The United Nations Security Council has an opportunity this month to refocus attention on North Korea’s abysmal human rights record after giving it a pass last year.
If all goes according to plan, on December 10 – Human Rights Day – at least 9 of the council’s 15 members will vote to hold a debate to discuss the regime’s abuses.
Last year, when a similar debate was under consideration, the council dropped the ball. This may have been due, in part, to summits in 2017 and 2018 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the presidents of the United States and South Korea, which focused on weapons proliferation issues, not human rights. The council’s inaction sent a message to North Korea’s leadership that rights had reverted to a second-tier issue, which was probably music to Kim Jong Un’s ears.
It’s time to correct that mistake. In the years since a historic UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report in 2014, which documented a litany of North Korea’s crimes against humanity and other serious rights violations, the UN system has been intensifying its attention to the regime’s record. The UN Human Rights Council has mandated a UN office to collect evidence of abuses for possible use in future prosecutions. And in Security Council debates in December 2014, 2015, and 2016, the council considered proposals by member states –unfortunately blocked by China – to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
This December 10, it is crucial that the council sends Kim Jong Un the message that most of the world is appalled by his government’s abuses and will continue to seek justice.
Inaction and silence would be reckless. The totalitarianism of North Korea and its human rights abuses are inextricably linked to the government’s weapons proliferation. Furthermore, most council members agree that North Korea represents an ongoing threat of instability that undermines international peace and security. As the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Tomas Ojea Quintana, recently told the UN General Assembly: “This is not an agenda that can be deferred.”