North Korea is waging a diplomatic counter-offensive to divert international support from an upcoming United Nations General Assembly resolution recommending referring the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the International Criminal Court (ICC). For the past ten years, the DPRK has ignored human rights resolutions and reports of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, but now the regime has invited the European Union to visit the DPRK, which the EU says is currently under consideration.
Rights groups are urging nations to support recommendations made by a UN Commission on human rights, including referral to the ICC, which could mean prosecution of top Pyongyang officials at The Hague.
A grim array of human rights abuses, driven by “policies established at the highest level of State,” have been and continue to be committed in DPNK, according to the United Nations-mandated report released in February which also called for urgent action to address the rights situation in the country.
The draft resolution was submitted by the EU and Japan at the beginning of October urging the UN General Assembly to recommend the referral of North Korea to The Hague for crimes against humanity.
The Commission of Inquiry (COI) held extensive hearings of hundreds of witnesses, and produced a 400-page in-depth study which found systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in the DPRK amounting to crimes against humanity. It called for referral of North Korea’s human rights situation to the UN Security Council with a view to accountability, including including referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and targeted sanctions.
Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the European Union’s External Action confirmed in an email on Tuesday that in the context of the political dialogue between the European Union and the DPRK that started in 1998, a visit by the European External Action Service to Pyongyang for meetings with the DPRK authorities was scheduled to take place next week.
However, the EU’s mission has been postponed to a future date ‘’due to the new entry restrictions adopted by the DPRK in relation to Ebola.’’
On Thursday, October 30th, North Korean representative Kim Un Chol said that it had invited the top EU human rights official to visit and said his visit is expected in March 2015. Ms. Kocijancic confirmed with me on Tuesday that Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights has been invited to visit the DPRK. Ms. Kocijanci said that ‘’the invitation is currently being considered. The two sides will discuss timing and substance of a visit through appropriate diplomatic channels.’’
‘’The political dialogue with the DPRK is an integral part of the EU’s critical engagement policy towards the DPRK, which aims at achieving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, upholding the international non-proliferation regime and improving the respect of human rights in the DPRK. These are the themes normally raised by the EU in its contacts with the DPRK authorities,’’ Ms. Kocijancic said.
Marzuki Darusman, the U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea’s human rights situation said on October 27th that referring DPNK to the ICC would show that the international community considers human rights abuses in that country to be a serious matter. “This would send an unequivocal signal that the international community is determined to take the follow-up to the work the Commission of Inquiry on the DPRK (North Korea) to a new level,” Mr. Darusman said.
However strong the signal would be, a UN general resolution is non-binding. Darusman also said that the UN General Assembly should submit the Commission’s report to the U.N. Security Council for further action. The ICC would only be able to prosecute DPNK on any alleged crimes if they are referred to by the UN Security Council.
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) are calling upon states in the United Nations General Assembly to back the Commission’s suggestions.
While cooperation should be pursued, “it cannot be used to barter away and gut the text of a UN resolution based on the COI findings and recommendations for accountability,” said HRNK Co-Chair Roberta Cohen.
“Words must be accompanied by deeds,” remarked Felice Gaer, JBI Director. “Any change on the part of the UN should be based on deeds– genuine and verifiable improvements on the ground.”
On October 21st, Justice Michael Kirby, Chair of the COI, addressing a special ‘side event’ at the United Nations, asked “will the United Nations back away because of the steps belatedly taken by North Korea?…my hope is that the answer to that question will be ‘no.’ We don’t back away.. we expect accountability for great crimes.” And that, he also said, “is the right of the people of North Korea,” who should be provided with copies of the COI report in Korean.
Kirby said at the report’s release that the suffering and the tears of the people of North Korea demand action. Describing crimes such as “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, forcible transfer of populations, enforced disappearance and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” the report adds: “Crimes against humanity are ongoing in the [DPRK] because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place.”
According to Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of HRNK, “North Korea continues to deny well documented severe violations, in particular at the political prison camps. There is no discernable progress on the ground to match its diplomatic counteroffensive.”
“This shocking report should open the eyes of the UN Security Council to the atrocities that plague the people of North Korea and threaten stability in the region. By focusing only on the nuclear threat in North Korea, the Security Council is overlooking the crimes of North Korean leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public executions, disappearances, and mass starvation,” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, said at the time of the report’s release.
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the Commission says in the report, which is unprecedented in scope.
Ms. Kocijanci also said that the ‘’EU has repeatedly expressed its grave concerns on the human rights situation in the DPRK as well as its readiness to work with the government and society in addressing them.’’ She added that the EU considers that the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Resolution ‘’should reflect the serious situation on the ground with a view to promoting much needed and concrete improvement.’’
Established by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013, for 11 months, the COI investigated the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in North Korea, aiming to ensure full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.
In a 400-page set of linked reports and supporting documents, culled from first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has documented in great detail the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the country.
With a one-year mandate, the Commission was tasked with investigating several alleged violations, including those concerning the right to food and those associated with prison camps; torture and inhuman treatment; arbitrary detention; discrimination; freedom of expression, movement and religion; the right to life; and enforced disappearances, including abductions of nationals to other countries.
DPNK officials dismissed the Commission’s report in February, calling it enemy propaganda.