March 15, 2010 / 2:29 PM / in 7 years

North Korea rights situation has worsened: U.N. envoy

4 Min Read

<p>North Korean soldiers unload bags of corn from a cargo boat on the bank of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju August 4, 2009.Jacky Chen</p>

GENEVA (Reuters) - Human rights in North Korea have worsened over the last few years and it is time for the United Nations Security Council to protect the people who are mistreated by their own government, a U.N. envoy said on Monday.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), said his main achievement in six years was that the world was now better informed about abuses in the reclusive country.

"Sadly on many fronts the situation has actually got worse," he told a news conference after presenting a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council that spoke of "harrowing and horrific" human rights violations in the communist state.

One example was the way the authorities had clamped down recently on a cautious experiment introducing market elements into food production started after the state distribution system collapsed in the 1990s resulting in widespread starvation.

Muntarbhorn said the clamp-down and related redenomination of the won currency last year had led to inflation and insecurity, and malnutrition remained a serious problem.

"Logically, it would seem that if the authorities are not able to satisfy the basic needs of the people, the people should be able to participate in activities which can help generate income so as to enable them to produce or buy their own food as well as sustain their livelihood," he told the council.

North Korea Denunciation

North Korean diplomat Choe Myong Nam dismissed the report and told the council the very creation of the rapporteur -- who has never been accepted by Pyongyang -- was the result of hostility to his country by the United States, Japan and the European Union.

These countries were responsible for plenty of human rights abuses themselves and were just seeking confrontation, he said.

"The anachronistic 'special rapporteur' on DPRK must be eliminated once and for all," Choe said.

Muntarbhorn, who underlined his independence from other states, said recommended several steps for improving human rights.

-- improve food supplies by allowing people to grow and trade their own food, and work with international food aid donors,

-- stop executions, especially public executions used to intimidate people,

-- end the punishment of refugees sent back to North Korea,

-- cooperate with other countries whose citizens have been abducted by North Korea,

-- allow the special rapporteur to visit.

The Thai jurist, whose six-year mandate ends in June, said North Korea had never allowed him to visit, and he had relied for information on refugees, non-governmental organizations and U.N. agencies with a presence in the country.

Muntarbhorn said the question arose who would help people subjected to "systematic widespread abuses" if their nation state was unwilling or unable to protect them.

"My answer is that at least the Untied Nations must lend a helping hand," he said.

Some parts of the U.N. were working with North Korea, but the top of the system -- the Security Council, with the power to refer abuses to the International Criminal Court -- had not yet been involved, he said.

Muntarbhorn said he favored food aid for North Korea, but this must be carefully monitored to ensure resources were not diverted to the party and military elite, and North Korea itself had to spend more of its own resources on food provision instead of focusing on a military build-up.

He said current sanctions imposed on North Korea for its nuclear program appeared to be carefully targeted at the elite and were not having a human rights impact.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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