Human Rights Watch would like to thank the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for his ongoing work to address gross and systemic human rights abuses in North Korea.

The last year has been a challenging time to maintain pressure on North Korea to address its deplorable human rights situation. Several summits involving the leaders of North Korea, South Korea, and the United States, intended to address weapons proliferation issues, appear to have caused decreasing attention to North Korea’s human rights situation.

After the landmark 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report that documented crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, sexual violence, persecution, deliberate starvation, and enforced disappearances, the UN Security Council began to debate North Korea’s human rights record during regular sessions. In 2018, however, the council held no formal debate on the country’s human rights situation and the United States as lead sponsor appeared unwilling to press for one. Several countries have indicated to Human Rights Watch an unwillingness to press for human rights for fear that doing so would jeopardize ongoing counter-proliferations negotiations.

This concern is misplaced. Addressing human rights issues is a prerequisite and a foundation for all other negotiations with North Korea, including on weapons proliferation. We share the Special Rapporteur’s view that “respect for human rights remains central to the peace and denuclearisation agenda in the Korean peninsula.”

Accountability for international crimes is essential. The Special Rapporteur has rightly stressed that “the establishment [by OHCHR] of the repository and database will be useful for any national or international accountability mechanisms to be established in future.” We join the Special Rapporteur’s call that the Human Rights Council “extend the mandate of the accountability project and allocate appropriate funding to OHCHR to meaningfully implement its mandate.”

We also support renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to ensure ongoing scrutiny of North Korea’s abuses.