GENEVA (REUTERS) - Any progress in the nuclear and security dialogue with North Korea at upcoming summits must be accompanied by discussions on human rights violations, including political prison camps, the UN investigator on the isolated country said on Monday (March 12).
US President Donald Trump has agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by the end of May to discuss the future of nuclear weapons programme. The two Koreas will hold a summit by the end of April, at the "truce village" of Panmunjom on their border.
"Today, we witness what appears to be a potential for rapid progress on the political and security front, with communication channels steadily building up between the two Koreas as well as the United States of America, and historical summits plans for the future," Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), told the world body's Human Rights Council.
Referring to "this critical moment", he added: "Let me urge the DPRK to consolidate this rapprochement with a parallel opening to human rights review. My main message today is that any advancement on the security dialogue should be accompanied by a parallel expansion on the human rights dialogue."
The delegation of North Korea, which does not recognise Ojea Quintana's mandate, did not attend the debate in Geneva. It denies accusations of committing widespread rights abuses against its people.
Theodore Allegra, US Charge d'Affaires to the United Nations in Geneva, denounced extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence and forced labour in DPRK.
"Many of these abuses are committed in political prison camps where an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 individuals are detained, including children and family members of the accused," Allegra told the Geneva forum.
"The DPRK also uses forced labour including export of North Korean workers and child labourers to underwrite the regime's illicit weapons programmes," he added.
In a report last week, Ojea Quintana said that an easing of international tensions with North Korea should lead to dialogue with Pyongyang to prevent continued "grave abuses" such as torture and political prison camps.
"The country's extensive penitentiary system and severe restrictions on all forms of free expression, movement and access to information continue to nurture fear of the state and leave people at the mercy of unaccountable public officials," Ojea Quintana told the Council on Monday.
Carl Hallergard, deputy head of the European Union delegation, voiced the bloc's deep concern at continuing rights violations, saying that "some of (them) may amount to crimes again humanity".