Michael Kirby (left) of Australia, chairman of a U.N. commission investigating human rights violations in North Korea, meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe's official residence in Tokyo on August 30, 2013.

© 2013 Reuters

Human Rights Watch commends the efforts of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its Chairman, Justice Michael Kirby, and Commissioners Marzuki Darusman and Sonja Biserko, and appreciates the interim report presented by the Commission today detailing the important progress it has made.

We especially applaud the Commission’s innovative approach to organize public hearings in South Korea and Japan at which victims of North Korean human rights abuses, and the families of foreign nationals abducted by North Korea, had the chance to testify.  Human Rights Watch believes that publicly hearing North Korean defectors describe first-hand the harrowing abuses they experienced and what they faced in escaping from North Korea will jolt the international community to prioritize ending human rights abuses in that country.  We also expect that listening to the profound sense of grievance and loss from the families of foreign nationals abducted by North Korea who are still waiting for their relatives to return home will help spark renewed international efforts to demand concerted action to account for and repatriate all abductees. 

For far too long, the voices of North Koreans who suffered rights abuses at the hands of their government and security forces have been drowned out by those in the international community speaking loudly about the serious security challenges posed by Pyongyang’s saber-rattling.  Similarly, for decades, South Korean and Japanese families struggled to get attention to the plight of their missing loved ones who disappeared without a trace – but which evidence now indicates were abducted by North Korean agents.  For both groups, the Commission’s report will help further document their cases, and finally place the moral authority of the United Nations where it belongs, behind these victims’ demands for accountability for the wrongs they and their families have suffered.

Human Rights Watch calls on all member states of the United Nations to provide full and immediate support and cooperation to the work of the Commission.  In this regard, we commend Japan, South Korea, and Thailand for agreeing to host Commission visits, and call on China to reverse its stance, and permit the Commission to enter the country and conduct its activities without hindrance.

Finally, we note that the Commission’s requests to visit North Korea, and to meet with North Korean government officials either inside or outside the country, have been categorically rejected.  North Korea’s insistence that there are no rights violations in the country would be laughable if the abuses involved were not so grave.  The Human Rights Council should press North Korea to end its systemic non-cooperation with the UN human rights special procedures, and demand Pyongyang fully comply with its obligations to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry, as well as well as with the regular work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.