U.N. slams North Korea over human rights

Human rights activists participate in a human rights rally on December 10, 2005, in Seoul, South Korea.
The U.N. human rights special investigator for North Korea on Thursday urged the U.N. Security Council to get involved as North Korea’s citizens face worsening conditions.

The United Nations regards the North Korean government as one of the most restrictive and repressive in the world. The Security Council has slapped North Korea with multiple sanctions. But the United Nations does not tend to intervene in a country’s humanitarian affairs. “Let’s make good use of the international system,” Vitit Muntarbhorn told journalists on Thursday. “I need the Security Council.” Muntarbhorn’s latest report to the United Nations reflected worsening conditions for human rights. He said North Korea battles food shortages, controlled communication and restrictions against women, among other problems, despite the nation’s abundance of mineral resources. He repeatedly said, “North Korea is not a poor country.” Several billion dollars apparently was gleaned from trade and exports there last year, he said, but the money did not reach citizens. “Where is the money” Muntarbhorn asked. “People should be entitled to a fair share of the budget and the benefits from trade in terms of access to sustainable development.” Muntarbhorn, who has been denied access to North Korea for six years, described a downturn of human rights in that society, saying that North Koreans live in constant fear of abduction, arrest, abuse and even public execution, he said.

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He reported that women continue to be highly discriminated against. Many women are barred from trading. They are forced to wear skirts and dresses even while bicycling as necessary transportation. Muntarbhorn estimated that one-third of the North Korean population suffers from starvation. Freedom of information continues to be an issue. There was some progress in communication now that cell phones are legal — even to the non-elite — but he said phones are not permitted near the border. Possessing a computer is illegal for North Koreans. Currently, there is no U.S. aid going into North Korea, though the World Food Program is allowed access under the watch of the North Korean military. According to North Korean military rules, food organizations must announce their visit a week before arrival. Muntarbhorn said the North Korean constitution recently was amended to acknowledge human rights, and references to communism were removed. However, he said, the government has replaced communism with “their own brand of socialism,” which ranks government authority very high and regular citizens very low. “We can feel that the reference to human right is somewhat undermined,” he said.