The UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in North Korea Tomás Ojea Quintana on Friday criticized the DPRK’s treatment of American student Otto Warmbier who was returned to the U.S. in a coma 18 months after his arrest.
Quintana called on the DPRK to provide a clear explanation on how Warmbier came to be in a coma. So far, the North Korean authorities claimed he contracted botulism and then took a sleeping pill, though doctors in the U.S. said they could find no evidence of the rare disease.
“While I welcome the news of Mr Warmbier’s release, I am very concerned about his condition, and the authorities have to provide a clear explanation about what made him slip into a coma,” Ojea Quintana said in a UN press release.
“The onus is on the DPRK government to clarify the causes and circumstances of the release,” he added.
The special rapporteur also said the case could have been avoided had Warmbeir been allowed basic rights following his arrest and detention.
“His ordeal could have been prevented had he not been denied basic entitlements when he was arrested, such as access to consular officers and representation by an independent legal counsel of his choosing,” the Special Rapporteur said.
The U.S. Department of State announced Warmbier was on his way home on Tuesday. In a subsequent statement, the 22-year old’s parents said he had been in a coma since March 2016.
Doctors in the U.S. said Warmbier had suffered a severe neurological injury though have so far been unable to establish the cause. But the damage “is usually seen as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest where the blood supply to the brain is inadequate for a period of time resulting in the death of brain tissue,” a group of doctors from University of Cincinnati Health Center said on Thursday.
The case has lead to renewed calls in Washington to ban traveling to the DPRK. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday told the House of Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration had been looking at ways to “put some type of travel visa restriction” on travel to the DPRK.
North Korea has not officially responded to requests for further clarifications on Warmbier’s condition, saying only he was released for “humanitarian reasons” via numerous state media outlets.
But in an oddly timed announcement, the North Korean Ambassador to Spain on Thursday held an event in Madrid to promote tourism to the DPRK, saying more Europeans should visit the country.
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Featured Image: The Palais Wilson in Geneva, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by US Mission Geneva on 2010-03-19 17:00:31