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North Korea should release its political prisoners
by Tomas Ojea Quintana
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)
 
June 2018
 
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) should begin to release political prisoners ahead of denuclearization talks with the United States and engage with the United Nations on human rights, a UN expert on the country said on Thursday.
 
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, made his comments after welcoming Pyongyang’s release of three US nationals last month.
 
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Mr. Quintana called for “a concrete gesture” from DPRK regarding those held under arbitrary arrest in the country.
 
“It might be a gradual process, it’s not that I’m saying you should open up all these prisons and release the prisoners, because I am a reasonable expert. What I am saying is there is a need to follow up on the release of the US prisoners in a gradual process.”
 
The exact number of political prisoners being held in DPRK is unclear, but the rights expert – who two years into his mandate has yet to be invited to visit DPRK – agreed that there may be more than 80,000.
 
As a former UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Mr. Quintana noted that an amnesty there had resulted in the liberation of 2,000 detainees.
 
In a press conference at the UN, the expert insisted that human rights should play a role in upcoming denuclearization negotiations in Singapore, in light of previous failed attempts to negotiate with DPRK where people’s economic, social and cultural rights were “left out.”
 
He cited two previous disarmament agreements with DPRK - the 1994 Agreed Framework and the 2003 Six Party talks – which despite being “well intentioned, were not successful”.
 
For the proposed 12 June US-DPRK summit to bear fruit between US President Donald Trump and DPRK’s Kim Jong Un, the UN Special Rapporteur insisted that the human rights dialogue should be included, “because human rights and security and peace are interlinked.”
 
Inside DPRK, Mr. Quintana expressed concern that 10 million people there are in need humanitarian assistance, amid concerns over access to food and malnutrition.
 
The UN is responsible for providing help, he said, before highlighting that a $12 million appeal is only one-third funded.
 
He also wondered about the impact of sanctions on DPRK, particularly outside the capital, Pyongyang, where he described their impact as “quite violent.”
 
And while Mr. Quintana made it clear that he was not calling for an end to the economic embargo, he raised the question as to whether the UN Security Council would decide to extend it.
 
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/KP/Pages/SRDPRKorea.aspx
 
* Human Rights groups call for lasting improvements to the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK): http://bit.ly/2LEsETo


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Shrinking democratic space for working people revealed in ITUC Global Rights Index
by Sharan Burrow
International Trade Union Confederation
 
June 2018
 
Shrinking democratic space for working people and unchecked corporate greed are on the rise according to the annual ITUC Global Rights Index. The number of countries with arbitrary arrests and detention of workers increased from 44 in 2017 to 59 in 2018, and freedom of speech was constrained in 54 countries.
 
“Democracy is under attack in countries that fail to guarantee people’s right to organise, speak out and take action. Brazil passed laws that denied freedom of association, China restricted free speech and the military was used to suppress labour disputes in Indonesia,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation.
 
More countries are excluding workers from labour law – from migrant workers, public sector employees to workers in platform businesses, with 65% of countries excluding whole categories of workers from labour law.
 
“Decent work and democratic rights grew weaker in almost all countries, while inequality continued to grow. This was fuelled by the outrageous behaviour of a number of multinational companies, whose anti-union practices are denying workers freedom of association and collective bargaining rights”, said Burrow.
 
The ITUC Global Rights Index 2018 ranks 142 countries against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected in law and in practice.
 
The report’s key findings include:
 
65% of countries exclude some groups of workers from labour law. 87% of countries have violated the right to strike. 81% of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.
 
Out of 142 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly. The number of countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 10% (from 59 to 65) and include Bahrain, Honduras, Italy and Pakistan. Countries where workers are arrested and detained increased from 44 in 2017 to 59 in 2018.
 
Trade unionists were murdered in nine countries - Brazil, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria and Tanzania.
 
“From attacks on civil liberties, the arbitrary arrest, detention and imprisonment of workers, the erosion of collective bargaining and the increasing criminalisation of the right to strike to the exclusion of workers from labour protection, violations of workers’ rights are on the rise. This is a global threat to democracy and security. Governments must act in the interest of working people. They need to change the rules to stop the violations and end corporate greed,” said Burrow.
 
The report ranks the ten worst countries for workers’ rights in 2018 as Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
 
Haiti, Kenya, Macedonia, Mauritania and Spain have all seen their rankings worsen in 2018 with a rise in attacks on workers’ rights in law and practice.
 
The Middle East and North Africa was again the worst region for treatment of workers, with the kafala system in the Gulf still enslaving millions of people. The absolute denial of basic workers’ rights remained in place in Saudi Arabia. Conflict in Libya, Palestine, Syria and Yemen has led to the breakdown of the rule of law and the denial of the right to find a decent job.
 
Peaceful protests were violently repressed and attempts at forming an independent labour movement were systematically crushed by the authorities in Algeria and Egypt.
 
Conditions in Asia-Pacific have deteriorated with an increase in violence, criminalisation of the right to the strike and a rise in arrests, detention and imprisonment of labour activists and trade union leaders. All 22 countries in the region violated collective bargaining and the right to strike.
 
Mass dismissals of workers for exercising their rights were found in Indonesia, where 4,200 workers were laid off by mining operator PT Freeport; Myanmar, where 184 union members were made redundant; and Cambodia, where 558 workers were fired after a strike at the Gawon Apparel Factory.
 
In Africa, workers were exposed to physical violence in 65% of countries in the region. Protests in Nigeria were violently repressed by the army, and one worker was killed by unknown gunmen during a strike.
 
In Europe, 58% of countries violated collective bargaining rights, and three quarters of countries violated the right to strike.
 
The Americas remain plagued by the pervasive climate of extreme violence and repression against workers and union members; in Colombia alone 19 trade unionists were murdered last year – a dramatic rise from 11 in the previous year.
 
The ITUC has been collecting data on violations of workers’ rights to trade union membership and collective bargaining around the world for more than 30 years. This is the fifth year the ITUC has presented its findings through the Global Rights Index, putting a unique and comprehensive spotlight on how government laws and business practices have deteriorated or improved in the last 12 months.
 
The three global trends for workers’ rights identified in the 2018 Global Rights Index are shrinking democratic space, unchecked corporate influence and the importance of legislation.
 
“The power of democracy to change the rules was shown with newly elected governments in Iceland, Canada and New Zealand acting in the interests of working people, with laws to close the gender pay gap, provide paid domestic violence leave and increase wages for care workers. The challenge for governments is to govern for people, not for corporate interests, and make laws that respect international labour standards and keep open the democratic space that gives workers a voice in their community and workplaces. Without this we face an insecure and fractured world,” said Burrow.


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