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South Korea president calls North's attack 'crime against humanity'

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday called North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong, which killed four, including two civilians, a crime against humanity. The president's statement [video, report in Korean] was the first addressed to the public since last week's attack on the residential area. He characterized North Korea's military action, which injured 16 and resulted in the deaths of two civilians in addition to two South Korean marines, as a crime against humanity because attacks against civilians are forbidden in times of war. Lee also vowed that North Korea will face retaliation efforts [Reuters report] if it continues provocation through the use of military means. In addition to addressing the public, Lee visited US troops stationed in South Korea to personally thank them for their showing of support, part of which has included continued participation with South Korean warships in military maneuvers. Japan has also showed support [NYT report] for South Korea, with prime minister Naoto Kan condemning North Korea's actions as "barbaric."

North Korea's ongoing conflict with the South is not the only human rights issue for which the country has faced criticism. Earlier this month, a UN committee condemned [JURIST report] what it called persistent, "grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights" of its own people. In March, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution [JURIST report] condemning North Korea for human rights violations. The resolution [A/HRC/13/L.13 materials] decried "grave, widespread and systematic human rights abuses in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in particular the use of torture and labour camps against political prisoners and repatriated citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." Seeing little improvement, the council extended the assignment of Special Rapporteur Vitit Muntarbhorn [official profile], a Thai law professor who was appointed as a UN human rights expert in 2004, for one year and asked that North Korea and the UN General Assembly cooperate with and assist Muntarbhorn in his mission.

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