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UN: Tensions over North Korea worsen rights violations

UN: Tensions over North Korea worsen rights violations
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United Nations: North Korea’s leadership has cracked down further on human rights as tensions have escalated over its nuclear and missile tests, including beefing up restrictions on movements and making “horrific” prison conditions more severe, the UN rights chief said today.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the Security Council that the international security crisis sparked by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s military actions “is inseparable from concerns about the human rights situation of the ordinary people in the country.”

A chronic lack of food, partly due to resources that are diverted to the military, has made humanitarian aid provided by the UN and others “literally a lifeline for some 13 million acutely vulnerable individuals,” he said.

Zeid urged the council to assess the human rights impact of sanctions, including controls over international banking transfers, that have slowed aid deliveries and to minimise the humanitarian consequences.

This was the fourth year the Security Council has discussed human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, the country’s official name. As in previous years, the meeting went ahead only after a procedural vote in the 15-member council where at least nine nations are required to support having the session.

Today, the human rights meeting was approved by 10 members and opposed by Russia and China, with Egypt and Ethiopia abstaining. China’s deputy UN ambassador, Wu Haitao, whose country is North Korea’s closest ally, said the meeting would be “counterproductive” at a time of heightened tensions.

North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test demonstrated that it can threaten the US mainland, and there is growing concern that it will soon be able to put a nuclear warhead on its missiles. President Donald Trump has vowed to stop the North Koreans from reaching such capability, increasing the possibility of conflict.

“Indeed, the context of military tensions seems to have deepened the extremely serious human rights violations endured” by the 25 million North Koreans, the UN high commissioner for human rights said.

North Korea’s UN Mission strongly condemned the meeting, as it has in the past, calling it “a desperate act of the hostile forces which lost the political and military confrontation with the DPRK that has openly risen to the position of nuclear weapon state.” It called the human rights issue in the country “non-existent.”

“If the US and other hostile forces think of browbeating the DPRK by the discussion of ‘human rights issues’ in the Security Council, it is nothing else than a daydream that will not be realised ever,” it said in a statement.

North Korea has barred UN human rights officials from visiting the country, but Zeid said people who have escaped from North Korea have reported “extremely widespread violations of rights in almost every aspect of people’s lives.”

“In recent months, military tensions have led to more severe controls over freedom of movement and civil and political rights for the people of the DPRK,” he said.

Zeid pointed to new physical barriers being erected along North Korea’s border and increased surveillance.