U.N. slams North Korea over human rights

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Nearly 40 percent of North Koreans are starving, and a shortfall in international aid means that a fraction of those people will receive food donations, a U.N. rights expert said.

The World Food Programme will be able to reach fewer than 2 million of the communist country's 9 million hungry people, said Vitit Muntarbhorn, the U.N. special human rights investigator for North Korea.

Aid has been limited by global reaction to North Korea's recent nuclear and missile tests and the government's priorities are misguided, he said.

"The country is not poor, and yet the money is not spent on the people," Muntarbhorn told reporters Thursday after delivering his latest report before the U.N. General Assembly.

"People should be entitled to a fair share of the budget and the benefits from trade in terms of access to sustainable development."

North Korea's exports amounted to several billion dollars last year. The country also has a greater abundance of natural resources than its southern neighbor, Muntarbhorn said.

He urged the U.N. Security Council to step up as North Koreans face worsening conditions.

The United Nations regards the North Korean government as one of the most restrictive and repressive in the world. The Security Council has slapped the reclusive nation with multiple sanctions, though the United Nations does not tend to intervene in a country's humanitarian affairs.

"Let's make good use of the international system," Muntarbhorn urged. "I need the Security Council."

Muntarbhorn, who has been denied access to North Korea for six years, described a downturn of human rights in that society, saying that North Koreans live in constant fear of abduction, arrest, abuse and even public execution.

He reported that women continue to be highly discriminated against -- they are barred from trading and are forced to wear skirts and dresses even while bicycling as necessary transportation.

Freedom of information also remains restricted. Communication has progressed somewhat, now that cell phones are legal -- even to the non-elite -- but Muntarbhorn said phones are not permitted near the border. Possessing a computer is illegal for North Koreans.

Currently, there is no U.S. aid going into North Korea, though the World Food Programme is allowed access under the watch of North Korean military. According to North Korean military rules, food organizations must announce their visit a week before arrival.

The North Korean constitution recently was amended to acknowledge human rights, and references to communism were removed, Muntarbhorn said.

However, he said, the government has replaced communism with "their own brand of socialism," which ranks government authority very high and regular citizens very low.


Airliner overshoots airport; controllers feared hijacking

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Northwest Airlines flight from San Diego, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, overshot the Minneapolis airport by about 150 miles Wednesday evening, and federal investigators are looking into whether the pilots had become distracted, as they claimed, or perhaps fallen asleep.

Air traffic controllers lost radio communication with the Airbus A320, carrying 147 passengers and an unknown number of crew, when it was flying at 37,000 feet, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. There was no communication with Flight 188 for more than an hour as it approached the airport, the board said.

When air traffic controllers finally made contact with the pilot, his answers were so vague that controllers feared the plane might have been hijacked, according to a source familiar with the incident.

The controllers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, ordered the pilot to make a series of unnecessary maneuvers to convince them the pilots were in control of the flight, the source said, adding that fighter jets were poised in Madison, Wisconsin, but were never deployed.

Controllers tracked the aircraft on radar as it flew over its intended destination -- Minneapolis-St. Paul International/Wold-Chamberlain Airport -- and continued northeast for about 150 miles over the next 16 minutes. The airport's controllers then re-established communication with crew members, who said they had become distracted, the safety board said.

"The crew stated they were in a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost situational awareness," the board said in a news release.

A federal official, who asked not to be identified, told CNN that air traffic controllers in the Denver, Colorado, area had communicated with the pilot, but the pilots were "nonresponsive" during a subsequent communication. The plane was handed off to controllers in Minneapolis as a NORDO, the designation for "no radio communications."

The Federal Aviation Administration contacted the airline and had its dispatcher try to reach the pilots, the federal official said.

Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said numerous controllers were involved in efforts to contact the plane, including text messages, and that "concern escalated" as the pilot neared the airport "without making any effort to descend."

Ultimately, controllers contacted two other Northwest planes, asking them to try to reach Flight 188 through its last known frequency. One of those planes succeeded, prompting the pilot to contact Minneapolis, Church said.

"It was pretty good ATC (air traffic control) detective work," he added.

An NTSB spokesman said the agency is examining all possible explanations for the incident, including whether the pilots might have fallen asleep.

The safety board said it is scheduling an interview with the crew and has secured the plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder for examination. The recorders capture cockpit conversations and other noises.

Reported instances of two pilots falling asleep are rare. In August, the safety board concluded its investigation into a February 13, 2008, incident in which two pilots aboard a Go airlines flight fell asleep and traveled 26 miles beyond the destination of Hilo, Hawaii, before waking and contacting air traffic controllers.

Northwest Airlines is part of Delta Air Lines, which issued a statement Thursday, saying it is "cooperating with the FAA and NTSB in their investigation, as well as conducting our own internal investigation. The pilots have been relieved from active flying pending the completion of these investigations."

It said Flight 188 landed safely in Minneapolis just after 9 p.m.

Delta suffered another major embarrassment this week when a Delta pilot landed a passenger jet on a taxiway at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport instead of the runway. The NTSB also is investigating that case.


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