The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) welcomed the decision of the UN Security Council today to add the situation in North Korea to its agenda and to hold its first-ever formal discussion of the severe human rights violations perpetrated by the government.
The Security Council's action today demonstrated overwhelming acknowledgement by its members that the widespread, systematic human rights abuses perpetrated by the North Korean government for decades constitute a threat to international peace and security and are a legitimate concern of the Security Council. The Council's decision followed the adoption by other UN intergovernmental bodies of resolutions condemning the North Korean government's unparalleled brutality, as documented in the February 2014 report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), an independent body created by the UN Human Rights Council. In resolutions adopted by large margins at the Human Rights Council in March and at the UN General Assembly on December 18, UN Member States endorsed the findings of the Commission of Inquiry and called on the UN Security Council to consider them as well.
The Security Council meeting today began with a procedural vote by the Council's 15 members on the question of whether to add the situation in North Korea to its agenda, without prejudice to the existing agenda item on North Korea in the context of non-proliferation. The decision was adopted with the support of eleven of the Council's fifteen members, and over the objections of China and Russia. It was not subject to a veto, as it concerned a procedural matter.
Following the vote, Council members were briefed on the situation in North Korea by representatives of the UN Department of Political Affairs and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. During the discussion that followed, several Permanent Representatives voiced their horror at the scale and severity of the abuses documented by the Commission of Inquiry, among them its finding that up to 120,000 North Korean citizens remain in incommunicado arbitrary detention in a political prison camp system in which gross human rights abuses are regularly committed.
In her remarks, US Ambassador Samantha Power raised the case of Kim Young-soon, a former detainee in one such political prison camp, who testified that she and other prisoners were deliberately subjected to near starvation by prison camp authorities. Reflecting on the gravity of these abuses, which the Commission of Inquiry found to amount to crimes against humanity, Ambassador Power and several other Security Members stressed the need for the Security Council to consider referring the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court. At the same time, Member States stressed the need for the Security Council to receive regular briefings on the human rights situation in the future, based on information gathered by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which will open a field office in Seoul, South Korea in March 2015. Member States also called on the North Korean government to curb its abuses, beginning by closing its political prison camps, and to provide unfettered access to the country to human rights monitors and humanitarian groups.
JBI has long called on UN Member States and agencies to devote greater attention to North Korea’s appalling human rights record and to press the regime to curb its widespread violations (see past posts on these efforts here (UNSC discussion), here (UNGA resolution), here (Commission of Inquiry report), and here (conference calling for creation of Commission of Inquiry)). In recent weeks, JBI worked in close collaboration with other human rights groups, including the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), to advance the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry report at the UN General Assembly and Security Council. JBI and HRNK's joint activities included facilitating meetings in New York between diplomats and North Korean former political prisoners Mrs. Kim Young-soon and Mr. Jung Gwang-il, providing them with an opportunity to share their personal experiences and to stress to UN Member States the importance of promptly implementing the Commission of Inquiry's recommendations.