North Koreans would “starve” after the closed state closed its borders to China, allegedly in an attempt to tackle the deadly coronavirus.
Although the authoritarian regime has remained tight-lipped about the potentially life-threatening bug and has not yet reported a single case, a UN lawyer has called for urgent action against the suffering of civilians.
The United Nations human rights expert raised the alarm on Tuesday about “widespread food shortages and malnutrition” in North Korea, compounded by a nearly five-month closure of its borders with China and strict quarantine measures against Covid-19.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, urged the UN Security Council to reconsider the sanctions imposed on the isolated country under its nuclear and missile programs to ensure food security .
North Korea, where a famine reportedly killed 3 million people in the mid-1990s, reports no cases of Covid-19 to the World Health Organization.
The pandemic has left North Korea with “drastic economic hardship,” said Ojea Quintana, with a 90% drop in trade with China in March and April, leading to lost revenue.
He expressed concern about reports of an increase in homeless people in large cities and skyrocketing drug prices, saying in an explanation, “An increasing number of families are eating only twice a day or eating only corn, and some are starving.”
Ojea Quintana urged Pyongyang to allow humanitarian aid “without restrictions”.
Operations have been suspended outside the capital, causing “stockpiling” of vaccine stocks and other border assistance.
He urged North Korea, which is ruled by one of the most totalitarian and oppressive regimes in history, to free prisoners during the pandemic, citing prisoners’ deaths from hard work, lack of food , infectious diseases and overcrowding.
Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN World Food Program, told reporters that the humanitarian situation in North Korea remained “bleak”.
More than 10 million people, or 40% of the population, need humanitarian aid, she said.
WFP hopes to reach 1.2 million people there this year with food rations.
Byrs said widespread malnutrition had harmed the health and development of children – one in five under five years of age – as well as pregnant and lactating mothers.