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DPR Korea still restricting basic human rights, says UN monitor

DPR Korea still restricting basic human rights, says UN monitor

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has made some constructive attempts to engage with the outside world, but it remains a controlled, non-democratic State in which basic freedoms are restricted and severe food shortages are common, the United Nations human rights expert monitoring the country said today.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK, told the General Assembly’s social, humanitarian and cultural (third) committee that the North Asian nation’s authorities repress the local population, despite a series of recent legislative improvements.

“There are continuing reports of violence… such as torture, public executions, persecutions of political dissidents and sub-standard prison conditions,” he said in his statement to the committee, while noting that re-education camps and forced labour programmes also exist.

“Freedom of expression and association and access to information are impeded by the closed nature of the State and rigid State control over the information flow and media. Despite official claims that religious freedom is allowed, reports indicate the contrary. Indeed, any imputed liberalization on this front tends to be due to the lure of money.”

Professor Muntarbhorn has not been allowed to visit the DPRK since he became Special Rapporteur to the country, but he said he had met staff of UN agencies operating there, travelled to several neighbouring countries, and held discussions with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and conducted interviews with refugees to build up a picture of the situation.

He said it was positive that Pyongyang is now a party to a handful of human rights treaties and recently allowed the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to visit, while progress has also been made on the Six-Party Talks concerning the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and an inter-Korean summit was held earlier this month.

But the ruling elite, including the military, continue to receive a disproportionate share of resources, creating budgetary distortions and leading to shortfalls and deprivations for the rest of the population.

That situation has worsened, he said, because of a combination of natural disasters and mismanagement in the past decade. Most recently, in August, the country was hit by devastating floods, particularly in the south, where the rice and crop basins are located.

He told reporters later that there will be severe food shortfalls inside the DPRK over the next year.

Professor Muntarbhorn also noted that civil society is increasingly agitating for senior figures in the DPRK Government to face personal responsibility for the worst human rights violations carried out by authorities, and that some groups are suggesting that what has taken place may constitute crimes against humanity.

“It remains to be seen how that advocacy will gather momentum, the Special Rapporteur said.

He called on Pyongyang to: increase access for humanitarian relief; to meet its international human rights obligations; to protect particularly vulnerable groups, such as women and children; reform its prison system; promote the rule of law and due process; and spell out a clear policy to not punish anyone who leaves the country without permission.