“Logo of the World Health Organization” by US Mission Geneva is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
Communist North Korea, a regime notorious for starving its own people while investing heavily in nuclear weapons, has been elected to the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder, North Korea adopted a socialist and communist system.
The communist country has been widely criticized for its human rights record, and there have been reports of severe punishments inflicted on its own people for various reasons. (It is important to note that information about the country’s internal workings is limited due to its isolation and strict control over information.)
Some of the reported methods of punishment in North Korea include:
Forced Labor: The government has been accused of using forced labor, including in prison camps known as “kwanliso,” where detainees are subjected to harsh conditions and forced to perform hard labor.
Political Prison Camps: North Korea operates a network of prison camps where individuals deemed to be enemies of the state, including political dissidents and their families, are imprisoned. The conditions in these camps have been described as inhumane, with reports of torture, starvation, and other forms of abuse.
Arbitrary Detention: The government has been known to detain individuals arbitrarily, often without due process or access to legal representation. Detainees can be held for extended periods without any formal charges or trial.
Public Execution: North Korea has been reported to carry out public executions for offenses such as espionage, political dissent, and even for actions deemed as disobedience to the regime. These executions are often meant to instill fear and maintain control.
Restrictions on Freedom of Expression: The regime tightly controls the flow of information and restricts freedom of speech and expression. Possessing or distributing unauthorized materials, including foreign media, can lead to severe punishment.
Collective Punishment: The government has been accused of implementing a system of collective punishment, where the family members of individuals deemed disloyal or engaging in dissent can also face punishment, including being sent to prison camps.
North Korea’s regime, led by Kim Jong Un, has long been accused of gross human rights abuses and negligence toward the basic needs of its own citizens.
Despite this, the World Health Organization elected North Korea to its Executive Board.
“The Executive Board is composed of 34 persons who are technically qualified in the field of health, each designated by a Member State that has been elected to serve by the World Health Assembly. Member States are elected for three-year terms,” according to WHO.
Dr. Jong Min Pak, Director of the Department of External Affairs, Ministry of Public Health in Pyongyang, has been elected as one of the executive boards.
— Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) May 31, 2023
Critics argue that this move undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the WHO, which is already facing scrutiny for its handling of global health crises.
International human rights lawyer Hillel Neuer has more on this story.
What this means is that one of the world’s most horrific regimes is now a part of a group that sets and enforces the standards and norms for the global governance of health care. It is an absurd episode for a key U.N. agency that is in much need of self-reflection and reform.
North Korea’s regime allows its people to die of starvation while they spend billions on nuclear weapons.
As a member of the WHO Executive Board for the next three year, Kim Jong Un will help set the agency’s agenda and implement its policies. (See: North Korea Suffers One of Its Worst Food Shortages in Decades)
North Korea was elected, in a slate with the other nominees, by a secret ballot: 123 nations voting yes, 13 abstentions and 6 spoiled ballots; 35 countries were absent. Normally the elections are by consensus, but Russia challenged Ukraine’s nomination, and so a vote was held.
The right signal from the U.N. to the North Korean regime would be an overdue referral to the International Criminal Court, not an election to an organization that sets the standards for global health.
The truth is that scores of North Korean regime actors, from Kim Jong-un to low-level guards, should be investigated and prosecuted for committing some of the most heinous crimes against humanity ever documented in modern times. This is what the U.N. should be advancing.
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