December 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2016
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In December, the Council is expected to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). At press time, a group of Council members including France, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, the UK, Ukraine, Uruguay, the US and most likely Malaysia, was planning to send a joint letter to the Council president requesting that such a meeting be convened.

This will be the third 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, in response to the findings of the February 2014 report of the commission of inquiry established by the Human Rights Council (HRC). The report documented widespread and systematic human rights violations in the DPRK, calling on the Council to consider referring the situation in the DPRK to the ICC and impose targeted sanctions against those individuals most responsible for crimes against humanity. 

Key Recent Developments

Since the Council last considered the human rights situation in the DPRK in a meeting on 10 December 2015, international efforts to address the situation have continued in the HRC and the General Assembly. On 23 March, the HRC once again adopted a resolution recalling the findings of the commission of inquiry and condemning in the strongest terms “the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and other human rights abuses” committed in the DPRK. It extended the mandate of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK for one year and requested the High Commissioner to designate, for a period of six months, a maximum of two independent experts to support the work of the rapporteur with a focus on accountability for human rights violations, in particular crimes against humanity, and to recommend practical accountability mechanisms, including through the ICC. 

On 1 August, Tomás Ojea Quintana assumed the position of special rapporteur, succeeding Marzuki Darusman. On 9 September, the High Commissioner appointed Sonja Biserko and Sara Hossain to serve as the independent experts on accountability. Their report will be presented to the HRC in March 2017 as an annex to the report by the special rapporteur.    

The General Assembly’s Third Committee considered the human rights situation in the DPRK in a meeting on 27 October, with a briefing by Quintana. The Committee had received the special rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly on 26 September. That was followed on 7 October by the Secretary-General’s report on the human rights situation in the DPRK.  

In his briefing to the Committee, Quintana recalled that the international community’s approach to the situation in the DPRK was based on a two-track agenda of pushing for accountability while at the same time calling for increased cooperation. He noted, however, that the increase in tension on the Korean Peninsula had continued to impede progress. According to Quintana, pressure to strengthen sanctions had made the DPRK authorities revert to a stance of “isolation, defensiveness and more investment in armament activity”. He warned that increased militarisation would only worsen and threaten the livelihoods of the population. With regard to the situation more generally, Quintana said that a pattern of human rights violations had persisted and that the DPRK had failed to cooperate with other countries and with the HRC special procedures. At the same time, he welcomed the DPRK’s recent submission of national reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. 

The Secretary-General also concluded in his report that widespread human rights violations had continued in the DPRK, citing evidence of violations of the rights to life, liberty and security; the right to freedom of movement; the right to freedom of expression and access to information; the rights to food and health; the rights of the child; the rights of women; and the rights of persons with disabilities. He expressed serious concern that there had been no progress since the commission of inquiry’s report, although the government had taken some positive steps to engage with the international human rights system. Addressing the effect of sanctions, he said that resolution 2270 and additional unilateral sanctions had had a negative impact on the humanitarian operations of the UN. In particular, the blockage of the transfer of funds had delayed the delivery of humanitarian assistance and forced the UN to suspend some activities. He called on the international community to take urgent steps to minimise such unintended consequences. 

On 15 November, the Third Committee adopted its annual resolution on the DPRK. The Committee reiterated its condemnation of human rights violations in the country and encouraged the Security Council to continue considering the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and take appropriate action to ensure accountability. The resolution was adopted without a vote, in a shift from the Committee’s most recent sessions, when a number of countries voted against or abstained. Last year, the vote was 112 in favour, 19 against and 50 abstentions. This year’s adoption, however, followed the practice prior to 2014. While there was no vote, 11 countries dissociated themselves from the resolution, including Council members China, Russia and Venezuela. The DPRK rejected the resolution as a representation of “extreme politicisation, selectivity and double standards” and called it illegal. 

In his first trip to the region as special rapporteur, Quintana visited the Republic of Korea (ROK) from 16 to 22 November and Japan from 23 to 26 November. In announcing the mission, Quintana said the aim was to explore possible ways to take concrete steps to improve the situation of human rights in the DPRK through consultation with state officials, people who have left the country, families of abduction victims, civil society actors, journalists and other relevant stakeholders. Since the appointment of the first special rapporteur in 2004, successive mandate holders have made requests to visit the DPRK; however, access has so far not been granted. At a 15 November press conference in New York focusing on the resolution adopted by the Third Committee, the DPRK said that Quintana would never be invited to the country in his role as special rapporteur, noting that the government did not recognise the mandate, but that he would be welcome as a private citizen. In parallel with Quintana’s mission, the two accountability experts, Biserko and Hossain, visited the ROK from 21 to 25 November and Japan from 28 to 29 November. They held several meetings jointly with the special rapporteur with interlocutors in the region.   

Sanctions-Related Developments

At press time, the Council was expected to adopt a new sanctions resolution against the DPRK on 30 November in response to the country’s 9 September nuclear test. The chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Román Oyarzun (Spain), was scheduled to brief Council members, in consultations, on the work of the Committee after the adoption.  In a 22 November letter to the Council president, the DPRK transmitted a memorandum explaining that “the DPRK’s strengthening of its nuclear forces is a righteous choice to defend itself from the extreme moves from the US to stifle it.”  

Key Issues

A key issue for the Council is to assess the threat to international peace and security posed by the human rights violations in the DPRK. A related issue is the interlinkages that exist between these violations and Pyongyang’s proliferation activities, as well as the adverse humanitarian impact of the diversion of funds for illicit purposes.

Another issue is how to balance the two-track approach of promoting dialogue while at the same time pressing for accountability.

A further issue is the negative humanitarian impact of sanctions, as referred to by the Secretary-General in his report.

Options

In the short term, the main option for the Council is to hold a meeting in December as currently envisaged to further demonstrate the international community’s grave concern about the continued human rights violations being committed in the DPRK. A further option would be to invite Quintana, who would be able to share findings from his recent visit to the region. Convening an Arria-formula meeting ahead of the formal Council meeting to hear from a wider range of briefers, including victims of human rights abuses, is also an option.  

Other options include:

  • requesting a report from the Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK with an in-depth analysis of 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, as has been done in several other sanctions regimes; and
  • discussing alternative approaches to ensuring accountability for crimes against humanity committed in the DPRK, given the fact that in the foreseeable future any attempt at referring the situation to the ICC or expanding the sanctions criteria is likely to be blocked by China.
Council Dynamics

Council positions on the human rights situation in the DPRK have not changed since last year. China remains strongly opposed to any discussion of the situation as it tends to believe the Council is not the right place to address human rights, a position shared by other Council members, including Egypt, Venezuela and Russia. China is therefore expected to object to the meeting in December, as it did in both 2014 and 2015, thus prompting a procedural vote. It is already clear, however, based on the number of Council members having signalled their position, that China does not have enough support to block the meeting. In the case of Council decisions of a procedural nature as specified in Article 27(2) of the UN Charter, just nine affirmative votes are needed for a decision to be adopted, and the veto does not apply.   

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.   

UN Documents 

Security Council Meeting Records
10 December 2015 S/PV.7575 was the last Council meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK. 
Other
22 November 2016 S/2016/988 was a letter from the DPRK.  
31 October 2016 A/C.3/71/L.23 was the draft General Assembly resolution on the DPRK adopted by the Third Committee on 15 November 2016.
7 October 2016 A/71/439 was the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assemblyon the human rights situation in the DPRK.
26 September 2016 A/71/402 was the report to the General Assembly of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.
23 March 2016 A/HRC/RES/31/18 was the latest HRC resolution on the DPRK.
7 February 2014 A/HRC/25/63 was the commission of inquiry report on the DPRK.