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UN: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea, Burma 'Abysmal'

UN: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea, Burma 'Abysmal'

UN: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea, Burma 'Abysmal'

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The U.N. Special Rappoteur for North Korea warned Thursday that the human rights situation in that country remains "abysmal" because of the Pyongyang's repressive government. Vitit Muntarbhorn says in his latest report that the North Korean people are subject to abuses, including persecution, collective punishment, torture and arbitrary executions.

Special Rapporteur Vitit Muntarbhorn estimates that nearly a third of North Korea's 24 million people are denied one of the most basic human rights - the right to food.

"The country is not poor," said Vitit Muntarbhorn. "Their volume of export and trade last year was several billion [dollars]. And where does the money go? The country is not poor, and yet the money is not spent on the people."

After briefing the U.N. General Assembly committee that deals with these issues, Muntarbhorn told reporters that food aid is important, but that it should come with a "no access, no food provision". He urged the Pyongyang government to change from a "military first" approach to one of "people first".

Muntarbhorn is an independent investigator whose mandate comes from the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. He has been the Special Rapporteur for North Korea since 2004, but has never been granted permission to enter the country and has not received cooperation from the country's government.

He expressed deep concern about the pervasive fear and repression in North Korea.

"Well, regrettably, people are not freed or free from fear because we are dealing with a non-democratic system," he said. "And so, you have all the transgressions which are listed, not just in my report but in many other reports - persecution, clampdown, collective punishment, torture, arbitrary executions, public executions, et cetera - despite various formal guarantees in the constitution and in criminal law."

Also briefing the General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee was the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.

Afterwards, Tomas Ojea Quintana told reporters that the human rights situation in Burma remains "serious" and "alarming," and that it has worsened in some areas.

"There is a pattern of widespread and systematic violations that the prevailing impunity allows for the continuation of those violations," said Tomas Ojea Quintana. "I urge the government to take prompt measures to establish accountability and responsibility with regard to those widespread and systematic human rights violations."

He said that although Burma exports rice, food scarcity is an acute problem in several regions, and nearly five million people are in need of food aid.

The Special Rapporteur for Burma urged that next year's elections be fair and transparent, and that all political prisoners be released ahead of the vote. He also called for the review and reform of the Burma's judiciary to ensure its independence and impartiality, and reform of the country's military to respect international humanitarian law in conflict areas and the rights of civilians.