Press conference by Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Democratic People's Republic of Korea

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States must work towards food security of a more sustained nature in the development perspective, Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said at Headquarters today.

"Food aid alone is never adequate -- it's patchwork," he said at a press conference, where he highlighted that point in the context of the severe situation facing the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. More than 6.5 million people in that country were relying on assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) this year, up from 1.9 million people in 2007. While harvest yields had improved in the early 2000s, devastating floods in 2006 and 2007 had contributed to the "very, very serious" situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea today.

Mr. Muntarbhorn, who was at Headquarters to present his annual report to the General Assembly's Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), said that on the whole, his report showed the human rights situation was "very negative". There had not been enough action to demilitarize or shift the pro-military budget to a pro-development budget. While the country was a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it was an extremely closed, repressive system. There were "very major problems" of a poor justice system, a non-independent judiciary, and abductions of foreigners, whose fates still must be resolved.

On issues of mobility and immobility, he said many women and children were victims of human trafficking and torture, adding that the issue of impunity was still pertinent. At the same time, the Government had improved its cooperation with United Nations agencies and had submitted its report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

He said that, in the short term, he recommended various steps for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to avoid punishing returnees: open the door to food aid; stop public executions; resolve abduction issues; and enable the Special Rapporteur to enter the country. Other questions required attention: the question of food security; revamping the legal and prison systems; tackling the root causes of displacement; and engaging consistently with treaty bodies to which the country was a signatory. As for the global community, it should support longer-term food security, and the United Nations should act in a more "calibrated" manner.

Asked about the number of people in political prison camps, he said that, since he did not have access to the country, he listened to all sides in a pluralistic manner, and several sources had indicated "very large numbers". Also, there was "seriousness beyond the numbers", in that collective punishment had taken place, meaning, for example, that "if the dad falls out of favour with authorities, it is the whole family that is carted off to prison". There had been various reports through the years covering various forms of imprisonment.

Responding to a question about what constituted a "calibrated" approach, and whether the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) should consider human rights if allowed back into the country, he said such an approach ranged from field operations, to using leverage through the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Other possibilities must also be considered.

He went on to say he would welcome a field-level re-entry by UNDP, which now had a team discussing matters on the basis of a "road map". In addition, potential contributors must think seriously about the extent to which they would commit themselves, given the political conditions. Regarding emergency assistance, humanitarian aid should not be conditional. In the case of development aid, countries had different approaches, and that must be considered in the engagement process. "I'm all for a concrete development process that nurtures food security."

Beyond the General Assembly's involvement at the top of that process, he continued, non-governmental organizations had advocated Security Council involvement and put forward reports on the need for a non-binding resolution on the country's human rights violations. All such options were available; the question was one of international political will.

To a question about public executions, he replied that he had tried to request leniency, but since the Government often did not respond constructively, it was difficult to determine the situation. Public executions were illegal, and the question of the numbers was a "fluid area".

In response to a query about abductions, he said that although the Six-Party Talks focused on de-nuclearization, the abductions issue had emerged through a complementary bilateral track. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea should "come clear and clean" on the matter. During the early 2000s, bilateral summits had produced the key Pyongyang Declaration, which had paved the way for the amicable settlement of disputes, with a possible view to normalizing relations.

Asked whether political pressure from the "five other parties" in the Six- Party Talks could help him enter the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, he said he welcomed "any efforts", adding that, if allowed in, he would be "very fair" in his assessments, reflecting constructive developments and needed changes. "This is a totally independent Rapporteur. I was not lobbied to be appointed."

Responding to a question about returnees, he said that, in the last year, he had heard reports of more severe sanctions, including the use of labour camps, but he advocated no punishment for returnees.

To a question about freedom of expression, he replied that it was non-existent in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the situation had not improved. There were reports of squads that raided apartments to determine whether people were tuning in to non-Government programmes.

In response to another query, he said both his report and that of the Secretary-General were before the General Assembly.

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