North Korea Raises Human Rights Concerns at U.N.

North Korea has accused Australia of a raft of human rights abuses at the United Nations, falling in line behind ally and benefactor China with whom Canberra is engaged in a long-running diplomatic and economic spat.

North Korea was one of 31 countries to condemn Australia's delay in raising the age of criminal responsibility and detention of immigrants at a U.N. human rights session on Wednesday.

China and other Beijing allies also levelled charges at Australia, along with nations including Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Spain, Poland, Portugal and Mexico, The Guardian reported.

But North Korea's intervention raised eyebrows, given the well-documented generational human rights abuses rampant inside the secretive nation. The Kim family dictatorship has long suppressed any hint of domestic opposition and maintains totalitarian control of all aspects of daily life. Corruption and abuse is routine at all levels, as North Koreans struggle to survive oppression and famine.

Pyongyang's U.N. ambassador Han Tae Song said his nation is "still gravely concerned about continued human rights violations in Australia, infringing upon international human rights law," per a video from the U.N. Watch NGO. At no point in the clip did Han acknowledge concerns about human rights in his country.

Han made several suggestions on how Canberra could ease Pyongyang's concerns. "First, to end deep-rooted racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia on the basis of ethnic, racial, cultural or religious background in the public sphere," he said.

"Two, to cease cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in public places or detention," Han added. "Three, to ensure the right of persons with disabilities including participation in elections on an equal basis with others, and revoking of legislation, policies and practice that results in the arbitrary and indefinite detention of persons with disabilities."

Australia has been widely criticized for its rigid immigration policy, which has seen migrants detained indefinitely in remote camps in places including Papua New Guinea and Nauru. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 3,000 migrants have been relocated to these isolated locations since 2013.

Rights groups have reported poor living conditions, routine abuse and mental health crises in the camps. Suicides and self-harm are particularly concerning for groups including Amnesty International.

Nations are also pushing Australia to raise its age of criminal responsibility, which is currently 10 years old. This situation disproportionately affects Indigenous Australians, who have long suffered from systemic racism in the justice system and wider Australian society.

Andrew Walter, a senior official from the Attorney-General's Department who led the Australian delegation, said Indigenous Australians make up 57 percent of those in youth detention despite making up just 6 percent of young people aged between 10 and 17. This proportion rises to 78 percent for those in detention aged 10 to 13.

China is leveraging the issue to apply more pressure on Canberra, amid a chill in bilateral relations stemming from Australian condemnation of Beijing's cover up of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, plus human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. This has spiralled into a trade conflict, with China imposing tariffs on a range of Australian goods.

At the UN session Wednesday, Chinese representatives said Australia should "stop using false information to make baseless charges against other countries for political purposes."

North Koreans read newspaper in Pyongyang
People read a copy of the Rodong Sinmun newspaper at Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang, North Korea on January 11, 2021. KIM WON JIN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty