UN chief human rights activist on life in North Korea: “daily struggle, devoid of hope”

Главный правозащитник ООН о жизни в КНДР: «ежедневная борьба, лишенная надежды»

Volker Türk addresses members of the Security Council via video link. UN chief human rights activist on life in North Korea: “daily struggle, devoid of hope” Human rights

The human rights situation in the DPRK cannot be separated from considerations of peace and security on the peninsula, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk told the Security Council. He stressed that the country has a “suffocating, claustrophobic” atmosphere in which life is a  “daily struggle, devoid of hope.”

Freedom of movement and family reunification 

He noted the tightening of restrictions on freedom of movement. Only some citizens returning home, a small number of diplomats, government delegations and sports teams are allowed to travel. 

“However, the harsh reality for the population as a whole remains the tightening of border controls. It is now almost impossible for people to leave the country without permission from the government,” Türk said. 

Last year, about 200 people who fled the DPRK arrived in South Korea. This is less than 20 percent of the pre-pandemic figures, which is less than a fifth of the number of arrivals before COVID. Moreover, many of those who came to South Korea last year had already been in third countries.

Turk added that such restrictions meant that family reunifications and visits with loved ones were impossible. “Even the briefest meetings between separated relatives no longer take place, as official efforts on this front have been stalled for years. And calling or sending money to relatives in the DPRK is now virtually impossible,” he said, calling on North Korean authorities to once again create opportunities for family reunifications.

Freedom of Expression

Turk described a further crackdown on freedom of expression as a result of three laws. One targets foreign media outlets deemed “reactionary,” another criminalizes the use of language that does not correspond to the Pyongyang dialect, and a third focuses on forcing young people to follow a “socialist lifestyle.”

At the same time, the exercise by citizens of their fundamental rights protected by international law, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to access and disseminate information, is subject to severe penalties.

Article 7 The Law on the Condemnation of Reactionary Thought and Culture stipulates, in particular, the death penalty for offenses related to the spread of the so-called “reactionary” culture. “Simply put, people in the DPRK risk death simply for watching or distributing a foreign television series,” Turk said. 

“I call on the DPRK to repeal these oppressive laws and introduce a moratorium on the use of the death penalty,” said the human rights activist. 

Food shortage

He also noted the “unbearably difficult” socio-economic living conditions in the DPRK. According to the UN Human Rights Office, many people have nothing to eat. 

“While the government appears to be making some efforts to address food insecurity, it is also closing most small markets (“zhangmadang”) and limiting what vendors can sell in others. Increasingly centralized food production and distribution is undermining access to food,” Turk said. 

“I call on the government to realize the right to food of all its citizens without discrimination and take advantage of offers of international cooperation for this purpose,” he added.

Turk also recalled the problem of forced labor and kidnappings – both of citizens of the DPRK itself and of other countries, such as Japan and South Korea. He spoke of the need to provide protection to North Koreans seeking asylum abroad, and also called on the international community to be “creative in finding ways to resume dialogue.”

Take measures to improve the lives of the people of the DPRK

The human rights situation in North Korea continues to deteriorate, and the DPRK itself behaves increasingly provocatively, South Korean Ambassador to the UN Hwang Jung Guk told reporters before the Security Council meeting on the DPRK – on behalf of the 57 member states of the organization and the delegation of the European Union.

The DPRK continues to commit systematic, large-scale and gross violations of human rights, the diplomat emphasized: restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of movement, collective punishment, arbitrary detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, including public executions without a fair trial, as well as violations regarding abducted and detained prisoners of war.

“This year marks the 10th anniversary of the landmark report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK. This was a turning point for the international community,” the ambassador said. The report, in particular, said that the world community is not taking sufficient measures in response to what is happening in the DPRK.

Over the past time, the control of the DPRK authorities over their own people has become even more stringent. “In recent years, we have also witnessed how the DPRK’s appalling human rights and humanitarian situation are closely intertwined with the development of its weapons programs, like two sides of the same coin,” he added. 

The DPRK is directing its meager resources to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, “at the expense of the well-being of the people of the DPRK,” the ambassador said. “The repressive political and social system of the DPRK” allowed the country’s leadership to remain in power and “vigorously develop” nuclear and missile capabilities. 

“DPRK’s exploitation of its citizens within the country and abroad, including through forced labor, generates revenues that are used to finance its weapons programs,” the ambassador said. He also noted that human rights violations in the country remain unpunished.

“We call on all UN member states to join us in taking action to achieve concrete changes that will improve the well-being of people in the DPRK and contribute to the creation of a more peaceful and secure world,” said Hwang Jung Guk.

Among the countries on whose behalf the diplomat spoke were Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Georgia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Spain, Ukraine, UK and USA. South Korea holds the presidency of the Security Council in June, but Hwang Jung-kook addressed reporters in his capacity as his country’s representative and not as the Security Council’s chairman.  

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