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North Korea has criticised Australia’s human rights record during a United Nations review

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North Korea, a largely isolated totalitarian dictatorship, has called on Australia to end “deep-rooted racism” and cease inhumane treatment in detention centres during a United Nations human rights review.

The comments came during a five-yearly review into Australia’s human rights progress, a process that allows UN member states to question other countries on their human rights performance and provide recommendations on their conduct.

North Korea’s representative, Kim Song, told the human rights council on Thursday via video-link his nation had “concerns over continued human rights violations in Australia” and offered three recommendations.


“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, inhumane or degrading treatment in public places of detention.

“Three, to ensure the right of persons with disabilities, including participation in elections on an equal basis with others and revoking of … policies and practices that result in the arbitrary and indefinite detention of persons with disabilities.”

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In response to the comments, the Federal Member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, wrote on Twitter: “This must be an attempt at irony?”

North Korea was among a number of UN member states to condemn Australia’s human rights record, with more than 30 nations – including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Mexico – calling on authorities to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 inline with UN recommendations.

China’s representative also submitted five recommendations for Australia, including action to “combat racial discrimination, hate speech, and violence” and the elimination of discrimination against Indigenous Australias.

North Korea’s submission raised eyebrows due to the country’s own human rights abuses, which includes the totalitarian government’s use of threats of execution, arbitrary punishment, detention and forced labour to maintain control over the population. 

Human Rights Watch has described the nation, led by Kim Jong-un, the third leader of the Kim dynasty, as “one of the most repressive countries in the world”.

“The government does not tolerate any dissent. It bans independent media, civil society, and trade unions, and systematically denies basic rights, including freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion,” they said in a 2020 World Report.

“It systematically extracts forced, unpaid labour from its citizens to build infrastructure and implement public projects. The government also fails to protect or promote the rights of numerous at-risk groups, including women, children, and people with disabilities.”

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Recommendations made during the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review process are not binding and there is no clear punishment for continued human rights breaches. 

It is the third time Australia has been probed as part of the review process, with the first two taking place in 2011 and 2015. 

Australia faced severe criticism over its treatment of Indigenous peoples, including the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. A number of countries also raised concerns over Australia’s hardline border policy, which sees asylum seekers who arrive by boat forced into indefinite detention. 

In a submission to the council lodged ahead of the hearing in December the Australian government acknowledged the need to “do better” in addressing the inequalities faced by Indigenous peoples, but claimed there have been a number of improvements since 2015.

“There have been improvements in health, education, birth registration, cultural heritage rights and progress on Indigenous involvement in Indigenous issues,” the submission read.

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