A U.N. human rights official this week pleaded with the international community to urgently consider lifting sanctions on North Korea that he fears are worsening the country’s desperate economic situation amid the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
In a report entitled the “The Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the U.N.’s special rapporteur to the country, Argentine lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana, warned that the continued implementation of sanctions has started to “seriously affect the entire economy of the country, with adverse consequences on the exercise of the economic and social rights of the people.”
The international community first imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first test of a nuclear weapon in 2006. Measures of increasing severity were passed in the form of U.N. Security Council Resolutions in 2009, 2013, 2016, and 2017 as the country aggressively developed its nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. has pledged to only lift sanctions should the regime prove that it has taken concrete steps to completely dismantle its nuclear arsenal, much to the frustration of leaders in Pyongyang.
Quintana argued that sanctions are infringing on the right of North Koreans to an “adequate standard of living,” despite the fact that millions of people have been chronically malnourished dating back to the 1990s when the country experienced a devastating famine known as the “Arduous March.”
In January 2020, when the global COVID-19 outbreak began, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had to contend with difficulties related to the pandemic, in conjunction with one of the most severe sanctions regimes imposed on any country in the world, as well as systemic economic problems and unusually bad weather condition.
Sanctions imposed on the country makes it hard for the enjoyment of the basic human right to an adequate standard of living… Under the unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Special Rapporteur believes that the international responsibility for re-evaluating the sanctions regime is more urgent than ever.
North Korea adamantly claims it has not recorded a single case of the coronavirus. Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly last month, North Korean Ambassador Kim Song spoke insisted the situation was “safe and under control.”
“At the early stage of the outbreak of Covid-19, Chairman Kim Jong-un … ensured that pre-emptive, timely, and strong emergency anti-epidemic measures were taken to prevent the inflow and spread of the pandemic,” Kim explained. “In response to the continuing world pandemic infections, a series of state measures are now being taken to block the virus inflow into the country and all people adhere strictly to anti-epidemic regulations while maintaining the highest alert.”