What's In Blue

Posted Thu 16 Mar 2023

DPRK (North Korea): Arria-formula Meeting on the Human Rights Situation

Tomorrow morning (17 March), Albania and the US will convene an Arria-formula meeting titled “the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)”. The meeting is being co-sponsored by Japan and non-Council member the Republic of Korea (ROK). The expected briefers are UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK Elizabeth Salmón, Chief of the Prevention and Sustaining Peace Section at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) James Turpin, and two refugees from the DPRK.

The meeting, which will begin at 10 am and take place in the Trusteeship Chamber, will not be broadcast on UNTV, after China raised an objection to webcasting it on the official UN channel. In line with established practice, the webcasting of Arria-formula meetings via UNTV requires the consent of all Council members; it can therefore be blocked if a single Council member objects.

The ROK and member states or observer offices speaking on behalf of two or more member states or observer offices have been invited to deliver statements after the interventions of briefers and Council members. It appears that statements will be delivered on behalf of the EU, the Nordic Group (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden), and Australia, Canada, and New Zealand (CANZ).

Albania and the US have prepared a concept note for the meeting, which says that it aims to shed light on the human rights violations perpetrated by the DPRK and their link to international peace and security. Three main objectives for the meeting are outlined in the concept note:

  • highlighting the ongoing violations and abuses of human rights by the DPRK;
  • identifying opportunities for the international community to promote accountability for the DPRK’s human rights violations and abuses; and
  • underscoring how the DPRK’s human rights violations and abuses are inextricably linked with the threats to peace and security posed by the DPRK’s unlawful [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programmes.

The concept note refers to the Secretary-General’s 29 July 2022 report to the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in the DPRK (A/77/247), which mentions the “widespread and systematic use of torture”, lack of meaningful public participation in the political process, suppression of access to foreign media content, and the “absolute denial of freedom to express views or criticism of the government”, among other matters.

The concept note also discusses Salmón’s 13 October 2022 report to the General Assembly (A/77/522), which draws attention to reports of unresolved cases of persons abducted and disappeared by the DPRK, particularly from Japan and the ROK. Salmón’s report also notes that she will continue to pursue the two-track strategy followed by the previous Special Rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, which seeks to “ensure the accountability of those responsible for human rights violations, including through referral by the Security Council of the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court (ICC), while continuously seeking engagement with the authorities to bring relief to the people of the [DPRK]”.

The 2014 report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK (A/HRC/25/63) is also mentioned in the concept note. This report found that the DPRK has prioritised military spending and “failed in its obligation to use the maximum of its available resources to feed those who are hungry” and concluded that DPRK officials are responsible for committing “systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations”.

From 2014 to 2017, the Security Council held an annual meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK every December. Council meetings on this issue have been contentious, principally because 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 has adopted a similar position, together with some elected members.

Other Council members, however, feel that the human rights situation in the DPRK merits Council attention and have sought open meetings on the matter under the agenda item “the situation in the DPRK”. In December 2017, for example, nine Council members—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 OHCHR.

Due to divisions among members, every request for an open Council meeting on the agenda item “the situation in the DPRK” has required a procedural vote. (Council resolutions of a procedural nature need nine affirmative votes to be adopted, and the veto does not apply.) These procedural votes were prompted by objections from China with support from Russia. It appears that the proponents of this meeting have not been able to garner sufficient support to hold an open briefing since 2017.

Council members last discussed the human rights situation in the DPRK on 9 December 2022, following a request from Albania and the US. On the same day, more than 30 member states, including current Council members Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, issued a joint statement that described several examples of human rights violations in the DPRK and urged all Council members to support an open briefing in 2023 “where we can discuss the human rights violations and abuses committed by the DPRK, the implications for peace and security, and explore ways to incorporate human rights into the peace and security diplomacy in the Korean Peninsula”.

On 28 February, Albania and the US sent a letter to the president of the Security Council on behalf of more than 60 member states, including Council members Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the UK, which requested that the agenda item “the situation in the DPRK” remain on the list of items of which the Council is seized. (If a formal meeting is not held on an agenda item for three years, that item is subject to deletion; however, if a member state or group of member states requests its retention, that item will remain on the seizure list for a further year. There is no limit on the number of times a retention request can be made.)

Tomorrow’s meeting takes place against a backdrop of worsening tensions on the Korean peninsula. Earlier today (16 March), the DPRK launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that travelled approximately 1,000 kilometres to an altitude of around 6,000 kilometres before landing in waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The launch came hours before Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol were due to meet at a summit in Tokyo to discuss economic and security ties between the two states and during ongoing military exercises between the ROK and the US. Days earlier, on 14 March, the DPRK fired two short-range ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast. This launch was carried out the day after the military drills between the ROK and the US began.

It appears that Council members are expected to discuss today’s launch test during a meeting next week. At the time of writing, the request for a meeting had not been made.

On 20 February, the Security Council held an open briefing to discuss the DPRK’s 18 February ICBM test, at the request of Albania, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US. At that meeting, the US indicated that it would pursue a presidential statement on the DPRK. It appears that negotiations on the presidential statement are ongoing. Council members are also negotiating a draft resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, which expires on 30 April. It seems that the first draft of the resolution was circulated to Council members on 10 March and that an initial consultation on the draft took place on 14 March.

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