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U.S. highlighted North Korea's human rights violations in Security Council meeting

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

North Korea is likely to be a major topic when President Biden hosts his Japanese and South Korean counterparts at Camp David on Friday. On the eve of that summit, the U.S. put a spotlight on North Korea's human rights violations, chairing a Security Council meeting on that subject. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, says the Security Council must continue to speak out against injustices in North Korea, known as the DPRK. She says human rights violations there have an impact on regional security.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Colleagues, we cannot have peace without human rights, and the DPRK is a case in point.

KELEMEN: This was the first such meeting in six years. China's ambassador objected to discussing matters that he says should not be on the Security Council's agenda. Russia's ambassador called it a shameless attempt by the U.S. to advance its political agenda. But one North Korean defector described how the lack of human rights in the country is fueling North Korea's illicit weapons program. Ilhyeok Kim says that a young age, he was forced to work in the fields, and most of the grain he grew went to the military.

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ILHYEOK KIM: The government turns our blood and sweat into luxurious life for the leadership and missiles that blast our hard work into the sky.

KELEMEN: He told the Security Council that the government is spending its money on weapons instead of feeding its people.

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KIM: Here's the thing - that the money spent on just one missile could feed us for three months. But the government doesn't care and is only concerned with maintaining their power.

KELEMEN: U.N. officials say that COVID-19 restrictions have made matters worse. Volker Turk, who's the U.N.'s top human rights official, says he's now worried about the fate of thousands of North Koreans who could be forced back into the country and subjected to torture and detention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VOLKER TURK: I therefore urge all states to refrain from forcibly repatriating North Koreans and to provide them with the required protections and humanitarian support.

KELEMEN: He didn't mention China by name, but many defectors have been living there, and deportations were halted when North Korea closed off the border at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Diplomats are worried that the deportations may soon resume. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.