U.N. disabilities rapporteur denied multiple requests in North Korea

May 16 (UPI) — A United Nations special rapporteur did not give North Korea high marks for its programs for people with disabilities.

Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, the U.N. special investigator on the rights of persons with disabilities, said Monday she was denied access to key information on the disabled during her observation visit, a rare trip to North Korea.

“There is still a long way to go to realize the rights of persons with disabilities,” she said.

Devandas-Aguilar had recently concluded a six-day trip around North Korea, where she visited the cities of Pyongyang and Pongchon in South Hwanghae Province.

North Korea’s Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled hosted the U.N. official and limited her trip to state-designated stopovers, including the Okryu Children’s Hospital, the Korean Rehabilitation Center for Children with Disabilities and a school for the blind in Pongchon, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Pyongyang officials, including those identified as an “ambassador for human rights” and a “division director of human rights and humanitarian issues,” accompanied the U.N. special rapporteur, according to North Korean news agency KCNA.

KCNA identified one of the officials as Ri Hung Sik, a high-profile North Korean diplomat.

But North Korea denied the official’s request to meet with ministries and institutions relevant to the U.N. mandate.

Devandas-Aguilar was also banned from visiting a mental health facility.

During a press conference in Pyongyang on Saturday, Devandas-Aguilar said North Korea had “undertaken a number of initiatives that have the potential to significantly improve the lives of persons with disabilities in the country.”

North Korea, however, could do more to make buildings and facilities more accessible to the disabled, she said.

“It would be important to take measures to increase the participation of persons with disabilities in public functions, including the Supreme People’s Assembly,” she said.

In April 2009, North Korea reportedly amended its constitution to include new clauses on human rights protection.

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