Report assesses North Korea’s human rights situation . . .
After visiting Seoul last month, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council on the conditions in North Korea. Quintana urged North Korea to accept vaccines from abroad and move human rights to the top of its agenda. The report follows Quintana’s call last month for the world to send 60 million vaccines to the country. Written at the end of his six-year term, Quintana’s report provides an assessment of the situation over the past six years and offers proposals for future engagement. He warns that continued exclusion will prolong the country’s worsening human rights violations and calls on North Korea to urgently invest available resources to ensure basic needs are met while gradually opening its borders.
COVID-19 in the country . . .
Already economically and politically isolated, North Korea locked itself away from the rest of the world at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The government’s oppressive control has tightened under the country’s border shutdown, and travel restrictions and the pandemic have contributed to further starvation and executions. Although North Korea has officially reported zero cases out of nearly 50,000 COVID-19 tests as of December 2021, the pandemic has worsened an already deteriorating economic situation.
Further development beyond vaccines . . .
In an end-of-year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un acknowledged the “harsh situation” and the need for radical progress in “solving the food, clothing and housing problem for the people.” The Special Rapporteur's report also looks beyond vaccines to the need for capacity development – including in food production, health care, and water and sanitation – as an urgent human rights requirement, while also providing recommendations to address issues such as prison conditions, providing for those with disabilities, and recognizing the fundamental right to leave and enter the country. Further diplomatic engagement, especially health aid, may now be more essential than ever for the Hermit Kingdom.