In 2004, Kim Jong-il (father of current leader Kim Jong-un) was in charge of the country, and since then, little or nothing has changed in terms of access possibilities for the Asian country.
After an Indonesian, a mother and an Argentinian received each other as rapporteurs, for the first time the task has also fallen to a Peruvian woman. Elizabeth Salmon turns 1 two months this Saturday.
– How has reporting work developed over the years?
This work has been going on unhindered with two characteristics: First, it has the support of various countries that have written down what is happening in North Korea and sent it to the international community, and therefore can be said to be ignorant. The second aspect of this decree is that the North Korean government does not recognize it and views it as hostile. At this stage, there is still a commitment to give visibility to the human rights situation there.
—With this second characteristic, how can reliable and up-to-date information be accessed?
The reporter is responsible for gathering information from various governments, NGOs, academia, and all possible actors. Although it is complicated, there are many channels to get reliable information.
“And first-hand evidence?”
We have the lucky ones who leave North Korea, get captured by South Korea, and don’t die or get kidnapped along the way. They were interviewed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner in Seoul. They are more likely to be aware of everything that is going on.
Your predecessors could not enter North Korea. Do you think you can?
I have an obligation to continue to apply for entry into that country. One of the first letters I sent was a plea to the North Korean government, which did not recognize the decree and did not allow the arrival of my predecessors.
“Did they answer that letter?”
No response, all we got was the usual public notice issued by the Ministry of External Affairs. This happens every year in North Korea. In the first declaration of me they speak of him (‘he’) and not of her. But North Korea’s policy regarding the order remains clear and it is not willing to cooperate.
– Pyongyang has said about you that you are “America’s puppet”.
[Sonríe] This is North Korea’s permanent position on any attempt to talk about human rights. I’m not surprised, it’s part of the environment we’re finding and it’s certainly going to continue.
– Can you find an interlocutor in an attempt to find a conversation?
North Korea’s isolation is unique, unparalleled in modern history, and made worse by the pandemic. Today the United Nations team is no longer on its territory, embassies have had to close their missions and foreign NGOs have had to leave. Today that isolationism is more extreme. To that extent, it is very difficult to find an interlocutor, but there are permanent North Korean assignments in the Geneva office and the New York office. That way you can try contacting them directly. I see some glimmers of hope.
– As what?
North Korea is party to five human rights conventions and the Additional Protocol on the Rights of the Child. So while he maintains his policy of isolation, he is also aware that he must make some contact with the international community, however small. In 2017, and for the only time, North Korea allowed the then-UN rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities to visit Costa Rica, Catalina Devandas. Interestingly, the only person admitted was a Latin American woman. This sheds some light on the issues that Pyongyang might be interested in and the profiles they are willing to accept.
“He was in Seoul recently. What balance do you make with that mission visit?
It was a brief but rich visit. It allowed me to observe the importance of relations with its northern neighbors to South Korea: their nuclear tests and threats, but also the dream of reunification. I met not only South Korean officials, but also very active civil society representatives.
“Were you able to meet the defectors from North Korea?”
with three females and one male. Without the need for translators, I felt the pain and suffering they experienced through traumatic relocations, but also the hope and desire to experience freedom. It was moving to see that tension between the intense pain of being separated from family and the desire to continue living.
-In the press conference after your tour, you were asked if you knew the scale of the challenge you faced…
We must not give up. It would do the North Korean people no good if we surrendered. This decree is a powerful message in the sense that there is international unity. The issue of human rights in North Korea is a perennial concern. My desire is to give voice to the needs of your people.
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