UN expert spotlights ‘abysmal’ human rights situation in DPR Korea

Vitit Muntarbhorn, human rights Special Rapporteur in the DPRK

22 October 2009 – The human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remains “abysmal” as a result of the repressive nature of the ruling regime, the independent United Nations expert monitoring the situation in the East Asian nation said in his latest report submitted today.

“The freedoms from want, from fear, from discrimination, from persecution and from exploitation are regrettably transgressed with impunity by those authorities, in an astonishing setting of abuse after abuse,” said Vitit Muntarbhorn, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.

“They compromise and threaten not only human rights, but also international peace and security,” Mr. Muntarbhorn said in his report to the General Assembly.

The report noted that almost 9 million people in the DPRK are suffering from food shortages, with the World Food Programme (WFP) only able to reach fewer than 2 million of the hungry population due to a shortfall in international aid, which the report said is “doubtlessly” influenced by reaction to the Government’s nuclear and missile tests.

“Food aid is important,” Mr. Muntarbhorn told reporters in New York after he addressed the Assembly. “It should be supported bearing in mind that food aid also involves monitoring to ensure accountability. No access, no food.”

Mr. Muntarbhorn highlighted the fact that the DPRK’s export trade last year amounted to several billion dollars, and that the country has a greater abundance of natural resources than its neighbour to the south.

“The country is not poor, and yet the money is not spent on the people,” he told reporters. “People should be entitled to a fair share of the budget, and the benefits from trade in terms of access to sustainable development.”

Despite various formal guarantees in their Constitution, the people of the DPRK are subject to “persecution, clampdowns, collective punishment, torture, arbitrary executions, public executions, etc.,” said the Special Rapporteur.

In addition, the report said that people live in continual fear in a system where citizens are pressured into informing on each other, the State practises extensive surveillance over the population and even officials live in trepidation as their colleagues are encouraged to “whistleblow” on one another.

“Throughout the years, the authorities have bred a culture of mistrust and a policy of divide and rule that permeate families and communities,” he wrote in the report.

The media is also heavily censored, forming the “backbone of an enormous propaganda machine,” the report said, adding that reading books from the Republic of Korea (ROK) is punishable as a crime of espionage; computer ownership and use of the Internet without official permission are forbidden; and it is prohibited to watch foreign videos.

In his report, the human rights expert makes a number of recommendations to the Government, including measures to ensure effective provision of and access to food in cooperation with UN and other agencies; to address the fear factor in the country by terminating public executions and abuses against security of the person by means of law reform, clearer instructions to law enforcement agencies to respect human rights, and related capacity-building and monitoring of their work to ensure accountability; and to institute a democratic process, shifting the military budget to the social sector.

The Rapporteur, who has served in the position since the mandate was established in 2004, will present his final report of his tenure to the Human Rights Council in 2010.


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