SEOUL – North Korea called the U.N.’s top expert on the country’s human rights “a puppet” of the United States, warning Friday that it won’t tolerate an American-led plot to use the rights issue to overthrow its political system.
North Korea's government is extremely sensitive to any outside criticism of its rights record, viewing it as an attempt to slander and rattle its authoritarian rule of its 26 million people, most of whom have little access to foreign news.
Its comments come as Elizabeth Salmón, the U.N. special rapporteur on the North’s human rights, is making her first visit to South Korea this week to meet officials, activists and North Korean defectors since her appointment last month.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry accused Salmón of displaying “ignorance and biased vision" on the North. It also accused Washington of being behind Salmón’s mandate as part of an anti-North Korea scheme.
“The ‘human rights’ racket of the U.S. and other hostile forces ... is nothing but the most politicized hostile means for tarnishing the dignified image of (North Korea),” it said in a statement. “(North Korea) will never pardon the U.S. and its vassal forces’ ‘human rights’ racket ... which is aimed at overthrowing its social system.”
It repeated its earlier position that it will never recognize or deal with any U.N. special rapporteur on its human rights. Salmón’s predecessors were denied access to North Korea, which observers say has made it difficult for them to gather independent and credible information on rights abuses.
During a news conference in Seoul on Friday, Salmón said she was "fully aware that the lack of cooperation in that country is a challenge, no doubts about it."
“But at the same time, you know, I have been reading a lot, studying a lot during this time and there has been 18 years of work. I am new but the mandate is not new,” she said.
Salmón said she will keep trying to engage with North Korea and expressed worries about its economic, food and other hardships amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We should not give up on engagement with (North Korea) because what is at stake are the lives of the North Korean people and their human rights," she said.
In a new report circulated Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said North Korea has increased the repression of the rights and freedoms of its people and the U.N. Security Council should consider referring it to the International Criminal Court for possible crimes against humanity.
Salmón said her first report on North Korea’s rights issue will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly in late October.
North Korea remains under multiple rounds of U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs. During a meeting in Hawaii on Thursday, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his South Korean and Japanese counterparts condemned North Korea’s continued development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while the U.S. reaffirmed its “ironclad alliance commitments” to its two key Asian allies, according to a U.S. statement.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.