North Koreans facing food shortages, collapses in livelihoods: UN investigator

  • Even though North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recognized the “grim” food situation and is investing in efforts to prevent starvation in the country, the border closure has put the lifesaving humanitarian work of the United Nations and other international actors on halt.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AP)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AP)
Published on Oct 23, 2021 12:08 PM IST
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Written by Shubhangi Gupta | Edited by Amit Chaturvedi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The United Nations' independent investigator on human rights in North Korea has found that the Asian country has never been more isolated from the international community than it is today due to its drastic steps to prevent Covid-19. He also noted this is having “a dramatic impact on the human rights of the people inside the country", reported AP.

North Koreans are facing food shortages and collapses in their livelihoods with the most vulnerable lot being children and elderly people who are at risk of starvation, Tomás Ojea Quintana told the General Assembly's human rights committee. He also highlighted the extent of hunger in political prison camps.

For the unversed, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- the North's official name -- has closed its borders to prevent the pandemic. Other draconian steps taken by the government to prevent the spread of the viral disease in the nation include a policy of shooting individuals who attempt to enter or leave the country, Quintana said.

The UN investigator further noted the closing of borders would have “a devastating impact” on the people's right to health as DPRK's health infrastructure suffers from underinvestment and a critical shortage of supplies caused by underlying human rights issues, according to the AP report.

In his final report to the General Assembly after six years as the UN special investigator on human rights in the DPRK, Ojea Quintana added that “increased restrictions on freedom of movement and the shutting of national borders has choked market activity that has become essential for people's access to basic necessities, including food.”

Even though North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recognized the “grim” food situation and is investing in efforts to prevent starvation in the country, the border closure has put the lifesaving humanitarian work of the United Nations and other international actors on halt. The UN investigator said there are no United Nations international staff currently in the country and diplomats are continuing to leave.

The UN investigator, in his report to the General Assembly, has recommended that in light of the pandemic, the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the DPRK over its nuclear program “should re-evaluate the sanctions regime under these circumstances, and when necessary ease those sanctions.” While humanitarian aid to the DPRK is exempt from sanctions, Ojea Quintana said sanctions have had unintended consequences on ordinary people.

As one example, he said, UN sanctions against the export of textiles and seafood -- industries where women are the predominant workers -- have resulted in women who are family bread-winners losing their jobs.

In his report, Ojea Quintana also recognised the paradox of deteriorating social and economic rights in the DPRK while the government continues to test missiles, “probably diverting resources that should be allocated in those areas.”

(With PTI, AP inputs)

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021