UN Rights Council Should Take Action on Japan’s Call
January 25, 2013
A new mechanism of inquiry will help shed light on decades of abuse by the North Korean government. Victims have long called for an investigation into systematic human rights abuses, including abductions and horrific treatment in North Korea’s political prison camps.
Kanae Doi, Japan director

(Tokyo) – Japan’s official decision to support the establishment of a new United Nations inquiry mechanism on human rights violations in North Korea is an important step toward the establishment of an in-depth investigation into human rights violations committed by the North Korean Government at home and abroad. At the meeting of the Headquarters for the Abduction Issue with all members of the Cabinet on January 25, the Japanese government confirmed that it will begin negotiating with other governments in order to include the establishment of a new inquiry mechanism in the resolution on North Korea which will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in the session that launches in February 2013.  

 “A new mechanism of inquiry will help shed light on decades of abuse by the North Korean government,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “Victims have long called for an investigation into systematic human rights abuses, including abductions and horrific treatment in North Korea’s political prison camps.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council will examine the human rights situation in North Korea during its upcoming session in March 2013 and adopt a resolution on North Korea.  Japan’s call for the establishment of a new mechanism of inquiry should be formally adopted by the member states of the Council as a matter of urgency during the session.

Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch addressed a letter to Prime Minister Abe, calling for Japan to use its leadershipto boost the engagement of the UN on human rights in North Korea. Human Rights Watch also released a Q&A on a United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea,which details why a commission is urgently needed, how it would function, and how it can strengthen the efforts of the United Nations Human Rights Council to expose the widespread abuses committed by the North Korean government.

On January 14, 2013, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for a “full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes” in North Korea, noting that it is “one of the worst – but least understood and reported – human rights situations in the world…”

North Korean citizens are victims of the worst forms of abuse. Large sectors of the population are severely deprived of food and denied all civil and political rights. Their access to education, health, and work is defined by a draconian caste system, which discriminates on the basis of their loyalty to the party. Egregious patterns of abuse have been documented in the country’s political prison camps, where an estimated 200,000 people are arbitrarily detained. Starvation, torture, extrajudicial executions, slave labor, sexual abuse, and rape are the daily reality in these prisons.

North Korea has also violated the rights of hundreds of foreigners, including through illegal abductions. The Japanese Government has officially documented 17 abductions of Japanese citizens by the North Korean government, but victims groups say the total number of Japanese abductees could total around a hundred and possibly much more. It has already been a decade since North Korea accepted responsibility for the abduction of 13 Japanese citizens, of whom only five were returned. Since then, North Korea has publicly stated that it considers the abduction issue closed and no further progress has been made in resolving the issue. Earlier this week, Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, the parents of Megumi Yokota who was abducted by North Korean agents at the age of 13 in 1977, asked the international community to urgently set up a UN Commission of Inquiry.

North Korea has systematically refused to engage with the UN human rights system. It has flatly refused to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea and other mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council.

A commission of inquiry will be an in-depth investigation into violations of human rights to be carried out by independent eminent persons appointed by the UN. Voices of victims of human rights abuses in North Korea should be heard by the commission because inside North Korea, testifying to the country’s terrible abuses leads to severe punishment.

“Denouncing North Korea’s abysmal human rights record should be a global priority,” Doi said. “Members of the UN Human Rights Council should unite around Japan’s initiative to establish a Commission of Inquiry on North Korea as a unique occasion to expose and to end the suffering of victims.”