Chronic food shortages have become the most pressing human rights issue in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), an independent United Nations expert said today, warning that hunger could lead to serious health problems, especially among children, women and the elderly.
“I would underscore the importance of meeting the food shortfall by ensuring that an adequate quantity of food of good quality is available through additional imports by the Government, supported by international agencies and bilateral donors,” said Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK.
He told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that although it is the primary responsibility of States to ensure that citizens had enough to eat, the international community is obliged to provide humanitarian assistance in times of emergency.
“States should refrain at all times from food embargoes or similar measures that endanger conditions for food production and access to food in other countries,” said Mr. Darusman, urging authorities in the DPRK to invite the UN independent expert on the right to food to visit the country to make appropriate recommendations on how to rectify the conditions that cause food shortages.
He also reported to the Council that no progress has been made in resolving the issue of the abduction of foreign nationals by agents of the DPRK, noting that there are 500 cases of abduction of citizens of the Republic of Korea. The abductees were seized following the ceasefire at the end of the Korean War.
The reinvestigation of 12 cases of Japanese abductees is still pending, Mr. Darusman said, urging DPRK to stand by its commitment to Japan to reinvestigate those cases.
“The urgency of the matter is clear; the abductees are aging, as are their family members in Japan. In this regard, it is important that pressure be maintained on the DPRK until such time as a satisfactory outcome has been achieved,” he said.
On the issue of asylum-seekers from the DPRK, Mr. Darusman urged States to adhere to their international obligation of providing protection to those seeking asylum and respect the principle of non-refoulement – the obligation of States to not forcibly return people where they face persecution or serious harm.
He stressed that the ongoing transition of leadership to Kim Jong-un following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, may be a window of opportunity for DPRK to adopt a reform process and address all issues related to human rights in the country.