UN special rapporteur urges North to accept vaccines from abroad
“The Special Rapporteur’s six years on this mandate has shown him that the current approach by the international community is not securing improvements to the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” said Quintana in his report to the UN Human Rights Council released on Friday, referring to North Korea by its official name.
“A new way of thinking needs to take hold,” he said. “This will require vision and initiative, driven by the needs of the North Korean people rather than any other agenda.”
This should begin, he said, with an offer of 60 million vaccines to the North from the international community, which will be more than enough to cover a full course of vaccinations for every North Korean.
The vaccinations will help the North “gradually open its borders” to economic activity and movement of people to ensure the regime can “fulfil its human rights obligations,” Quintana said.
North Korea was offered 1.29 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the Covax facility, a global vaccine distribution platform, last July, which it rejected. It also rejected an offer of around three million doses of Chinese-made Sinovac last September.
According to his findings, more than 10 million people in the North, or over 41 percent of the population, face “chronic food insecurity.”
“Now with the country still in the grip of strict Covid-19 measures, concerns over the right to food are more serious than at any point during the Special Rapporteur’s six-years on the mandate,” he said.
Quintana was in South Korea from Feb. 15 to 23, which was likely his last official visit to the country before his tenure comes to an end in July.
His recommendations to South Korea included integrating discussions on human rights violations by the North into negotiations with Pyongyang, which have previously centered on denuclearization
He also urged Seoul to work on the reunions of separated families, including virtual reunions, given that there have been instances of North Koreans participating in live video conferences during the pandemic, proving “equipment necessary for virtual reunions is operational” in the country.
Quintana also highlighted the lack of progress made since the North Korean Human Rights Act was passed in 2016 in Seoul. The act calls for the establishment of a North Korean human rights foundation, in addition to the designation of an envoy to focus on the North Korean human rights situation, neither of which have happened.
As well as meeting with members of the National Assembly and North Korean defectors, he also met with relatives of South Korean citizens who were abducted by the North or were killed in the North, including a relative of the South Korean fisheries official killed by North Korean authorities in September 2020.
The relative has been requesting the Moon Jae-in government release information regarding the death of the official, after information about the incident has been withheld from the family by the Blue House and the Coast Guard.
Quintana had written to the Moon Jae-in administration in November 2020, requesting the government provide sufficient information regarding the incident to the bereaved family.
He reiterated his point in the latest report, urging South Korea to “engage with civil society organizations with a view to enabling victims, families, escapees and civil society organizations to continue their efforts on fighting impunity, and supporting peace building and access to information.”
Quintana also called on Russia and China to stop sending back North Korean defectors.
According to his findings, three North Koreans seeking asylum are being held at the North Korean consulate in Vladivostok, Russia, and around 1,500 North Koreans are being held across China as “illegal migrants” and are at the risk of being repatriated back to Pyongyang once the border opens.
“Both China and Russia are a party to the Convention against Torture as well as the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, which explicitly prohibits refoulement,” he said.
Quintana also highlighted the human rights violations across political prison camps in the North, known amongst its people as kwanliso, and urged the North to release information about the camps and allow international monitoring agencies to visit them, with the ultimate objective of dismantling them.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]