North Korea calls U.N. rights investigator report 'malicious slander'

A group of people bow at the base of the giant bronze statue of the state founder and 'Great Leader' Kim-Il Sung in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang February 26, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray/Files

SEOUL (Reuters) - A report this month by a United Nations rights investigator expressing concern about the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea is "malicious slander", a North Korean organisation said on Tuesday.

In his latest report, Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said the country's most vulnerable people risk starvation after it slipped deeper into isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ojea Quintana said international sanctions imposed over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme should be eased to provide more aid, but he also criticized abuses such as political prison camps and said self-imposed border lockdowns to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak had worsened conditions.

"The 'special rapporteur', not being content with distorting our reality, has pointed a finger at our 'people's livelihood' and viciously picked on the most realistic and appropriate anti-epidemic measures taken by our state for our own specific need in order to cope with the global epidemic," an unidentified spokesperson for the Korea Association for Human Rights Studies said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.

The statement said North Korea does not recognise Ojea Quintana's mandate, and accused him of being part of a U.S.-backed scheme to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries.

"Our state takes full responsibility for the life security and livelihood of our people, and we have never asked anyone to worry about the living conditions of our people," the statement said.

Leader Kim Jong Un said in June the food situation was “tense” because of natural disasters last year, and acknowledged that citizens had faced sacrifices during the pandemic.

North Korea has not reported any COVID-19 cases and has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and domestic travel curbs.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Peter Graff)

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