UNITED NATIONS (PA) – North Koreans living under strict pandemic restrictions face a growing food crisis and the most vulnerable children and elderly in this isolated Asian country are at risk of starving to death, said a UN investigator in a report released Wednesday.
Tomás Ojea Quintana said in The report to the United Nations General Assembly that North Korea’s agricultural sector appears to be facing multiple challenges due to declining imports of fertilizers and other agricultural products from neighboring China, the impact of UN and international sanctions stemming from its nuclear program and a swine fever epidemic.
He said the prolonged and strict pandemic measures since January 2020 have resulted in “severe economic hardship and increased vulnerability to human rights violations among the general population.” The measures include a large-scale border closures, travel restrictions between cities and regions and restricted imports of non-essential supplies, including humanitarian goods.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Argentine lawyer said, more than 40% of North Koreans were “food insecure,” and many suffered from malnutrition and stunted growth. That number has increased, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, he said, highlighting the rise in prices of rice and maize in various regions in June and the emergency measures of the United Nations. government.
North Korea said Monday that leader Kim Jong Un had urged the authorities to overcome the “grim situation” and “unprecedented difficulties” the country was facing and to redouble efforts to improve living conditions and d feeding his people. State media said that in his speech marking the 76th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim confirmed the party’s determination to implement a five-year plan to boost “the national economy and solve the problems. food, clothing and housing for the people. . “
Ojea Quintana painted a grim picture of the life of the North Korean people who have “already suffered and waited too long for peace, security, development and basic human rights”.
Since the COVID-19 restrictions, he said, they have faced a worsening of the ordeal, including increased isolation, “broader and more severe state control over people’s lives , an additional stifling of economic activity and the exodus of humanitarian agencies from the country “.
As a result, he said, “families can no longer support themselves” and are increasingly taking out loans and selling household items to survive.
“Many factories and mines have closed due to a lack of electricity, machine parts and raw materials,” Ojea Quintana said. “The number of homeless and street children is increasing (…) (and) social problems such as prostitution, drug use, drug trafficking and theft are said to be on the rise due to deprivation economic.”
He said the government has mobilized urban residents, those who have recently left the military, orphaned children and married women to boost agricultural production and work on farms. But the floods in early August and the lack of fertilizers, pesticides, fuel for vehicles and farm parts are “likely to impact food production,” he said.
In his far-reaching final report as UN special investigator on human rights in North Korea, Ojea Quintana called on the Security Council to consider lifting sanctions “which negatively affect humanitarian aid. and human rights, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic ”.
He renewed his call for the most powerful UN body to refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court or establish a tribunal to investigate possible crimes against humanity.
“These crimes are probably ongoing, embodied in the continued operation of large political prison camps,” Ojea Quintana said.
The existence of these camps, known as kwanliso, “represents the worst excesses of a system of governance that systematically violates the human rights of its people,” he said.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than two years due to disagreements over North Korea’s demand to end US-led sanctions and US demands for meaningful action from Korea. North towards denuclearization.
North Korea has stepped up missile testing activities in recent weeks while making conditional peace offers to South Korea, reigniting a trend to pressure the south to get what it wants from the United States. .
“This is the time to send clear signals, to take concrete steps and to find creative ways to give momentum to the stalled diplomatic process to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” said Ojea Quintana, “and this could include the announcement of a declaration of peace between the parties.
Since taking office in 2016, North Korea has refused to allow Ojea Quintana to visit the country. He said COVID-19 has restricted his visits to neighboring countries, so he organized a series of online meetings with victims of human rights violations, their family members, civil society organizations. , United Nations agencies and United Nations member countries.