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UN: Use Upcoming Rights Review to Press North Korea

Condemn Executions, Collective Punishment, Penalties for Border Crossers

GENEVA - United Nations member countries should call for an end to grave human rights violations in North Korea at the review of the nation's human rights record scheduled for December 7, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today. Issues to be raised should include executions, collective punishment, and the punishment of those who leave the country without permission.

North Korea will undergo its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, under which the rights record of each member is reviewed every four years. In its submission to the council, Human Rights Watch highlighted such issues as the right to food and the rights of children and workers. Pyongyang has been participating in the review process for other countries, though it has rebuffed General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions condemning its own rights violations.

"While North Korea has rejected UN resolutions against it, calling them a smear campaign, it has spoken up about other countries in the review process," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "If it can dish out criticism, it should show that it can take it too."

At the review of South Korea's record in May 2008, for example, North Korea spoke out against South Korea's security law, calling it "a source of systemic violations of, in particular, freedom of expression and assembly."

In April, North Korea's parliament revised the country's constitution to include a provision that North Korea "respects and protects human rights," a move many observers interpret as an attempt to improve its international image in response to continuing criticism over its abysmal human rights record.

In its submission to the Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said that North Korea should allow international humanitarian agencies, including the World Food Programme, to monitor aid distribution in accordance with international protocols for transparency and accountability. These standards require access to the entire country and freedom to make unannounced visits and to select interviewees. North Korea recovered from a famine in the 1990s, but it still suffers from widespread hunger.

The government also should allow its citizens to travel freely in and out of the country, and stop punishing North Koreans who are forced to return after they flee to other countries or who voluntarily return, Human Rights Watch said. North Korea should respect and ensure the rights set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty it has ratified, and in particular should end the collective punishment. North Korea should also join the International Labour Organization, accede to its core treaties, and invite its officials to investigate and discuss protection and promotion of workers' rights, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on North Korea to abolish the death penalty. North Korea routinely executes people for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other "anti-socialist" crimes.

North Korea should cooperate with UN human rights bodies and open the country to visits by UN Special Rapporteurs and accept technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Watch submission said. Facilitating inspection of all types of detention facilities by independent international experts and implementing recommendations from such trips should be a high priority, it said.

"North Korea should take concrete measures to address human rights, not just pay lip service in its constitution," Pearson said. "The first step in that direction is participating in the UN system and inviting the UN rights experts to observe and advise."


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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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