North Korea blasts 'human rights racket' after damning UN report

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(CNN)A North Korean state newspaper denounced what it called "the imperialists' human rights racket" shortly after the publication of a United Nations report highlighted the country's dismal human rights record.

"The politicization of human rights and application of double standards have to be rejected at international organizations including the UN Human Rights Council," wrote Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday. Rodong Sinmun is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea.
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The North Korean criticism comes days after the publication of a report submitted by a UN special rapporteur to the international organization's Human Rights Council.
    "The (North Korean) State's extensive penitentiary system and severe restrictions on all forms of free expression, movement and access to information, added to the poor access to basic needs, especially food, continue to nurture fear of the State and leave people at the mercy of unaccountable public officials," the special rapporteur concluded.
    North Korea denied the special rapporteur, an Argentinian named Tomás Ojea Quintana, access to the country.
    Instead, Quintana relied on interviews with civil society groups and government officials in South Korea and Japan, as well as defectors who fled North Korea in 2016 and 2017.

    Fewer defectors in 2017

    Quintana noted that the number of defectors fleeing North Korea dropped 20% in 2017 compared to 2016, which "might reflect tighter controls of the border between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and China.
    A UN assessment in March 2017 concluded that 41% of North Korea's population is undernourished.
    The special rapporteur noted that much of the population relies on black market trade to provide alternative sources of food.
    "The dilemma that the population faces is to find ways to satisfy basic daily needs while circumventing the formal prohibition and punishment of private initiative by a State that fails to provide for those needs," Quintana wrote.
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    He called on North Korea to facilitate family reunions for some 59,000 mostly elderly people, cut off from relatives on opposite sides of the Demilitarized Zone since the Korean War, and urged China to stop sending defectors back across the border to North Korea, where they face the threat of torture and imprisonment.

    Calls for access to detained US and South Korean citizens

    Quintana also requested consular access for three US citizens and six South Koreans currently imprisoned in North Korea.
    And he urged Pyongyang to promptly investigate "unresolved cases of abductions involving citizens of Japan, the Republic of Korea and other States."
    There are 17 officially recognized cases of abduction of Japanese nationals, in addition to 883 other cases where abduction by North Korea cannot be ruled out. At least 516 South Korean citizens abducted by North Korea also remain unaccounted for.
    In response, the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun argued "human rights can never come true as long as the imperialists remain on the earth."