North Korea defends human rights record

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The Independent Online

North Korean officials appeared before a UN human rights organisation yesterday amid accusations of widespread abuses such as forced labour, public executions and torture.

Representatives from the communist state, which is also charged with allowing its population to go hungry and forcing female prison inmates to have abortions, defended the country before the Human Rights Council during a three-hour session.

The North Korean ambassador, Ri Tcheul, told delegates the hearing was "unpleasant". He added that limited arable land and natural disasters had prevented the government from being able to feed the entire population, but said the situation had improved in recent years.

"The issue of serious malnutrition is a thing of the past," he told the 47-nation council. "We will in the near future meet the domestic need for food on our own." John Von Kaufmann, representing Canada, urged the mostly closed country to allow aid workers to bring food to the chronically undernourished population.

New Zealand's official, Wendy Hinton, added that children and women have been left severely malnourished because the military has priority in receiving food. The delegates from North Korea acknowledged that public killings take place for "very brutal and violent crimes", but claimed these were only "in very exceptional cases" and at the demand of a victim's relatives.

The Human Rights Council, which has no enforcement powers, will deliver its findings later this week.