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UN 3rd committee adopts N.Korea human rights resolution, urges timely vaccination

South Korea declines to co-sponsor resolution for third year in a row

The UN General Assembly hears report of Human Rights Council. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)
The UN General Assembly hears report of Human Rights Council. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)
The United Nations on Wednesday passed a draft resolution condemning North Korea‘s dire human rights situation by consensus, urging Pyongyang to cooperate with the international community in delivering and distributing COVID-19 vaccines in a timely manner.

The resolution was introduced by the European Union and approved by the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly for the 17th consecutive year since 2005.

The resolution, which will be introduced at the upcoming UNGA plenary for final passage, condemns "in the strongest terms the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" in and by Pyongyang.

This year’s resolution reiterated its “deep concern at the precarious humanitarian situation” that has been exacerbated by the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and yearslong border closure.

In North Korea, the COVID-19 pandemic and full-scale restrictive measures have led to "food insecurity, severe hunger, malnutrition, widespread health problems," and other hardships for the disadvantaged.

The EU-facilitated resolution also notably urged Pyongyang to cooperate with the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access and other international bodies to “ensure the timely delivery and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Pyongyang has not started vaccinating its people and has rejected the UN’s offer to provide vaccines through the COVAX distribution program.

North Korea and Eritrea are the sole countries that have not rolled out COVID-19 vaccines, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed last week during a press briefing, adding that COVAX has delivered nearly 500 million vaccines to 144 countries and territories.

The resolution on North Korean human rights also called for North Korea to allow humanitarian aid agencies to implement their activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to monitor the distribution of humanitarian assistance.

Most international aid organizations no longer have in-country staff because of continuing restrictions on movement and border shutdown, which makes it difficult for them to engage in aid and access information for independent monitoring. 

The EU also said 2 million euros’ ($2.27 million) worth of annual humanitarian aid programs that are normally implemented through foreign nongovernmental organizations in North Korea have been suspended due to border shutdown.

But in response to the passage, North Korea‘s UN Ambassador Kim Song dismissed the resolution as the “outcome of anti-DPRK hostile policy” and the “collusion” between the United States and EU.

Meanwhile, the EU on Wednesday said more than 60 countries have co-sponsored the resolution. But the South Korean government did not participate in the resolution as a co-sponsor for the third year in a row, while others include the US, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, and France.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday said the government participated in the consensus of the resolution, upholding its position of working together with the international community to “substantially improve the human rights of North Korean people.”

The South Korean government co-sponsored the North Korean human rights resolution between 2008 and 2018, but it began excluding itself from a list of co-sponsors in 2019 considering inter-Korean relations.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Lee In-young last week said that Seoul would comprehensively review whether to co-sponsor this year’s UN resolution in response to the criticism raised by lawmakers at the meeting of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

The unification minister underscored that the Moon Jae-in government does not have any intention to turn a blind eye to or stay away from the international community’s universal values and norms. 

But Lee elucidated that Seoul has no choice but to comprehensively address the North Korean human rights issues, taking into account the need to improve inter-Korean relations and promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.

By Ji Da-gyum (