UN: Stand With North Korea’s Victims

United Nations member states should vote in favor of a landmark resolution on the human rights situation in North Korea which seeks to advance justice for crimes against humanity, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights said today. The General Assembly will consider the resolution, which has been cosponsored by more than 50 UN members, in its third committee on November 18, 2014. 

The resolution expresses serious concern regarding the findings of the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry, which concluded in its 400-page report in February that the gravity, scale, and nature of the human rights violations in North Korea are “without parallel in the contemporary world.” The commission documented widespread forced labor, deliberate starvation, executions, torture, rape, and infanticide against the up to 120,000 men, women, and children detained incommunicado in North Korea’s political prison camp system. The resolution acknowledges the report’s findings that crimes against humanity have been committed “pursuant to policies set at the highest levels of the state,” and encourages the Security Council to consider taking appropriate action to ensure accountability for these crimes, including through referral to the International Criminal Court. 

“The Commission of Inquiry has shed some much-needed light on one of the darkest corners of the world,” said Nicole Bjerler, Deputy Representative at Amnesty International. “The UN General Assembly now has an important opportunity to stand with countless North Korean victims of human rights abuses, and should vote yes on the resolution.”

On November 10, nine organizations – including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights – sent a letter to all UN member countries urging them to support the resolution on North Korea, which was sponsored by the European Union and Japan.

Since the release of the Commission of Inquiry report, North Korea has undertaken limited diplomatic overtures to the UN, in particular by engaging in an initial dialogue with the UN human rights expert on North Korea and by participating in the Universal Periodic Review process of the UN Human Rights Council. However, North Korea denies the Commission of Inquiry’s findings, and has issued its own human rights report that declares that North Koreans “feel proud of the world’s most advantageous human rights system.”

“North Korea’s newly found engagement with the UN system is a start, but it should not distract from the need to ensure justice for decades of terrible abuse,” said Christen Broecker, Associate Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. “The world won’t measure North Korea’s progress by what it does in Geneva and New York but rather through concrete improvements on the ground.”

The organizations called on North Korea to grant access to UN human rights representatives, including the UN human rights expert on North Korea, known as a special rapporteur, allowing him to carry out his visit in line with the UN terms of reference for special procedures. Nongovernmental human rights organizations should also be allowed access to the country to monitor the human rights situation. 

In October, North Korea suggested it may allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur for the first time since the mandate was created in 2003. In exchange, North Korea demanded that key elements on accountability be removed from the proposed General Assembly resolution. When the accountability language was retained, North Korea’s mission to the UN stated on October 30, 2014, that it would “suspend overall consultations on the resolution” and that the cosponsors “will have to take full responsibility for all the consequences to be incurred.” 

Cuba has since suggested an amendment to the resolution, also in exchange for deleting any reference to the need for accountability. Calling for “a new cooperative approach” for North Korea, the proposed amendment seeks dialogue with UN member countries, technical cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a visit by the special rapporteur. 

These points have been addressed sufficiently in the existing resolution, the organizations said. 

“Trading accountability for promised cooperation is a fool’s bargain,” said Param-Preet Singh, Senior International Justice Counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Countries should reject any effort to abdicate the responsibility of UN members to seek justice for the world’s worst abuses.”