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'Meaningful dialogue' with North Korea on rights possible: UN expert

3 min

Geneva (AFP)

Serious violations are continuing in North Korea, a top UN expert said in a report published Wednesday, stressing though the opportunity to open "meaningful dialogue" on improving the rights situation with Pyongyang.

"A window of opportunity may currently exist to take this discussion forward," Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur for the rights situation in North Korea, said in the report which will be debated before the UN Human Rights Council next week.

The report highlighted the "continuing patterns of serious violations" in the country, "made worse by a climate of political volatility and conflict rhetoric".

The rights council has accused North Korea of committing crimes against humanity, carrying out international abductions and detaining up to 120,000 people in brutal prison camps.

Ojea Quintana's report also highlighted the use of torture in detention, chronic food insecurity and "severe restrictions on all forms of free expression, movement and access to information".

But he stressed that "despite the scale and gravity" of the rights violations committed in the country, there was currently an opportunity "to improve the situation through closer cooperation with the international community".

"After decades of isolation and limited possibilities for scrutiny, monitoring and technical cooperation, the country has started engaging in a conversation with (branches) of the Human Rights Council that seemed unlikely only a few years ago," he said.

- 'Chronic' food insecurity -

The report pointed to Pyongyang's decision last year to host a top UN rights expert for the first time, granting access to the special rapporteur on disabled people's rights, and its appeal to the UN rights office to help resolve alleged cases of abduction.

Ojea Quintana acknowledged that Pyongyang's continued refusal to allow him to enter the country remained "a serious impediment" to his work, he said the "country's recent engagement with other UN human rights mechanisms may offer encouraging opportunities for further cooperation".

"These are positive developments, and evidence that a meaningful dialogue, however difficult it may be, is possible," he said.

He also hailed the recent Olympic-driven rapprochement between the two Koreas and urged the two governments to put human rights at the centre of further cooperation.

Ojea Quintana stressed the dire need for diplomacy, in particular in light of the recent escalation in political and security tensions surrounding North Korea's nuclear standoff with Washington.

The UN Security Council has imposed tough economic sanctions aimed at choking off revenue to Pyongyang's military programs after Kim's regime carried out a sixth nuclear test and a series of advanced missile launches.

Ojea Quintana warned that the sanctions risked worsening further the chronic problem of food insecurity in North Korea, which he described as a "grave concern".

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