March 16, 2009 / 7:28 PM / 10 years ago

Life in N.Korea dire and desperate, U.N. forum told


* North Korean people said subject to starvation

* Regime said oppressive, "bent on survival"



By Robert Evans

GENEVA, March 16 (Reuters) - The people of North Korea are subjected to "intolerable suffering" including starvation, torture and almost universal spying, a U.N. investigator said on Monday in one of the toughest reports presented to a U.N. forum.

Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn told the world body’s Human Rights Council that the situation in the communist-ruled country was "dire and desperate" with the population living in fear and pressed to inform on each other.

"The country is under one-party rule. At the pinnacle there is an oppressive regime, bent on personal survival, under which the ordinary people of the land undergo intolerable and interminable sufferings," he said.

Diplomats said his comments and an accompanying report, although similar in their conclusions to studies of North Korea from independent rights groups, were among the most critical on one country ever presented to a U.N. forum.

Muntarbhorn, formally a special rapporteur for the Council which is not obliged to act on his recommendations, said the North Korean government’s abuse of its citizens should be addressed by the entire global community.

"There are widespread, systematic and reprehensible human rights violations of a long-standing and insidious nature which demand international attention and commitments nationally and internationally to help improve the situation," he said.

His remarks appeared largely addressed to the developing country majority on the 47-nation Council which has generally sought to avoid serious formal condemnations of governments of non-Western nations for rights abuses.



"DEATH TRAP"

Although North Korea and the military government in Myanmar have been the subject of relatively mild resolutions in the past, the Council — where Islamic countries have a strong voice — has issued five condemnations of Israel.

"Throughout the years," said Muntarbhorn, "the (North Korean) authorities have bred a culture of pervasive mistrust and multi-layered ‘divide and rule’, creating great insecurity for the general populations."

Despite huge food shortages due partly to bad weather but also to environmental degradation and mismanagement, he said, the authorities were moving to close all markets on which many people rely "for fear of losing their grip on the population."

They were also apparently this year planning to ban small-lot, or "kitchen" farming, which had been vital for the survival of the general population, while army personnel were forcing farmers to provide them with food, he added.

Collective punishment was used, with whole families persecuted and sent into detention when a member falls foul of the authorities, he said. Public executions were common.

Torture was used extensively and in the country’s jails, lack of food and forced labour helped ensure "many prisons are a death trap for the inmates." (Editing by Jon Boyle)

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