The United Nations’ top human rights official shed light on the alarming escalation of human rights abuses in North Korea. Accompanied by worsening economic conditions and increasing desperation among its citizens. Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, addressed the first open meeting of the U.N. Security Council since 2017. He highlighted the distressing situation that the North Korean population finds itself in.
Türk noted that the people of North Korea have endured periods of economic hardship and repression in the past. But the current circumstances are even more dire. He revealed that informal markets and other survival mechanisms are being systematically dismantled. Indeed, pushing citizens into greater despair. The fear of state surveillance, arrest, and detention has intensified, making daily life a struggle for survival.
The country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, initially closed North Korea’s borders to combat the spread of COVID-19. However, Türk revealed that as the pandemic subsided, the government’s restrictions only tightened. Unauthorized border crossings could now result in lethal force by guards, and the nation remains largely off-limits to foreigners, including U.N. personnel.
Shocking Crackdown on Human Rights
Türk unveiled shocking examples of the regime’s intensifying crackdown on human rights. Merely consuming information from abroad, particularly from South Korea, now carries the threat of imprisonment ranging from five to fifteen years. Distributing such material is met with even graver consequences, including life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Economic turmoil has exacerbated the citizens’ plight, as the government has shut down private means of generating income and criminalized such activities. This has led to extreme hunger and dire shortages of essential medications. With state-run economic institutions unable to meet the populace’s needs, many are grappling with severe deprivation.
The U.N. commissioner stressed that the escalation of human rights violations is intrinsically linked to the militarization of North Korea. Forced labour is rampant, with individuals, including political prisoners and school children, coerced into arduous work. Families are obligated to provide both labour and a government-imposed quota of goods, and overseas workers’ wages are confiscated to bolster the military apparatus.
Elizabeth Salmón, the U.N. special investigator on human rights in North Korea, echoed Türk’s concerns. She highlighted the dire consequences of the crisis, stating that some individuals are succumbing to starvation, while others are falling victim to malnutrition, diseases, and a lack of access to healthcare.
The gravity of the situation in North Korea demands urgent international attention and action. As the international community grapples with the unfolding crisis, the fundamental human rights and well-being of North Korea’s citizens hang in the balance, raising a critical call for intervention and support.