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Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 22:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 21:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Afghan girls endure 1,000 days without school under Taliban rule

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 20:46
islamabad, pakistan — The Taliban's ban on educating girls over the age of 12 in Afghanistan reached 1,000 days Thursday amid global outrage and demands for the immediate resumption of children's learning.    The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, denounced it as a "sad and sobering milestone" and noted that "1,000 days out-of-school amounts to 3 billion learning hours lost."    The statement quoted Catherine Russell, UNICEF executive director, as warning the male-only Taliban government that no country can progress if half of its population is left behind.    "For 1.5 million girls, this systematic exclusion is not only a blatant violation of their right to education but also results in dwindling opportunities and deteriorating mental health," Russell said.     "As we mark this grim milestone, I urge the de facto authorities to allow all children to resume learning immediately," she added.   Women banned from many public places   The fundamentalist Taliban have prohibited girls from attending school beyond sixth grade since retaking control of Afghanistan in August 2021. The ban was later extended to universities, blocking female students from finishing their advanced education.     Women also are not allowed to show their faces on television or visit public places such as parks, beauty parlors, or gyms, and they are barred from undertaking road trips unless accompanied by a male relative.    "Afghanistan will never fully recover from these 1,000 days," said Heather Barr, women's rights associate director at Human Rights Watch.    "The potential loss in this time — the artists, doctors, poets, and engineers who will never get to lend their country their skills — cannot be replaced," said Barr. "Every additional day, more dreams die."  UN officials calls for accountability   Meanwhile, in his latest report issued this week, the U.N. special rapporteur on Afghan human rights has called for the Taliban to be held accountable for their crimes against women and girls.     Richard Bennett alleged that de facto Afghan leaders have established and enforced "an institutionalized system of discrimination, segregation, disrespect for human dignity and exclusion of women and girls."    He will present and discuss the report at the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting scheduled for June 18.     The Taliban reject criticism of their government and policies, saying they are aligned with local culture and Islam. Their reclusive supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, has denounced calls to reform his policies as interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs.    The impoverished country is reeling from years of war and repeated natural disasters. U.N. agencies estimate that more than half of the population in Afghanistan — 23.7 million people, including 9.2 million children — need relief assistance.     "Education doesn't just provide opportunities. It protects girls from early marriage, malnutrition, and other health problems and bolsters their resilience to disasters like the floods, drought, and earthquakes that frequently plague Afghanistan," UNICEF executive director Russell said. 

Iran expanding enrichment capacity after IAEA resolution, diplomats say 

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 20:15
VIENNA/PARIS — Iran is responding to last week's United Nations nuclear watchdog board resolution against it by expanding its uranium-enrichment capacity at two underground sites, diplomats said on Wednesday. The escalation, they added, is not as big as many had feared. Iran bristles at such resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation Board of Governors, and it reacted to the previous one 18 months earlier by enriching to up to 60% purity, close to weapons grade, at a second site and announcing a large expansion of its enrichment program. This time it plans to install more cascades, or clusters, of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, at both its underground enrichment sites, five diplomats said. IAEA inspectors observing Iran's progress plan to issue a report to member states on Thursday, three of the diplomats said. "It's not as much as I would expect," one Vienna-based diplomat said, referring to the scale of Iran's escalation. "Why? I don't know. Maybe they're waiting for the new government," they said, referring to the death in a helicopter crash last month of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, and the presidential election to be held on June 28. The IAEA board passed a resolution a week ago calling on Iran to step up cooperation with the IAEA and reverse its recent barring of inspectors. The board acted despite U.S. concerns Tehran would respond with atomic escalation. Only Russia and China opposed. Diplomats did not go into specifics on the number or type of centrifuges being added or what level they would enrich to, though one diplomat said they would not be used to quickly expand Iran's production of uranium enriched to up to 60%, close to the 90% of weapons grade. The diplomats said they would wait to see what the IAEA said Iran had actually done but they were aware of Iran's plans. The move is "at the lower end of expectations and something we're pretty sure they were going to do anyway," one diplomat said, meaning it would have happened even without the resolution. Iran did not fully follow through on its November 2022 announcement after the previous resolution. While it installed all the centrifuges it said it would at its underground enrichment plant at Natanz, 12 cascades of one advanced model, the IR-2m, are not yet in operation. Iran is only enriching to up to 60% at an above-ground pilot plant at Natanz and its Fordow site, which is dug into a mountain. In November 2022 it started enriching to up to 60% at Fordow but it has yet to install all the additional cascades it said it would.

Iran releases French citizen, says France's Macron

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 20:10
BARI, Italy — French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Wednesday the release of Louis Arnaud, a French citizen who had been held in Iran since 2022 and who had been sentenced to five years in prison in November. "Louis Arnaud is free. He will be in France tomorrow after a long incarceration in Iran," Macron said on X, thanking Oman in particular for its role in obtaining his release.  The release is rare positive news about France and Iran.  Bilateral relations have deteriorated in recent months, with Tehran holding four French citizens — including Arnaud — in what Paris has said are arbitrary arrests equivalent to state hostage taking.  France is also increasingly concerned by Iran's regional activities and the advance of its nuclear program.  Arnaud, who had been held since September 2022 after traveling in the country, was sentenced to five years in prison in November on security charges. He was held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.  "This evening, I also think of Cecile, Jacques and Olivier," the remaining French citizens held in Iran," said Macron. "I am calling on Iran to liberate them without delay."  In recent years, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on charges related to espionage and security.  Rights groups have accused Iran of trying to extract concessions from other countries through such arrests. Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality, denies taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage. 

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 20:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

In 'land of the unspoken,' New Caledonia journalists are harassed over riot coverage

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 19:50
Washington — When riots broke out in the French territory of New Caledonia last month, journalist Coralie Cochin started rising before the sun. For about a week, it was too dangerous for Cochin to leave her neighborhood in the suburbs of the capital, Noumea, so she would drive nearby streets looking out for developments. Then at around 6:30 a.m., Cochin would park and start her live radio hits for public broadcaster Nouvelle-Caledonie la 1ere, informing listeners about roadblocks and clashes. “Every morning, it was a shock,” Cochin said. “As a journalist, of course I’m passionate about this moment. But at the same time, I’m terrified.”   At least nine people have been killed, and dozens of buildings burned since mid-May amid the worst violence to affect New Caledonia in four decades.   Unrest in the nickel-rich Pacific archipelago came in response to amendments to a French voting law that, critics warned, risked marginalizing the indigenous Kanak population. The Kanak already suffer from economic inequality and discrimination, say rights groups. The legislation, which was suspended by French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday, follows a series of independence referendums promised after conflict in the 1980s. Although the final vote — held in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic — reaffirmed that the territory would remain part of France, many Kanaks boycotted the ballot. Journalists covering the unrest say they have been confronted with violence and harassment from both pro-independence and loyalist camps. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, has documented around 15 incidents. “Journalists continue to be threatened, and it’s still difficult for them to circulate freely,” Pavol Szalai, who heads RSF’s European Union desk, told VOA from Paris. France’s Washington embassy and Ministry of the Overseas did not reply to VOA’s emails requesting comment. The press freedom landscape in New Caledonia has long been fraught, according to Audrey Poedi, who works for the local television station, Caledonia.   “New Caledonia is generally referred to as the land of the unspoken,” said Poedi, who was born in New Caledonia and is Kanak. That nickname, she said, refers to how many issues are viewed as taboo in the archipelago.   “There is a lot of self-censorship in New Caledonian society. We don’t say it out of shame, out of fear, so as not to dwell on the past,” she said. For Cochin, who grew up in the French region of Normandy but who has lived in New Caledonia for nearly two decades, the past few weeks have been “the most difficult period we’ve ever experienced.” At one point, individuals called on social media for the offices of her broadcaster to be burned down. “It was the first time I was really afraid for my life,” Cochin said about seeing those comments. A group of men also intimidated a crew from her channel on May 17 and stole their TV camera before smashing the windows of the journalists’ car and attempting to steal the vehicle, RSF reported. Others have been threatened with violence at roadblocks. Grassroots groups also appear to be attempting to track journalists. Screenshots shared with VOA appear to show individuals detailing where reporters from Agence France-Presse, or AFP, were staying and what car they were driving. Mathurin Derel, who reports for Le Monde and AFP, told VOA he has also learned that photos of him were being circulated in loyalist group chats. “It’s a way to intimidate us, to make us write different stories,” said Derel, who says he narrowly avoided a carjacking at a roadblock last month. Originally from Paris, Derel has lived in New Caledonia for nearly two decades. The violence has created an environment of anxiety among the country’s reporters, according to Poedi. “Not only are we afraid of being accused of doing our job badly, we’re also afraid that the people will be extremely hostile and that things will get worse — that there will be acts of violence against us,” Poedi said. “It’s a real atmosphere of fear, stress and sadness.” The environment is also making it harder to find sources willing to speak on the record. Some of the reporters VOA spoke with say they believe the reluctance is driven by a combination of rising mistrust in the media and fears of retaliation. To try to mitigate the risks, some local reporters are working to form a journalist association to advocate for their rights and protection. RSF has also provided safety equipment. Back on the outskirts of Noumea, Cochin says she has been working nonstop but that reporting has also provided her with a welcome sense of duty at a challenging time. “When you are working, you have a kind of distance,” Cochin said. “Reality is much harder when you don’t work.”

Africa's Nile River suffocating with waste

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 19:28
Juba, South Sudan — The Nile River is the second-longest river in the world. It provides crucial resources to 11 countries, including South Sudan, the world's youngest nation. As dawn breaks each day over the Nile, its waters carry a silent plea at the center of a 21st century environmental challenge. "The river cries out, choked by the very hands it feeds," said Lueth Reng Lueth, executive director at Community Action Against Plastic Waste South Sudan. "We stand here today to silence that cry, to transform habits, and to introduce sustainable solutions for our people." Community Action Against Plastic Waste is a youth-driven nongovernmental organization. Lueth, the organization's founder, said this once majestic, ancient lifeline for civilizations is now facing a severe environmental threat. "The Nile is bleeding red — not with blood, but with plastics and waste that suffocate its waters," said Lueth. "Our town, river and future are all interconnected. The situation here in Bor is dire, and it's our duty to act." Environmental experts predict that more frequent and intense heat waves could cut the Nile's flow by 75 percent, spike conflicts over water resources and food insecurity, and heighten health risks related to inadequate water supply and sanitation. Joseph Africano Bartel, South Sudan's undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Management, explained the importance that water quality has for those who live and work near the banks of the Nile. "People drink water directly from the Nile or from the streams, resulting into cholera, diarrhea and other waterborne diseases," said Bartel. " So, the only solution to improve the quality of water in South Sudan is to establish liquid, solid and medical waste management." Lueth believes a good beginning would be for the government to facilitate workshops to teach effective waste management, implement policies that discourage single-use plastic consumption, and provide trucks to regularly collect waste from people who live along the riverbank. "We are supposed to clean the river sides," said Elijah Mau, who lives along the riverbank. "It is our lifeline." In the longer term, Community Action Against Plastic Waste envisions regular waste collection, plastic levies and fines for littering to enforce environmental awareness. But for now, those changes aren't on the government's immediate horizon. "As a country, we have joined with the U.N., United Nations Environment Program," said Bartel. "Through the intergovernment negotiating committee, we're coming up with a treaty that will ban plastic pollution globally." Lueth said "The story of Bor and the Nile is at a crossroads." And the path they choose today will determine if the river continues to sustain life or becomes a relic.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 19:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

US House holds attorney general in contempt for withholding Biden audio

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 18:46
Washington — The House voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over audio of President Joe Biden's interview in his classified documents case, Republicans' latest and strongest rebuke of the Justice Department as partisan conflict over the rule of law animates the 2024 presidential campaign. The 216-207 vote fell along party lines, with Republicans coalescing behind the contempt effort despite reservations among some of the party's more centrist members. Only one Republican — Rep. David Joyce of Ohio — voted against it. Garland said in a statement late Wednesday, "It is deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon. Today's vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers, the Justice Department's need to protect its investigations, and the substantial amount of information we have provided to the Committees." He added, "I will always stand up for this Department, its employees, and its vital mission to defend our democracy." Garland is now the third attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress. Yet it is unlikely that the Justice Department — which Garland oversees — will prosecute him. The White House's decision to exert executive privilege over the audio recording, shielding it from Congress, would make it exceedingly difficult to make a criminal case against Garland. Nonetheless, Speaker Mike Johnson defended the decision to push ahead with what is now a mostly symbolic effort. "Look, we did our job on the contempt, and I think it sends an important message," the Louisiana Republican said following the vote. "We'll see what happens next, but, I mean, the House has to do its work and I'm pleased with the outcome today." The White House and congressional Democrats have slammed Republicans' motives for pursuing contempt and dismissed their efforts to obtain the audio as purely political. They also pointed out that Rep. Jim Jordan, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, defied his own congressional subpoena last session. Garland has defended the Justice Department, saying officials have gone to extraordinary lengths to provide information to the committees about Special Counsel Robert Hur's classified documents investigation, including a transcript of Biden's interview with him. "There have been a series of unprecedented and frankly unfounded attacks on the Justice Department," Garland said in a press conference last month. "This request, this effort to use contempt as a method of obtaining our sensitive law enforcement files is just most recent." Republicans were incensed when Hur declined to prosecute Biden over his handling of classified documents and quickly opened an investigation. Republican lawmakers — led by Jordan and Rep. James Comer — sent a subpoena for audio of Hur's interviews with Biden during the spring. But the Justice Department only turned over some of the records, leaving out audio of the interview with the president. On the last day to comply with the Republicans' subpoena for the audio, the White House blocked the release by invoking executive privilege. It said that Republicans in Congress only wanted the recordings "to chop them up" and use them for political purposes. Executive privilege gives presidents the right to keep information from the courts, Congress and the public to protect the confidentiality of decision-making, though it can be challenged in court. Administrations of both political parties have long held the position that officials who assert a president's claim of executive privilege can't be prosecuted for contempt of Congress, a Justice Department official told Republicans last month. Hur spent a year investigating the president's improper retention of classified documents, from his time as a senator and as vice president. The result was a 345-page report that questioned Biden's age and mental competence but recommended no criminal charges for the 81-year-old. Hur said he found insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute a case in court. In March, Hur stood by his no-prosecution assessment in testimony before the Judiciary Committee, where he was grilled for more than four hours by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. His defense did not satisfy Republicans, who insist that there is a politically motivated double standard at the Justice Department, which is prosecuting former President Donald Trump over his retention of classified documents at his Florida club after he left the White House. But there are major differences between the two probes. Biden's team returned the documents after they were discovered, and the president cooperated with the investigation by voluntarily sitting for an interview and consenting to searches of his homes. Trump, by contrast, is accused of enlisting the help of aides and lawyers to conceal the documents from the government and of seeking to have potentially incriminating evidence destroyed.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 18:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 17:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

US Federal Reserve sees inflation progress but envisions only one rate cut this year

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 16:29
washington — Federal Reserve officials said Wednesday that inflation has fallen further toward their target level in recent months but signaled they expect to cut their benchmark interest rate just once this year.  The policymakers' forecast for one rate cut was down from a previous forecast of three, because inflation, despite having cooled in the past two months, remains persistently elevated.  In a statement issued after its two-day meeting, the Fed said the economy is growing at a solid pace, while hiring has "remained strong." The officials also noted that in recent months there has been "modest" further progress toward their 2% inflation target. That is a more positive assessment than after the Fed's previous meeting May 1, when the officials had noted a lack of progress.  Still, the central bank made clear Wednesday that further improvement is needed.  "We'll need to see more good data to bolster our confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward 2%," Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference after the Fed meeting ended.  As expected, the policymakers kept their key rate unchanged at roughly 5.3%. The benchmark rate has remained at that level since July of last year, after the Fed raised it 11 times to try to slow borrowing and spending and cool inflation. Fed rate cuts would, over time, lighten loan costs for consumers, who have faced punishingly high rates for mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and other forms of borrowing.  The officials' rate-cut forecast reflects the individual estimates of 19 policymakers. The Fed said eight of the officials projected two rate cuts. Seven projected one cut. Four of the policymakers envisioned no cuts at all this year.  "What everyone agrees on," Powell said at his news conference, is that the Fed's timetable for rate cuts is "going to be data dependent."  The Fed's latest projections are by no means fixed. The policymakers frequently revise their plans for rate cuts — or hikes — depending on how economic growth and inflation evolve over time.  On Wednesday morning, the government reported that inflation eased in May for a second straight month, a hopeful sign that an acceleration of prices that occurred early this year may have passed. Consumer prices excluding volatile food and energy costs — the closely watched "core" index — rose just 0.2% from April, the smallest rise since October. Measured from a year earlier, core prices climbed 3.4%, the mildest pace in three years.  "We welcome today's reading and hope for more like that," Powell said.  Though inflation has tumbled from a peak of 9.1% two years ago, it remains too high for the Fed's liking. The policymakers now face the delicate task of keeping rates high enough to slow spending and defeat high inflation without derailing the economy. 

World Bank: Inflation, poverty keep climbing in war-torn Myanmar

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 16:11
Bangkok — Myanmar’s economy shows no signs of recovering from the 2021 military coup, as civil war drives more workers abroad, pushes inflation into triple digits in some parts of the country and pulls it deeper into poverty, a new World Bank report says. “Livelihoods Under Threat,” launched Wednesday in Myanmar, says the economy shuffled along over the past year with gross domestic product growing at a meager 1%. The same is expected for next year. While staving off recession, slow growth still leaves Myanmar’s once-booming economy 10% smaller than it was before the country’s military ousted the democratically elected government more than three years ago. Resistance groups have made major battlefield gains against the junta since late last year and are believed to control more than half the country, including some key border trade routes. “The overall storyline is that the economy remains weak and fragile overall. Operating conditions for businesses of all sizes and all sectors remain very difficult,” World Bank senior economist Kim Edwards said at the report’s launch. The bank says overall inflation rose some 30% in the year leading up to September 2023, and even more in areas where fighting has been fiercest. “You can see in the conflict-affected states and regions — Kayin, Kachin, Sagaing, northern Shan, Kayah — price rises of 40 to 50%,” Edwards said. “And then in Rakhine, where … there’s been particular problems and increasing conflict recently, we’ve seen price rises of 200% over the year. So, very substantial. And obviously, it has very significant effects for food insecurity,” he said. The United Nations’ World Food Program says food insecurity now plagues a quarter of Myanmar’s 55 million people, especially the more than 3 million displaced by the fighting. In Wednesday’s report, the World Bank also estimates that nearly one-third of the population now lives in poverty. “And we see the depth and severity of poverty. So, this is really a measure of how poor people in poverty actually are — worsening also in 2023, meaning that poverty is more entrenched than at any time in the last six years,” Edwards said. The bank says much of the inflation is being driven by the steady depreciation of the currency, the kyat. While the official exchange rate remains stuck at 2,100 to the U.S. dollar, trading of the kyat on the black market soared past 4,500 to the dollar in May. The junta has imposed several controls to conserve its dwindling foreign currency reserves. Last month, it urged companies doing business abroad to barter with their trade partners and settle bills with their wares instead of cash. At the same time, the bank says border trade — a major source of tax revenue for the regime — is being hit hard by the gains the resistance has been making along Myanmar’s frontiers with China, India and Thailand. It says imports and exports by land fell 50% and 44% respectively, in the past six months. The junta has leaned heavily on oil and gas revenue, but with little investment for exploration of new reserves, those exports are likely to start falling in the coming years, as well, Edwards said. More of what the junta does earn is going to the military at the expense of other basic services. According to the report, defense spending hit 17% of the national budget in the fiscal year that ended in March, nearly twice what was spent on health and education combined. Encouraging news The World Bank says manufacturing and agriculture output in Myanmar have started to pick up, and a combination of cheaper fertilizer and higher crop prices could keep the farming sector growing. Traders stymied by blocked border gates also seem to be shifting some of their traffic to new routes on land and sea. “There are some signs of life,” Edwards said. “And these really speak to the adaptability of many of Myanmar’s businesses and their ability to cope with what, under any objective circumstances, are very difficult business constraints and conditions.” Even so, Edwards said, “The near-term outlook remains quite weak, with the economy failing to recover from its recent, very sharp contraction.” Htwe Htwe Thein, an associate professor at Australia’s Curtin University who has been studying Myanmar’s business and economic development for two decades, said she could not recall a worse time for Myanmar’s economy. “The state of the economy has never been this low in terms of prospects, in terms of … the trajectory,” she told VOA. “The only people who are doing well … is a very, very small percentage at the top who are working with the junta,” she said. “Everybody else is suffering severely.” Amid the fierce inflation, falling wages and dwindling job prospects, Thein said, the young are losing hope and grasping at any opportunity to work or study abroad. She added that the junta’s efforts to shore up the economy have been ad hoc and short-sighted, and that rebuilding will take years and can only be achieved if and when the junta is out of power.

North Koreans face lives devoid of hope, UN rights chief says

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 12, 2024 - 16:00
United Nations — The U.N. high commissioner for human rights delivered a bleak assessment of the situation in North Korea on Wednesday, a decade after an in-depth report shed light on severe and widespread abuses in the country. “Today, the DPRK is a country sealed off from the world,” Volker Türk told a special briefing of the U.N. Security Council that North Korea’s ambassador did not attend. “A stifling, claustrophobic environment, where life is a daily struggle devoid of hope.” DPRK is the abbreviation for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Türk expressed concern about the regime’s tight control over the movements of its citizens, including the ability to leave the country. Most North Koreans cannot obtain the required government permission to leave, and those who attempt to escape face torture, labor camps or death if they fail. “Leaving your own country is not a crime – on the contrary, it is a human right, recognized by international law,” he said by video from his office in Geneva. He said repression of the freedom of expression has also worsened with the enforcement of laws forbidding people from consuming foreign media or culture, such as South Korean television dramas or K-pop music. “Put simply, people in the DPRK are at risk of death for merely watching or sharing a foreign television series,” the human rights chief said.   He urged Pyongyang to halt the use of the death penalty throughout its legal system and move toward its complete abolition. Perhaps even more worrying, is the situation of food security in North Korea. “Every single person interviewed by my office has mentioned this in one form or another,” Türk said. “In the words of one: “It’s very easy to become fragile and malnourished because there is nothing to eat.” The World Food Program says more than 40% of North Koreans, nearly 11 million people, are undernourished. Many suffer from chronic malnutrition because of a lack of essential nutrients, especially those living outside major cities. Children are particularly affected, with 18% suffering stunting and impaired development because of chronic malnutrition. The high commissioner also expressed concern about Pyongyang’s use of forced labor, including overseas. He noted that workers they have interviewed described often performing work that is physically dangerous and they endured extreme levels of surveillance. Western nations accuse North Korea of using these laborers’ wages to help fund their illicit nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Türk said there have been some recent “positive signs” from North Korea in their engagement with the international human rights system, but he did not explain what that included. Defector speaks Gumhyok Kim, 33, grew up in privilege in North Korea. His family were Kim regime loyalists and so in 2010, he was able to leave the country and study in Beijing. “At the age of 19, I saw a world for the first time that was different from everything I had learned,” he told the council. “In particular, the internet enabled me to learn about my country’s history and realize the horrific truth of North Korea that had been hidden from me.” He said his feeling of loyalty to the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for three generations quickly turned to one of betrayal, and he began to connect with other North Korean students in Beijing to discuss the situation. In the winter of 2011, the North Korean authorities discovered their activities, and he fled China to South Korea to avoid arrest. “I survived and found freedom. But that freedom had come at a great cost,” he said.  “It has already been 12 years since I defected, but I still have no contact with my family.” He appealed directly to North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, saying nuclear weapons and repression are not the way to maintain leadership. “Allow North Koreans to live in freedom. Allow them their basic rights so they can live full and happy lives,” Kim said. “Turn away from the nuclear weapons threat and return your country to the family of nations so all North Korean people may lead prosperous lives.” Kim and his South Korean-born wife chronicle their married life on YouTube, where they show what life is like in Seoul. He said he is now a father to a 1-year-old, and he hopes one day to take his son to a changed North Korea. Council inaction The U.N. Security Council is divided over the situation in North Korea. The last time its 15 members agreed on sanctions for the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity was in 2017. Since then, the geopolitical landscape has changed, the council has become more fractured, and action on the North Korean file has become more difficult. Both China and Russia objected to Wednesday’s human rights briefing, saying such issues do not belong in the Security Council. Russia called for a procedural vote, but lost, as only China joined it in voting against holding the meeting and 12 council members supported it. Mozambique abstained. There are no vetoes in procedural votes. “The efforts by both Russia and China to block this meeting today is another effort to support the DPRK, and is also emboldening their actions,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. Venezuela’s envoy made a statement to reporters outside the council during the meeting on behalf of the “Group of Friends in Defense of Charter of the United Nations,” rejecting the convening of a human rights-specific council meeting. The group of 18 like-minded countries includes Russia, China, North Korea, Belarus, Iran, Cuba and Syria. The council meeting was requested by the United States and Britain, along with Japan and South Korea, who both currently hold non-permanent council seats. “The DPRK nuclear and human rights issues are like two sides of the same coin, and thus, need to be addressed comprehensively,” South Korean Ambassador JoonKook Hwang said. He urged the council to regularly address the human rights situation. Until last August, the last time the council discussed North Korea’s human rights situation also was in 2017. A 2014 Commission of Inquiry report found that North Korea’s rights violations had risen to the level of crimes against humanity. The panel said the regime had used “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”