North Korea’s envoy to the UK, Ambassador Hyon Hak-bong, has said that performances conducted by a troupe of disabled North Korean youths in Europe are not acts of political propaganda to improve Pyongyang’s image overseas, but genuine attempts at cultural exchange.
The Ambassador, making the comments in a rare video interview shot on February 21, rejected claims of human rights abuses in North Korea and denied that a recent “Youth Para Ensemble” tour of the UK had been staged to alter negative foreign perceptions of the country.
“Many South Korean press and even American press alleged that disabled persons of the DPR Korea are suppressed..that they are withdrawn or they are expelled to the countryside or even they said they were killed…but that is not true,” Hyon told Jake Warren, who conducted the interview at a performance at London’s Royal College of Music.
“Some people say that this exchange is for political propaganda but that is not that. This is the kind of program of exchange of disabled persons in the two countries supported by the governments,” Hyon explained.
Concerns have long existed about the welfare of disabled persons in North Korea, with a 2014 UN Commission Of Inquiry (CoI) report into human rights documenting testimony of state-level abuses against the disabled. That report included recently repeated claims that North Korea conducted medical experiments on persons with disabilities.
The CoI also referred to past North Korean policies, denied by the Ambassador in the interview, which resulted in disabled persons being banished from the capital city Pyongyang.
But despite the CoI reporting that the rights of disabled persons may have improved in North Korea in recent years, human rights groups remain skeptical.
“On the one hand there’s an attempt to portray disabled rights improvements but whenever I’ve seen people push for hard evidence on this fact its just not there,” Michael Glendenning, executive director of the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK), told NK News in February.
The Youth Para Ensemble toured the UK in February and March, staging performances at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and at the Royal College of Music in London. The ensemble also performed in Paris on February 23.
The events and sideline conferences on disability rights, conducted by North Korean officials, were organized in conjunction with DULA International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on improving disability rights for children in North Korea.
“As you see we have the first batch of disabled persons coming to the UK, this is not for show…this is for expanding the exchange and cooperation between the disabled organizations of course this is supported by the British government of course DULA international plays an important role,” Hyon said, also identifying the UK government role in supporting the exchange.
“I think that this kind of cooperation, exchange of disabled persons should be supported, should be expanded and should be encouraged in the future…We need to share experiences and have many things to learn from each other. So I think this kind of program is good for the better understanding of the two peoples of the UK and DPR Korea.”
Main picture: J. Warren
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