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Moving Forward on North Korean Human Rights

By
27 July 2015


UNOHCHR Seoul Office_High CommissionerThe United Nations (UN) last month opened a long-awaited “field-based structure” in Seoul to address the human rights situation in North Korea.[1] The June 23 milestone fulfills a key recommendation by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and promises to intensify expectations of progress in addressing North Korea’s human rights situation.

The office—formally launched in Seoul’s Jongno district by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein—operates under an encouragingly broad mandate that allows engagement and capacity-building activities with governments of “all concerned states,” as well as with “other stakeholders.”[2] How the High Commissioner’s staff can implement that mandate remains to be seen, though, and real progress will require action by other parties working on parallel tracks.

Despite the UN’s latest move, North Korea’s reaction to last year’s COI report offers little hope for rapid progress on human rights. After the UN General Assembly referred the Commission’s findings to the Security Council last November,[3] Pyongyang renounced any further cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms.[4] Then in March, North Korea’s foreign minister addressed the UN Human Rights Council for the first time—to object to the COI’s report and subsequent UN resolutions on his country’s human rights situation.

Still, the COI’s report offers a road map for moving forward: a comprehensive, though by no means exhaustive, list of recommendations for action, which are addressed directly to North Korea, China and other states, the Korean people, foundations and other funders, and the UN.[5] Documentation and analysis by the new Seoul office is intended to ensure accountability for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations. The Seoul office may be well positioned to help bridge the divide among civil society organizations across South Korea’s political spectrum, link groups across the region, and encourage more relevant people-to-people contact. It also may help to coordinate the UN human rights response in North Korea, though immediate direct engagement is unlikely amid Pyongyang’s continued opposition to the presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the peninsula.[6] Yet Pyongyang, during a 2014 “charm offensive,” did express openness to greater human rights engagement with the High Commissioner and other international actors.[7] It is therefore conceivable that North Korean authorities could reconsider opportunities for cooperation to be in its interests. For now, OHCHR could improve the lives of North Koreans by pursuing the following three steps through its Seoul office.

1. Support UN engagement with the DPRK government.

The new Seoul office could play a key role in deploying the UN system’s Rights Up Front initiative in North Korea, in keeping with a COI recommendation intended to ensure that all UN engagement “effectively takes into account, and addresses, human rights concerns.”[8] It could do this, in part, by collecting and processing information and channeling it for appropriate action “to prevent or respond to large-scale violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.”[9] It may become clearer how the Seoul office can help implement Rights Up Front when the UN reveals how it is operationalizing the initiative at its New York headquarters and elsewhere.[10] As one observer noted, “UN humanitarian and development staff are not persuaded the strategy would work in a country as secretive and controlling as North Korea.”[11] In the meantime, the forthcoming five-year Strategic Framework for North Korea (2017-2021) may shed light on the initiative’s potential to affect UN engagement with Pyongyang—and any opportunities for the Seoul office to take part.

Nevertheless, by also making such information more easily accessible to the Special Procedures (UN Human Rights Council’s expert advisers) and to relevant Treaty Bodies (committees of experts that oversee implementation of various human rights treaties), the office could help those human rights mechanisms and others to advance human rights goals in the DPRK. In addition to the regularly scheduled discussions on North Korean human rights in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly,[12] the Council will hold an official panel discussion on the subject, a first, at its 30th session from September 14 to October 2, 2015.

Meanwhile, the Seoul office is expected to provide additional support to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK. Despite Pyongyang’s objections to this country-specific mandate on the grounds that it unfairly targets North Korea and is politically motivated, North Korean diplomats met in October 2014 with Marzuki Darusman, the current mandate-holder, and even invited him to visit the country before withdrawing the invitation. The office’s support should help to maintain his profile, and to encourage Pyongyang to consider him a favorable first contact for any future human rights engagement.[13]

2. Proactively prepare for technical cooperation.

The Seoul office would likely play a lead role in any assistance that OHCHR may someday provide to the DPRK in incorporating human rights principles into its laws, policies and institutions—should Pyongyang ever accept help of this kind. Such technical cooperation has been considered an important potential tool for addressing human rights concerns in North Korea, and Pyongyang would send an important signal by requesting support of this kind. As OHCHR does in other contexts, it could advise North Korea’s government and civil society on countering discrimination, fighting official impunity, strengthening the rule of law, and training bureaucrats to prepare reports for UN Treaty Bodies.[14]

However, the UN should exercise caution if North Korea ever expresses interest in receiving technical cooperation, as the international community has a record of indiscriminately prescribing it in prohibitively challenging settings. From 2000 to 2008, OHCHR undertook a broad technical cooperation program in China with projects that included promoting human rights education, ending torture during police interrogation, improving conditions of detention and increasing citizen participation in the Treaty Body reporting process. Evaluations of the program’s two phases each revealed considerable challenges that could arise similarly in North Korea. These ranged from China’s broader political environment and its commitment to stated objectives, to OHCHR not matching its ambitious program with appropriate resources, to more practical impediments.[15] The potential for similar challenges to compromise efforts should warrant serious study before the UN undertakes any such program in the DPRK.

3. Expand investigations into North Korea’s human rights record.

In keeping with its mandate to “maintain visibility of the situation of human rights” in North Korea, the field office could undertake deeper investigations of alleged North Korean abuses. For example, the Seoul office might examine whether North Korea committed genocide, from an international law perspective, against Christians in the 1950s and 1960s.[16]

Researchers also might examine the use of North Korean labor abroad.[17] While some experts have argued that the DPRK’s overseas laborers receive higher pay and better conditions than what is available inside the country, others have compared their conditions to circumstances of enslaved or trafficked workers.[18] An in-depth probe on the issue would not only highlight the possible role of other states in violating the human rights of North Koreans, but also encourage a larger range of actors to work with the North Korean government to address these specific concerns and to possibly open up a wider discussion.

Beyond the Seoul Office

While the Seoul office will undoubtedly play an important role in keeping up the level of pressure on Pyongyang to address its human rights concerns, the international community will need to take action separate of these efforts, particularly to influence progress in the more immediate term. For example, other actors might persuade North Korea to permit prison visits by international monitors, as normal states do routinely.[19] Such a step is not far-fetched; international law entitles the DPRK to a penal system as part of its domestic security regime, provided that due process is upheld and the reasons for and conditions of detention comply with human rights. If international monitors were allowed to visit North Korean detention facilities—which Pyongyang acknowledges, unlike its political prison camps—experts could begin a dialogue on improving detention conditions that have been noted to be in breach of international standards.[20] Such an initiative would help North Korea show it can substantively collaborate with the international community on human rights issues, while possibly paving the way for engagement on a broader human rights agenda.[21]

North Korea may seriously consider an invitation to first address the situation of women prisoners, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse in detention. International acknowledgement of their special needs is manifested in such instruments as the UN Rules for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders, known as the “Bangkok Rules,” adopted by the General Assembly in 2010. North Korea is a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and has explicitly expressed its commitment to women’s equality,[22] creating potential ripe ground for Pyongyang to make an opening gambit on human rights. Numerous other states, including China, have already undertaken technical cooperation programs in this regard.[23]

Controversy over the death penalty exists across much of Northeast Asia, offering another potential avenue for engagement.[24] Ending the death penalty is a difficult issue for Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan, so why not invite North Korea to join a regional dialogue on this prickly issue? The European Union, which prohibits the death penalty in member states and advocates for its global abolition, might be best placed to advance a relevant discussion in Northeast Asia.[25]

Continued Focus on China

In addition to multilateral efforts to encourage North Korea to make improvements on human rights, continued pressure should be placed on China[26] to reform its treatment of North Korean refugees and asylum-seekers. China has argued that North Koreans in its territory are not refugees but economic migrants, and are therefore not guaranteed protection under international human rights law.[27] Chinese officials have said that China makes exceptions for humanitarian cases, though, and China could simply expand that humanitarian category to more closely align with international standards governing the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers. Beijing, for its part, would eliminate a substantive human rights concern that is repeatedly raised by various Treaty Bodies and others and tarnishes its own human rights record.[28]

Future developments could provide impetus for Beijing to alter its policy on North Koreans. For example, China’s long-standing human rights problems would inevitably come up for discussion during a potential visit by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and it would be far easier for Beijing to demonstrate progress on its treatment of North Korean refugees than to resolve its more profoundly entrenched ethnic minority situation or other serious human rights concerns.[29] The current High Commissioner has communicated a strong desire to visit China, and Beijing has indicated it would welcome him.[30] There has been no agreement on dates, though, and one might be tempted to assume that China’s repeated invitations have been insincere.[31] A High Commissioner for Human Rights last visited China in 2005, and 10 years is a long time for the head of a UN agency or office not to appear in Beijing. The long pause might be reason enough to hope for a visit sooner rather than later in this High Commissioner’s term. Separately, China is likely to face considerable pressure when it reports to the Committee Against Torture (CAT) later this year[32] to demonstrate tangible progress in implementing the Convention Against Torture.[33]

As a first response, China could meet its existing commitment to allow the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to its northeastern region, where there is a high concentration of North Korean refugees.[34] Beijing could also act to address the plight of North Korean women who have children with Chinese men and their children, in keeping with a 2013 recommendation by the Committee of the Rights of the Child.[35]

Conclusion

A combination of outreach and pressure may help Pyongyang to re-examine its approach of simply denying its dire human rights situation. OHCHR’s Seoul office can play a useful role in keeping up the pressure. Meanwhile, other organizations and governments must directly engage North Korea to improve treatment of its citizens while encouraging China to end violations of North Korean human rights. But ultimately, North Korea must seriously consider the issues raised by the international community and decide for itself that it wants to instigate meaningful change. When Pyongyang is prepared to practically address human rights concerns, the international community should be ready to offer realistic assistance.

____________________

[1] “New UN office opens in Seoul to monitor human rights issues in DPR Korea,” UN News Centre, June 23, 2015, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51223.

[2]The office’s full mandate is to: “Strengthen monitoring and documentation of the situation of human rights as steps towards establishing accountability in the DPRK; enhance engagement and capacity-building with the Governments of all States concerned, civil society and other stakeholders; and maintain visibility of the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea including through sustained communications, advocacy and outreach initiatives.” “About Us,” United Nations Human Rights Office (Seoul), http://seoul.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/ABOUT%20US.aspx.

[3]General Assembly resolution 69/188, “Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” A/RES/69/188, December 18, 2014, http://undocs.org/A/RES/69/188.

[4] North Korea has continued to protest allegations that it has committed crimes against humanity and threatened to harm UN staff affiliated with the new Seoul office. Pyongyang demanded a retraction of the COI report more than a year after its release. This demand has been fueled, in part, by the disclosure of a high profile witness that some details of his story were not accurate. “UN dismisses North Korea’s claim that damning human rights report is invalid,” The Guardian, January 21, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/21/un-north-korea-human-rights-report-invalid.

[5] Other points in the report are not highlighted as explicit recommendations but could be taken as such.

[6] On June 23, 2015, North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) presented a statement from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs: “This is a hideous politically-motivated provocation challenging the dignity and social system of the DPRK and a criminal act of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the region and inciting confrontation under the pretext of ‘protecting human rights.’” “Launch of U.N. human rights office expected to worsen inter-Korean ties,” Yonhap News Agency, June 25, 2015, http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2015/06/24/0200000000AEN20150624007500325.html.

[7] “North Korea halts talks with EU over U.N. draft on international court referral,” Reuters, November 11, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/11/us-northkorea-un-idUSKCN0IU2DS20141111.

[8] UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DRPK, “Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” February 7, 2014, A/HRC/25/CRP.1, para.1225.

[9] This is in keeping with the Rights Up Front initiative’s mission “for operational changes that promote system-wide analysis, early warning and early action. “A new initiative by the Secretary-General to improve UN action to safeguard human rights around the world,” United Nations, http://www.un.org/sg/rightsupfront/.

[10] The initiative was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in December 2013, but publicly available information on its progress has been difficult to come by. It is not fully clear how the plan is being operationalized as laid out in the January 2014 “‘Rights Up Front’ Detailed Action Plan” which anticipates an ambitious prioritizing of human rights in the work of the UN. United Nations Development Group “‘Rights Up Front’ Detailed Action Plan,” January 2014, https://undg.org/wp…/02/Detailed-Plan-of-Action-Rights-up-Front.doc.

[11] Roberta Cohen, “Must UN Agencies Also Fail in North Korea?38 North, April 21, 2015, http://38north.org/2015/04/rcohen042115/.

[12] While the Security Council has taken up the agenda item covering North Korean human rights, its composition this year does not appear to be conducive to advancing a vote on a referral to the International Criminal Court or even opening up that discussion, notwithstanding the conventional wisdom that both China and Russia would wield their veto in such an instance.

[13] For more reasons why the Special Rapporteur is well suited to be a first contact for North Korea on human rights, see Christine Chung, “Beyond the Security Council: Keeping Focus on North Korean Human Rights,” 38 North, December 3, 2014, http://38north.org/2014/12/cchung120314/.

[14] For more information, see OHCHR’s webpage on Technical Cooperation, including the 2003 report, “Global Review of the OHCHR Technical Cooperation Programme.” “Technical Cooperation,” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/Pages/TechnicalCooperationIndex.aspx.

[15] For more information on the first phase of the technical cooperation program, see Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt in The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Conscience for the World, ed. Felice D. Gaer and Christen L. Broecker (Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement for Human Rights, 2013).

[16] The COI noted that it had received a submission with “indicators of genocide against religious groups, specifically Christians, in particular in the 1950s and 1960s.” However, “the Commission was not in a position to gather enough information to make a determination as to whether the authorities at the time sought to repress organized religion by extremely violent means or whether they were driven by the intent to physically annihilate the followers of particular religions as a group.” The latter would qualify as genocide. The COI noted that crimes against humanity are unconscionable atrocity crimes that offend human dignity and require the strongest of responses. Nevertheless, there remains a perception of a hierarchy of atrocity crimes, whereby some people believe genocide to be somehow more severe than crimes against humanity or war crimes.

[17] The Special Rapporteur has flagged this topic, which the COI did not have sufficient time or resources to explore.

[18] Recently, the International Labor Organization (ILO) urged Mongolia, party to the ILO’s Forced Labor Convention No. 29, to improve conditions for North Koreans involved as forced labor in small factories and construction sites there. “ILO calls on Mongolia to protect North Korean workers,” The Korea Times, June 10, 2015, http://apflnet.ilo.org/news/ilo-calls-on-mongolia-to-protect-north-korean-workers.

[19] North Korea might expand its current engagement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has inspected detention centers in many countries as part of its routine work since 1915. Pyongyang also might consider inviting appropriate thematic mandate holders of the UN Special Procedures such as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention or the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In addition, Pyongyang could follow the lead of the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which has made 378 visits in all 47 of its member states (as of June 25, 2015). The committee operates under principles of cooperation and confidentiality, and it is staffed by independent and impartial experts from backgrounds including law, medicine, and prison or police matters.

[20] For example, the Human Rights Committee which monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the DPRK is a state party, in 2001 wrote, “The Committee nonetheless remains concerned about the many allegations of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and conditions and of inadequate medical care in reform institutions, prisons and prison camps, which appear to be in violation of articles 7 and 10 of the Covenant and of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.” The Committee strongly recommended “that the State party allow for independent internal and international inspection of prisons, reform institutions and other places of detention or imprisonment.” Human Rights Committee, “Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 40 of the Covenant Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” August 27, 2001, CCPR/CO/72/PRK, para. 16. The COI report details witness testimony about abuses in various levels of detention facilities, see chapter IV, Findings of the Commission, section E, “Arbitrary detention, torture, executions, enforced disappearance and political prison camps,” A/HRC/25/CRP.1.

[21] Pyongyang signaled it might someday be open to such engagement in May 2014, when it deepened cooperation during the Universal Periodic Review process (UPR) for examining human rights records in UN member states. In contrast to its first UPR in December 2009, North Korea reported in a timely fashion in September 2014 that it had accepted 113 recommendations out of the 268 recommendations received. The DPRK partially accepted four recommendations, took note of 58 and rejected 93. Human Rights Council, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review* Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Addendum Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review,” September 12, 2014, A/HRC/27/10/Add.1 and “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” July 2, 2014, A/HRC/27/10.

[22] For example, North Korea accepted recommendations on ensuring gender equality during its second UPR. A/HRC/27/10 and A/HRC/27/10/Add.1.

[23] For example, see Dui Hua Foundation, “China’s Women’s Prisons: Areas for Improvement,” March 10, 2014, http://duihua.org/wp/?p=8777.

[24]The sole exception is Mongolia, which abolished the death penalty under the Second Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

[25] Pyongyang may take heed of any human rights initiatives floated by certain European Union (EU) member states, despite its apparent displeasure toward the bloc as a whole for co-sponsoring strongly-worded resolutions in the General Assembly last autumn and in the Human Rights Council in March (A/HRC/RES/28/22, adopted by a recorded vote of 27 to 6 with 14 abstentions). Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom have embassies in Pyongyang and host DPRK embassies. Austria, Italy and Spain host DPRK embassies. France has not established formal diplomatic relations with the DPRK but has established a Cooperation and Cultural Action Office. The National Committee on North Korea, “NCNK Issue Brief DPRK Diplomatic Relations,” June 2015, http://www.ncnk.org/resources/publications/NCNK_Issue_Brief_DPRK_Diplomatic_Relations.pdf.

[26] To underline China’s key role in enabling North Korean authorities to commit human rights abuses as well as Beijing’s own role as a perpetrator of violations against North Koreans, the COI broke new ground by naming China specifically in its report, rather than referring to it as a “neighboring state” as in previous UN assessments.

[27] It actually may be that some North Koreans traveling to China start as economic migrants—those people not fleeing the DPRK “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”—but many subsequently become refugees sur place. (A refugee sur place is person who was not a refugee when he/she left his/her country, but who becomes a refugee at a later date.) Migrants, economic or otherwise, still enjoy the protection of their government when they are abroad. Given the DPRK’s ban on leaving without permission, as well as empirical evidence of the harsh penalties awaiting those who have been repatriated, it is clear that many of the North Koreans in China, and those who continue moving on to third countries, are refugees. This is a position that has been clearly articulated by UNHCR. Moreover, it is a position that has been repeated by the Treaty Bodies that oversee the implementation of the legally binding international human rights treaties which China has ratified. China is legally obliged to not return North Korean refugees to the DPRK, where they face torture and other reprisals, and to offer protection under both those treaties and under customary international law, which prohibits refoulement. In its letter of reply dated December 30, 2013, China reiterated its position that “DPRK citizens who have entered China illegally do it for economic reasons,” and that they are not refugees. Accordingly, their “illegal entry not only violates Chinese laws, but also undermines China’s border control.” As such, China claimed that it “has the legitimate rights to address those cases [including other illegal and criminal acts committed by some] according to law.” It also claimed that, since DPRK citizens who have been seized by the Chinese public security and border guard authorities have repeatedly entered China illegally, the allegation that North Korean citizens repatriated from China face torture in the DPRK is therefore not true. (COI report, A/HRC/25/CRP.1, para. 454.) However, according to UNHCR, “The distinction between an economic migrant and a refugee is, however, sometimes blurred in the same way as the distinction between economic and political measures in an applicant’s country of origin is not always clear. Behind economic measures affecting a person’s livelihood there may be racial, religious or political aims or intentions directed against a particular group. Where economic measures destroy the economic existence of a particular section of the population (e.g. withdrawal of trading rights from, or discriminatory or excessive taxation of, a specific ethnic or religious group), the victims may according to the circumstances become refugees on leaving the country.” UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Handbook and Guidelines on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status Under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, reissued Geneva, December 2011, para. 63, http://www.unhcr.org/3d58e13b4.html.

[28] For many years, international human rights mechanisms have been highlighting the human rights situation of North Koreans in China as a matter of deep concern and as the subject of detailed recommendations. In December 2006, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed “particular concern at the situation of North Korean women, whose status remains precarious and who are particularly vulnerable to being or becoming victims of abuse, trafficking, forced marriage and virtual slavery.” CEDAW called upon China “to adopt laws and regulations relating to the status of refugees and asylum-seekers, in line with international standards, in order to ensure protection also for women.” In December 2008, the Committee against Torture (CAT) stated that it “is greatly concerned by allegations that many individuals have been forcibly returned to the DPRK, without any examination of the merits of each individual case, and subsequently been subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the authorities.” CAT also recommended the establishment of an adequate screening process for refugee status determination with judicial mechanisms for the review of decisions and sufficient legal defense in extradition cases, providing UNHCR access to the border region and persons of concern, and effective post-return monitoring arrangements. In October 2013, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recommended that China stop arresting and repatriating North Korean citizens and enable children of North Korean mothers to claim their fundamental rights. In June 2014, the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice repeated recommendations similar to those of the Treaty Bodies.

[29] The North Korean refugee issue may be a broader security concern insofar as Beijing’s support for the regime in Pyongyang maintains the geopolitical status quo in that sub-region, but it does not touch on sensitive matters of national territorial integrity or cultural dominance as interpreted by the Communist Party of China.

[30] “China does not rule out Tibet visit by U.N. rights chief,” Reuters, October 23, 2014. And Dui Hua Digest, April 2015, http://duihua.org/wp/?p=9624.

[31] The previous High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, likewise had received publicly articulated invitations to visit China and, despite her repeated efforts to set a mutually acceptable date for such a visit, never reached an agreement. It is not evident whether the Government of China ever offered any possible dates from its side. Special Rapporteurs also operate under a diplomatic convention in which invitations are issued as a first step, but dates may never be set despite repeated reminders and requests for that next step. For example, the current Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief noted recently that there has been no progress on his mandate’s request since China agreed in principle to such a visit in 2004. See Sui-Lee Wee, “U.N. official calls China’s crackdown on Uighurs ‘disturbing,’” Reuters, March 11, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/12/us-china-un-xinjiang-idUSKBN0M723520150312.

[32] China is due to appear before the Committee in its 56th session, scheduled to run from November 9 to December 9, 2015. Its last CAT session, in 2008, was notable for the tension between the country’s delegation and certain members of the Committee. The Committee met Chinese resistance to its new reporting procedure, and China reported one year late for its upcoming session. Nevertheless, China takes very seriously its participation in the Treaty Bodies, sending large delegations to present its achievements and defend its reputation against allegations of serious human rights problems.

[33] Beijing might wish to address concerns raised during the previous CAT session. It could attempt to demonstrate progress in an attempt to help advance its multilateral leadership role. Beijing has sought to reshape the international human rights system, in part, through its active role in the “institution building” of the Human Rights Council, which replaced the former UN Commission on Human Rights. This institution building initiative established the Universal Periodic Review process. Treaty body “strengthening” is another issue China has been actively engaged in. Of the major issues raised by the Committee, adjusting China’s treatment of North Korean refugees would conceivably be a more feasible undertaking than tackling other Committee recommendations. Tibet and Xinjiang remain highly sensitive matters, and it does not appear likely that China would undertake radically different approaches to resolving tensions with these ethnic minority populations in the near term. Other issues identified by CAT, such as widespread torture and ill-treatment and insufficient safeguards during detention or harassment and violence against defense lawyers, human rights defenders and petitioners, would require institutional reforms that China currently does not appear prepared to undertake.

[34] In turn, UNHCR could help China to provide appropriate protection to North Korean refugees, including by providing asylum. According to the COI, UNHCR “has a small presence in Beijing serving the East Asia and the Pacific sub-region. It conducts refugee status determination under its mandate for individual asylum seekers as a temporary measure until the Government of China creates its own state structures. The Commission finds that China disregards its agreement with UNHCR to allow UNHCR personnel unimpeded access to asylum seekers including those from the DPRK.” A/HRC/25/CRP.1, para 444.

[35] The Committee urged China to “cease the arrest and repatriation of citizens of the DPRK, especially children, and women who have children with Chinese men, and ensure that children of mothers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have access to fundamental rights, including the right to identity and education.” Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of China, adopted by the Committee at its sixty-fourth session (September 16–October 4, 2013),” October 29, 2013, CRC/C/CHN/CO/3-4, para. 83. Similar recommendations have been made by other Treaty Bodies.

Reader Feedback

3 Responses to “Moving Forward on North Korean Human Rights”

  1. John Franks says:

    Classic whataboutery from the two previous comments. Amazing.

  2. Keve says:

    For North Korea to take South Korea and USA seriously on Human Rights accusations, politics have to be left out. Human Rights quickly take second seat in South Korea and USA when national interests, such as military and politics are involved.

    South Korea and USA cannot expect response from NoKor when South Korea and USA are also often accused of Human Rights violations by UN and often ignored. South Korea and US-endorsed “NoKor” Human Rights office in Seoul will simply be viewed by NoKor as political tool for undermining NoKor. According to UN, one of worst Human Rights violations is applying “sanction” which targets free trade-economy and negatively affecting mass population, and unfortunately, South Korea and USA are among the nations which use sanctions as primary political tool.

    For many domestic viewers in NoKor, SoKor, USA, and international community, this “NoKor” Human Rights Office in Seoul will only serve as political tool which will speak loud or stay silent pending political outcome with Nokor. Don’t be surprised if NoKor open a Human Rights office in Pyongyang accusing SoKor and USA of Human Rights violations.

    Take the simple 1st step toward Human Rights, by signing the Peace Treaty and officially ending the Korean War, for which USA and SoKor have consistently refused to sign to this day; For those who take Human Rights seriously, takes Peace seriously. Just making Human Rights offices, sponsored by non-civilian politicians, is not how you make progress and provide peace for Human Rights.

    To bring creditability back to Human Rights, civilian elected officials should lead Human Right Offices and Organization. This “NoKor” Human Rights Office in Seoul is led by politician elected officials, not civilians. This is insult to Human Rights efforts.

  3. John says:

    It seems the author completely miss the most important factors that
    have contributed to poor human rights situation in North Korea.

    The key factors are 1) the arbitrary division of Korea into two by the US
    at the end of WW II, as a first victim of the Cold War; 2) the tragic Korean
    War of 1950-53; and 3) the continuing refusal of the US to sign a peace treaty
    to end the lingering Korean War.

    As a result, the Korean War is still continuing in Korea today with high military
    tensions, expensive arms races, and constant war drills by US, ROK and DPRK. In particular, N. Korea must be spending a major part of its national budget on national defense to defend itself against possible military attack, similar to Iraq War II, from a coalition of willing countries headed by US. In addition, international economic sanctions
    led by the US must adversely affect the health and welfare of the North Korean people.

    If we really want to improve the North Korean people’s human rights, then the UN and international community should urge the US to end the Korean War
    officially as soon as possible. Otherwise, those who preach for the North Korean human rights issue alone will be like blind persons who miss the big picture and go nowhere.

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Credit for photo of young North Korean girl: T.M. All rights reserved, used with permission.