Ambassador Jang Il Hun on Human Rights in North Korea
A Conversation With Jang Il Hun
Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the DPR Korea to the United Nations
Chairman, Pacific Century Institute; Former U.S. Ambassador to Korea
Jang Il Hun, ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the United Nations, joins Donald P. Gregg, chairman of the Pacific Century Institute and former U.S. ambassador to Korea, to discuss human rights in North Korea. Jang responds to the United Nation's February 2014 report on human rights in North Korea, citing contrary findings from a recent report produced by the country.
GREGG: I am delighted to be here today, and there's a bit of continuity or a progression of events. Fifteen years ago, I introduced the then-foreign minister of North Korea to this group, and thinking back, it's—not too much has happened positively. We hope that today can perhaps start a new chapter.
Then, earlier this year, I was here with Jerry Cohen to hear Mr. Kirby report on the U.N. human rights report, which he had led, and it was, I thought, a very interesting meeting. I liked him. He, I thought, was not bombastic at all. And I asked him, as I was the commentator, your report covers about fifty years, and have you noticed any changes during that period? And he said, yes, there have been improvements under Kim Jong-un, which I wish he'd said that in his report, but he at least said it in response to my—to my question.
So I also, just to make things a little different, I have something I'm going to pass around. I definitely want it back, because it's one my precious possessions. It's a copy of a leaflet dropped by North Korea when I was ambassador in 1991. I checked this out with Ambassador Jang; it's OK with him. And this was on a golf course out in Seoul. And for those of you who don't read, Korean, you'll see me sitting regally in a chair with Roh Tae Woo bending over me, and we're discussing how to assassinate Kim Young-sam, who was the upcoming president of South Korea.
So that was how I was perceived by the North Koreans. I pass this around, because I think that some people feel, well, this guy, Gregg, is sort of warm and fuzzy with the North Koreans. And that is not—that is not—we may be now, but we certainly weren't there. So, anyway, please enjoy it. Thank you.
Ambassador Jang and I have become good friends in the time he has been here. And before I even met him, I sent him the joint statement that was issued by the White House when the president of Vietnam came to visit Obama. And I said to Ambassador Jang, this is—I was in the misbegotten war of Vietnam for four years. It's a war we should never have fought. And we're finally at the point where we can issue this kind of a joint statement, and I'm sending it to you, because I hope that one day we can have the same kind of statement issued between you and DPR Korea. And within twenty minutes, he replied and said, "I absolutely agree."
So I'm very happy to introduce him. It's a bit of a high-wire act for him, but he's very confident about it. And so my first question would be, how would you respond to Mr. Kirby's statement that, under Kim Jong-un, there has been an improvement in the human rights situation in North Korea?
JANG: Thank you. Thank you, everybody, for being present here. I'm very happy to sit together, discussion with you over on human rights issues in my country, the DPRK.
GREGG: If you cannot hear, let us know.
JANG: Yes. Mr. Gregg just mentioned about the Kirby's report of the Kirby commission. And I—today, I wish to introduce the report of ours prepared for the DPRK Association for Human Rights study, and this points to the Kirby's report, not exactly in response, but in view of the nature of the human rights criticism against my country, I think, it's opportune for me to introduce the report of our own to you.
I don't want to go lengthy. We have this report, as some of you may have it in front of you. It's voluminous and I cannot get into detail, but just briefly, I want to say that it was prepared by the association and through extensive studies on human rights issues in my country involving a broader spectrum of academics, law enforcement officials, and state organs.
And first point I want to make is that we—for the promotion and protection of human rights, we have a guiding state ideology, which is the—what we call Juche idea, founded by our late president, Kim Il-sung, and the idea of values the people (inaudible) and makes everything serve the interest of the people, as our late president said, believing in the people as in the heaven. And with this state ideology, we since the foundation of the republic, we have continued to promote and protect the human rights of our people.
And for the—now I want to speak about the system or mechanism of the protection and promotion of the human rights in my country. As you know, my country is a socialist country. The equality is the main principle of our society. And we have organizations that are responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights at all levels, from the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and the provincial district people's committees. These organizations all serve the interests of the people.
And through the mechanism of this system, people can file their petitions, complaints, or whatever they want from the state for remedy. And then, the policy of the government is all directed through in the protection and promotion of human rights. And as I said earlier, our late president, Kim Il-sung, said, he believed in the people as in heaven.
And now the striking characteristic of our present leader, of our supreme leader, Martial Kim Jong-un, is the politics of love for the people. So with this all mechanism in place, we guarantee the people's rights with our law. And we also guarantee the sovereignty of the country which crystallized the interests of the people with our strong military force.
In the report, we stated the (inaudible) rights of people enjoy and at a level and practical systems. And I'll skip over this now. And the (inaudible) it states the DPRK efforts to contribute to the international effort for promotion and protection of human rights on a global scale. And we have joined some international covenants and conventions on human rights, and we have faithfully participated in the UPR process, universal periodic review, which means the individual country's human rights situation on equal footing every four years. And just a few months ago, we participated in the second cycle of the UPR and accepted some of the recommendations presented to my country during its review.
And that most recently, we also joined the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child concerning the child pornography and things like that. And that we also made a proposal on holding human rights dialogue with the European Union. And we clearly stated that we are willing to engage with the European Union on (inaudible) human rights issues.
And the first part of the report states the main obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by our people. And here I have stated that the major obstacle here is the United States' hostile policy against the DPRK. And through its political, military pressure and economic sanctions, it tries to isolate and stifle our system.
So I think—as we discuss the human rights issues here today, I have another chance to talk about it in further detail. And the fifth and last part is the prospect for human rights enjoyment by our people as a society evolves when the economic conditions of our people improve and the full range of rights and freedoms to be enjoyed by our people will grow from strength to strengths.
With this, I have to stop—oh, sorry. You raised (inaudible) in my country improved recently and our supreme leader, Martial Kim Jong-un, and this is a constant effort of the government of my country to improve the human rights situation of my country by improving the people's livelihood and giving more freedom and rights to the people.
So it's no surprise that many changes are taking place in my country that will contribute to the improved enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by our people. Maybe one can see who recently visited my country and they have witnessed that every day we witness changes that are very inductive to the further development of my society, thus leading the promotion and protection of human rights. Can I just mention a few...ski resort, horse track, pleasure parks all over the country are springing up every day, all for the enjoyment of the pleasant lives of our people. Thank you.
GREGG: I may not have said it at first. Ambassador Jang and I will have a conversation until 4:30, and then we'll throw it open to questions from the floor. I'd like to read a short paragraph from the DPR Korea report, which the ambassador referred to. The U.S. hostile policy against DPRK since its foundation is the most serious external factor and the biggest obstacle which hampers earnest desire of the people for genuine human rights, independent development of the country, and efforts for peaceful construction.
So this leads me to ask you the question, have the countries of China, Russia, Japan or South Korea ever raised with you the issue of human rights problems in your country?
JANG: Now, recently as South Korea and—and many more years back, Japan raised the human rights issues so with my country, and we totally rejected the claims by the South Korean authorities of the human rights violation taking place in my country, right, and all the issues that pertain to the human rights and fundamental freedoms we claim that our system is far more superior than those in South Korea, right?
And as you know, the Japan raised the abduction issue which nationals by my country, right, and we have much more to say when it comes to human rights issues with South Korea or Japan, right. As you know, Japan has committed crimes against humanity long time ago during its occupation of my country. But it has not yet made any formal apology and sincere compensation to the victims.
But let us let bygones be bygones, and now Japan and my country enter into talks on the abduction issues. And in Helsinki, our two countries agreed to reinvestigate the issue, and I think it's progressing very well. And I hope that a good result will come there.
GREGG: So by your remark, I would gather that neither China, Russia or—have raised the human rights issues with you. Is that correct?
JANG: No. Actually, as far as I know, they have not raised the issues with my country, but I understand that China and Russia share the same view on human rights issues. And China, Russia, they're all opposed to the politicization, selectivity, and double standards in dealing with human rights issues.
And my country is not only the—not the only country that are targeted by the United States and other Western countries. China and Russia are also under heat from the Western countries in one way or the other.
GREGG: Three Americans are held in your country. And are any of them connected with human rights issues?
JANG: No. Definitely not. They are detained, according to the judgment of our judiciary, that they committed crimes under our law. So it's completely a judiciary matter. It has nothing to do with human rights issues.
GREGG: I was just at a conference in England last week, and there was a very—a Russian who had been there as the TASS bureau chief and had spent several years in Pyongyang. And there was a discussion of human rights at this conference, and he spoke up and said, thinking back to the rapprochement which was achieved with the United States before—under Reagan and Bush, and he sort of said, if human rights had entered into that discussion, no progress would ever have been made. Would you agree with that?
JANG: That's their assessment. But I think in reality, the human rights issues were discussed between the United States and Soviet Union at the time, I think, now known as Helsinki Process. The Western countries are claiming that they have to include the human rights issues in dealing with my country, also, right? What they call, it's a third basket. I think along with the confidence-building measures, economic exchanges and cooperation, they included the human rights issues in one of the agenda.
GREGG: So you feel there is a way to constructively engage in discussion on human rights, as long as it's not seen as sort of a zero-sum game, where one side has done all the bad things and the other side has done all the good things? Is that the problem?
JANG: Well, our consistent position is to have resolved all the outstanding problems, differences through dialogues and negotiations. And that position remains the same as ever. And we are also willing to engage in dialogues and cooperation when it is—when they are really aimed at promotion and protection of genuine human rights.
So in this (inaudible) so as I mentioned earlier, we proposed to the European Union to have a human rights dialogue, and that we—our willingness to engage in human rights dialogue can find its expression in our willingness to enter into technical cooperation—cooperation with the United Nations Office for Human Rights Commission.
GREGG: At this conference that I mentioned, I was struck by the different attitude toward the—particularly the Europeans and the EU. They seem to be interested in a much broader spectrum of factors in North Korea—diet, economics, grain production, attracting foreign investment. There was a good deal of very positive comment about your economic zone in Rajin-Sonbong.
And I had the feeling that in Europe there's a much broader gauge issue in your country than there is in this country, where we are sort of locked into sort of thinking that unless progress is made on the nuclear weapons issue, no progress can be made anywhere. And I came back from Europe having really enjoyed a much broader dialogue on the DPR Korea than I've had in the United States. Would you like to comment on that?
JANG: No, I think it's a good sign and positive willingness by the European countries to engage broadly with my country in not only military affairs, but also economic affairs, right, including, as was mentioned, food, special economical zones, and development of other infrastructure. And the—when we expand our relations into our fields, that may also contribute to the improved relations, as well as the improved enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by our people. I think it's good.
GREGG: There were a couple of very interesting Russians at this conference, and I asked them about their opinion of Putin, and they said he's fully in control. And they seemed to be rather happy with the way things were going. And they said to me, expect some interesting developments between DPR Korea and Russia under Putin's rule. Have you any idea of things coming down the road on that issue?
JANG: No, I'm not an expert in that field, in that bilateral field. But the relations between my country and Russia are good. And I think we have a very good prospect for the development of our relations in various fields, including economic ones.
GREGG: Then, the last and most difficult question is, why are you here? Why are you—why are you doing this today, when for years you weren't doing it? I think it's a great thing that you are. I am delighted to be here sitting next to you. But what has happened that brings you here today, which would not have been possible in the past?
JANG: That's very interesting and very good point, I think. As you know, in the—nowadays, in recent months, as the U.N. and Kirby commission report came out, and in response, the United Nations, at the United Nations, the United States and other European countries are making very great fuss about human rights violations, as they call it, in my country. And during the current session of the U.N. General Assembly, they planned to present resolution again accusing my country of serious human rights violations, and that they even went the length of criticizing the leadership of my country in talking about the referral of the international criminal justice mechanism and bringing those responsible at the highest level of the state to justice and so on.
And we cannot—we can no longer stand at this kind of maneuvers pursued by the United States and the European allies. Our position has been very consistent and well-known. We totally rejected the resolution on human rights against my country adopted by—sponsored by the European Union and Japan at the U.N. Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly every year. We totally reject. We totally and categorically reject the contents of the report. None of such violations exist in my country, and in no way can they exist, also.
So—as the United States and its European allies ramp up the pressure under the disguise of the protection and promotion of human rights, I think I have to speak out about my position to give correct understanding of the situation on the ground.
GREGG: So we have not changed. You have changed. You are brought to the point where you need and want to speak out on that issue. My last trip to Pyongyang was in February, and Ri Yong Ho, the vice foreign minister, said we don't think Obama's going to talk to us and, OK, we'll just wait until the next president, and we're very confident about the progress being made economically, and we are perfectly content, we're very happy with the leadership of Kim Jong-un, and I must say, Pyongyang, where I had not been for five or six years, looked wonderful, as a number of other people said.
So the change, really, is on your side, not on our side, that brings you here?
JANG: Not really the change, but according to our consistent position, we need to talk in broad terms to the international community, I think, especially when the United States and other hostile forces went the length of spotlighting the leadership of my country, criticizing and asking for accountability and so, right.
As you know, my people keep our supreme leadership very dear to their hearts. And we hold him in highest esteem, hold our respected Martial Kim Jong-un in highest esteem. And by saying about the leadership, we thought that it was directed our leadership at the highest level, and we could not stand—we could no longer sit idle, just watching and responding back, and we have to—we think we have to take action on our own in response to such a political plot.
So actually we regard the resolution against the DPRK as politically motivated and has nothing to do with the genuine protection and promotion of human rights. So we—if you take it as a change or whatever, it's up to you.
GREGG: Thank you. All right, our conversation has come to an end. I would like to open the floor for questions. Please keep them short, and please identify yourself when you speak. And Jerry Cohen had his hand up first.
QUESTION: I'm delighted that Ambassador Jang has come here. We last had a representative of the DPRK here early in the—well, really, the beginning of 1998, when the Council hosted a delegation from Pyongyang that made a very good impression, both in Washington and New York. Unfortunately, their offer of cooperation with the Council was turned down.
But I wanted to ask, in the light of recent events, what way forward can you suggest? There are so many ways we can attempt to improve the situation. I don't think we're going to get anywhere starting off improving the situation by discussing the six-party talks. I don't think discussion of human rights is the best way to start our bilateral relations on a positive note. But there are so many other possibilities in the light of our experience with China and Vietnam and other countries.
Should we have economic exchanges? Should we focus on the possibility of foreign direct investment? Should we emphasize opening up more for tourism, cultural exchange, educational cooperation, track II dialogues, visits by our leaders, meetings here in New York at the U.N., taking advantage of your being here? What would you suggest in order to break this very unhappy stalemate?
JANG: Thank you, first of all, for your complimentary remarks about my country long time ago. As you know, our two countries are locked in stalemate, as you correctly said. We are two countries who have very deep-rooted distrust for so long time, more than half a century. When it comes to political issues, the United States does not recognize the sovereignty of my country, and when we talk about military fields in the United States, posed a nuclear threat to our country which has driven us also to arm ourselves with nuclear weapons. In economic affairs, sanctions have been in place, in place for more than half a century, and so I don't think we can solve all the problems overnight.
We need to have kind of a confidence-building measures, I think. You correctly mentioned that we can have exchanges in the economic sales, foreign direct investment, and educational cooperation, and many other fields our two countries can cooperate, I think. But I strongly doubt that the government sanctions in place, maybe many of you American people feel not comfortable with executing their plans.
So I think this kind of exchanges such as this one, my presence, and speaking to you and have exchanges of views will contribute to a certain level of understanding between our two countries. So as Don mentioned just before, I'll think it will have to wait until next administration comes to office. But we are not in a hurry, but I think we all want to see the improved relations between our two nations.
GREGG: Frank and then Pamela?
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, I'll give you...
GREGG: Can you give him a little of your colorful history?
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Frank Wisner from the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs. Mr. Ambassador, in recent days, a very high-level delegation from your government visited South Korea. Are we to look at that gesture as a harbinger of future engagement in the North-South dialogue? What is the meaning of that visit?
JANG: The high-level visit of our officials to South Korea on the occasion of the closing session ceremony of the Asian Games can be seen as a positive sign of our willingness to improve the inter-Korean relations. It has been our consistent policy of the government to improve the relations, so we value our same and fellow countrymen very much.
So all along, we, on our part, we have tried our best to improve the relations between the North and the South. And that's contributing to the trust and confidence-building and the peace and stability in the region.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ambassador, it's Pamela Falk from CBS News at the United Nations. And you spend a lot of time at the United Nations. And following up on your last comments before questions, you were talking about this General Assembly resolution that's sponsored by the European Union and Japan.
It does call for a referral to the ICC and further sanctions. How do you see it playing out, following up on Ambassador Gregg's question about Russia, if it makes its way to the Security Council? How do you think it would play out? Would there be a veto? And what are the consequences? Your foreign minister just now in September called for reunification. Would that still be on the table? Or would that be out the window? Thank you.
JANG: The resolution, the so-called resolution calls for the referral of the fictitious human rights violations of my country to the international criminal justice mechanism and I cannot predict the outcome of the discussions when it goes to the Security Council at present, right. At this stage, I cannot predict anything, but all we have done is—is that we showed our sincere willingness to get into serious dialogue with the European Union. And I hope that EU will face the reality and take positive corresponding measures by deleting those paragraphs from their resolution.
And I think we have shown everything we can do, right. So once it is not accepted by the European Union, I cannot predict what will come, what will follow afterwards, right? So all the efforts and claims made by European Union so far, calling on us to enter into dialogue, will go nowhere, I think.
QUESTION: Thank you for speaking with us today. But if I may ask a real question, we've all read—perhaps you've read the reports on the labor camps in North Korea, on the incredible atrocities committed there, and attested to by many, many defectors.
So what is it precisely that you're trying to accomplish today? Could I ask you, who told you—who gave you the permission or the orders to come and speak with us at the Council on Foreign Relations? Was it Kim Jong-un? Was it somebody in the organization and guidance department?
And could I ask you just to explain to us—you're describing equality in the DPRK. You've surely read the accounts of Songbun. Could you explain your own? Could you tell us a little bit more about what you're really doing here? Thank you.
JANG: No, today I just stand here and I am here to speak about the human rights situation in my country and correct the wrong understanding of some people, given by the so-called defectors.
QUESTION: May I boil it down to one question, then? Who precisely in the DPRK told you to go ahead and see us? Thank you.
JANG: Oh, that's very funny and difficult question to answer.
QUESTION: Can't be that hard.
JANG: Normally—we do receive instructions from our capital, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I think this is the same case with other diplomats from other countries, I think, right.
QUESTION: I'm asking a really basic question. Right now, who is your boss? Thank you.
JANG: My boss—I would rather say that my boss is someone in the department for—responsible for American affairs. I don't say any person, or I would say the department responsible for American affairs.
QUESTION: If I may, just one more, it is not, then, Kim Jong-un?
JANG: No, I have not given answer yet. She just mentioned about the labor camp. We totally reject the existence of the—whatever form it takes, the camps. The terminology—I don't like it. And some press carries the story about the briefing done by colleagues at the United Nations a few days ago. And they report as if they found a new labor camp. But it doesn't simply exist in my country.
We call it reformatory, right? And my colleague, I heard at the time that we mentioned about education through labor, detentions, but the Western media says that he admitted to the existence of labor camp. That's not true. I was there. I listened to him. So any camp of any kind does not exist in my country.
We have the same system, I think, like the United States and other countries that they—what we call reformatory is a prison. It's a normal prison, as in other countries that the prisoners are detained, like American citizen (inaudible).
QUESTION: Sorry, just because there was a debate. So thanks for clarification that there are no political prison camps in North Korea, and you're saying they're prisons. OK.
JANG: I have to clarify—and again and again, we stated that we have no political prisoners' camps time and again. But why the Western media talk with so much about the political prisoners' camps? We never have had such kind of system in my country. That's for sure.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador Jang. Thank you for coming here today. I'm David Sanger from the New York Times. I wanted to ask you two questions that might help us understand the motivations of your government. The first is that last winter, you'll recall, Kim Jong-un's uncle was executed after a fairly short trial. And there was considerable mystery here about what the faction around him was doing, why it was a threat to the state, and why whatever he did resulted in his execution and, of course, the executions of those who worked with him.
And the second thing I wanted to ask you was—I think Mr. Gregg said earlier that your government has come to the conclusion that President Obama is not going to talk with you during the remainder of his time. I think that if somebody from the administration was here, they would probably say that North Korea set the tone when it conducted a nuclear test just a few months into President Obama's presidency. And so I'm wondering what in the North Korean view was accomplished by both conducting that test and moving forward with the other nuclear developments that we've seen in the past five-and-a-half years?
JANG: Thank you for the question. And I am glad to see you in person, although I have read many articles written by you in the past. And as for the execution of the Jang Sung-taek faction, I don't think I need to give any other further explanation to you. It was clearly stated through our official statement. He committed a grave crime, and that deserves execution.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what the crime was? I'm not sure the statement indicated that.
JANG: The statement said that he made treason crime, and he also illegally amassed foreign currency and broke the law of the—by having very dirty and irregular relations with so many women. And there are many. There are lots of counts of the crimes he committed. And I myself cannot remember all of them. But he deserved his own execution.
And as for the nuclear test, we have conducted—and through the tests, I think we further developed our technology and the power of the nuclear weapons that we possess.
QUESTION: Having demonstrated—the question was, what do you think you accomplished by—by conducting that test? Has it changed the way—North Korea's view of the world?
JANG: We stated—we stated through our nuclear tests, we would further develop our technology, such as miniaturization of the nuclear warheads and the—maybe the extension of the life of the nuclear weapons. And there may be many things, and I think—I heard that many specialists or experts through one test can have so much data on further developing.
GREGG: I think part of Mr. Sanger's question relates to the timing of that test, which came out just after the so-called Leap Day Agreement, which seemed to be a very forward-looking agreement.
JANG: OK, I...
GREGG: And so how did that break out?
JANG: Yeah, Leap Day Agreement, I—the—we after that—after the Leap Day Agreement, we launched our satellite into orbit, and taking this event as an excuse, the United States brought the peaceful satellite launch as a serious violation of the United Nations Security Council and imposed tougher sanctions. And in response, we compelled to another nuclear test. And that's our self-defensive measure.
GREGG: I think that's a difficult issue, and it needs to be somehow clarified in a way. Were the Americans aware that you were going to launch the satellite? Wasn't it in celebration of Kim Il-sung's birthday or something like—did they know that this was coming in advance?
JANG: Yes, exactly, it was planned long ago, and it was the—one of the last instructions of our late General Kim Jong-il, as we stated earlier. So it was planned long ago. It was conducted as planned. But because of that, we were under serious threat, including the imposing of tougher sanctions on my country, and in response, we had no other choice but to take countermeasures.
QUESTION: I'm Carroll Bogert from Human Rights Watch. I was interested in the exchange between you two ambassadors about why Ambassador Jang has come here. And I have to say, I think I disagree with Ambassador Gregg that it is a signal that things have changed in North Korea. And I would agree with you, Ambassador Jang. I take you at your word that you are here because a political process, a commission of inquiry from the United Nations, has prompted your government to make a diplomatic response.
Since you are in a situation of back-and-forth in diplomacy right now, I would like to ask whether your country would consider a couple of gestures that might be received well outside the country, for example, the granting of access to the International Committee of the Red Cross or the granting of access to the U.N. Special Rapporteur, Marzuki Darusman, to the DPRK? Would you consider taking either of those measures?
JANG: No, I think my answer would be it all depends on how the European Union will come out in response to our proposal to have a dialogue and have technical support from office—High Commissioner's Office for Human Rights. And I think if the attitude from EU and other West countries is positive, I think everything—anything is possible. I think.
QUESTION: Can I ask just what you mean by a positive response? I think it is considered unlikely that your draft resolution will be passed by the General Assembly. What positive response...
JANG: No, the—the resolution may be passed at the U.N. General Assembly. All we ask is we—we do not want the resolution to include any mention of the referral of the leadership of a country to the international criminal justice mechanism or bringing those responsible—most responsible to the justice—it's simple. We have nothing to hide. We talk to them about this.
QUESTION: Yes, getting back to the—Gary Bass from Princeton University—getting back to the political prisoner camps in your country, which have a population of about 120,000 people in them, you describe it a normal prison system. In the commission of experts report, the commission of inquiry report, as I'm sure you know, the allegations are that there are crimes against humanity being committed within these political prison camps, but also being—there are also crimes against humanity being committed in the regular criminal justice system that you talked about.
So I wonder if you could respond. You said you have nothing to hide. Would you then be willing to allow the U.N. special rapporteur to visit the sites that are shown on the satellite imagery where we see these labor camps?
JANG: We readily accept special rapporteur to our country or provide any other U.N. mechanism, access to my country belongs to our sovereignty. But since we stated...
QUESTION: Lots of sovereign countries let in special rapporteurs.
JANG: No, we are willing to...
QUESTION: It's not inconsistent with sovereignty.
JANG: No, we are willing to...
QUESTION: Many countries do it.
JANG: ... into—into engagement with other U.N. mechanism, as well. We stated clearly that we are also willing to have a cooperative dialogue on an equal footing. And as for the political prisoners camps you mentioned, as I mentioned earlier, we have stated time and again on more than one occasion that there simply does not exist any political prison camps...
QUESTION: Do you have a better answer than that they don't exist? Or is that—that's what you're going with?
JANG: ... and that in my country, we do not even know the term political prisoners. So I—during my work here, during our presentation at Universal Periodic Review process, we have wide-ranging discussions with the judiciary, security, and other governmental officials, and they all unanimously say that simply we don't—we don't run—we don't have that kind of political prisoners camps. So if we...
QUESTION: So what are on the satellites?
JANG: ... as you stated, 120,000 people...
QUESTION: What are on the satellites?
JANG: ... detained in the political prisoners' camps, then how can our society exist? How can our system exist...
QUESTION: It's an excellent question.
JANG: ... with so—with so many people? No. That's not true. That's the...
QUESTION: So what is it—what is it that's shown on the satellites?
QUESTION: What is it that's in the satellite imagery?
JANG: No, that's not true. And they...
QUESTION: What's not true? What are they?
JANG: So-called defectors fabricated their stories to raise up the price of their presentation. I strongly object to—in fact, we can deny every part of what they say, right. So I think my colleagues at the U.N., when the issues come up again, then they will disclose further in detail about their fabricated or concocted stories.
GREGG: When I asked Mr. Kirby if there had been any change in what he had perceived as the problems of human rights in DPR Korea, he said there had been some improvement under Kim Jong-un. Can you give us some sense of what he—Mr. Kirby --was referring to when he said that?
JANG: Maybe he might have received reports from the other international media about the prevailing reality in my country. In fact, I also feel that there has been much improvement in the people's livelihood. There are many amenity facilities newly built. And our present leader, Martial Kim Jong-un, cares very much about my people. And he gives detailed guidance to take care of those people as their kith and kin. So my people follow and admire him so much, as they did with our late president and our general, Kim Jong-il.
GREGG: But would it be possible for you to say that there perhaps are less people in the reformatories now than there were a few years ago? Can you make any statement about that?
JANG: No, I think the less people are there, I think—I—and that, as the economic situation improves, the less and less prisoners will serve their terms. And according to my experience, with our legal people, right, so when the economic situation gets worse, the more crimes can be found.
QUESTION: Well, I'd like to get back to my original list of practical steps that we might take to try to break the stalemate. It's obvious from the questions you've heard there's a high degree of interest in the human rights problem. But there are also diplomatic obstacles, sensitivities. But why don't we get around them as a first step? For example, what if the Council on Foreign Relations organized a group that had goodwill toward the DPRK that could visit the various sites that are mentioned? That would be a good intermediate first step.
JANG: Yeah, I think it's a good idea that we can enter into a positive engagement. I personally support your idea for the Council on Foreign Relations organize a trip to my country and see the reality on the ground with your own eyes. It can also constitute a step towards...
QUESTION: We'd have to discuss what we could see. I've been to the North a number of times. But this would have to be specially discussed, of course.
JANG: Yes. If I receive any detailed proposal concerning the proposed visit, then I think I can make recommendations for my colleagues in the capital.
GREGG: This organization runs by the clock. And the hour of 5:00 is upon us. One more point. Yes?
JANG: And today, I thank you very much. You have more to say about...
QUESTION: Plenty. No, sorry, to...
JANG: I think I have very constructive dialogue with you on human rights issues in my country. And I think through our debate, you would have a somewhat clearer picture of the realities on the ground. Of course, it's not sufficient enough. It will continue. And I know that my country will be closely monitored by the United States and other Western countries as time evolves.
So just when I finish, and—I just mentioned about the obstacles to the improved enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by our people created by the United States political, military and economic affairs. And why I came here to speak about human rights is in part related to the present human rights campaign visit by the United States administration. In their extreme manifestation of the hostile policy against DPRK, they continued to claim the unsubstantiated and fictitious claims against the so-called violations.
So as you may recall, on August—on September 23rd, Secretary Kerry had high-level discussion meeting on the so-called North Korean human rights issues. At the time, my foreign minister asked for access to the meeting in order to explain his views, but he was denied. And on the contrary, without—with the exclusion of my country as a direct party in the meeting, I think he made a bad mistake.
And our perception, all these attempts by the United States is a political plot to demonize our system and bring pressure to our people to change or sabotage the government. So I'm—our message is quite clear on this issue. If the—if such attempt to sabotage or overthrow our system is the policy of the United States administration, then we cannot but re-examine our overall policy towards the United States.
When it comes to the nuclear issue, we agreed to have talks with the United States in the six-party framework, believing that the United States—believing the sayings or remarks by the U.S. administration officials that United States had no hostile intent against my country. And that's why we also agreed on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
But once it became clear to us that the United States seeks to—have regime change in my country, my people also will have no interest in continuing in the talks on nuclear issues and that the process of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will go nowhere. I cannot predict. And that in response, and then we will take all countermeasures indefinitely. Thank you.
GREGG: Thank you very much for coming. I think what you have seen today is a panoply of reactions. There are things I knew, in some cases, there was nothing you could say that would satisfy some of the questions. But it's the start of a process. And I think that the fact that the process has begun by your coming is very constructive.
So thank you very much. And thank you for the audience. And the class is dismissed.
GREGG: Well done.
Following U.S. envoy Robert King's visit to North Korea to assess the food situation in the country, CFR's Adjunct Senior Fellow for Korea Studies Scott A. Snyder says that any U.S. decision to provide food aid to the country should be accompanied by steps to minimize moral hazard.
Michael Kirby, former chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea, discusses the commission's recommendations for addressing systematic crimes against humanity in North Korea, including religious repression.