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Don’t lose sight of ordinary North Koreans in security crisis - UN human rights expert

NEW YORK (27 October 2017) - The international security crisis over North Korea must not overshadow the human rights situation of millions of ordinary citizens in the country, a UN human rights expert has said.

“While the current tensions divert our attention to the authorities, we should not forget that behind the Government there are ordinary citizens whose human rights need protection, more so than ever,” Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, told reporters in New York today.

Earlier this week the Special Rapporteur appealed to UN member states at the General Assembly to ensure that human rights were not overlooked amid the unprecedented tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme.

He said the wider sanctions on coal, iron and seafood imposed by the UN Security Council in September may have a negative impact on the population.

“The Security Council sanctions are not punitive in nature and should not serve to target vital sectors for sections of the population. I was alarmed by reports that sanctions may have prevented cancer patients from access to chemotherapy and blocked the import of disability equipment,” he said, following meetings with members of the Security Council.

In his full report to the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur said North Koreans continued to suffer patterns of “grave violations” of their human rights.

He cited concerns over the situation of prisoners and abductees, access to food, corruption and freedom of information.

The expert reported on the testimonies of North Koreans who had told him of their fear of being sent to a political prison camp, as well as of people who were detained in inhumane conditions in holding centres near the border with China. He was also informed of the challenges people met to circumvent the country’s system of surveillance.

The situation of family members who were forcibly separated during the Korean War, or as a result of abduction by North Korea, was highlighted in the report as requiring urgent action to restore those family links.

“There must be accountability for human rights violations,” Mr Ojea Quintana insisted, adding that “current efforts to promote accountability, including the recruitment of international criminal law experts by OHCHR, will help deter future violations”.

Mr. Ojea Quintana also stressed that North Korea had opened up in recent years to some parts of the UN Human Rights system. Earlier this year, it allowed a visit by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities, and had its national reports on the human rights situation of women and children reviewed by the relevant UN committees.

“These are positive steps and they should be encouraged,” Mr Ojea Quintana said. “I will continue to pull together those different efforts in a way that promotes engagement with different human rights mechanisms with a view to promoting positive changes on the ground.”

Although the DPRK rejects the country-specific mandate, the Special Rapporteur expressed his desire to work with the Government.

“The authorities of the DPRK and I have one thing in common, which is for them the obligation to protect and promote human rights, and for me a mandate to contribute to the fulfilment of that obligation,” he told UN Member States.

The Special Rapporteur plans to visit north-east Asia in December 2017.


Mr. Tomás OJEA QUINTANA (Argentina) was designated as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Ojea Quintana, a lawyer with more than 20 years of experience in human rights, worked for the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and represented the Argentinian NGO “Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo” in cases concerning child abduction during the military regime. He is a former Head of OHCHR human rights programme in Bolivia, and served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar from 2008 to 2014.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: DPRK

OHCHR Seoul Office

For additional information and media requests, please contact (in English) Tarek Cheniti (+82 2 725 3522 / tcheniti@ohchr.org) or (in Korean) YounKyo Ahn (+82 2 725 3523 / yahn@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries in New York please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+1 917 367 2227 / ravina.shamdasani@un.org) or Nenad Vasic (+1 212 963 5998 / vasic@un.org

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