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Human Rights Watch would like to thank Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana for his work, and in particular his attention to the aggravated food crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) resulting from the government’s extreme and unnecessary Covid-19 related measures that further suppressed people’s freedom and liberties.

In the past two years, North Korea has shut its borders with “shoot-on-sight” orders for violators; almost completely blocked both formal and informal trade; and significantly restricted movement of people inside the country. These measures severely curtailed people’s access to market goods, including food, medicine, and other necessities. Access to information is even more controlled with the enactment of the Law on Rejecting Reactionary Ideology and Culture in December 2020, which contains harsh punishments, including the death penalty, for distributing unsanctioned information.

This dire situation coincides with reduced global attention being paid to North Korea’s human rights situation. The United Nations Security Council has stopped debating North Korea’s human rights record as a formal agenda item since 2018.

Much attention is paid to North Korea’s weapon tests, but one should remember that the lack of human rights facilitates the government’s ability to divert scarce resources away from basic needs to nuclear weapons. As the special rapporteur stated in February 2022, the international community and the UN should “take a bold approach to integrate human rights, denuclearization and peace initiatives in its engagement with the DPRK.”

Focusing on justice is also essential. The UN Human Rights Council should support the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in strengthening its evidence repository and accountability efforts, with a view to ending impunity for the North Korean government’s serious abuses.

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