UN Human Rights Commissioner says situation in North Korea is ‘dire’

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Thursday that North Korea is increasing its repression of human rights, with people starving in portions of the country as it faces a deteriorating economic situation and he called on the United Nations Security Council to “act on the dire situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”

“According to our information, people are becoming increasingly desperate as informal markets and other coping mechanisms are dismantled, while their fear of state surveillance, arrest, interrogation and detention has increased,” said Türk. “This situation follows decades of chronic human rights violations – some of which the Government has acknowledged. They have been cataloged in detail by the Commission of Inquiry that was mandated by the Human Rights Council a decade ago, and whose ground-breaking report contributed to the creation of this agenda item. Recent reports of the Secretary-General to the General Assemblyreports by my Office to the Human Rights Council, and the work of the Special Rapporteur have added to this litany of suffering.”

“Information collected by my Office,” said Türk. “indicates increasing repression of the rights to freedoms of expression, privacy, and movement; the persistence of widespread forced labor practices; and a worsening situation for economic and social rights, due to the closure of markets and other forms of income generation.”

“Anyone who views so-called “reactionary ideology and culture” – a term used for information from abroad, in particular the Republic of Korea – may now face imprisonment of five to fifteen years,” said Türk. “Any person found to have distributed such content faces life imprisonment or even the death penalty.”

“A travel permit system enables the State to control all travel within the country. It imposes prison terms for up to three months, without trial and in a State labor camp, for violating travel orders,” said Türk. “Following the closure of the country’s borders in response to the pandemic, border guards were explicitly ordered to use lethal force against people approaching the border without prior notice. Since the border shutdown, only a handful of people have managed to leave the DPRK.”

Disgraced former U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. Trump’s talks with the despot failed to accomplish any improvement in relations,

“State-run institutions have continued to rely on forced mobilization of men and women, without pay, to maintain the operation of key sectors of the economy, such as construction, mining, and agricultural production,” said Türk. “This longstanding and profoundly disturbing practice of forced mobilization has extended to children, as noted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.”

“These include extensive surveillance; physically arduous, and sometimes dangerous, work; minimal health and safety measures; long working hours without breaks or holidays; and inadequate remuneration, as the vast majority of their wage is taken by the State,” said Türk.

Humanitarian support offers have been largely rebuffed, or made impossible, according to Türk.

“The UN Charter makes it clear that human rights violations of this order are a matter of international concern,” said Türk. “Sustainable peace can only be built by advancing human rights, and its corollaries: reconciliation, inclusion and justice.”

“In the spirit of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I urge the authorities to engage in meaningful dialogue and to reset much-needed freedoms as a foundation for enduring peace,” said Türk.

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