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UN Human Rights Council: the human rights situation in North Korea

Statement delivered as part of the Panel on the DPRK

Human Rights Watch welcomes today’s presentation by the panelists. Their perspectives reinforce the findings of last year’s commission of inquiry report, which concluded that since 1950, the North Korean government has systematically kidnapped nationals from China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Europe, and the Middle East.

Those kidnapped were forced to stay in North Korea, a country where the commission found that gross, pervasive, and systemic human rights abuses take place at a scale and gravity without parallel in the contemporary world. Among the abuses highlighted in the report include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence. Human Rights Watch continues to monitor the situation in North Korea and since the commission’s report, we see no change in the government’s fundamentally discriminatory policies, its pervasive use of torture and collective punishment including imprisonment under horrific conditions in forced labor camps, and its systematic denial of the most basic human rights.

North Korea has not acted alone. In the last two decades, many abductions and forced repatriations have taken place in and from China. North Korean agents have kidnapped Chinese and South Korean nationals in Chinese territory. Chinese authorities, who have categorically labeled all North Koreans in China ‘illegal’ economic migrants, have forcibly repatriated North Koreas who were caught escaping the country, subjecting them to imprisonment, forced labor and often torture for the crime of simply leaving the country. By making it more difficult for North Koreans to find refuge in China because of increased surveillance and a willingness to repatriate captured North Koreans, China not only violates international law, it becomes complicit in the North Korean government’s crimes against returnees and its efforts to ensure silence and impunity for its crimes overall. Beijing is blatantly violating its commitments as a state party to the Refugee Convention every day of the year when it comes to North Koreans.

Today’s panel is an important reminder of the need for ongoing collective action to halt abuses in North Korea and hold those responsible to account before the International Criminal Court. Last year, we saw encouraging momentum in the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council, the latter of which formally placed the situation in North Korea on its agenda. This momentum must continue. UN Security Council members should hold another debate on the human rights situation by the end of 2015, and regularly continue to do so. The UN Security Council holds the key for North Korea’s countless victims to finally see justice for their unspeakable suffering. 

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