Where global solutions are shaped for you | News & Media | HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

12 March 2018

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

In his presentation, Mr. Ojea Quintana reminded that he had consistently emphasized that engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should never be put aside, nor underestimated.  He noted that nowadays there appeared to be a potential for rapid progress on the political and security front, with communication channels steadily building up between the two Koreas, as well as the United States, and historical summit plans for the near future.  He remained deeply concerned about the continuing patterns of serious violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The Special Rapporteur encouraged the Government to open up to his mandate and to communication with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

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

In the ensuing discussion, several delegations expressed deep concern over grave, ongoing human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and asked what avenues for cooperation could yield the most positive results.  Accountability for human rights violations was identified as a priority.  Delegations noted that the increasing engagement by Pyongyang with the United Nations was a positive development.  A number of speakers said the Special Rapporteur must promote constructive dialogue and make sure not to demonize the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Some speakers said country-specific mandates were a hindrance and counter-productive to positive dialogue. The Human Rights Council was urged to work in a non-selective manner and through positive dialogue.

Speaking were delegates from: European Union, Lichtenstein, Russian Federation, Germany, Norway, Estonia, Switzerland, Spain, Czechia, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Cuba, Syria, France, China, United States, Venezuela, Japan, Iran, New Zealand, Netherlands, Sudan, United Kingdom, Ireland, Belarus, Iceland, Slovakia, Republic of Korea, Australia, and Myanmar.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: United Nations Watch, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch, International Bar Association, Amnesty International, Indian movement “Tupaj Amaru”, and People for Successful Corean Reunification.


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


Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (A/HRC/37/69)

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

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, reminded that he had consistently emphasized that engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should never be put aside, nor underestimated.  He had always stressed that human rights had to remain a priority, and not be held hostage to the security situation.  He noted that nowadays there appeared to be a potential for rapid progress on the political and security front, with communication channels steadily building up between the two Koreas, as well as the United States, and historical summit plans for the near future.  The Special Rapporteur commended all Governments concerned for joining hands in that initiative, which was in their interest as well as the interest of the whole world.  He therefore urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to consolidate the rapprochement with a parallel opening to a human rights review.  He reminded that family reunion events had not taken place since October 2015, and had to be resumed without delay, given the advanced age of the thousands of individuals registered for reunion.  Although the Special Rapporteur had not yet been able to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he continued to receive first-hand information through a variety of sources that had helped him to assess the latest developments in the country.  The Special Rapporteur remained deeply concerned by the continuing patterns of serious violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The country’s extensive penitentiary system and severe restrictions on all forms of free expression, movement and access to information continued to nurture fear of the State and left people at the mercy of unaccountable public officials. 

The conditions of detainees in political prison camps remained particularly obscure due to their secretive nature, but several cases of ill-treatment in other detention facilities between 2015 and 2017 had been drawn to the attention of the Special Rapporteur.  People held in pretrial detention, in particular women who were forcibly returned from abroad, remained vulnerable to torture.  Most of those women used smuggling routes that were intertwined with human trafficking networks to carry out informal commercial activities.  The lack of legal protections against trafficking in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea made it easy for traffickers to lure those women into arranged marriages in China, or to work in the sex industry.  The Special Rapporteur urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to implement necessary measures to halt ill-treatment and torture practices in detention centres, and to improve conditions of detention, granting basic needs and access to health.  He reminded that the number of escapees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had decreased by 20 per cent between November 2016 and November 2017, suggesting that border controls between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China were tightening.  He urged China to respect the principle of non-refoulement and to grant escapees the possibility to access international assistance. 

Turning to the economic, social and cultural rights of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Special Rapporteur noted the dire access to basic needs, including food insecurity, as a chronic problem in the country and a cause for grave concern.  The latest assessment made the United Nations Country Team in March 2017 had found that 41 per cent of the population, which was 10.5 million people of all ages, remained undernourished.  The population was forced to secure their food and other necessities through private initiatives due to the failure of the State to provide those basic needs.  Rural communities continued to be vulnerable to forced evictions as the Government carried out industrial development projects.  The Special Rapporteur urged the Government to comply with its obligations with respect to the right to food and other economic, social and cultural rights when implementing its economic plan, and he encouraged the authorities to seek the assistance of international experts.  The need to pursue accountability remained a critical challenge for the mandate holder.  Setting up a culture of accountability required actions on behalf of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s authorities.  The Special Rapporteur thus encouraged the Government to open up to his mandate and to communication with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  During the reporting period, the country had started re-engaging in a conversation with international human rights mechanisms that had seemed unlikely only a few years ago.  Furthermore, the authorities had incorporated elements of a rights-based approach to programming in its collaboration with the United Nations system.  They had also taken part in a regional civil society dialogue on peace and stability.  Those were positive developments, and evidence that a meaningful dialogue was possible.  The Special Rapporteur noted that the international community had a responsibility to ensure that the critical human rights issues outlined by his mandate remained on the agenda; the momentum was there and it had to be seized.  

Statement by the Concerned Country

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was not present to take the floor as the concerned country.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union was deeply concerned about the grave human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, some of which could amount to crimes against humanity.  The Special Rapporteur was asked what initiatives he planned to undertake in 2018 and what he saw as a window of opportunity on human rights challenges in the country?  Liechtenstein said it supported the Accountability Project of the Office of the High Commissioner to document atrocity crimes and concurred that the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should be referred to the International Criminal Court.  The Security Council was called on to act accordingly.   Russia noted the first positive developments in the country over the last few years, as a result of intra Korean talks, and expressed hope for further diplomatic dialogue between Pyongyang and Seoul, which would include human rights.  The Special Rapporteur was reminded that instead of isolating countries and demonizing them, bringing them into constructive dialogue was a better approach.

Germany reminded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that under international law, accountability for serious human rights violations was a legal obligation and called on them to end all human rights violations.  How could the international community best document the reported atrocities in a systematic way?  Norway shared concern over the systematic abuse of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, particularly restrictions on free speech, access to information and the situation of prisoners.  It was noted that the Security Council sanctions could have an adverse impact on humanitarian aid.  Estonia welcomed the increased engagement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with treaty bodies and Special Procedures, in particular the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last year, and urged the Government to implement the recommendations. 

Switzerland expressed concern over grave, ongoing human rights violations and asked how civil society could use existing platforms to promote dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Spain called for those responsible for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to be brought before the relevant judicial bodies and drew attention to the vulnerability of people fleeing that regime.  Czechia said persistent disregard for human rights violations persisted in Pyongyang.  Noting the current window of opportunity to pursue dialogue, Czechia asked what avenues would yield the best results.  Greece reiterated its grave concern over serious human rights violations mentioned in the report and pointed to escalating tensions as a result of ballistic missile tests in the Korean Peninsula.  Poland, pointing to the effects of corruption on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, asked what could be done to address the phenomenon.  Hungary urged Pyongyang to recognize Mr. Ojea Quintana’s mandate.  The scale of gravity of human rights violations required ensuring accountability for those most responsible.  

Cuba noted that imposing politically motivated mandates or resolutions went against genuine cooperation that should take place in the Council.  Manipulation continued with respect to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Cuba would never support measures that aimed at “regime change.”  Syria reiterated the importance of the Council’s work, which should be based on objectivity, neutrality and non-politicization.  Often the principle of non-interference was not properly complied with.  France reminded that the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was one of the worst in the world.  It was very concerned about Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s workers abroad, and recalled the importance of preventing impunity.

China called for dialogue and cooperation as a means to solve human rights problems, and to ensure a de-nuclearized Korean Peninsula.  It expressed hope that all parties would seize the current positive momentum to diffuse tensions.  United States remained concerned about the wellbeing of the people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, especially those detained in political prison camps.  The regime bore the ultimate responsibility for the poverty and isolation of its people.  Venezuela stated that country-specific mandates were inappropriate, particularly when there was no consent by the country concerned.  The Council should address human rights issues in a non-selective manner and through genuine dialogue. 

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

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said there were three areas where cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea could be further explored.  First, the situation concerning children, since the Government reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  Second, in areas concerning women, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had demonstrated commitment for improvement, though there had been no sufficient understanding of international standards.  Another area, which was more difficult but important to explore, was detention conditions, including domestic facilities, labour camps and prison camps.  There was information that the Government was asking detention officers not to use excessive force, and was dismissing officers who abused their powers.  On the impact of sanctions, the Security Council was called on to establish a framework that would assess the potential detrimental impact of sanctions.  However, it was the responsibility of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to compile statistics and proof on this and inform the international community.  Allegations of torture and ill treatment had to be addressed by the Government within their accountability, otherwise the international community had to step in with all relevant stakeholders, including the Security Council.

Interactive Dialogue

Japan noted that five years after the establishment of the Committee of Inquiry, the serious human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continued unabated, including frantic pursue of nuclear weapons and missile development.  Japan, along with the European Union, would submit the annual resolution about the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the Council.  Iran reiterated its position against any politicization and double standards in the Council, including country specific situations.  Imposing country specific mandates was counterproductive and prevented a conducive environment for cooperation as the essential principle in effectively promoting human rights for all.  New Zealand had consistently voiced its position towards the ongoing severe mass violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and said that the international community had to be aware of the potential adverse impact of sanctions.  Visits of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the United Nations Under-Secretary General for political affairs were welcomed.  Netherlands reiterated the Special Rapporteur’s call on the Government to stop enforcing limitations on the right to freedom of thought, in light of worrying reports by the International Bar Association about the persecution of Christians.  As a member of the Security Council, the Netherlands supported the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation that the Security Council had to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. 

Sudan said the report must not be considered evidence-based given that Pyongyang had not responded to the text.  The Human Rights Council must focus on the effects of sanctions on civilian populations and the work of civil society organizations.  United Kingdom said Pyongyang maintained a stranglehold over every aspect of its citizens’ lives.  The regime must genuinely discuss de-nuclearization and place the well-being of its people ahead of its nuclear pursuits.  Ireland was particularly troubled by the food security situation within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Ireland asked what serious impacts the existing sanctions regime would have on the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Belarus said country-specific mandates were a hindrance and counter-productive to positive dialogue.  The Human Rights Council must pursue real dialogue with Pyongyang.  Iceland said the scale of human rights violations posed threats to regional stability.  Iceland regretted the lack of cooperation between Pyongyang and the Special Rapporteur and expressed hope that high-level talks would have a positive effect on the human rights situation.  Slovakia said political volatility and conflict rhetoric were obstacles to addressing the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Slovakia asked what measures could reinforce confidence building with Pyongyang.

Republic of Korea noted that separated families should immediately be given a chance to meet their loved ones, adding that it was concerned about the safety of “South Korean” nationals and other citizens detained in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Finally, it noted the engagement of “North Korea” with United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Australia strongly urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to engage more openly with the international community and to permit the Special Rapporteur to visit the country.  It supported calls to hold to account those responsible for serious human rights violations.  Myanmar noted that the realization of human rights had to be considered in the regional and national context, adding that country-specific mandates were counter-productive as they did not create a conducive environment for a genuine dialogue and effective cooperation between mandate holders and the concerned countries. 

United Nations Watch, in a joint statement, said that the most serious human rights violations took place in political prison camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Most of the prisoners had been imprisoned through guilt by association, and endured harsh conditions.  Christian Solidarity Worldwide reminded of the lack of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  It was estimated that more than 200,000 people were detained in prison camps, where they endured dire living conditions and brutal torture.  Many of them were Christians.  Human Rights Watch stressed that there had been no meaningful steps towards stemming or ensuring accountability for crimes against humanity documented by the Council’s Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  There was a heightened urgency for tangible steps to enable prosecutions and an international mechanism that promised justice for victims. 

International Bar Association noted that in their own repot “Inquiry on crimes against humanity in North Korean political prisons”, reasonable grounds were found to conclude that 10 out of 11 crimes against humanity enlisted in the Rome Statue had been committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The international community and the Security Council were urged to refer the case and appropriately investigate and punish such crimes.  Amnesty International said that “North Korean citizens” who left the country without valid travel documents were forcibly returned from other countries, thus violating the non-refoulment principle.  The vast majority of people were still denied access to the global Internet and continued to face arbitrary surveillance or detention when trying to make international calls. 

Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru” expressed their solidarity with the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and all threats of military aggression or economic sanctions issued by the Security Council were condemned.  The country was a victim of selective justice and double standards of western countries and it was noted that the Council had no mandate to send countries to the International Criminal Court.  People for Successful Corean Reunification said that sanctions targeting “North Korean” nuclear and ballistic missile programmes had resulted in the increase of gasoline princes.  Moreover, the Government had engaged in more illegal activities due to sanctions and the military had ordered brokers to smuggle goods across its northern borders for profit. 

Closing Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, stressed the importance of recognizing the interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights.  Economic improvements in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must be accompanied by the improvement of civil rights.  He called on all Member States to provide humanitarian aid to Pyongyang, even under the present conditions.  The Special Rapporteur said that there was an empty seat in the meeting, that of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The dialogue was organized so the Human Rights Council could listen to that regime’s vision and plans.  Developments to address the security situation in the region must give rise to a change in Pyongyang’s policy on human rights.  The Government opposed country-specific mandates and resolutions, yet, there was no reason for its representative to be absent from the interactive discussion.  The conditions were right for positive dialogue.  Addressing accountability remained a priority for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and efforts to bring about engagement with the regime would allow for tangible progress in the human rights agenda.  He called on countries engaging in negotiations with Pyongyang to place due relevance to human rights concerns.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC18/035E