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BRIEFING NOTES: (1) DPRK; (2) Iran; (3) Mexico

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell 

Location: Geneva 

Date: 17 May 2022 

Subject:        (1) DPRK

                        (2) Iran

                        (3) Mexico 

1)         DPRK 

We are deeply concerned about the likely human rights impact of the first officially reported outbreak of COVID-19 in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and the subsequent lockdown imposed by the authorities. 

State-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that, as of 16 May, 56 people, including at least six children, had died of COVID-19 and that 663,910 people were undergoing medical treatment due to fever. 

In the absence of any vaccination rollout, the pandemic's reported spread may have a devastating impact on the human rights situation in the country. The DPRK has a very limited healthcare infrastructure to cope with such a crisis, as it lacks testing capacity, essential medicines, and equipment. 

The DPRK closed its borders in January 2020 as the pandemic first began spreading worldwide and limited internal freedom of movement which resulted in restricted access to food, medicines, and healthcare. There has also been an increase in the repression of civil and political rights during this period, which has included a policy authorizing use of lethal force against people attempting to leave or enter the country, and more severe penalties for accessing independent information from outside the DPRK.

 The latest restrictions - which include putting people under stricter isolation and imposing further travel restrictions - will have dire consequences for those already struggling to meet their basic needs - including getting enough food to eat. Children, lactating mothers, older people, the homeless and those living in more isolated rural and border areas are especially vulnerable. Those in detention are also particularly exposed to the risk of infection due to the high concentrations of people in confined spaces and limited access to hygiene and healthcare. Malnutrition was already widespread in places of detention before the onset of COVID-19. 

We urge the DPRK authorities to ensure that all measures adopted to tackle the pandemic are necessary, proportionate, non-discriminatory, time-bound, and strictly in line with international human rights law. We call on the authorities to assess the impact of any measures on vulnerable populations, taking into account experience elsewhere in effectively addressing the pandemic, and to mitigate any adverse impact through sound public policy measures and the application of sufficient State resources. 

Responding adequately to COVID-19 calls for solidarity and cooperation between Governments and the wider international community. The High Commissioner has previously urged the international community to relax sanctions to enable urgent humanitarian and COVID-related assistance. We encourage the DPRK, as a matter of urgency, to discuss with the United Nations the opening of channels for humanitarian support, including medicines, vaccines, equipment, and other life-saving support. We also urge the authorities to facilitate the return of UN and other international staff to the DPRK to assist in the provision of support, including to vulnerable populations and those living in rural and border areas. 

2)         Iran 

We are deeply alarmed by the imminent execution in the Islamic Republic of Iran of Swedish-Iranian doctor and academic Ahmedreza Djalali and urgently call on the Iranian authorities to halt the execution and revoke his death sentence. 

Iranian authorities announced yesterday that while the execution currently scheduled to take place by 21 May maybe postponed following a request from Djalali’s lawyers, “the verdict is final, and the execution will be carried out.” 

Djalali was arrested in October 2017 while on a visit to Iran to attend academic workshops on disaster medicine. He was charged with espionage and later convicted and sentenced based on a confession that was reportedly extracted under torture, and after a trial that failed to meet international standards. In the current circumstances, the execution would therefore constitute an arbitrary deprivation of life. 

Use of the death penalty for espionage offences is incompatible with international human rights law.  Countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the “most serious crimes”, which is interpreted as crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing. 

3)         Mexico 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday called on the Mexican authorities to step up efforts to ensure truth and justice for victims of disappearances, who now number more than 100,000, according to official data. 

“The scourge of disappearances is a human tragedy of enormous proportions,” said Bachelet. “No effort should be spared to put an end to these human rights violations and abuses of extraordinary breadth, and to vindicate victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.” 

A national registry has been compiling disappearances dating as far back as 1964. According to the database, about a quarter of those documented to have disappeared are women, while around a fifth were under 18 at the time of their disappearance. More than 97 per cent of the disappearances whose date is known occurred after December 2006, when Mexico transitioned to a militarized model of public security 

Read the full press release here

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