04/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

North Korean Human Rights Situation "Dire", "Grim", And "Desperate": UN

UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, Vitit Muntarbhorn, reported to the 10th Session of the UN Human Rights Council today with what is said to be the most troubling account yet of the situation in the hermit kingdom. With adjectives like "grim", "dire" and "desperate", Muntarbhorn described vast malnutrition from constant food shortages as well as widespread instances of torture, collective punishment, state-controlled media, forced labor and more.

Muntarbhorn has never been allowed into North Korea, however, there are various other sources of information at his disposal through which he compiled his report. According to the AP:

Muntarbhorn, who has investigated North Korea for five years but never gained entry, consulted with U.N. agencies working in North Korea and human rights groups outside. He said the government was also torturing people outside official prisons in interrogations or other places of detention.


"The abhorrent prison conditions, including lack of food, poor hygiene, freezing conditions in winter time, forced labor and corporal punishment, result in a myriad of abuses and deprivations," Muntarbhorn said.

"Although torture is prohibited by law, it is extensively practiced."

On top of it all, the systematic and institutionalized rights violation is practically inescapable. According to the JoongAng Daily:

North Korea maintains a "shoot on sight" policy for people caught trying to flee the impoverished communist country, a United Nations human rights envoy said in his latest report on conditions in the North, citing unidentified sources.


A growing number of North Koreans risk their lives to secretly cross the border with China, fleeing from hunger and persecution. A lucky few settle in South Korea, mostly after first reaching a third country in Southeast Asia.

In addition to direct physical abuse and imprisonment is the issue of famine -- a dire situation caused and exacerbated further by the state. As Earth Times reports:

In his report, Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai expert on human rights law, said there "unconscionable developments" in regards to the food situation, with the repressive authorities cracking down harder on agricultural traders and small growers, making people more dependant on a state-run system which has failed to meet the needs of the population.

"Even the cost of making kimchi, the pickled cabbage which helps to sustain people throughout the year given the lack of meat and other staples, is now rising, threatening an essential nutrient of the local diet," wrote Muntarbhorn.

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