North Korea measures to contain COVID-19 exacerbate abuse, hunger: UN expert

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana speaks during a press conference in Seoul

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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea’s drastic measures to contain the coronavirus have exacerbated human rights abuses and economic hardship among its citizens, including reports of hunger, according to a United Nations investigator.

North Korea, which has not yet reported confirmed COVID-19 cases despite sharing a border with China, last year imposed border closings, banned most international travel and severely restricted domestic movement.

“The continued isolation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from the outside world during the COVID-19 pandemic appears to exacerbate entrenched human rights abuses,” said Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the country, in a Reuters report on Wednesday.

He urged the North Korean authorities to ensure that “the negative consequences of preventive measures do not become disproportionately greater than the effects of the pandemic itself”.

There was no immediate response to a Reuters query about North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva. Pyongyang does not recognize the mandate of the UN investigator and has previously rejected the UN allegations made by the state for crimes against humanity.

Reduced trade with China has resulted in a significant decline in market activity and reduced the incomes of many families who rely on small market activities, Ojea Quintana said.

“There was a shortage of essential goods, medicines, agricultural inputs and raw materials for state factories,” he said, expressing concern that typhoons and floods could lead to “a major food crisis” last year.

“Deaths from starvation have been reported, as have the number of children and the elderly who beg because families are unable to support them.”

Humanitarian operations have almost come to a standstill and only three international aid workers have stayed in North Korea while relief supplies have been stuck at the Chinese border for months due to import restrictions, he said.

North Korea is slated to receive 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca (NASDAQ 🙂 vaccine through the COVAX facility by the end of May, according to GAVI vaccine alliance and World Health Organization (WHO) allocation numbers on Tuesday.

Ojea Quintana urged Pyongyang to give full access to medical professionals and rescuers involved in COVID-19 vaccinations.

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