North Korea defends human rights record in report to UN

Media caption,
Michael Kirby, UN human rights monitor on North Korea: "It's a good step but it's not enough"

North Korea has held a rare briefing at the UN to discuss its recent report on its own human rights situation.

An official acknowledged the country runs labour camps to "reform" detainees, but dismissed criticism of its rights record as "wild rumours".

A UN report released in February said North Korea was committing "unspeakable atrocities" against its own people on a vast scale.

The country is thought to hold tens of thousands of people in prison camps.

Official Choe Myong Nam told the briefing - which was open to reporters and foreign diplomats - that there were "no prison camps" operating in North Korea but there were "detention centres where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings".

He said North Korea was a "transition society" and as such "there might be some problems, for example in the economic and other areas, we may need to establish more houses and social facilities in order to provide people with better living conditions".

He blamed North Korea's economic situation on "external forces", Reuters reports, in an apparent reference to the stringent international sanctions the country is under as a result of its repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests in recent years.

As the country moved forward "the enjoyment of the people will be further expanded", Mr Choe said.

'Systematic abuse'

The UN report in February said there was evidence of "systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights" in North Korea.

It said those accused of political crimes are "disappeared" to prison camps, where they are subject to "deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
North and South Korea agreed to hold high-level talks before the end of the year to try to improve relations

The report, based on interviews with North Korean defectors, estimated that "hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in these camps over the past five decades".

China media: BBC Monitoring

Suspicious of North Korea's "flip flop attitude" and its motives, an article in the Beijing News reminds that one should observe North Korea's actions instead of its words as Pyongyang's foreign policy is "usually inconsistent".

"Because of the lack of integrity, its [North Korea's] verbal statements are not going to convince any country… It tried to gain attention by planning the top official's visit to Seoul, however, this is meaningless as the most important question is whether Pyongyang will give up its nuclear programme," it says, adding that Beijing has repeatedly urged Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme.

Jin Qiangyi, an international affairs expert at Yanbian University, tells the Global Times that "China is unlikely to offer strong support to North Korea due to its lingering nuclear issue" and this has prompted Pyongyang to "seek breakthroughs in diplomacy with countries like Russia, Japan and South Korea".

North Korea's report rebutting the UN findings, first released last month, said that "hostile forces are persistently peddling the 'human rights issue' in the DPRK [North Korea] in a bid to tarnish its image and bring down the social system and ideology chosen by the Korean people".

The open UN briefing comes days after North Korea agreed to resume formal high-level talks with South Korea - which were suspended in February - after Northern officials made a surprise visit to the South for the Asian Games.

Michael Kirby, the UN's human rights monitor on North Korea and an author of the UN report, told the BBC the country appeared to be on "a charm offensive".

But, he added, was this because of a genuine change of attitude in North Korea or because the UN report is due to be discussed in the General Assembly?

"Being realistic I don't think there s been a sudden conversion but whatever brings about respect of human rights is a good thing," he said.