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Strong Measures Needed to Advance Accountability in North Korea

Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Human Rights Watch thanks Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana for his work on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We welcome his continued support to advance accountability for gross and systematic human rights abuses in the country. While North Korea’s limited gestures of engagement on human rights are to be encouraged - including the country visit of the Special Rapporteur on persons with disabilities, the Committee on the rights of the child and the Committee for the elimination of discrimination against women – there is a difference between engagement and progress. There have been no meaningful steps towards stemming or ensuring accountability for crimes against humanity documented by this Council’s Commission of Inquiry, including murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, sexual violence, persecution, deliberate starvation, and enforced disappearances. 

The COI concluded that these gross and systematic violations are unparalleled in the contemporary world. Since national level mechanisms offer no possibility of justice, there is a heightened urgency for tangible steps that enable prosecutions and an international mechanism that promises both justice for victims, and accountability for North Korean officials from the top on down who have so systematically abused their rights.

Last year, the Human Rights Council responded to a recommendation by the group of experts on accountability for human rights violations in the DPRK by strengthening the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, including its field-based structure in Seoul, and hiring experts in legal accountability to assess all information and testimonies with a view to developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process, map command structures, identify research gaps, as well as well as produce blueprints of suitable international or internationally-assisted court models.

Pending budget approval, the hiring of these additional staff and the senior “international criminal justice expert” was delayed, which put off any progress on their accountability mandate for one year. We ask the HRC to extend the period of the mandate of these additional experts by one year, to fulfill the original two-year accountability mandate and related tasks. We would welcome the Special Rapporteur’s views on what further measures could be taken by the Office in Geneva and in Seoul, and by States and this Council, to help advance accountability for international crimes in North Korea.


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