What's In Blue

Posted Tue 14 Dec 2021

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK): Meeting on the Human Rights Situation Under “Any Other Business”

Tomorrow (15 December), following the briefing and closed consultations on South Sudan, Security Council members will discuss the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by the US, with support from Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, and the UK. No briefer is expected at tomorrow’s meeting.

Council members last discussed the human rights situation in the DPRK on 11 December 2020, following a request from Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, the UK, and the US. These members initially requested an open videoconference (VTC) meeting with a briefing from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. China and Russia opposed having an open meeting, which prompted the members seeking the briefing to request a VTC meeting under “any other business”. (Consensus is not required for a discussion under “any other business”, which is a standing agenda item in all closed consultations.)

From 2014 to 2017, the Council held an annual meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK in December. Council meetings concerning this issue have been contentious, principally because Council members hold differing views as to whether human rights violations in the DPRK constitute a threat to international peace and security. China has argued that the Security Council is not a forum for discussing human rights issues, that such issues should not be politicised and that discussion of human rights in the DPRK jeopardises the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Russia, together with some former elected members, has adopted a similar position.

Other Council members, however, feel that the human rights situation in the DPRK merits Council attention and have sought open meetings on the matter. In December 2017, for example, France, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine, the UK, the US, and Uruguay requested a meeting on the issue with briefings from senior officials from the UN Secretariat and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Due to divisions among members, Council discussion of the agenda item “the situation in the DPRK” required a procedural vote each time an open meeting was requested. (Council decisions of a procedural nature need nine affirmative votes for a decision to be adopted, and the veto does not apply.) These procedural votes were prompted by objections from China. It appears that the proponents of this meeting could not garner sufficient support in 2018 and 2019.

At tomorrow’s meeting, China and Russia are likely to reiterate their position that the human rights situation in the DPRK should not be considered by the Council. Other members who favour Council discussion of the issue, including those who requested the meeting, are expected to condemn the ongoing human rights violations in the DPRK, call for accountability for perpetrators and urge the DPRK to engage with the international community on its human rights record.

Some Council members are expected to refer to the Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly on the human rights situation in the DPRK, which was issued on 28 July and covers the period from August 2020 to July (A/76/242). Among other matters, the report notes that recurring patterns of human rights violations in the DPRK continued to be documented, even though existing difficulties in collecting information have been further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also describes apparent violations of a range of human rights, including the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to freedom of expression; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and the right to food. The report outlines several recommendations, some of which are relevant to the Council’s work, including a suggestion that the international community should “take steps to minimise the unintended adverse humanitarian consequences of sanctions imposed on the DPRK”.

This issue may be raised at tomorrow’s meeting by China and Russia, who have argued in recent years that the Council should address the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. In late October, China circulated a draft resolution on sanctions relief for the DPRK. It appears that negotiations on this draft resolution involving all Council members have not yet been scheduled. A similar previous attempt by China in December 2019 to promote a draft resolution providing partial sanctions relief for the DPRK was unsuccessful because of insufficient support from other Council members.