UN expert calls for easing of sanctions on North Korea as famine risk looms

GENEVA – North Korea is at risk of starving itself after further isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and UN sanctions imposed on its nuclear and missile programs should be relaxed, human rights investigator said. UN in a report seen by Reuters.

The worsening humanitarian situation could turn into a crisis and this coincides with a global “rampant apathy” over the plight of the North Korean people, said Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council should be reviewed and relaxed if necessary to both facilitate humanitarian and life-saving assistance and allow the promotion of the right to an adequate standard of living of ordinary citizens”, a- he said in a final report to the UN. General Assembly, which will be presented on October 22.

North Korea does not recognize or cooperate with Ojea Quintana’s mandate, and his mission in Geneva did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The government in Pyongyang does not respond to questions from foreign media.

Leader Kim Jong Un said in June that the food situation was “tense” due to natural disasters last year and acknowledged that citizens had had to make sacrifices during the pandemic. In April, North Korean officials called a UN report on child malnutrition a “pure lie.”

North Korea has not reported any cases of COVID-19 and has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and restrictions on domestic movement.

But many North Koreans dependent on business activities along the border with China have lost their income, and this has been made worse by the impact of the sanctions, Ojea Quintana said.

“People’s access to food is a serious concern and the most vulnerable children and the elderly are at risk of starving to death,” he said, adding that North Koreans “should not have to choose. between fear of hunger and fear of COVID-19 “.

“Essential drugs and medical supplies are scarce and prices have increased severalfold as they have stopped coming from China, and aid organizations have not been able to provide drugs and other supplies.”

Most diplomats and aid workers have left North Korea due to strict travel restrictions and a shortage of essential goods and health facilities, Ojea Quintana said.

Progress in immunization, women’s and children’s health, water and sanitation is eroding, he said.

“The current worsening humanitarian situation could turn into a crisis and must be avoided,” he said.

‘Creeping apathy’

He also expressed concern that the growing challenges in obtaining information “were leading to a rampant apathy of global attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in this country”.

Ojea Quintana called for the easing of military tensions on the divided peninsula and urged the United States and South Korea to “send clear signals” to relaunch diplomacy aimed at securing the denuclearization of the North.

In recent weeks, North Korea has carried out a series of weapons tests, including ballistic missiles and a cruise missile with potential nuclear capabilities.

Ojea Quintana praised the commitment of US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in last May to work to improve North Korea’s rights situation.

“In any future peace negotiations, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America should secure commitments with measurable criteria …

North Koreans are still being held in political prison camps, along with their families, while some have been released from labor training centers due to lack of food and work, he said.

The camps, known as kwanliso, whose existence is denied by the state, can be characterized as crimes against humanity, he said.

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Louis Foulds

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