North Korea using pandemic ‘to crack down on human rights’

The United Nations Security Council took up the issue of human rights abuses in North Korea after the issue was raised by seven members who accused Pyongyang of using the coronavirus pandemic “to crack down further on the human rights of its own people.”

Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Estonia, the United States and the Dominican Republic brought up the issue in a closed-door virtual meeting on Friday, after diplomats said Russia and China objected to a public briefing on the situation.

“The DPRK’s human rights violations pose an imminent threat to international peace and security. The DPRK government diverts resources away from its people to its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programmes,” the seven countries said in a statement, read by German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen.

North Korea’s formal name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). North Korea’s UN mission in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Security Council meeting.

North Korea has repeatedly rejected accusations of human rights abuses and blames sanctions for a dire humanitarian situation.

But a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published in October said that torture, humiliation, coerced confessions and hunger appear to be “fundamental characteristics” in North Korea’s detention system.

Failed Trump diplomacy

Pyongyang has been under UN sanctions since 2006 for its ballistic missiles and nuclear programmes.

“The government’s decision to prioritise its weapons programmes over the needs of its people and their isolation from the international community, is inevitably worsening the impacts of the pandemic on the North Korean population,” Heusgen said.

Between 2014 and 2017 the Security Council held annual public meetings on human rights abuses in North Korea.

In 2018, the council did not discuss the issue amid now failed efforts by North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump to work towards Pyongyang’s denuclearisation.

Kim and Trump have met three times since 2018, but have made no progress on US calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.

Last year, at least eight council members pushed for a meeting on human rights abuses, sparking Pyongyang to warn it would consider such a move a “serious provocation” to which it would “respond strongly”.

The US instead convened a meeting on the threat of escalation by North Korea amid growing tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

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