N Korea agrees to first ever UN rights expert visit

GENEVA: North Korea has agreed to a visit by the UN expert on the human rights of people with disabilities, the United Nations said on Thursday, a minor concession after years of criticism of Pyongyang’s record from the UN Human Rights Council.
The visit by Catalina Devandas-Aguilar from May 3-8 will be the first ever to North Korea by an independent expert designated by the Council, a 47-state body that is pushing for justice for crimes against humanity it says have been committed.
North Korea has consistently denounced the Council’s resolutions as a conspiracy by the United States and other “hostile forces”, while its ally China has tried to shield it from scrutiny.
It has not allowed any of a string of UN human rights investigators specifically focusing on North Korea itself to visit.
Last month North Korean diplomats boycotted a Council session on abuses in North Korea amid rising tension on the divided peninsula following its latest missile tests and two nuclear tests last year.
Devandas-Aguilar’s visit will take her to Pyongyang and the South Hwanghae Province and will focus particularly on children with disabilities in North Korea, the statement said.
North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), ratified the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities in December 2016.
“My upcoming visit to DPRK represents a key opportunity to learn firsthand about national realities, laws, policies and programmes concerning people with disabilities, as well as the challenges and opportunities the Government faces in implementing the Convention,” she said in a statement.
Devandas-Aguilar plans to hold a press conference in Pyongyang at the end of her visit and to submit her findings next year.
North Korea has also appealed to Southeast Asian countries for support in its row with the United States to prevent what it warned could be a “nuclear holocaust”.
In the letter to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ secretary general, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho warned the situation on the Korean Peninsula was “reaching the brink of war” because of Washington’s actions.
He urged the Asean chief to inform the 10-nation organisation’s foreign ministers “about the grave situation” on the peninsula “and give them a proper proposal”, while criticising at length US-South Korean military exercises.
“I express my expectations that Asean which attaches great importance to the regional peace and stability will make an issue of the US-South Korean joint military exercises at Asean conferences from the fair position and play an active role in safeguarding the peace and safety of Korean Peninsula,” the letter said.— Agencies