U.N. Expert Warns of Effects of Sanctions on North Korean Public

By Farnaz FassihiFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

As tougher economic sanctions against North Korea begin to take hold, an independent United Nations expert warned Friday that the measures could amount to collective punishment of the country's population.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, said "human rights should not be overshadowed" as tensions rise between Pyongyang and the international community over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

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Mr. Quintana presented his annual report on the state of human rights to the General Assembly on Thursday. The 22-page report paints a dire picture of an autocratic regime controlling many aspects of the lives of its citizens such as access to food and freedom of movement and information. The report detailed North Korea imposing severe punishment on its citizens, ranging from torture to exile in political prison camps and trafficking women and girls to China.

The suffering of the North Korean people under the legacy of the Kim dynasty has been well documented in successive U.N. reports. But this year, the U.N.'s human rights expert has also examined the impact of sanctions.

Mr. Quintana said sanctions had hindered access to medicine and medical equipment such as chemotherapy drugs and wheelchairs for the disabled. He said humanitarian agencies faced challenges purchasing supplies and conducting international financial transactions.

He urged the panel of experts advising the Security Council on sanctions to review their impact.

"I don't want to see the U.N. putting the government of North Korea [in a position] to choose between nuclearization and the economy," Mr. Quintana said at a news conference on Friday.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has said the sanctions are intended to deprive the North Korean regime of revenues. But even without the sanctions, the government of Kim Jong Un wouldn't share any of its wealth with its citizens, she has said.

The Security Council approved three rounds of sanctions on North Korea this year that aim to cut the country's export revenues by nearly 90%. The sanctions target the export of coal, lead, textile, seafood and iron and freeze the assets of a number of senior government officials and agencies. Diplomats have said the sanctions aren't meant to punish the population but to weaken the country's economy sufficiently to pressure its leader Mr. Kim to return to the negotiating table.

Mr. Quintana said this year he was also alarmed by China's treatment of North Koreans escaping through its borders. He said China considered them illegal migrant workers and repatriated them back to North Korea where they faced detention and harsh treatment. Mr. Quintana said he was engaging with China to persuade them to treat each case individually and consider whether or not the migrant faced persecution if returned to North Korea.

North Korea didn't respond to the U.N.'s report and didn't send a representative to the General Assembly on Thursday to defend its position. The country rejects the U.N.'s country specific mandate and hasn't allowed Mr. Quintana to visit the country.

Write to Farnaz Fassihi at farnaz.fassihi@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 27, 2017 19:59 ET (23:59 GMT)