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N. Korea's human rights state 'grave'

N. Korea's human rights state 'grave'

North Korea is using public executions to intimidate its citizens and has imposed restrictions on long distance calls to block the spread of news about rising food shortages, the U.N. investigator on human rights in the reclusive nation said.

Vitit Muntarbhorn told the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee that North Korea has also imposed more severe sanctions on people seeking to leave the country and those forcibly returned, and still detains "very large numbers" of people in camps.

"The human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea remains grave in a number of key areas," Muntarbhorn said Thursday.

"Particularly disconcerting is the use of public executions to intimidate the public," he said. "This is despite various law reforms in 2004 and 2005, which claim to have improved the criminal law framework and related sanctions."

He cited the "great disparity" in the access to food by the country's elite and the rest of the population, nonexistent political participation, rigid control over the media and those professing religious beliefs, and the persecution of dissidents.

His remarks coincided with a warning from the head of the U.N. food agency in North Korea that millions face a food crisis. Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the World Food Program's country director, said some areas in the northeast are facing "a humanitarian emergency" and about 2.7 million people on the west coast will also run out of food in October.

Muntarbhorn said there is a "very, very serious problem this year with food," and WFP is assisting some 6.5 million people.

"The immediate food needs are closely related to the need for fertilizers and fuel," he said. "I'm all for a concrete development process that ensures, that nurtures, food security."

Muntarbhorn, a Thai specialist in human rights law, said North Korean authorities have not allowed him to visit the country since he was appointed in 2004 by the former U.N. Human Rights Commission as an independent expert to monitor the situation. However, he still held out hope for an invitation. The Geneva-based Human Rights Council replaced the commission in June 2005.

On a more positive note, he told reporters the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program have created some space to discuss human rights concerns, which he welcomed.

Muntarbhorn also noted North Korea's decision to give humanitarian agencies greater access to areas affected by devastating floods in August 2007 and indications that authorities "have cooperated relatively well" with U.N. and other agencies distributing food and aid to the needy.

On issues related to rights and freedoms, Muntarbhorn said there are reports of a crackdown on clandestine cell phones.

"Some inhabitants watch clandestinely video and TV programs from the south, but in 2008 there were reports of crackdowns on South Korean videos," he said.

"From information received, the authorities have imposed restrictions on long distance telephone calls to block the spreading of news concerning the current food shortage," Muntarbhorn added.

As for freedom of religion, Muntarbhorn said, "persecution of those profession their faith is pervasive, with families sent to prison for adhering to religious beliefs."

In the short-term, he urged North Korea to provide access to food and other necessities for all people, end the punishment of asylum seekers, terminate public executions and resolve the issue of foreign abductions.

In the longer term, Muntarbhorn called on the North to promote more equitable development, overcome disparities in access to food, modernize the legal and prison systems and abide by the rule of law, and build an independent judiciary.

Updated : 2021-08-04 01:45 GMT+08:00