The United Nations’ top envoy on Friday called on North Korea to open dialogue to address its “extremely serious” human rights issues.
Ill-treatment and torture of escapees repatriated by China as well as political prison camps still exist in the country, said Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, during a press conference in Seoul on Friday.
“A vast majority of ordinary citizens are facing serious difficulties in their daily lives … one person summarized the current situation like this -- ‘North Korea is now only for government officials,’” he said.
Ordinary people in North Korea are subjected to exploitive labor and serious human rights violations, such as forced evictions in the name of development, he said.
The envoy made his fifth visit to Seoul from Monday to Friday to collect information on North Korea. He will report his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March.
Despite his repeated requests for a visit to the nation, North Korea has not granted access to the special rapporteur to inspect the country.
“I should have been standing in Pyongyang, not in Seoul, to deliver this end-of-mission statement,” he said.
Asked whether international sanctions were hurting ordinary North Koreans, he said the sanctions targeted the economy as a whole, and the dire economic and social situation there was influenced by the restrictions.
From his view, the issue of sanctions will have to be addressed "as soon as possible."
“When I asked recent escapees about what they knew about the United Nations while they were living in North Korea, their responses were mixed. Some said the UN provides food to North Korea. Others said the country couldn’t develop because of (UN) sanctions,” he said.
He also urged the international community, particularity those involved in peace and denuclearization talks with North Korea, not to neglect but to continue promoting the improvement of human rights in North Korea.
“We are now at a critical juncture -- this coming year will see what we hope will be a rapid progress on the peace and denuclearization agenda. … It is my sincere hope that 2019 will usher in a new era for human rights for North Korea,” he said.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org