March 12, 2018 / 8:39 AM / 6 months ago

U.N. investigator: Human rights must be part of any talks with North Korea

GENEVA (Reuters) - Negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear programme should be accompanied by talks to address alleged human rights violations there including torture and political prisoner camps, the United Nations said on Monday.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana attends a news conference after his report to the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by the end of May to discuss the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. North Korea and South Korea will hold a summit by the end of April in the “truce village” of Panmunjom on their border.

“My main message today is that any advancement on the security dialogue should be accompanied by a parallel expansion on the human rights dialogue,” Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Later, addressing a news conference, he said: “The momentum is there for the negotiations to use and to bring the human rights issue into the discussion - that’s what I’m saying.”

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana attends a news conference after his report to the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Ojea Quintana urged North Korean authorities to allow him to visit to make “an assessment on the ground”, adding: “This is what I expect from the government of the DPRK in this new environment in regard to negotiations on the nuclear issue.”

He disagreed with a “sanctions regime against the economy as a whole” and called for studying any serious detrimental effects on North Korea’s 23 million people.

The delegation of North Korea, which does not recognise Ojea Quintana’s mandate, did not attend the rights council debate. It denies accusations of committing widespread rights abuses against its people.

Jason Mack, a first secretary at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva, denounced alleged extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence and forced labour in North Korea.

“Many of these abuses are committed in political prison camps where an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 individuals are detained, including children and family members of the accused,” Mack told the Geneva forum.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana attends a news conference after his report to the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

“The DPRK also uses forced labour including export of North Korean workers and child labourers to underwrite the regime’s illicit weapons programmes,” he said.

In the debate, Japan raised the issue of its nationals abducted by North Korea, while South Korea called for the release of six of its citizens in custody there.

In a report last week, Ojea Quintana said that an easing of international tensions with North Korea should lead to dialogue with Pyongyang to prevent continued “grave abuses”.

“The country’s extensive penitentiary system and severe restrictions on all forms of free expression, movement and access to information continue to nurture fear of the state and leave people at the mercy of unaccountable public officials,” Ojea Quintana told the Council on Monday.

Carl Hallergard, deputy head of the European Union delegation, voiced the bloc’s deep concern at continuing rights violations, saying that “some of (them) may amount to crimes again humanity”.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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