After the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry report (COI) on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) was released, JBI brought a number of experts on the country together with diplomats and representatives of non-governmental organizations on February 27, 2014 to discuss the extensive and unprecedented COI report and how it might be received and implemented at the United Nations. The meeting paid special attention to the inter-governmental bodies, agencies, programs and Secretariat based in New York, which received unusual attention in the report’s recommendations.
As discussion on the follow up to the COI gets underway at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, JBI has released a summary of the meeting and the viewpoints and suggestions made under the Chatham House Rule. Key points are summarized below, and the complete summary is available here.
The Commission of Inquiry’s report provides a sweeping analysis of the depth and breadth of rights abuses being inflicted upon the North Korean people over decades. It contains detailed descriptions and testimonies with evidence of longstanding crimes. With the publication of this report, the Commission of Inquiry, a UN mechanism, has officially recognized the severe and systematic crimes that have been ongoing in North Korea for the past 60 years. In doing so, the report eliminates the possibility for any in the international community to claim ignorance of the situation there.
To maintain the momentum generated by the COI report, and elevate its status, States can take some of the steps outlined below in their relations with other States, at the UN and with the broader public.
• While formulating a long-term response to the human rights situation in North Korea, States can take measures to signal that “business as usual” is no longer an option for governments or the UN following the publication of the COI report, which found there were systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity whose “gravity, scale and nature … reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” The COI report provided unprecedented detail on a wide range of issues including the right to food.
• The Human Rights Council’s annual resolution on North Korea offers the first and key venue for explicitly endorsing the COI’s recommendations and findings, in particular that crimes against humanity are being committed. At a minimum, the Human Rights Council’s resolution should offer a means of continuing fact-finding and analysis on human rights in North Korea in 2014 and beyond. The resolution is expected to be adopted at the end of March 2014.
• Members of the Security Council should identify avenues in which to discuss the findings and recommendations of the COI. The Security Council previously has only discussed North Korea in the context of its development and testing of nuclear and ballistic weapons; any Security Council discussion of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the government would represent a significant step forward.
• The text of the General Assembly’s annual resolution on North Korea can be strengthened so that, at a minimum, it specifically endorses the COI’s findings.
• While a consensus was considered important to maintain at the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, it might become necessary to take a vote on the resolutions so that the COI’s new findings and the report itself will be clearly reflected in the resolutions.
• Member States should encourage discussions to reflect on the application of the Secretary-General’s “Rights Up Front” action plan to the context of North Korea and how it should mesh with other concepts and priorities, including claims for humanitarian space and access, disarmament and security concerns, and geopolitical dynamics. This would ensure that the UN Secretariat and UN agencies take the COI report into account in their work.