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UN envoy says sanctions on North impact human rights

Jan 12,2019
Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, speaks at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul on Friday. [YONHAP]
Sanctions on Pyongyang need to be addressed “as soon as possible,” the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea said on Friday, saying that they impact the economic and social conditions of the North’s people.

“The dire social and economic situation of the people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK] especially in provinces, have a direct relationship with the collapse of the distribution system in North Korea and the policies of North Korea diverting resources to its nuclear and ballistic missile technology,” said Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur, when he spoke to reporters at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul.

He continued, “But the imposition of sanctions, in my view, also has an influence on that dire economic and social situation.” While he does not currently have “specific information about the detrimental impact of the sanctions” on the livelihood of its people, Quintana noted that the North Korean economy “has been targeted as a whole by the sanctions regime.”

He added that UN agencies working on the ground have been facing limitations and problems with regards to funding, supplies, customs and banking channels.

“These are issues that need to be duly considered, especially by the United Nations,” Quintana continued. “In my view, the issue of sanctions will have to be addressed as soon as possible.” Quintana said this includes both UN Security Council and unilateral sanctions.

Quintana kicked off his five-day visit to Seoul Monday and met with Seoul officials including Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho, civic groups and North Korean defectors.

This year, said Quintana, marks a “critical juncture” in “what we hope will be rapid progress on the peace and denuclearization agenda.” But Quintana said that with all the “positive developments the world has witnessed in the past year, it is all the more regrettable that the reality for human rights on the ground remains unchanged.”

Quintana went on to urge North Korea to heed his requests for cooperation, as he has yet to be allowed to visit Pyongyang. “We must recognize that development and human rights go hand in hand, and that one cannot be realized without the other,” he said.

However, Quintana said that “it is worth noting” that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in his New Year’s address called for an improvement to the standards of living for the North Korean people, including farmers and coal miners. “In my view, this is a recognition of the economic and social hardships for ordinary people and represents an important first step towards taking action to address the challenges,” he continued.

At the same time, Quintana called on the international community to continue to provide “vital humanitarian assistance” to the North, and that such humanitarian cooperation should be “extended without politicization.”

Unilateral sanctions, he added, should also “facilitate commendable humanitarian initiatives,” such as reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

This marks Quintana’s fifth visit to Seoul since he was appointed to the position in March 2016 by the UN Human Rights Council. He will report his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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