The United Nations on Tuesday expressed concern over the human rights impact of North Korea’s response to the widespread coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered a nationwide lockdown to try to slow the spread of the disease through the country’s unvaccinated population and has deployed military forces after what he called a “foolish response” to the outbreak.
Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters that the recent sanctions, which include keeping people in strict isolation and imposing more travel bans, would have serious consequences for those already struggling to meet their basic needs.
“We urge the authorities to ensure that … all measures taken to deal with the epidemic are necessary, proportionate, non-discriminatory, punctual and strictly in line with international human rights law,” he said.
Authorities should “consider the impact of any action on vulnerable populations, experience elsewhere in order to effectively deal with the epidemic and mitigate any adverse effects”.
According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a total of 56 people have died and about 1.5 million “fevers” have occurred in North Korea since the country announced its first covid case a week ago.
The North Korean leader condemned health officials for failing to keep pharmacies open and placed himself at the center of the response, saying the outbreak was causing a “catastrophe”.
Throsell also reiterated a call by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet for a “relaxation of sanctions to enable emergency humanitarian and cowardly assistance in poor countries”.
Experts say North Korea has one of the worst healthcare systems in the world, with poorly-equipped hospitals, a few intensive care units and the ability to test drugs or mass tests for covid treatment.
“We urge the DPRK to discuss with the United Nations on an urgent basis the opening of a channel for humanitarian assistance, including medicines, vaccines, equipment and other life-saving assistance,” Trossell said.
“We urge the authorities to facilitate the return of UN and other international staff to the DPRK, to assist in the provision of assistance, including those with weak populations and living in rural and border areas.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)