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NKorea urged to reverse `abysmal' rights record

NKorea urged to reverse `abysmal' rights record

A U.N. human rights investigator urged North Korea on Thursday to take immediate steps to reverse its "abysmal" rights record by providing food to more than 8 million hungry citizens, halting public executions, and ending the punishment of people who seek asylum abroad and are sent back.
In the longer term, Vitit Muntarbhorn urged authorities in the reclusive communist nation to replace their "military first" policy with a "people first" policy. He also called on the rulers to guarantee security and personal freedoms by dismantling the country's pervasive surveillance system, developing an independent judiciary, and instituting checks and balances against the abuse of power.
Muntarbhorn, a Thai professor who has investigated North Korea for nearly six years but never been allowed entry, was presenting his latest report to the U.N. General Assembly committee that deals with human rights issues. He consults regularly with U.N. agencies working in the country and human rights groups and other experts outside as well as North Korean refugees in South Korea, Japan and Mongolia.
North Korea's deputy U.N. Ambassador Pak Tok Hun immediately rejected the report, calling it a "politically conspired document, full of distortion, lies, falsity, devised by hostile forces."
He called the assembly's consideration of the report "useless," warning that pressuring the country "is totally useless and will rather intensify the pride in our human rights protection system." He said the country was especially proud of its free health and education.
In his final report to the 192-member world body, Muntarbhorn said "the human rights situation in the country remains abysmal owing to the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous."
He said North Korea violates civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights _ from charging people who read books from South Korea with espionage to executing people involved in human trafficking, closing local markets which increases poverty, and banning all women from using bicycles.
"While many members of the population are in abject poverty and suffer the prolonged deprivations linked with shortage of food and other necessities, the country itself is endowed with vast mineral resources controlled by the authorities," Muntarbhorn said. "It is the exploitation of the ordinary people which has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite."
"This is all the more ironic since it is reported that the economy has improved slightly over the past year, an indication that more resources could be available to help the population," he said.
But he said the money is misspent on a "military first" policy that is emphasized in the constitution.
Muntarbhorn told a news conference later that there is a lot of malnutrition as well as hunger in the country.
"I estimate at least a third of the population are in the hunger situation out of the projected 24 million" population, he said.
As for the North Korean ambassador's dismissal of the report, Muntarbhorn said, "what was interesting was that no country spoke after them in favor of them _ not one."