Speaking to a Wall

On 19 and 20 November 2003, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights examined the second State Party Report of North Korea concerning the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Both the FIDH and the Good Friends submitted reports to the Committee in view of that session. The NGOs deplore a lost opportunity for the North Korean authorities to engage into a real dialogue towards the improvement of the humanitarian situation and the respect for economic and social rights of the North Koreans.

“It is deplorable that the North Korean governement remained autistic, failing to recognise the extent of the humanitarian crisis and denying any violations of economic, social and cultural rights”, said Sidiki Kaba, President of the FIDH. “We are deeply concerned at the apparent absence of any concrete measures on several key issues, such as AIDS prevention, human trafficking on the border area, prevention of floodings and draughts, soil erosion or effective gender equality.”

The concerns of the committee members remained without any reply. From the outset, the Ambassador of North Korea criticised NGO’s reports, denying their validity and considering them as defaming the Government of North Korea.

The NGOs report an alarming picture of the famine, which devastates the country since 1995. “A significant portion of the population is still suffering from chronic malnutrition, and remains deprived of adequate healthcare. The North Korean Governemnt bears an important responsibility in the prolonging famine situation” said Erica Kang of Good Friends. “North Koreans are also prevented from moving from one village to another and from trading manufactured goods”.

The NGOs pointed to the discrimination in the enjoyment of economic and social rights based on a class policy, which determines the access to education, health services, and allocation of jobs.

Their reports document the violation of the trade union rights; they deplore the views of the Governnmental delegation, for which there is no right to strike since the factories belong to the workers.

The North Korean delegation declared that no guarantees for the independence of the judiciary are needed since the judiciary is independent; that there is no unemployment since the state allocates jobs to everybody. “This reflects the blunt rhetoric of the North Korean authorities. The impression was that the Committee members were speaking to a wall...” said Sidiki Kaba, from the FIDH.

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