GENEVA (AFP) - North Korea's use of a lottery system to allow a fraction of the families separated by the Korean War to meet is "extremely cruel", a top rights expert said on Monday (Sept 21).
North and South Korea agreed earlier this month to hold a weekend reunion in October for separated families - only the second to be held in five years - with 100 people to be selected by each side to take part.
But Australian judge Michael Kirby, head of a United Nations commission that published a searing report on the rights situation in North Korea last year, noted that the country is believed to have taken some 120,000 South Koreans - most as the North Korean troops retreated.
With more than 60,000 people in South Korea hoping for reunification with family members - many who are now "of considerable age" - North Korea's capricious agreement to sporadically allow small groups to meet is far from enough, he said.
"At the present rate of 100 being given that privilege, many, many will die before the numbers are accommodated," Mr Kirby told reporters in Geneva.
"It is extremely cruel of the administration of (North Korea) and a breach of fundamental human rights to deny the opportunity for families to be reunited," he said, adding: "It is really a barbarous practice."
Mr Kirby said previous reunions had been planned and cancelled for no apparent reason, and that the North Korean approach was exacerbating the suffering of the families longing for contact.
"It is simply unacceptable that (knowledge about) their whereabouts, whether they are alive or dead, what happened to them, and having contact with them is left to a lottery," Mr Kirby said.
"It's hard to express the anguish of the people who live in hope of making contact with their relatives in North Korea."
The commission's report accused North Korea of committing human-rights violations "without parallel in the contemporary world", including the abductions of an estimated 200,000 foreign nationals from at least 12 countries.
In addition to the many South Koreans taken and held, hundreds of Japanese citizens are believed to have been taken to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs.
The UN Human Rights Council was scheduled to discuss the thorny issue of abductees during a special session Monday afternoon, chaired by Mr Kirby.
Ahead of the event, he stressed to journalists that the international community has an obligation to press ahead and try to ensure accountability for the abductions, disappearances and a wide range of other crimes against humanity that have taken place in North Korea.
The long-time practice of international abductions by North Korean agents, Mr Kirby said, was "particularly barbarous, and is something akin to international piracy".
Many of the crimes committed in the country "shock the conscience of mankind", he said, insisting: "It is not open to the world community to turn away."