SEOUL – The United Nations special rapporteur for North Korean human rights on Thursday said the rise of a new type of private economy in North Korea has stoked inequality and hampered access to basic services for a lot of people.
Tomas Ojea Quintana was speaking in Seoul during his visit to South Korea to gather information for his next report – to be presented in March 2018 – and said that the situation in the northern provinces of North Korea seemed very difficult, after talking to defectors who have fled the country this year.
Witnesses have reported cases of workers not receiving salaries, a health care system catering to only those who can pay and a public distribution system of food which has almost collapsed since the disintegration of the USSR.
Speaking at a press conference, Ojea said that apparently the government’s social and economic structures – designed to fulfill the rights and needs of the people – have disappeared from these areas and only the extensive system of control and surveillance of the people remained intact.
The rapporteur reiterated the need to consider the effects of multiple UN sanctions – three of them imposed this year – on the North Korean population, a point he had raised in his last report in September.
He underlined growing problems of supply and finance affecting UN agencies operating in the country due to the sanctions, which have been imposed in response to Pyongyang’s weapons program.
He urged the North Korean regime to justify its criticism of the sanctions with concrete data about their effect on the population and allowing UN human rights researchers access to the country, which has been denied until now.
Although when asked if he was questioning the measures, Ojea said he would not question or undermine the UN Security Council.
The rapporteur expressed hope that a denuclearization dialogue with the North Korean regime might start soon due to a recent statement by the United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said Washington was open for a dialogue without pre-conditions.
Ojea said that human rights should be an essential part of the agenda in negotiations.
North Korea is one of the most commonly accused countries of lacking respect for the basic rights of its citizens and a 2014 report of the UN listed multiple cases of torture and persecution by the state.