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Human Rights Situation in North Korea Needs Reforms

In all areas related to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including health, housing, education, social security, employment, food, water and sanitation, much of the country’s population is being left behind

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United Nations special rapporteur on the rights situation in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana attends a press conference following his report on the country to the Human Rights Council, March 12, 2018 in Geneva. A year later, little has changed. (VOA)

Despite more than a year of international engagement and promises of economic reform by North Korea’s leaders, the human rights situation in the isolated country remains dire, a top U.N. rights official said Friday.

Blocked by the government from visiting North Korea, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea Tomas Quintana visited South Korea this week as part of an investigation that will be provided to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a factory in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, Aug. 7, 2018. (VOA)

Noting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has embarked on an effort to improve living conditions by focusing on economic development, Quintana said his preliminary findings showed those efforts had not translated into improvements in the lives of most people.

“The fact is, that with all the positive developments the world has witnessed in the last year, it is all the more regrettable that the reality for human rights on the ground remains unchanged, and continues to be extremely serious,” he told reporters at a briefing in Seoul.

“In all areas related to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including health, housing, education, social security, employment, food, water and sanitation, much of the country’s population is being left behind,” Quintana added.

North Korea, Humaqn Rights
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, April 27, 2018.

Left out of talks

North Korea denies human rights abuses and says the issue is used by the international community as a political ploy to isolate it.

Human rights were noticeably absent from talks between Kim and the leaders of South Korea and the United States last year, over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

But in December, the United States imposed sanctions on an additional three North Korean officials, including a top aide to Kim, for serious rights abuses and censorship.

North Korea’s foreign ministry warned in a statement after the December sanctions were announced, that the measures could lead to a return to “exchanges of fire” and North Korea’s disarming could be blocked forever.

Kim acknowledgement

While noting he had “no specific information” on whether international sanctions were hurting ordinary North Koreans, Quintana said the sanctions targeted the economy as a whole and “raised questions” about the possible impact on the public.

He cited a reference by Kim in his new year message to the need to improve living standards, saying it was a rare acknowledgement of the economic and social hardships faced by many North Koreans.

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Still, the United Nations has confirmed the continued use of political prison camps housing “thousands” of inmates, Quintana said, quoting one source as saying “the whole country is a prison.”

He said witnesses who recently left North Korea reported facing widespread discrimination, labor exploitation and corruption in daily life.

There is also a “continuing pattern of ill-treatment and torture” of defectors who escaped to China only to be returned to North Korea by Chinese authorities, Quintana said. (VOA)

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S.Korea Removes N.Korea As Its ‘Enemy’ In Its Military Policy Document

The Defense Ministry says North Korea maintains an active duty force of 1.28 million troops, compared with the South’s 599,000 active duty troops.

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Korea, Enemy
South and North Korean officials unveil the sign of Seoul to Pyeongyang during a groundbreaking ceremony for the reconnection of railways and roads at the Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea, Dec. 26, 2018. VOA

South Korea has dropped a reference to North Korea as its “enemy” in the military’s updated policy document, reflecting President Moon Jae-in’s initiative in achieving détente with Pyongyang.

The Defense Ministry has labeled the North as enemy in its biennial policy document since 2010, when 50 South Koreans were killed in separate attacks on an island and a naval vessel blamed on Pyongyang.

The absence of the “enemy” label in the 2018 document, published Tuesday, is likely to anger conservatives in South Korea, who say that President Moon’s efforts to build better relations with the regime of Kim Jong Un is undermining the South’s defense posture.

Korea, Enemy
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, April 27, 2018. VOA

Kim’s New Year’s Day speech in 2017 offering to send a contingent of North Korean athletes to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea set off a series of diplomatic breakthroughs, including three summits with President Moon.

The newly established diplomatic ties have also led to a set of confidence-building measures, including dismantling dozens of all armed guard posts and landmines in the so-called Joint Security Area located within the 250-kilometer demilitarized zone (DMZ), where troops from both Koreas are face to face.

The South Korean Defense Ministry paper warns that North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, a reference to its nuclear and missile program, continues to pose a “threat to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

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The Defense Ministry says North Korea maintains an active duty force of 1.28 million troops, compared with the South’s 599,000 active duty troops. The regime either possesses or is developing 14 different types of ballistic missiles, including five intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers. The North also owns “a considerable amount” of highly enriched uranium, along with 50 kilograms of weaponized plutonium. (VOA)