International sanctions placed on North Korea by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which impact the country’s economy and citizens negatively should be gradually lifted, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights told NK News on Tuesday.
Speaking in an interview at NK News’s Seoul bureau as part of his sixth visit to South Korea since March 2016, Tomás Ojea Quintana said his role meant he was required to comment if he felt that the international community’s policies were harming North Korean citizens.
“I’m supporting a gradual lifting of the sanctions,” Quintana, who has repeatedly been denied access to North Korea by authorities, said. “Because I don’t believe that sanctions should be a punitive element — again, I am very clear on that.”
Describing himself as “somewhat critical of the sanctions regime of the Security Council of the United Nations,” the special envoy told NK News he believed “that the sanctions regime that targets the economy as a whole has a lot of problems under the international law.”
“Sanctions shouldn’t be used as a punitive instrument,” he stressed. “It should be an instrument towards an end, and in this case it is denuclearization and from what we are seeing we don’t see clear results from the sanctions regime.”
“So there are a lot of questions in the sanctions regime that the international community should start to [ask] themselves.”
Pressed on whether relief from those sanctions could come before or after North Korean denuclearization, however, the UN envoy stressed that those were “political questions” that were not within his mandate as Special Rapporteur.
“What comes first, I will not make a point on that,” he said. “I’m just saying that when sanctions are affecting ordinary citizens, as a human rights person I will raise my concerns.”
Those concerns, Quintana said, also extended to issues of humanitarian aid to North Korea, which he said “should be not associated with any politicization.”
“Which is of course difficult, but I always support humanitarian aid because it goes to the most vulnerable people,” he told NK News, stressing that aid to the DPRK must not impacted by the international sanctions regime.
“The problem is here is the single decisions of single states, it’s not the United Nations – again humanitarian aid should not fall into the sanctions regime,” he continued.
“We have also the problem of what’s the attitude of the North Korean government in regards to granting more access to the UN agencies, in terms of monitoring the providing of health or aid, in terms of reporting, etc.”
Quintana’s visit this week to Seoul comes just six months after he last came to the South Korean capital, in a trip which saw the UN envoy express cautious optimism about North Korea’s willingness to engage in dialogue on the human rights issue.
He, however, stressed at the time that the situation on the ground remains “extremely” bad — comments he repeated in Tuesday’s interview.
“The situation of human rights remains very serious in North Korea,” he said. “The government of North Korea is not responding genuinely to the concerns of the international community.”
His visit this week will see him meet with government officials, as well as members of the defector community, diplomats, and NGO workers.
He was also on Tuesday set to meet with former businessmen at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), who the South Korean government last month granted permission to visit their now-seized assets.
Asked about the visit, Quintana described the complex as “very important” to the process of improving the “livelihoods” of North Koreans, while stressing there were important issues of social and labor rights that would need to be addressed should it be re-opened in the near future.
“[There are] questions in regards to international standards that South Korea needs to comply with, especially the labor standards, so making the point is the first step,” he said.
“Making the point that… part of the wages in North Korea will be taken by the government, what will be the labor conditions in terms of health and security, these are questions that the institutions working in the industrial complex will have to address at some point.”
Quintana is expected to stay in the South Korean capital until Friday, when he will hold a press conference to discuss his findings during the trip.
Additional reporting by James Fretwell