At an event on genocide prevention at UN Headquarters yesterday, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Genocide Prevention Adama Dieng, and Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana, Permanent Representative to the UN of Rwanda joined an audience of over 100 diplomats and human rights experts in welcoming a new publication by the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI). The archived webcast of the event is available here.
The publication, a Manual on Human Rights and the Prevention of Genocide is available here.
To mark the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women (Beijing plus 20) during the current session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, JBI’s director Felice Gaer writes when and why private violence against women has become an issue of concern to States parties to the Convention against Torture on the blog of the World Organization against Torture.
At the end of 2015, the United States will complete its second consecutive three-year term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the intergovernmental body created in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights. In an effort to review the effect of US membership on the Council’s performance, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights has periodically   documented the number of country-specific resolutions adopted by the Council, the special sessions convened by the Council on human rights crises, and the number of special procedures created by the Council to investigate country-specific and thematic issues. These are a number of areas to which the US has devoted substantial attention during its time on the Council.
While there remain many aspects of the Council’s performance that States should continue to work to improve, and while the Council still devotes a disproportionate degree of its country-specific action to Israel, JBI’s review finds that US engagement has had beneficial effects on the Council’s performance. During the remainder of its second term, the United States should continue its efforts by pressing Council members to convene special sessions on emerging human rights crises whenever they occur and by proposing (and encouraging others to put forward) resolutions that identify by name those responsible for serious human rights violations worldwide. It should also continue efforts to ensure the Council’s credibility and professionalism, including with respect to Israel.
JBI’s detailed documentation and analysis of trends over time, as well as background information, can be found in the full analysis below.
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.
JBI, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), and eight other leading human rights groups wrote today to members of the UN Security Council, urging them to formally discuss the human rights situation in North Korea in the Council without delay. The full text of the letter appears below.
The letter expresses support for a December 5 request made by ten Security Council members for the situation in North Korea to be formally placed on the Security Council’s agenda and for the Security Council to be briefed on the situation in North Korea as early as possible in December.
JBI, together with the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and seven other leading human rights groups, has dispatched a letter (available here) to all Member States of the UN General Assembly calling for them to support a landmark resolution on human rights in North Korea.
The General Assembly’s Third Committee (on human rights) is expected to vote on the resolution on Tuesday, November 18.
The draft resolution under consideration is particularly significant because the General Assembly would endorse, for the first time, the landmark final report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which concluded its work earlier this year (DPRK COI).
The DPRK COI found that the gravity, scale and nature of the ongoing human rights violations in North Korea are “without parallel in the contemporary world.” Among other recommendations, it called for UN Member States to refer the COI’s report to the UN Security Council and for the Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider the COI’s conclusion that many crimes against humanity have been committed in North Korea, pursuant to policies set at the “the highest levels of the State.”
Cuba recently proposed an amendement to the draft resolution that would eliminate the language calling for the DPRK COI report to be transmitted to the UN Security Council and for it to consider referring North Korea to the ICC, claiming that instead the UN should adopt a more “cooperative” approach to the country. The EU and Japan, the principal drafters of the resolution, have opposed the amendment and encouraged Member States to vote against it. If adopted by the Third Committee on Tuesday, the resolution will be taken up by the full General Assembly for consideration in December.
When the text of the draft resolution was first announced, JBI and HRNK encouraged Member States to support the text and to send the message that the international community is ready to take meaningful action in response to the DPRK COI report and its grave conclusions. JBI, HRNK and other human rights groups, together with Australia, Botswana and Panama, also sponsored a UN side-event featuring remarks by the Chairperson of the DPRK COI, Justice Michael Kirby of Australia, and first-hand witnesses to the human rights abuses in North Korea [video available here].
At that event, Justice Kirby called on States to support the strong call for accountability in the draft resolution and to send the message: “We don’t back away. We expect accountability for great crimes.”
The United States is now well into its second consecutive three-year term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the intergovernmental body created in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights. In an effort to review the effect of US membership on the Council’s performance to date, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights has periodically reviewed the number of country-specific resolutions adopted by the Council, the special sessions convened by the Council on human rights crises, and the number of special procedures created by the Council to investigate country-specific and thematic issues. These are a number of areas to which the US has devoted substantial attention during its time on the Council.
To date, this review has continuously found that in the years that the US has served on the Council, the body’s criticism of countries by name on human rights grounds has substantially increased. The Council’s criticism of an increasing number of violator States has not only strengthened its legitimacy; it has decreased to a certain degree the Council’s highly disproportionate focus on the conduct of a single UN Member State, Israel.
While there remain many aspects of the Council’s performance that States should continue to work to improve, and while the Council still devotes a disproportionate degree of its country-specific action to Israel, JBI’s review finds that US engagement has had beneficial effects on the Council’s performance. The United States should continue its efforts by pressing Council members to convene special sessions on emerging human rights crises whenever they occur and by proposing and encouraging others to put forward resolutions that identify by name the perpetrators of serious human rights violations worldwide. It should also continue efforts to ensure the Council’s credibility and professionalism, including with respect to Israel.
JBI’s detailed documentation and analysis of trends over time, as well as background information, can be found in the full analysis below.
A new policy brief has just been published on the outcome of recent negotiations at the United Nations to reform the ten independent expert committees that review States’ performance under the core international human rights treaties (the "treaty bodies"). Authored by JBI Associate Director Christen Broecker and Professor Michael O’Flaherty of the National University of Ireland in Galway, and published by the Universal Rights Group in Geneva, the policy brief makes it clear that in the wake of this process there remains a long way to go to strengthen the treaty bodies.
The outcome of the recent UN reform effort, carried out by Member States at the UN General Assembly in New York from February 2012 to April 2014, makes important changes to way the UN allocates the resources it already devotes to the treaty bodies and encourages the treaty bodies to bring their procedures into greater harmony; these changes could improve the functioning of the treaty bodies. However, the outcome does relatively little to press States to engage more meaningfully with the treaty bodies and to ensure better compliance with their reporting and human rights obligations under the core international human rights treaties. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights undertook a reform initiative of her own from 2009 to 2012 that identified a number of measures that could increase procedural and substantive compliance with the human rights treaties. Going forward, it will be important for all stakeholders of the UN treaty bodies to reflect back on the wider reforms advocated by the High Commissioner and to continue to seek to improve the treaty bodies’ contribution to achieving more effective protection of rights-holders worldwide.
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.
New publication examines achievements and challenges facing UN’s top human rights official
On the eve of International Human Rights Day, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay praised the “important niche” occupied by the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights at an event at UN Headquarters marking the 20th Anniversary of the UN’s top human rights post.
The event launched a JBI publication that is the first comprehensive study on the High Commissioner, entitled The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Conscience for the World. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School and former Legal Adviser to the US State Department Harold Koh, and editors Felice Gaer and Christen Broecker of the Jacob Blaustein Institute, all contributors to the study, addressed the crisis in Syria and other human rights challenges worldwide.
The launch event was sponsored by the United Nations Foundation and the Jacob Blaustein Institute. The webcast of the full event can be viewed here. More information about the book is available here.
High Commissioner Pillay, in a statement delivered by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, thanked JBI for its “crucial role in the creation of the High Commissioner’s office.” She noted the timeliness of the book, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the High Commissioner post, and added, “The office has been using this anniversary to take stock of where we are, what we have achieved and not achieved and what challenges lie ahead. And for our evaluation, it is extremely helpful to have an external expert and academic analysis, which this book provides.”
The next session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place in Geneva from September 14-October 2, 2015. The Council is expected to consider human rights conditions in countries including Syria, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Burma, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, Somalia, and Cambodia. Council members will observe a panel discussion on the human rights situation in North Korea and hear an update on the work of the new office in Seoul established by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to follow up on the work of the 2013-2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea. They will also consider a report by the High Commissioner on human rights abuses perpetrated by the terrorist group Boko Haram and the reports of “special procedures” (independent experts and working groups) on thematic issues including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and contemporary forms of slavery. The Council will also consider the outcome of the second “Universal Periodic Review” of the human rights situation in a number of countries, including the United States. This will be the last session of the United States’ second three-year term of membership on the Council. Like all States that have served two consecutive terms, the United States is ineligible to serve on the Council next year, in 2016, but it has already indicated its intention to seek an additional three-year term beginning in 2017, elections for which will be held in autumn 2016.