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North Korea accused of using virus for rights crackdown

December 12, 2020

A group of seven countries on the UN Security Council, plus Japan, have said Pyongyang is increasing its human rights abuses under the cloak of coronavirus.

Kim Jong Un seen in 2018
Dictator Kim Jong Un claims North Korea has not had a single case of coronavirusImage: picture-alliance/dpa/V. Sharifulin

Eight countries, including Germany and the United States, accused North Korea of using the coronavirus pandemic to "crack down further on human rights," according to a UN Security Council (UNSC) statement released following a closed-door video-conference on Friday.

The virtual UNSC meeting, which was organized by Germany, comes amid reports of increased executions in North Korea related to the pandemic and strict controls on movement in and around Pyongyang.

Seven UNSC members — Germany, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, the UK and the US, along with Japan — said in a joint statement following the meeting that people in North Korea are "stripped of nearly all their human rights," including the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion or belief.

"The situation of human rights in the DPRK is appalling and gets worse by the day," said the statement, which was read by Germany's UN ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, accompanied by UN envoys from the seven council members plus Japan.

The eight countries also condemned Pyongyang for prioritizing its nuclear weapons program "over the needs of its people," adding that "longstanding, systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" is a "serious threat" to international security. 

Coronavirus adds to international isolation 

North Korea's "isolation from the international community is inevitably worsening the impacts of the pandemic on the North Korean population,'' the statement continued. 

When the coronavirus began to spread in January, North Korea sealed off its border with China, its largest trade partner and aid benefactor.

Dictator Kim Jong Un's government claims there hasn't been a single coronavirus case on North Korean soil, something which is disputed by outside experts considering the country's social and economic ties with China. 

A doctor who defected from North Korea in 2012 told a DW investigative team: "of course people in North Korea have died of coronavirus."

"The health care system is very weak. They don't want to show that to the world. North Korea is a museum of viruses," said Dr. Choi Jung Hun. 

Lockdown and economic crisis 

A combination of North Korea's closure due to the pandemic, several natural disasters over the summer, and ongoing international sanctions, have crippled the country's economy. 

In November, South Korean intelligence reported that Kim had ordered lockdowns in Pyongyang and ordered at least two people executed.

According to a South Korea lawmaker, citing intelligence agencies, a money changer in Pyongyang was executed in October after being held responsible for falling exchange rates, and another official was executed in August for violating import restrictions. 

wmr/aw (AP, AFP)