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North Korea: UN expert calls for engagement amid continuing rights violations

24 October 2019

NEW YORK (24 October 2019) – A UN human rights expert said North Korea’s economic resources were being diverted away from the essential needs of the people as food insecurity remained at alarming levels.

Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said the fact that 11 million North Koreans - nearly half of the population - remained undernourished served as a reminder of the State’s long-failing economic and agricultural policies.

“We should not forget the devastating famine of the mid-1990s when up to one million people starved,” he told the General Assembly in New York, calling for specific State reforms. 

The Special Rapporteur also updated Member States on the ongoing suppression of basic freedoms, including freedom of expression. “North Korean people continue to live in the entrenched fear of being sent to a political prison camp,” he said. “You can be suddenly taken by agents of the Ministry of State Security and never be seen again.” 

While highlighting the ongoing seriousness of the situation and the need for accountability, the Special Rapporteur urged member states to explore new avenues of constructive dialogue with the Government. “The Government has accepted 132 recommendations from the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of the country’s human rights record; this opens opportunities for engagement by Member States and the UN towards bringing real improvements,” Quintana said. “North Korea needs to open up to this dialogue in the spirit of international cooperation.”  

In addition, the Special Rapporteur urged Member States to cease the sidelining of human rights concerns during negotiations on denuclearisation and sanctions relief. “Integrating fundamental human rights into the current negotiations is crucial for the sustainability of any agreement for denuclearisation and peace for the Korean Peninsula and beyond,” Quintana said. “This is not an agenda that can be deferred.”


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 also led cases of criminal corporate responsibility. 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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity. 

UN Human Rights, country page: DPRK 

OHCHR Seoul Office 

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:

Mr Jeremy Laurence – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])  

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