Amid talks of a second summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, a UN official warned Friday that the “whole country” of North Korea remains “a prison.”
Speaking in Seoul, Tomas Quintana, the UN’s special rapporteur for North Korea, said that despite Kim’s sit-down with Trump and multiple meetings with South Korea’s Moon Jae In and Chinese President Xi Jinping there has been no change for North Korea’s citizens.
Quintana, who is banned from entering the hermit kingdom, is putting together an investigation into conditions within the totalitarian state, which he is expected to present in March.
“The fact is, that with all the positive developments the world has witnessed in the last year, it is all the more regrettable that the reality for human rights on the ground remains unchanged, and continues to be extremely serious,” he told reporters.
“In all areas related to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including health, housing, education, social security, employment, food, water and sanitation, much of the country’s population is being left behind.”
Quintana said he had confirmed the continued use of political prison camps that house thousands of inmates, quoting one source as saying “the whole country is a prison.”
He also noted that defectors who flee to China are routinely returned by Beijing to suffer a “continuing pattern of ill-treatment and torture.”
The official called on those engaging with Kim to make the humanitarian crisis in the country a key aspect of any denuclearization talks.
While Trump failed to address human rights abuses during his Singapore summit with Kim in June, the U.S. did sanction three more North Korean officials for alleged rights abuses last month.
Washington is, however, considering easing humanitarian related travel and shipments to North Korea, according to a report from NK News. The move follows a meeting in Washington this week hosted by U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and attended by representatives of NGOs, the UN and U.S. government departments.
Talks between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled in recent months, with little progress on compelling North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons.
Despite the impasse, plans are underway for a second summit between Trump and Kim. A South Korean official told reporters Friday that Vietnam, Singapore and Hawaii are under consideration as venues.
Moon told reporters Thursday that the second Trump-Kim summit would take place “soon.”
The U.S. is reportedly pushing for a second summit due to concern over the growing influence Xi and Beijing appear to be exerting on Kim.
The North Korean leader’s visit to China this week was the fourth meeting between Kim and Xi in the space of 12 months and shows that Pyongyang has other alternatives if talks with Washington break down.
Cover image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speaks at a signing ceremony with US President Donald Trump during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)