DPRK (North Korea)
Expected Council Action
In December, it is possible that the Council will hold a meeting on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), with briefings by High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. This would be the second formal Council meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK, following its 22 December 2014 decision to add “the situation in the DPRK” to its agenda as an item separate from the non-proliferation issue. At press time, it seemed a procedural vote on whether to hold the meeting was expected.
Key Recent Developments
Over the past year, efforts have continued to maintain the attention of the international community to the human rights situation in the DPRK and ensure follow-up to the February 2014 report of the Human Rights Council commission of inquiry. The report concluded that crimes against humanity had been committed in the DPRK and called on the Security Council to take action.
At its session in March 2015, the Human Rights Council renewed its condemnation of human rights abuses committed in the DPRK and welcomed the Security Council’s decision to add the situation to its agenda and hold a debate. It renewed the mandate of the special rapporteur, Marzuki Darusman, for one year, and urged the DPRK to cooperate fully with him and to engage in technical cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCRC).
A significant new development was the opening on 23 June of OHCHR’s new field office in Seoul, mandated by the Human Rights Council. The office is authorised to strengthen monitoring and documentation of the human rights situation in the DPRK; promote accountability; enhance engagement and capacity-building in cooperation with key stakeholders; and maintain the visibility of the human rights situation.
At its most recent session last September, the Human Rights Council held a special panel discussion on the DPRK with Michael Kirby, who chaired the commission of inquiry, as moderator. The meeting focused in particular on abductions, enforced disappearances and detentions, but also included an update on the activities of the Seoul office.
The international community’s widespread condemnation and repeated calls for action so far seem to have had little impact on Pyongyang’s behaviour according to recent reports to the General Assembly. In an 8 September report to the General Assembly, the special rapporteur concluded that there had been no improvement in the human rights situation, with grave violations continuing on a large scale, and regretted the DPRK’s refusal to meet with him or otherwise engage. He called on the international community to step up its efforts to address the situation, based on a two-track strategy involving measures to ensure accountability while at the same time seeking continued engagement with DPRK authorities. He urged the Security Council to hold regular briefings on the situation in the DPRK and to consider a referral to the ICC or other measures aimed at ensuring accountability.
A 25 September Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly on the DPRK also noted the lack of progress on any of the key human rights issues and, among other things, highlighted the impact of sanctions on UN agencies operating in the DPRK. In particular, he said that both UN and unilateral sanctions had an unintended and indirect negative impact on the population by causing operational constraints, such as transport delays and the inability to import certain items, and by making it more difficult to raise funds. He therefore called on the international community to secure adequate humanitarian funding and minimise the adverse effects of sanctions.
On 19 November, the General Assembly’s Third Committee adopted its annual resolution on the DPRK by a vote of 112 in favour, 19 against and 50 abstentions. The resolution reiterated the condemnation of “long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights” in the DPRK and encouraged the Security Council to continue considering the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and take appropriate action to ensure accountability, including a referral to the ICC or the imposition of targeted sanctions against those found to be responsible for crimes against humanity.
On 23 November, the special rapporteur began a five-day visit to the Republic of Korea. In announcing the visit, he said the aim was to assess the latest developments in the DPRK and discuss with relevant stakeholders ways to ensure accountability.
On 10 November, the chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain), briefed Security Council members in consultations on the work of the Committee. No new incidents of violations had been reported to the Committee since his previous briefing on 26 August. While some Council members stressed the need for continued vigilance, others welcomed the absence of any new provocations as an opening for renewed engagement with Pyongyang.
A key issue for the Council is the impact of the human rights violations in the DPRK on international peace and security, and in particular any links between these violations and Pyongyang’s ability to carry out its proliferation activities.
A further issue is the DPRK’s continued rejection of any meaningful interaction with the international community, including with the Special Rapporteur and the OHCHR, and its repeated threats against the office in Seoul, as reported by the media. OHCHR recently confirmed that Zeid had been invited to visit the DPRK to discuss technical cooperation but it remains to be seen if this will lead to anything, as the details of the visit still have to be agreed.
In the short term, the main option for the Council is to hold a meeting in December as currently envisaged. A further option would be to also invite Darusman, who will be able to share impressions from his 23-27 November visit, or a victim of the human rights abuses committed in the DPRK. Alternatively, an Arria-formula meeting could be convened ahead of the formal Council meeting to hear from a wider range of briefers.
In the longer term, options for the Council include:
- seeking to engage the DPRK in a New York-based dialogue to support the special rapporteur and the OHCHR and address the threats against the office in Seoul;
- requesting a report from the Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK with more details about the impact of sanctions;
- holding more frequent Council meetings under the agenda item “the situation in the DPRK”;
- considering whether to expand the designation criteria in the DPRK sanctions regime to include violations against international humanitarian and human rights law; and
- discussing alternative approaches to ensuring accountability for crimes against humanity committed in the DPRK, given the fact that any attempt at referring the situation to the ICC or expanding the sanctions criteria will likely be blocked by China in the foreseeable future.
China has made clear that it remains strongly opposed to any Security Council discussion on the human rights situation in the DPRK. Its position seems to be the same as when it objected to the meeting last year, stating that the Council was not mandated to consider human rights issues and that adding the situation to the Council’s agenda would do more harm than good.
Although the situation in the DPRK is now formally on the Council’s agenda, China can still try to prevent the Council from discussing the human rights situation, either by informally voicing its opposition before any meeting is scheduled or by objecting to the adoption of the meeting agenda, as it did last year, thus triggering another procedural vote.
At last year’s procedural vote, there was a clear majority of 11 Council members voting in favour of adding the situation in the DPRK to the agenda, but it is less clear this time what the outcome of such a vote would be. It is understood that Chile, France, Jordan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Spain, the UK and the US support having another meeting and that China, Russia and Venezuela are opposed, but the positions of other members are less clear. Chad and Nigeria abstained last year and are therefore seen as likely to do the same again, with Angola possibly joining them. This seems to leave Malaysia as the crucial “swing vote” that may provide the nine-member majority needed to win a procedural vote.
The US is the penholder on the DPRK.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|22 December 2014 S/PV.7353||This was a procedural vote on the inclusion on the provisional agenda the item of the situation in the DPRK. The agenda was approved by a vote of 11 in favour, two against (China and Russia) and two abstentions (Chad and Nigeria). Following the procedural vote, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun briefed.|
|30 October 2015 A/C.3/70/L.35||This was the draft General Assembly resolution on the DPRK adopted on 19 November.|
|25 September 2015 A/70/393||This was the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly on the human rights situation in the DPRK.|
|8 September 2015 A/70/362||This was a report to the General Assembly of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.|
|7 February 2014 A/HRC/25/63||This was the report from the international commission of inquiry established by the Human Rights Council.|