A UN expert has warned that North Korea's most vulnerable people will face starvation if crushing sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council are not eased and the peninsular country slips deeper into isolation.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, sounded the warning in a not-yet-published report cited by Reuters, stressing that the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Asian country could turn into a crisis.
“Sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council should be reviewed and eased when necessary to both facilitate humanitarian and life-saving assistance and to enable the promotion of the right to an adequate standard of living of ordinary citizens,” he said in his final report to the UN General Assembly, to be presented on October 22.
“People’s access to food is a serious concern and the most vulnerable children and elderly are at risk of starvation,” the UN expert said, adding that North Koreans “should not have to choose between the fear of hunger and the fear of COVID-19.”
North Korea has not yet reported any COVID-19 cases and has, since the outbreak of the contagious disease, imposed tough anti-virus measures, including border closures and domestic travel curbs.
“Essential medicines and medical supplies are in short supply and prices have increased several-fold as they stopped coming in from China, and humanitarian organizations have been unable to bring in medicines and other supplies,” Quintana said.
According to the UN expert, progress in vaccination, women and children's health, and water and sanitation in North Korea is eroding.
“The current worsening humanitarian situation could turn into a crisis and must be averted,” Quintana stressed.
Back in June, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un said the food situation was “tense” in his country due to natural disasters last year.
Pyongyang has so far rejected all the UN resolutions against its nuclear and missile programs since 2006, when it carried out its first nuclear test, saying such provocative measures directly infringe on its sovereign right to self-defense.
Denuclearization talks have been stalled since 2019, with North Korea demanding sanctions relief.
Former US President Donald Trump had held three meetings with Kim, and exchanged a series of letters with him, but bilateral diplomacy did not last long as Trump refused to lift sanctions in exchange for several steps by Pyongyang toward demilitarization.
Incumbent US President Joe Biden has said Washington will make no “grand bargain” with Pyongyang, which has made it clear that it will go ahead with denuclearization if significant sanctions relief is offered.
The Security Council has already slapped the North with several rounds of crippling sanctions, but the White House and its allies are pushing for even tougher measures.
Pyongyang has repeatedly said that it is developing arms as deterrence against the US threat, and that it would not abandon its missile and nuclear programs unless Washington ended its hostility toward Pyongyang.
Unsettled by North Korean missile and nuclear programs, the US has adopted a war-like posture, sending a strike group and conducting joint military drills with North Korea’s regional adversaries Japan and South Korea.