Human Lives Human Rights: The UN’s rights chief, Volker Turk, cautioned on Thursday that North Korea is currently experiencing a tightening of rights, which has intensified amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many residents are facing difficulties in accessing food and are being subjected to forced labor.
Turk emphasized to the UN Security Council that the immense scale of human suffering in North Korea leads to internal instability and has broader implications. He further noted that the country is currently more isolated from the outside world than ever before.
During the first human rights-focused meeting on North Korea since 2017, Volker Turk stated that the current situation is a consequence of government policies that were initially implemented to control the spread of COVID-19. However, these policies have expanded further even as the pandemic has subsided.
Volker Turk added that the information gathered by his office, which includes interviews and publicly available government information, reveals a growing suppression of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, privacy, and movement. Additionally, there is evidence of pervasive forced labor practices and a deteriorating situation concerning economic and social rights. This decline is attributed to the closure of markets and other means of income generation.
According to Turk, the suffering in North Korea is intensified by severe food insecurity, leading to extreme hunger and a scarcity of medication. The UN has received reports of starvation affecting certain regions within the isolated country.
Turk mentioned that although Pyongyang has expressed a willingness to accept international cooperation in addressing the acute food insecurity, which has worsened due to economic challenges and inadequate agricultural production, it has not yet given its approval.
Turk stated that until now, offers of humanitarian assistance have been mostly rejected or rendered unfeasible due to border closures. The country has prohibited international humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations country team, as well as nearly all foreign nationals, from entering.
The United States, currently holding the Council presidency in August, expressed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s authoritarian grip on society and the systematic denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms enable the regime to allocate significant public resources towards the development of unlawful weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs without facing public opposition.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US’ UN envoy, stated that the North Korean regime’s war machine, which violates multiple Security Council resolutions, thrives on repression and cruelty. She emphasized that the regime prioritizes the military over the well-being of its people, leading to chronic malnourishment due to biased food distribution policies.
China and Russia, known for providing diplomatic support to Pyongyang at the Security Council, responded to the session as anticipated, expressing their disagreement.
Geng Shuang, the Chinese envoy, argued that the human rights situation in North Korea does not present a direct threat to international peace and security, which is the primary responsibility of the Council as outlined in the UN Charter.
He further stated that urging the Council to address the human rights situation in North Korea would not contribute to easing the situation but rather escalate it. According to him, such actions would be deemed irresponsible, unconstructive, and an abuse of the Council’s authority.
Russia criticized Thursday’s session, labeling it as a “provocation. ” They also expressed their belief that the international sanctions imposed on North Korea are consistently causing hardship for the North Korean people, suffocating them economically.