North Korea targets women in clampdown: UN investigator

WASHINGTON- North Korea's regime has targeted women in a crackdown on private markets, depriving families of a vital source of food and income at a time of growing food shortages, a UN human rights rapporteur said Monday.
Vitit Muntarbhorn, who last week denounced human rights conditions in North Korea as "abysmal" in a scathing report to the UN General Assembly, said the plight of women "has gotten worse and worse during these years."

He said women under the age of 49 have been prohibited from engaging in trading, and the regime has gone so far as to ban them from wearing pants or riding bicycles to make it more difficult for them to engage in marketing activities.
Reports of clashes between young women and authorities have surfaced, reflecting tensions over the policy as food shortages deepen with a decline in international food aid, he said.
"Why this control, this clampdown again? Because the authorities fear losing their grip on the population. They want the population to be dependent on the state," Muntarbhorn said at the Korea Economic Institute, a think tank here.
"Why women, and why that group? The answer is women have been very active generators of that income because men are doing other things, such as working in the mines," he said.
"And the fact that young women are not allowed to trade, it is quite obvious, is going to have impact because it prohibits active people from generating income and the like," he said.
A Thai law professor, Muntarbhorn has served as the United Nation's special rapporteur, or investigator, into human rights conditions in North Korea since 2004.
After experimenting with private markets and accepting foreign food aid following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1999, North Korea's communist regime began to clamp down again in 2005.
It has ordered the closure of the country's biggest wholesale market, and is compelling the population to obtain grain and other produce directly from state-run stores, limiting trade to some food items in farmers markets.
In his report to the general assembly, Muntarbhorn reported that Pyongyang plans to prohibit small-patch farming this year.
At the same time, outside food aid has shrunk in the wake of North Korea missile and a May 2009 nuclear test, forcing the World Food Programme to reduce its coverage to less than two million people from a planned six million.
"You get continual reports of undernourished people living on porridge as opposed to rice, eating grass, foraging for additional food," Muntarbhorn said.

Tuesday, October 27th 2009

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