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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL DISCUSSES THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

11 March 2019

The Human Rights Council today held an interactive dialogue with Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Speaking in a video message, Mr. Ojea Quintana presented his report based on information gathered during visits to the region, including to Bangkok and the Republic of Korea, and regretted that he continued to be denied entry to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula had continued, with two summits between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States as well as the inter-Korean engagement.  Some 10.3 million people – 43 per cent of the population - continued to suffer from food shortages.  There was a need for an economic roadmap so that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea could emerge from the protracted humanitarian situation and begin to fulfil its human rights obligations. 

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea did not take the floor as a concerned country.

In the discussion, some speakers stated that crimes against human rights were committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in a culture of total impunity.  The Government was called on to fully cooperate with the Special Procedures and to allow a visit of the Special Rapporteur.  Progress on the resumption of reunions of separated families across the border on the Korean peninsula was noted.  The negative impact of economic sanctions was highlighted.  Some speakers opposed the imposition of selective and politically motivated mandates of the Council, such as this one.  They said the continued insistence on the demonization of countries was not helpful, and non-discriminatory mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review were the appropriate mechanism for achieving solutions based on cooperation and dialogue.

Speaking were European Union, Spain, United Kingdom, Germany, Czech Republic, Cuba, Australia, Russian Federation, Republic of Korea, Venezuela, France, Belarus, Iceland, Myanmar, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Ireland, Iran, China, Greece, Canada, Japan, Norway, Ukraine and Syria.
 
The following civil society organizations also took the floor:  International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL, Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, People for Successful Corean Reunification, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Bar Association, Human Rights Watch, World Jewish Congress, and Amnesty International.

The Council has a full day of meetings scheduled today. It will next hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

TOMAS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in a video transmission, presented his report based on information gathered during visits to the region, including to Bangkok and the Republic of Korea, and regretted that he continued to be denied entry to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and was unable to meet with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s authorities.  He welcomed the continuation of the easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula, with two summits between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States as well as the inter-Korean engagement, including cross-border cultural, social and economic exchanges.  The report detailed a human rights diplomatic track in parallel with the current high-level talks on denuclearization, which detailed step by step measures to secure the necessary legislative and institutional reform under international human rights law.

Some 10.3 million people - 43 per cent of the population - continued to suffer from food shortages in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Rapporteur feared that international and bilateral sanctions may have had a detrimental impact on the population and that humanitarian activities continued to suffer significant delays and disruptions as a result of these sanctions.  There was a need for an economic roadmap so that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea could emerge from the protracted humanitarian situation and could begin to fulfil its human rights obligations.  The report recommended that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea become a member of the International Labour Office and implement core labour standards.  He remained concerned about reports of serious human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s detention and prison system, and urged the Government to provide access to international monitors to those internment camps.  The authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should undergo criminal justice reforms with the aim of ensuring the rule of law and respect of human rights.

There were continued reports on severe restrictions of basic human rights, including a complete lack of press freedom, limited freedom of movement, and lack of protection from arbitrary application of the law.  Restrictions on fundamental freedoms were so restricted and surveillance so deeply ingrained that an escapee had concluded that “the whole country is a prison”.  Thus the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was mandated to strengthen its monitoring and documentation efforts and should be provided with appropriate resources to meaningfully implement this mandate.  The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was to undergo its third Universal Periodic Review and this was an opportunity to enhance its cooperation with the international community, as seeking justice and truth for violations remained as important as ever.

Concerned Country

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea did not take the floor as the concerned country.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union commended the accountability team’s work of documenting human rights violations perpetrated in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and for establishing a central evidence repository for assessing crimes in the future.  They stressed the importance of continuing to engage the authorities in dialogue, and this dialogue should include the issue of human rights.  Spain urged the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to amend its legal system to abolish generic definitions of crimes, which hindered the proper functioning of the rule of law.  Despite having ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, numerous rights enshrined in it were regularly violated.

United Kingdom regretted that the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea violated the rights of religious minorities, and subjected them to harassment and imprisonment.  President Kim had shown signs of wanting to denuclearize, and the United Kingdom supported the efforts of the United States to achieve this outcome.

Germany stated that crimes against human rights were committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in a culture of total impunity.  They called on the country to fully cooperate with the Special Procedures and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights presence in Seoul.  Allowing a visit of the Special Rapporteur would be an important sign of a willingness to engage in dialogue.  Czech Republic welcomed the work of the United Nations accountability team in Seoul, and their work should continue.  They urged the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to ensure that the upcoming Universal Periodic Review would lead to an open dialogue and tangible results.  Cuba opposed the imposition of selective and politically motivated mandates of the Council, such as this one.  The continued insistence on the demonization of countries was not helpful.  Non-discriminatory mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review were the appropriate mechanism for achieving solutions based on cooperation and dialogue.

Australia stressed that respect for human rights was essential to achieve lasting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.  Five years ago, the Commission of Inquiry had reminded the world of the appalling human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, and today little had changed.  Russian Federation noted significant progress achieved towards resolving problems on the Korean peninsula, a rapprochement supported by Russia.  The lack of trust between Washington and Pyongyang was hindering the development of joint measures, although Pyongyang had demonstrated its commitment to the process. Republic of Korea noted the resumption of reunions of separated families across the border, which took place last year.  Commitments had been made at the inter-Korean summit to strengthen humanitarian cooperation to resolve the issue of separated families, and the Korean Government was striving for the early opening of a permanent facility for family reunion meetings.

Venezuela said that country specific mandates were not appropriate, particularly when they were not approved by the country in question.  Such mandates were imposed by some countries and the report failed to recognized the commitment made by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s authorities.  France was alarmed over the massive violations of freedom of opinion, and access to information, as well as sexual violence that women were experiencing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  What measures could be taken by the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the international community to assist victims of violations?  Belarus said mandates such as this one were established without universally approved criteria and without the agreement of the country concerned, meaning they were doomed to failure.  Such a report could not provide an objective assessment on the situation on the ground, as it was based on unreliable information.

Iceland welcomed the easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula but remained concerned about the widespread torture, the penal system and restrictions on basic freedoms, stating that the humanitarian situation remained grim.  Myanmar said that country specific mandates in the Human Right Council were counterproductive as they did not create a conducive environment to cooperation.  The Universal Periodic Review was a better suited mechanism based on equal footing and equal voice.  The work of the Council should be guided by the principles of universality impartiality, objectivity and non-selectively.  New Zealand urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to implement the recommendations in the latest report of the Special Rapporteur and welcomed the opportunity for meaningful engagement during the Universal Periodic Review.  It called on the international community to send a strong message and to expect tangible improvement.

Bulgaria regretted that there had not been a substantial improvement in the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea despite the resolve of the leaders of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to continue denuclearization.  It noted the reunion of 89 separated families between the two Koreas in August 2018, which represented a confirmation by both sides of the fundamental right to respect for family life.  Ireland regretted that little progress had been made about the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and called for the closing of all prison camps, and lifting restrictions on freedom of thought, stating that there could be no impunity for such violations.  Iran reiterated its rejection of the selective approach of the Human Rights Council, as these procedures provided unwarranted tools to misuse human rights for political purposes.

China stressed that there should be a healthy development of the human right cause, without any politicization.  Dialogue and consultation should resolve the problems on the Korean Peninsula, with a view to achieving the complete denuclearization on the peninsula.  Greece welcomed the ongoing diplomatic efforts regarding the Korean peninsula, and it stressed the importance of dialogue for its pacification and stabilization.  For that to happen, any form of dialogue should also include a human rights dimension.  Canada remained deeply concerned about the accounts of systematic human rights violations and abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  While it welcomed the ongoing dialogue in support of strengthening security and stability on the Korean peninsula, the world should not forget the plight of the people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Japan emphasized the urgency of resolving the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, because more than 40 years had passed since the abductions had first taken place, and because the abductees and their families were already in an advanced age.  Norway shared the Special Rapporteur’s grave concern regarding the continued and ongoing systematic and widespread human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  It thus called on the authorities to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and relevant parts of the United Nations.  Ukraine urged the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to take immediate steps to halt all human rights violations, including through the immediate release of all political prisoners.  All perpetrators of human rights violations and abuse should be brought to justice.  Syria underscored the need for the Council and its Special Procedures to refrain from the politicization of human rights.  The discussion on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was highly politicized, particularly given the country’s rejection of the mandate.

International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) welcomed the positive developments made by the intra-Korean summit and encouraged the leadership of both countries to continue.  The international community was called upon to support such efforts; the confrontational approach and economic sanctions had to be left behind.  Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru” condemned any threat of military intervention or economic sanctions on people who were suffering from hunger. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continued to be a victim of neo-colonial powers that had adopted a series of resolutions against it.  People for Successful Corean Reunification said that the rights of children were being trampled to an extreme degree.  A former Democratic People’s Republic of Korea diplomat at the embassy in Italy had defected with his wife, but could not bring his disabled daughter and the Government kept the daughter hostage.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted that there were no improvements in terms of the right to freedom of religion or belief.  It was estimated that 200,000 people, mostly Christians, were detained in prison camps, where they endured dire living conditions and brutal torture.  International Bar Association was alarmed by detention and crimes against humanity in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  According to their report, 10 out of 11 crimes against humanity enlisted by the International Criminal Court were committed in prisons in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Human Rights Watch said it was a challenging time to maintain pressure on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as the denuclearization summits monopolized attention away from human rights issues.  In 2018 there was no formal debate on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s human rights record and there was an unwillingness to press for such scrutiny; however, human rights should remain central to the denuclearization talks.  World Jewish Congress was alarmed by the existence of prison camps and the torture, forced starvation, sexual violence and executions rife within.  It asked if the Special Rapporteur believed a visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the High Commissioner would be possible this year.  Amnesty International urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to open its boarders to the international community by providing unimpeded access to outside human rights monitors.  It asked the Special Rapporteur whether he had discussed inter-Korean family reunions with the Republic of Korea during his visits, as these reunions did not adequately address the hundreds of enforced disappearances.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/19/29E