Seoul — A UN human rights official has called on the international community to urgently consider lifting sanctions on North Korea that may be worsening problems during its coronavirus lockdown, according to a draft report released on Thursday.

North Korea, which has not reported any confirmed infections, has been subjected to UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, with ever tighter measures imposed in recent years.

It imposed strict border controls this year among tough measures against the virus, just when it was reeling from sanctions, as well as “systemic economic problems and unusually bad weather conditions”, Tomas Ojea Quintana wrote.

While the North’s strictures aim to protect its people’s rights to life and health, the severe lockdowns have had a “devastating” effect on trade, added Quintana, who is the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea.

The fallout on trade threatens food supplies and access to humanitarian aid, he said in the report, which is to be submitted next week to the UN General Assembly.

“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,” he concluded.

Greater implementation of sanctions has started to “seriously affect the entire economy of the country”, with adverse consequences for people’s economic and social rights, he added.

North Korea’s dire human rights situation also stands to be exacerbated by the pandemic, through increased surveillance and control of its population and reduced contact with the rest of the world, Quintana said.

The recent shooting of a South Korean fisheries official by North Korean border troops appeared to be an unlawful and arbitrary killing of a civilian, in violation of international human rights law, he said in the report.

He called for Pyongyang to provide more details of the case, while holding to account those responsible, compensating the man’s family, and preventing similar incidents in future.


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