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UN rights expert pins hopes on NK’s border easing

By Choi Si-young

Published : Sept. 12, 2023 - 18:17

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The North Korean flag. (123rf) The North Korean flag. (123rf)

North Korea’s recent decision to slowly lift border shutdowns could help the isolated country re-engage with United Nations bodies on human rights, a UN rights expert said Monday on the last day of her trip to Seoul that started Monday last week.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the North had kept its borders sealed, expelling rights and aid groups. Pyongyang last month approved the return of its citizens overseas.

“I hope that the DPRK will restart its engagement with the international community and with the UN human rights mechanisms,” Elizabeth Salmon, the UN special rapporteur on the North’s human rights, said at a press conference in Seoul, using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“There are some signs (of engagement), and I hope that the opening the border may help in that process,” she said without elaborating on the kind of engagement or the way reopening could facilitate such outside exchange.

It is not unrealistic to expect this, the rights investigator added, saying Pyongyang not only is a state party to several UN treaties on human rights, but has also “accepted several recommendations” involving advancing rights of women and girls.

Salmon was referring to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, a treaty rights experts say serves as an international bill of rights for women. Recommendations had come from the Universal Periodic Review, a cyclical review of the human rights record of UN member states.

Salmon, set to submit a report on North Korea to the General Assembly in October, underscored tying human rights to promoting peace and security. The rights investigator, who has called the three interdependent, cast doubts over whether decadeslong negotiation meant to denuclearize the North had actually yielded progress.

Pyongyang has not stopped missile launches, Salmon said of the current impasse over disarmament talks. They last took place in October 2019, when the North and the US could not work out differences over ways to make disarmament happen.

North Korea, refusing dialogue, is expected to hold a summit with Russia this week.