UN warns of starvation, deteriorating rights in North Korea

UN warns of starvation, deteriorating rights in North Korea

Offers to provide North Korea with humanitarian aid have been 'largely rebuffed or made impossible,' says Volker Turk

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) - North Korea is in the midst of a rights clampdown that accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic as many residents struggle to find food and are faced with having to perform forced labor, the UN's rights chief warned Thursday.

Volker Turk told the UN Security Council that "human suffering of such scale and magnitude engenders instability internally, and has wider implications, and rarely has the DPRK been more painfully closed to the outside world than it is today." He was referring to North Korea by its formal acronym.

"This is a result of government policies that were initially linked to containing the COVID-19 pandemic, but which have grown even more extensive as the pandemic has waned," Turk said during the first human rights-focused meeting on North Korea since 2017.

"Information collected by my office, including through interviews, and from public information issued by the government itself indicates increasing repression of the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and movement, the persistence of widespread forced labor practices, and the worsening situation for economic and social rights due to the closure of markets and other forms of income generation," he added.

The suffering is compounded by severe food insecurity with many North Koreans experiencing "extreme hunger as well as acute shortages of medication," said Turk, noting that the UN has received reports of starvation affecting parts of the reclusive nation.

Turk said that while Pyongyang has indicated a readiness to accept international cooperation to address acute food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by poor economic conditions and insufficient agricultural production, it has yet to green light any assistance.

"To date, offers of humanitarian support have been largely rebuffed or made impossible owing to border closures. International humanitarian actors, including the United Nations country team, remained barred from the country along with almost all other foreign nationals," he said.

The US, which holds the Council presidency in August, said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's "repressive totalitarian control of society, and the systemic widespread denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms ensures the regime can expend inordinate public resources developing its unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs without public objection."

"This war machine, which stands in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions, is powered by repression and cruelty. But make no mistake, the regime neglects the well-being of people in the DPRK. Its food distribution policies, favors the military, and lead to chronic malnourishment among its citizens," said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US' UN envoy.

China and Russia, who have long provided Pyongyang diplomatic cover at the Security Council, lashed out at the session in line with expectations.

Chinese envoy Geng Shuang said the human rights situation in North Korea "does not pose a threat to international peace and security," which the Council is fundamentally tasked with ensuring under the UN Charter.

"Pushing the council to consider the human rights situation in the DPRK will not only not help to ease, but escalate, the situation," he said. "It is irresponsible, unconstructive and an abuse of the council's power."

Russia called Thursday's session a "provocation," and said international sanctions imposed on North Korea "continue to consistently suffocate the North Korean people."

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