UN sanctions affecting aid in North Korea — rights chief

South Korean national flags and ribbons carrying messages to wish for the reunification of the two Koreas flutter at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Monday. South Korea added several North Korean groups and individuals to its sanctions list Monday in a largely symbolic move that is part of efforts to cut off funding for the North's weapons programs. (AP)
Updated 12 December 2017
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UN sanctions affecting aid in North Korea — rights chief

UNITED NATIONS: The UN rights chief told the Security Council on Monday that tough sanctions imposed on North Korea are complicating the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid and called for an assessment.
An estimated 18 million North Koreans, or 70 percent of the population, suffer from acute food shortages and aid agencies provide “literally a lifeline” for 13 million of them, said UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“But sanctions may be adversely affecting this essential help,” he told a special Security Council meeting on human rights in North Korea.
Sanctions that have tightened controls over international bank transfers “have caused a slowdown in UN ground operations, affecting the delivery of food rations, health kits and other humanitarian aid,” he said.
The rights chief asked the council to conduct an assessment of the human rights impact of sanctions and urged them to take action to minimize consequences.
Over the past year, the council has adopted three rounds of sanctions aimed at choking off revenue to Pyongyang’s military programs after Kim Jong-Un’s regime carried out a sixth nuclear test and a series of advanced missile launches.
The council’s sanctions committee on North Korea will meet later Monday to hear a briefing from a UN humanitarian official on the impact of recent punitive measures.
Aid groups are facing hurdles to clear customs for goods destined for North Korea, to ensure procurement and transport of aid supplies, as well as rising food prices in the reclusive state that have shot up 160 percent since April, said UN Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenca.
The Security Council discussed the human rights crisis in North Korea despite objections from China, Pyongyang’s ally.
China requested a procedural vote to block the meeting, but failed to garner enough support.
Ten countries voted to allow the meeting to go ahead, three were opposed — China, Russia and Bolivia — while Egypt and Ethiopia abstained.
At least nine countries must back a contested agenda item for it to be discussed at the council and the veto does not apply.
Chinese Deputy Ambassador Wu Haitao said the council’s discussion of rights abuses in North Korea was “counterproductive” at a time when tensions are running high on the Korean peninsula.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said human rights should be discussed more often by the top UN body as a way to bolster conflict prevention.
“Any country that does not take care of its people ends up in conflict,” said Haley.
The US, Britain, France, Sweden, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay had requested the meeting, the fourth to be held since 2014.
China has sought every year to block the special meeting, arguing that the Human Rights Council in Geneva was the forum to address concerns about North Korea’s rights record, and not the Security Council.
Pyongyang is accused by a UN commission of inquiry of running a vast network of prison camps, resorting to torture, arbitrary detentions among other widespread abuses.
The rights chief told the council that “the context of military tensions seems to have deepened the extremely serious human rights violations” endured by the country’s 25 million citizens.
North Korea’s UN mission released a statement taking aim at the United States and its allies for raising “the non-existent ‘human rights issues’” at the council.
The UN’s political affairs chief, Jeffrey Feltman, will brief the council on Tuesday on his talks in Pyongyang ahead of a ministerial-level meeting on North Korea on Friday.


Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

A passenger takes a selfie next to the first train of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Linkas after it arrived in Shenzhen on September 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 11 min 10 sec ago
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Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

  • Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s controversial bullet train got off to a smooth start on Sunday, as hundreds of passengers whistled north across the border at speeds of up to 200 kph (125 mph), deepening integration of the former British colony with mainland China.
While the $11 billion rail project has raised fears for some over Beijing’s encroachment on the Chinese-ruled city’s cherished freedoms, passengers at the sleek harborfront station were full of praise for a service that reaches mainland China in less than 20 minutes.
“Out of 10 points, I give it nine,” said 10-year-old Ng Kwan-lap, who was traveling with his parents on the first train leaving for Shenzhen at 7 a.m.
“The train is great. It’s very smooth when it hits speeds of 200 kilometers per hour.”
Mainland Chinese immigration officers are stationed in one part of the modernist station that is subject to Chinese law, an unprecedented move that some critics say further erodes the city’s autonomy.
The project is part of a broader effort by Beijing to fuse the city into a vast hinterland of the Pearl River Delta including nine Chinese cities dubbed the Greater Bay Area.
Beijing wants the Greater Bay Area, home to some 68 million people with a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion, to foster economic integration and better meld people, goods and sectors across the region.
Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system.
But at a ceremony on Saturday ahead of the public opening, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam praised the so-called “co-location” arrangement with Beijing which the government has said is necessary to streamline immigration.
Scores of excited passengers straddled a yellow strip across black tiles that highlighted the demarcation line between Hong Kong and mainland China, while others passed through turnstiles surrounded by red, orange and white balloons.
“I’m excited to experience the high-speed train, even more excited than when I take a plane,” said a 71-year-old retiree surnamed Leung.
While there have been questions over whether Hong Kong residents would be able to access foreign social media, largely banned in mainland China, in zones subject to Chinese law, some passengers arriving in Shenzhen, on the mainland side, were able to bypass China’s so-called Great Firewall.
The rail link provides direct access to China’s massive 25,000-km national high-speed rail network and authorities on both sides have hailed it as a breakthrough that will bring economic benefits, including increased tourism.
“No matter what you think about the new line, high-speed rail is extremely convenient,” said Feng Yan, assistant professor at the Communication University of China in Beijing who took the bullet train from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.
“Even if it takes some time for people to realize how convenient it is, sooner or later they will.”