North Korea: Government must share blame for famine deaths and chronic malnutrition

The report criticises North Korea's policies of distributing food unevenly, restricting the freedom of movement of those who want to search for food elsewhere and hampering the work of international humanitarian agencies.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'The right to food is a basic human right, and the government of North Korea appears to be failing in its duties to respect, protect and fulfil this right.

'The North Korean government should ensure that food shortages are not used as a tool to persecute perceived political opponents and that humanitarian organisations, in particular UN agencies, have free and unimpeded access to all parts of North Korea.

'Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of acute food shortages over the last decade caused by a series of natural disasters, the loss of support from the former Soviet Union and government mismanagement. Several million Children's rights are suffering from chronic malnutrition, impairing their physical and mental development.'

The report, North Korea: Starved of Rights - Human Rights and the Food Crisis, examines the North Korean government's uneven distribution of food which has favoured those who are economically active and politically loyal. Restrictions on freedom of movement prevent North Koreans from searching for food or moving to an area where food supplies are better as they face punishment including detention if they leave their towns or villages without permission. Some North Koreans have been publicly executed because they have stolen food or goods to survive - school Children's rights have reportedly been taken to see the executions.

The government has also hampered the movement and access of international humanitarian agencies who have been involved in distributing food aid, which has contributed to donor fatigue and a fall in food aid commitments.

Lee, a North Korean man in his early forties, reported:
'I saw a 15 or 16-year-old boy die. The boy was there [in detention] as he had sold glass from his school. After 15 days' detention the boy died because of malnutrition. There was so little food.'

Lee Sung-yong of the Seoul-based NGO, Good Friends - Centre for Peace, Human Rights & Refugees, reported to Amnesty International:
'Public executions were highest between 1996 and 1998 when the famine was at its peak. People were stealing the infrastructure of society such as electric lines and copper wires and selling it.'

Widespread malnutrition has led to the movement of tens of thousands of people into China. Thousands have been forcibly repatriated by the Chinese authorities, and have then been detained by North Korean authorities in appalling conditions. Detainees are reported to have died of hunger. Many have reportedly been tortured during interrogations by the North Korean authorities.

Children's rights, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and the elderly are reported to be among the principle victims of North Korea's famine. Many Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights forced to go to China in search of food have been preyed on by trafficking gangs, which operate on both sides of the China-North Korea border.

Efforts by the international community to assist in the provision of food to North Korea have been undermined by the government's refusal to allow swift and equitable distribution of this food, and by the restrictions on freedom of information.

Lesley Warner concluded:

'Notwithstanding the obstacles to providing assistance, the international community must help provide the necessary food aid, to enable the North Korean government to fulfil its obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food.

'Provision of humanitarian aid should be guided at all times by human rights considerations and should never be used by any government as a bargaining tool to further political or economic interests.'

For the full text of the report, please go to: http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa240032004

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