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Human Rights in N. Korea Must Not Be Held Hostage to Security Concerns

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana listens to a reporter's question during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 14, 2017.

As political tensions on the Korean peninsula appear to be easing, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea warns human rights must not be held hostage to security concerns. The rapporteur, who presented his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, says conditions in North Korea are dire and must remain a priority.

Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana acknowledges what appears to be a potential for rapid progress on the political and security front. He says communication channels are building up between the two Koreas as well as the United States, with a potentially historic summit in the future.

While he commends the governments and initiatives for making this possible, he counsels caution.

“Rapprochement cannot be a single-track process focused only on security, for there is no long-term peace and security in a climate of impunity and disregard for human rights. The two projects must complement each other, and we must move forward on both fronts,” he said.

Quintana’s report presents a blistering picture of a society that runs a cruel penitentiary system, that represses all forms of free expression, continues to nurture fear of the state and leaves people at the mercy of public officials who are not held accountable for their actions.

He has harsh words for China’s policy of forcibly repatriating citizens of North Korea, including children. He urges China to stop deporting North Korean nationals who, he says risk torture upon their return.

Quintana is calling on the Government of Kim Jong-un to release six nationals of South Korea and three U.S. citizens who remain in detention in the DPRK on charges of plotting hostile acts against the State.