COVID-19 measures worsen abuse and hunger in North Korea, Human Rights Council hears
Measures taken by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus have exacerbated human rights violations and socio-economic hardship, a UN-appointed independent rights expert told the Human rights Council on Wednesday.
"The isolation of the DPRK during the COVID-19 pandemic means the isolation of ordinary people who are already subject to patterns of serious human rights violations," Special Rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana said.
Addressing the Geneva-based forum on the situation in North Korea, he said that the DPRK “continues to strictly enforce its anti-epidemic measures”, highlighting that unconfirmed reports that the authorities have authorised the police to shoot on sight "at any person attempting to cross the country's borders”.
The country has yet to report confirmed cases of COVID-19. Since last year it imposed the closure of its borders, bans on most international travel and severely restricted travel within the country.
According to the Special Rapporteur – an independent expert appointed by the Council for a three-year unpaid mandate - “several cases of severe punishment against those breaking anti-epidemic prevention measures have been reported by media”.
These prolonged measures have also resulted in “a drastic decline in trade and commercial activities and severe economic hardship to the general population, causing increased food insecurity”.
Instead of a peaceful end to the conflict on the Korean peninsula, “humanitarian operations inside the country have nearly come to a halt, only three international humanitarian workers currently remain inside the country, and diplomatic presence has drastically reduced”.
Given these conditions, the independent expert highlighted the importance of providing entry points and authorising access to the country, including the UN-partnered equitable vaccine-distribution initiative, COVAX.
“According to the WHO (World Health Organization), the DPR Korea had tested 13,259 people for COVID-19, and all the results were negative partly due to the Government’s proactive efforts on prevention,” he said. “The Government applied to join the COVAX scheme, a welcome approach to international cooperation. The country is expected to receive 1,992,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Vaccine in the first half of 2021 under this initiative.”
Mr. Quintana maintained that it was time for the Security Council to decide on the referral of the DPRK situation to the International Criminal Court.
There was no response from DPRK, which was absent from the discussion.