Former President Jimmy Carter accused the U.S. and South Korea of a “human-rights violation” for refusing food aid to North Korea amid heightened tensions over nuclear weapons development and deadly attacks on South Koreans last year.
“To deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people because of political or military issues not related is really indeed a human rights violation,” Carter told reporters yesterday in Seoul.
Carter, 86, made a second trip to North Korea in less than a year this week to help push forward stalled multinational talks on ending Kim Jong Il’s pursuit of atomic weapons. Carter and three former European leaders urged immediate donations of food to North Korea, where the United Nations says more than 6 million people need food assistance.
The UN’s appeal in March for 434,000 tons of food assistance for North Korea came after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the country killed cows and oxen, which the Food and Agricultural Organization said are a “key source of draft power in agricultural production.”
South Korea has resisted giving aid to North Korea after Kim’s regime torpedoed one of its warships in March last year and shelled an island in November. The attacks killed 50 South Koreans.
North Korea rejected the findings of an international panel that said in May last year a torpedo from a North Korean mini-submarine sank the Cheonan warship near the nations’ disputed western maritime border.
South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In Taek said on April 25 that North Korea’s plea for international donations of food seems to be politically motivated, adding that current food shortages aren’t much worse than in previous years. While South Korea is open to providing humanitarian aid across the border, North Korea should allow more transparency in ensuring that the donations reach the people in need, he said.
North Korea has relied on outside handouts since the mid-1990s when estimated 2 million people died from famine.
Carter was accompanied on his trip to North Korea by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, 73, ex-Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, 72, and former Irish President Mary Robinson, 66.