South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during a ceremony celebrating the 99th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule, at Seodaemun Prison History Hall in Seoul, South Korea on March 1, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters / Kim Hong-Ji

(Seoul) – South Korea should raise the dire human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) during the April 27 summit between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Human Rights Watch said today.

“As the UN Security Council has recognized, human rights abuses in North Korea and threats to international peace and security are intrinsically connected,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Any long-term resolution of security issues on the Korean peninsula will require the North Korean government’s commitment to fundamental and wide-ranging reforms.”

As the UN Security Council has recognized, human rights abuses in North Korea and threats to international peace and security are intrinsically connected.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On March 31, 2018, North Korea criticized Kang Kyung-hwa, South Korea's foreign minister, for asking North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and improve its human rights record. According to North Korean media, her remarks were “an open political provocation to the DPRK and an intolerable act of chilling the atmosphere for dialogue.” On April 4, 2018, Kang told journalists that Seoul maintains a “firm stance” on the terrible situation of human rights in the North, but her government will need more preparation to include the issue in the agenda.

On April 10, 2018, 40 organizations, including Human Rights Watch and representing over 200 non-governmental organizations from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, and North America, sent a letter to Moon asking him to urge Kim to act on United Nations human rights recommendations; engage on inter-Korean human rights issues, including human rights dialogues and information exchanges; push for regular reunion meetings of separated families; and increase inter-Korean people-to-people contact. The organizations also called on the South Korean government to provide much-needed humanitarian aid with appropriate monitoring.

On April 11, 2018, an official from Moon’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae ruled out North Korea’s human rights record as an agenda item for the summit.

Human Rights Watch called on the South Korean government to rethink its decision and raise human rights in North Korea during the summit. Among other things, it should ask North Korea to engage with the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK and allow him to make a country visit. Other relevant UN human rights rapporteurs should also be given access.

Even if the situation of human rights in North Korea is not included as an agenda item during the summit, the South Korean government and other governments, such as the United States and Japan, should insist on the inclusion of human rights in all future security and other discussions, including possible economic or technical cooperation, investment in North Korea, and offers of humanitarian aid. The North Korean government has ratified one of the main international human rights treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other international human rights instruments. It recently agreed with the United Nations on a strategic framework for cooperation (DPRK UN Strategic Framework (UNSF) for Cooperation) in all their cooperation projects between 2017 and 2021, whose goal is to improve the well-being of the North Korean people, particularly vulnerable groups, and applies a human rights-based approach intended to put people at the center of all dealings with the DPRK.

“This summit is a crucial moment for inter-Korean relations and particularly for the long-suffering people of North Korea,” said Adams. “The goal should be to find real, long-term solutions to the security challenges on the peninsula, while taking steps to improve the dire human rights situation in North Korea.”