This is the news in brief from the United Nations.
Suffering of North Korea’s citizens is unchanged, warns UN rights expert
The human rights situation in North Korea, remains “extremely serious” and this – along with denuclearization – represents “a critical test” for 2019, a senior UN-appointed rights expert said on Friday.
Tomas Quintana was speaking in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the country, which is formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK. His press conference was held in the South Korean capital, Seoul, as he has been denied access to its northern neighbour.
“Of those who left the North (DPRK) recently that I interviewed during this mission, every person gave accounts of ordinary people being subjected to exploitative labour and serious human rights violations such as forced evictions in the name of development. Stories were told to me of people, including children, being subjected to long hours of labour where they were forced to work without remuneration….One person concluded: ‘the whole country is a prison’.”
Mr Quintana said that personal testimonies he received confirmed the existence of political prison camps containing thousands of people accused of committing crimes against the State.
Fear about being sent to these camps was “very real and deeply embedded in the consciousness of the ordinary North Korean people”, according to the Special Rapporteur whose report will be delivered to the Human Rights Council in Geneva at its next regular session beginning in late February.
Thousands risk lives to flee fighting in last Syria’s last ISIL enclave
North-east Syria is seeing increasing numbers of civilian casualties and large-scale displacement amid intensifying efforts to defeat ISIL extremists in Deir-ez-Zor governorate, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday.
Spokesperson Andrej Mahecic warned that clashes and airstrikes in Hajin have forced tens of thousands of people to flee northwards in search of safety.
“Over the past six months more than 25,000 people have been displaced in that part of the country, in the five weeks alone, 8,000-plus,” Mr. Mahecic said. “So we have seen an increase, especially with the escalation that has occurred in the course of December.”
Those at risk include women, children and the elderly, and many families who have reached the safety of Al Hol refugee camp in north-east Syria have risked their lives to do so.
The dangerous and difficult journey and conditions inside the enclave are reported to have led to the deaths of six babies under 12 months old. Most died after arriving at Al Hol, too weak to survive, according to UNHCR.
The UN agency estimates that 2,000 people remain in the conflict-affected area of Hajin, where people report “increasingly desperate conditions” in ISIL-held areas.
Cautious welcome for DRC Ebola decline in cases in epicentre
The recent reported decline in the number of cases of deadly Ebola virus infections in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should be treated with caution, UN medical experts said on Friday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) statement comes as the agency and partners continue to respond to the outbreak, which is happening in an area that’s home to some 100 non-state armed groups.
According to the latest update from the DRC authorities, the fall in infection numbers is in the city of Beni, the former epicentre of the disease.
But these trends must be interpreted “cautiously”, WHO said, noting that recent violence had halted their work for a time, and delayed detection of people at risk of contracting the deadly Ebola virus.
To date, 383 people have died in the latest outbreak - which is DRC’s ninth in the last 40 years – and 222 have recovered.
Daniel Johnson, UN News.