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The North Korean mission at the UN held a rare briefing to discuss its recent report on its own human rights situation.

A North Korean official acknowledged his country runs labor camps to “reform” detainees, but dismissed criticism of its rights record as “wild rumors”.

A UN report released in February 2014 said North Korea was committing “unspeakable atrocities” against its own people on a vast scale.

North Korea is thought to hold tens of thousands of people in prison camps.

Official Choe Myong-nam told the briefing – which was open to reporters and foreign diplomats – that there were “no prison camps” operating in North Korea but there were “detention centres where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings”.

He said North Korea was a “transition society” and as such “there might be some problems, for example in the economic and other areas, we may need to establish more houses and social facilities in order to provide people with better living conditions”.

Choe Myong-nam blamed North Korea’s economic situation on “external forces”, Reuters reports, in an apparent reference to the stringent international sanctions the country is under as a result of its repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests in recent years.

The North Korean mission at the UN held a rare briefing to discuss its recent report on its own human rights situation

The North Korean mission at the UN held a rare briefing to discuss its recent report on its own human rights situation

As the country moved forward “the enjoyment of the people will be further expanded”, Choe Myong-nam said.

The UN report in February said there was evidence of “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in North Korea.

It said those accused of political crimes are “disappeared” to prison camps, where they are subject to “deliberate starvation, forced labor, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide.

The report, based on interviews with North Korean defectors, estimated that “hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in these camps over the past five decades”.

North Korea’s report rebutting the UN findings, first released last month, said that “hostile forces are persistently peddling the ‘human rights issue’ in the DPRK [North Korea] in a bid to tarnish its image and bring down the social system and ideology chosen by the Korean people”.

The open UN briefing comes days after North Korea agreed to resume formal high-level talks with South Korea – which were suspended in February – after Northern officials made a surprise visit to the South for the Asian Games.

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In a recent report, the UN warns over an “alarming deterioration” in human rights in eastern Ukraine, where separatists are fighting security forces.

The UN also found “serious problems” of harassment and persecution of ethnic Tatars in Crimea, the mainly ethnic Russian region Moscow annexed in March.

Russia condemned the report, saying it ignored abuses by Ukraine’s government.

Meanwhile, a third-party initiative to restore law and order in one troubled city, Mariupol, seems to be succeeding.

Violence between separatists and pro-Ukrainian forces has left dozens dead in the east and south this month.

Violence between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has left dozens dead in the east and south

Violence between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has left dozens dead in the east and south

Separatists control towns in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where they have been skirmishing with units of the Ukrainian security forces, sent in to reassert government control.

The revolt in the east gained momentum after Russia annexed Ukraine’s mainly ethnic Russian region of Crimea in March.

Moscow acted after the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych, during unrest in the capital Kiev in February, and his replacement with an interim government, backed by Ukrainian nationalists. A new Ukrainian president is due to be elected on May 25.

In another development, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has accused EU officials of risking war with Russia by displaying “megalomania” in Ukraine.

Helmut Schmidt, chancellor from 1974 to 1982, told German newspaper Bild: “The danger that the situation gets ever more tense, as it did in August 1914, is growing day by day.”

The UN’s conclusions are contained in a 37-page report, its second monthly assessment of the situation.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in Geneva: “Those with influence on the armed groups responsible for much of the violence in eastern Ukraine [must] do their utmost to rein in these men who seem bent on tearing the country apart.”

The UN’s report details growing lawlessness in eastern and southern Ukraine:

  • Peaceful demonstrations, primarily by supporters of Ukraine’s unity, deteriorate into violence
  • Protesters are attacked and beaten
  • Local police do nothing to prevent the violence and sometimes openly co-operate with the attackers

UN monitors have also documented cases of targeted killings, torture and abduction, primarily carried out by anti-government forces in eastern Ukraine.

The report highlights threats to journalists and international observers, and abductions or attacks on some.

In its response, Russia’s foreign ministry said the report lacked any semblance of objectivity, and accused its authors of following “political orders” to whitewash Ukraine’s new, pro-Western leaders.

The report, it said in a statement in Russian, ignored “the crudest violations of human rights by the self-proclaimed Kiev authorities”.

Separatists in Donetsk announced on Thursday they were setting up their own parliament and were planning to open the border with Russia shortly.

Steelworkers in the flash-point port of Mariupol have begun citizen patrols after talks between officials from their company Metinvest, which is owned by oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, and local police and community leaders.

A UN report on climate change released today in Berlin says the world must rapidly move away from carbon-intensive fuels.

There must be a “massive shift” to renewable energy, says the 33-page study.

It has been finalized after a week of negotiations between scientists and government officials.

Natural gas is seen as a key bridge to move energy production away from oil and coal.

But there have been battles between participants over who will pay for this energy transition.

The report is the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was set up to provide a clear scientific view on climate change and its impacts.

The Summary for Policymakers on mitigation paints a picture of a world with carbon emissions rising rapidly.

“The high speed mitigation train needs to leave the station very soon, and all of global society will have to get on board,” the IPCC’s chair Rajendra Pachauri told journalists in Berlin at the launch of the report.

Dr. Youba Sokono, a co-chair of the IPCC’s working group 3, which drew up the report, said science has spoken.

He added that policy makers were “the navigators, they have to make decisions, scientists are the map makers”.

About half of all the carbon that humans have pumped into the atmosphere since 1750 has been emitted in the last 40 years.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up to provide a clear scientific view on climate change and its impacts

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up to provide a clear scientific view on climate change and its impacts (photo Reuters)

Rates have been rising fast since 2000, despite the global economic crash.

The report points to an increased use of coal in the decade from the turn of the millennium, “reversing the longstanding trend of decarbonization of the world’s energy supply”.

Driven by a global increase in population and economic activity, global surface temperature increases will be between 3.7C and 4.8C in 2100 if no new action is taken.

This is way above the 2 degree level, regarded as the point beyond which dangerous impacts of climate change will be felt.

However, the scientists involved in the report say this situation can be turned around.

To be sure of staying below 2 degrees, the amount of carbon in the air needs to be around 450 parts per million (ppm) by 2100. To get there, emissions in 2050 need to be 40-70% lower than they were in 2010.

The IPCC says that renewables are a critical part of that pathway.

Since the last report in 2007, the scientists say that renewable energy has come on in leaps and bounds.

In 2012, renewables accounted for just over half of the new electricity generation added around the world.

The scientists stress that renewables are becoming economically competitive with fossil fuels and also offer a range of other benefits, including clean air and energy security.

“It certainly is the end for carbon intensive fuels that’s for sure,” said Jennifer Morgan from the World Resources Institute, who was a review editor on one of the chapters of the IPCC report.

“There needs to be a massive shift away from fossil fuels and investment needs to shift to going 100% clean as fast as possible.”

One of the surprising endorsements in the report is natural gas.

“Emissions from energy supply can be reduced significantly by replacing current world average coal-fired power plants with modern, highly efficient natural gas combined-cycle power plants,” says the summary.

The report describes natural gas as a “bridge” technology with deployment increasing before peaking and falling below current levels by 2050.

However, many of the scenarios examined by the panel would still involve an “overshoot” of the target range.

To cope with this the world may need to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Combining carbon capture and storage with bioenergy is seen as one potential solution, but the report is lukewarm on these ideas, saying the “methods are uncertain” and are “associated with risks”.

Timing is everything, say the scientists.

“Delaying mitigation efforts beyond those in place today through 2030 is estimated to substantially increase the difficulty of the transition to low longer-term emissions,” says the summary.

The report points out that there needs to be huge shifts in investment if the worst impacts of rising temperatures are to be avoided. Investment in renewables and other low carbon sources needs to at least treble by the middle of the century, while money flowing into fossil fuels has to diminish.

But differences have emerged over who should make the cuts in emissions and who should pay for the switch to low carbon energy sources. Developed and developing countries have clashed here in Berlin, echoing divisions found in the UN negotiations.

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