U.N. panel set for public hearings on NK human rights

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Aug. 16 (Yonhap) -- A U.N. panel looking into the human rights situation in North Korea said Friday it will hold a series of public hearings in Seoul next week to gather information from North Korean defectors and other witnesses.

The U.N. Human Rights Council launched an independent Commission of Inquiry (COI) in March in a bid to address North Korea's human rights record.

The five-day hearings from Tuesday are part of the commission's investigation.

Michael Kirby, chairman of the three-member COI, said it has decided to take public testimony to help raise international awareness of conditions in the communist nation.

He pointed out that the Pyongyang regime has not responded to the U.N. team's requests for entry into the nation.

"We are approaching this inquiry with impartiality and with no preconceptions," said Kirby, a former Australian judge.

The Seoul hearings are expected to involve around 30 witnesses, taking place on the campus of Yonsei University, according to the commission.

A similar round of hearings is also scheduled for Tokyo later in the month, it added.

"We are determined to shed light on the different aspects of various alleged human rights violations," Kirby said. "To the extent that we establish that such violations have occurred, we will also seek to determine whether crimes against humanity have occurred and who bears responsibility among different state institutions and officials."

But he was cautious about how successful the COI's probe will be and what follow-up procedures will be like.

The commission is scheduled to present an oral update to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September in Geneva, and to the U.N. General Assembly in New York in October. A final written report will be submitted to the council in March.

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