September 10, 2014
Secretary of State John F. Kerry
The State Department
Re: United Nations General Assembly action on North Korea
Dear Secretary Kerry,
The undersigned organizations and individuals, comprising several key advocacy groups, academic institutions, think tanks, and others, know that you understand the seriousness of the human rights situation inside North Korea, a country President Barack Obama spoke of in April as “probably the worst human rights violator in the world.”
We write to request that you personally attend a United Nations General Assembly side event on North Korea later this month to highlight the recent work of the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea and set the stage for a strong General Assembly resolution endorsing its findings.
As you are aware, the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea earlier this year presented a chilling and comprehensive new report on abuses by the North Korean government, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, and forced starvation. The report called on the United Nations to “ensure that those responsible for crimes against humanity are held accountable.” The commission also recommended that the Security Council adopt targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity.
We commend the work you have done to support the commission and ensure US support for a strong resolution endorsing its report at the UN Human Rights Council this March, and we appreciate the US government’s involvement in this April’s Arria Formula meeting on North Korea at the Security Council in New York.
In this context, we understand that the US government is interested in participating in a high-level side event during the main General Assembly session in September and is prepared to co-sponsor a draft resolution on North Korea currently being written by Japan and the European Union. This is welcome news. We believe that your personal support and involvement in these efforts are crucial for their success—in particular, your personal involvement in the side-event in September.
US government co-sponsorship of the draft resolution and side event during the General Debate week will serve as an important example for other UN member states. A side-event in particular—through your engagement and the involvement of other foreign ministers and the UN’s new High Commissioner for Human Rights—would provide an excellent opportunity for ministerial-level discussion of the key findings of the Commission of Inquiry’s report, and help lay the groundwork for widespread support of a strong UNGA resolution.
Specifically, with respect to the text of the draft resolution, we recommend that the US work to ensure that it condemns the crimes against humanity documented by the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea report in the strongest terms and adopts language at least as strong as that in the March 2014 Human Rights Council resolution, which called on the General Assembly to submit the report to the Security Council, to allow the council to debate its findings and recommendations and consider “referral of the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to an appropriate international criminal justice mechanism.”
We also urge that the text contain language urging the Security Council to consider new targeted sanctions against those who are most responsible for crimes against humanity, prioritize the commission’s call for immediate access to North Korea’s prison camps for human rights monitors and humanitarian groups, and endorse the creation of a field-based office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue gathering information and evidence.
Strengthening the link between the Security Council and the issue of accountability is crucial to pave the way for concrete action on holding perpetrators to account in the future. And the credible threat of accountability may help shift behavior among government officials and those with leverage over them. We appreciate your work on these important efforts.
The Century Foundation
Professor, Georgetown University
Senior Adviser, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Co-Chair of the Board of Directors
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
Assistant Secretary of State (former)
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
U.S. Department of State
Felice D. Gaer
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
Morton H. Halperin
Open Society Foundations
Author of The Hidden Gulag
Clements Center for History, Strategy & Statecraft
University of Texas-Austin
David J. Kramer
Jae H. Ku
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
Liberty in North Korea