UN politicized move that will likely further exacerbate tensions on the Korean peninsula.
China blocked the US from broadcasting the informal Security Council meeting globally on the internet, a decision criticized by US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield as an attempt to hide North Korea’s “atrocities from the world”.
Webcasting requires the agreement of all 15 board members. But the US envoy said Beijing’s effort was in vain because the meeting will be made public and the US and many others will continue to denounce Pyongyang’s human rights abuses and threats to international peace.
James Turpin, a senior official in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula pose a threat to regional and international peace and security and that “these tensions cannot be separated by the dire human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the official name of the North.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, North Korea has been isolated. The United Nations has no international staff in the country and Turpin said this “coincides with an increase in the crackdown on civil and political rights”.
He pointed to tougher government measures to prevent people from accessing information from the outside world, an extreme level of surveillance, people’s homes subjected to random searches of unauthorized state material, and punishments for anyone who tries to exercise fundamental rights including freedom of expression, religion and peaceful assembly.
Elizabeth Salmon, United Nations Special Investigator on Human Rights in North Korea, also underlined “the interdependence of international peace and security and human rights”, saying that peace and denuclearization cannot be addressed without considering the current violations of human rights.
He told the meeting that the limited information available shows that the North Korean people’s suffering has increased and their already limited freedoms have diminished. Access to food, medicine and healthcare remains a top concern, “people froze to death during January’s cold spells” and some had no money to heat their homes while others were forced to live on the streets because they sold their homes as a last resort.
Xing Jisheng, adviser to the United Nations mission of China, criticized the United States for discussing human rights in the Security Council, whose mandate is to guarantee international peace and security, saying it was “in no way constructive”. Instead of easing tension, he said, “it may rather escalate the conflict, and so it’s an irresponsible move.”
“Using the United Nations WebTV for live broadcasting is a waste of the United Nations’ resources,” Xing added, saying that if countries are really concerned about the situation on the Korean peninsula and people’s well-being, they should work to relaunch dialogue, ease tensions, and support the lifting of sanctions that affect the livelihoods of North Koreans and the country’s deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Stepan Kuzmenkov, senior adviser to Russia’s UN mission, echoed China’s opposition to the Security Council discussing human rights and said there were no reasons to convene the meeting “which has a clear inclination anti-North Korean”.
He accused the United States of using human rights “to settle scores with governments it does not like” and condemned what he called “disinformation flows” about North Korea spread by the United States and its allies “with the pretext that they are trying to protect human rights”.
“What we see is that the United States, South Korea and Japan are engaging in aggressive and militaristic activities, thus fueling tensions in Northeast Asia, jeopardizing the security of countries in the region,” Kuzmenov said. “Americans are ignoring initiatives that would help ease tensions as well as the substantive and constructive signals (North Korean leader) that Kim Jong Un is sending that could lead to a possible de-escalation.”
American Thomas-Greenfield countered that “the regime’s widespread human rights violations and its threats to our collective security could not be clearer.”
North Korea’s ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs threaten international peace and security and are “inextricably linked to the regime’s human rights abuses,” he said.
“In North Korea, the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction always trumps the human rights and humanitarian needs of its people,” said Thomas-Greenfield.