclear disarmament. However, he clarified during his visit to Seoul that there is no set plan yet to travel to the North after rumors circulated that he would visit soon.
The U.N. chief will fly to Japan Monday to attend the G-8 Summit where the issue of North Korea and its nuclear programs are expected to be discussed.