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North Korea's unparalleled self-isolation must cease: UN expert

21 March 2023

GENEVA (21 March 2023) – Unprecedented self-isolation imposed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the suffering of its people, a UN expert warned today.

In a report to the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Elizabeth Salmón, urged the international community to pay urgent attention to the people's deteriorating access to food, medicine and health care in the country.

"People froze to death during the cold spell in January this year," Salmón said. "People had no money to heat their homes or they were even forced to live on the streets because they had sold their house as a last resort."

The UN expert recalled that in response to COVID-19, the DPRK introduced international border control measures in January 2020. Since then, most international staff from the UN, humanitarian agencies and diplomatic missions have been unable to return to the country. She also noted that the number of escapees arriving in the Republic of Korea had decreased significantly.

“I am seriously concerned about the impact of three years of border closures on the people of the DPRK," she said, "especially women working in informal markets, people living in poverty, the elderly, the homeless and kkotjebi (homeless children).”

The Special Rapporteur warned that violence against women, already rampant, could worsen as women lose economic power. "Women have lost the means to provide for their families as market activities have dramatically declined," she said, adding that the international community has been unable to provide humanitarian assistance.

"Women and girls face countless risks trying to escape the DPRK, especially when crossing the border into China," Salmón said. She explained that the dangers have only increased since COVID-19, with a shoot-on-sight policy for those attempting to leave.

The expert urged the Government of the DPRK to take measures to provide food to those most in need and to seek assistance from the international community to fulfil the fundamental right of all people to be free from hunger.

"The international community cannot turn a blind eye to the situation simply because it does not have access," the Special Rapporteur said, calling for renewed efforts to engage in dialogue with the leadership of the DPRK.

Ms. Elizabeth Salmón (Peru) is appointed as the first female Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK by the Human Rights Council on 1 August in 2022. Ms. Salmón is a Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. She is also Executive Director of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights of the same university (IDEHPUCP). She holds a PhD in International Law from the University of Seville (Spain).

Professor Salmón was a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council Advisory Committee and a Consulting Expert of the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace. She has acted as a consultant to the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Defense of Peru, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). She also participates as a speaker in numerous seminars, conferences and events around the world and she is the author of several publications in Public International Law, International Human Rights Law, International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law and Transitional Justice.

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 Home | OHCHR Seoul 

For more information and media requests please contact: Ms. Madoka Saji (+82 10 4230 3523) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts

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