(New York) – United Nations Security Council members should demand justice for the countless victims of human rights violations by the North Korean government, Human Rights Watch said today. On December 9, 2016, the Security Council is expected to discuss the situation on the Korean peninsula as a formal agenda item.

Security Council members cast their votes in favor of the adoption of the agenda on human rights abuses by North Korea in New York on December 10, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

“The Security Council’s spotlight on North Korea’s horrific rights record should spur calls for accountability for the government’s crimes against humanity,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Only intensified international pressure from UN member states has a hope of compelling North Korea to cease the severe rights violations that underpin Kim Jong-Un’s rule.”

The debate, which comes one day before Human Rights Day, marks the third straight year that the Security Council has formally discussed North Korea’s rights violations as posing a threat to international peace and security. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will brief council members on the rights situation in North Korea, including the work of the UN Human Rights Office in Seoul to gather evidence of the abuses for which the government and North Korean leaders are responsible. Spain, as current president of the Security Council, needed the support of at least eight other members for this discussion to take place. Nine council members, including Spain, formally requested the meeting in a December 1 letter to the Spanish presidency.

A UN commission of inquiry (COI) mandated by the Human Rights Council reported in 2014 on the depth of human rights abuses in North Korea, which include deliberate starvation, forced labor, sexual abuse, rape, torture, and public executions. The commission concluded that “the long-standing and ongoing patterns of systematic and widespread violations” of human rights in North Korea “meet the high threshold for proof of crimes against humanity.” It also recommended that the Security Council consider referral of the human rights situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and press for individual sanctions for those responsible for rights violations. These recommendations were later endorsed by resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, most recently last month when the third committee of the General Assembly adopted its resolution on North Korea by consensus. 

Only intensified international pressure from UN member states has a hope of compelling North Korea to cease the severe rights violations that underpin Kim Jong-Un’s rule.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

In June 2015, following a resolution of the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Zeid opened an office in Seoul to continue to gather information about North Korea’s human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. In March 2016, the Human Rights Council created a group of independent experts on accountability to more closely examine how to deliver truth and justice to victims in North Korea. The group will present its findings to the Human Rights Council in March 2017.

Last week, the Security Council expressed deep concern for the suffering of North Koreans in a resolution condemning North Korea’s September 9 nuclear test. The resolution states that the council “reiterates the deep concern at the grave hardship that the people of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] are subjected to, condemns the DPRK for pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles instead of the welfare of its people while people in the DPRK have great unmet needs, and emphasizes the necessity of the DPRK respecting and ensuring the welfare and inherent dignity of people in the DPRK.”

“The Security Council should explore ways to translate these important annual discussions on North Korean abuses into action that would lead to accountability for the appalling crimes its leadership has perpetrated,” Robertson said. “The council discussion of Pyongyang’s disastrous human rights record shows that crimes against humanity cannot be ignored, and that those responsible for atrocities in North Korea should face justice.”