Experts: UN report reveals scope of human rights violations in North Korea
6 March 2014. PenzaNews. The international community must act on evidence that crimes against humanity are being committed in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), said the experts of UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in the DPRK in their report, which in great detail documents the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the country by the authorities.
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” says the document.
The report documents crimes such as murder, rape, torture, forced abortions persecution on political and gender grounds, and other human rights violations.
According to the published information, between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are currently held in four North Korean prison camps, where deliberate starvation is used as a means of control and punishment.
The Commission found that the DPRK displays many attributes of a totalitarian State.
“There is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association,” the report says.
“The key to the political system is the vast political and security apparatus that strategically uses surveillance, coercion, fear and punishment to preclude the expression of any dissent. Public executions and enforced disappearance to political prison camps serve as the ultimate means to terrorize the population into submission,” the document states.
Navi Pillay, United Nations Head Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that this historic report leaves no justification for inaction of the international community.
“[The Commission of Inquiry] has published a historic report, which sheds light on violations of a terrifying scale, the gravity and nature of which – in the report’s own words – do not have any parallel in the contemporary world. There can no longer be any excuses for inaction,” quotes her the official website of the United Nations.
According to Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, the gravity and nature of human rights violations in DPRK are off the scale.
“The UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council should seize this opportunity and use their power and influence to ensure the North Korean government acts on the Commission’s findings. The people of North Korea deserve no less,” she noted.
Roseanne Rife also called for the international community not to stand idle after receiving the evidence of “these incomprehensible crimes.”
“The Commission’s findings reinforce the need for the UN Security Council to raise human rights alongside security and peace when it comes to North Korea,” she added.
However, Hazel Smith, Director of the International Institute of Korean Studies UCLan, takes a different point of view. In her article “Crimes Against Humanity?” published in “Critical Asian Studies” journal, she says that much of the analysis does not follow the guidelines of scientific research.
In her opinion, the authors of the document mostly used information that fit their assumptions. For example, she notes almost complete absence of reference of data collected by other UN agencies, donor governments and nongovernmental organizations, particularly in the issues of food and medicine distribution.
“North Korea’s nutritional statistics are […] similar to many other countries with low levels of economic development. What these statistics reveal is not a government that is starving its children, but an economic and food crisis of long duration,” Hazel Smith specified.
“Governments have the right to implement sanctions against other countries, but the way the debate is framed on North Korea is noticeable for the absence of discussion of the perennial dilemma as to whether sanctions damage the government or the long-suffering populations,” she emphasized.
Hazel Smith also noted the tendency of most news agencies to demonstrate and distribute information on DPRK using a scheme similar to one used to inform the public about the Nicaraguan Revolution and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
“Common knowledge about Korea is not conveyed in a vacuum but organized and disseminated in order to persuade politicians to go to war,” she stated.
In turn, John Swenson-Wright, Chatham House senior consulting fellow on Asia Programme, said that UN report on North Korea was “not unexpected.”
“The report exposes and demonstrates that the North Korean human rights record is appalling. It is an opportunity for the international community, for the first time, to document in real detail the extents and the long-standing pattern of human rights abuse [in DPRK]. We know from the testimony of defectors that many people are held in what are effectively concentration camps and punished without any means of appeal, and often the physical conditions of those people concentrated in camps is such that many people die in captivity,” the expert said in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”
He suggested that there will be “very little if any steps” taken by North Korea in response to this report, but placed emphasis on the symbolic and rhetorical significance of the conducted investigation.
Also, the analyst pointed out the critical role of China in this conflict and said that the situation will depend on whether it approves the recommendations of the UN report to move to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In his opinion, this will not happen, because China is not going to sanction such measures.
“I think the human rights abuse is the case that should be in the spotlight of international attention on the DPRK, making clear that international community is solely opposed to this, and raising public awareness. More than that, it requires a much more ambitious agenda trying to find mechanisms to bring DPRK back into the international community and deal with a nuclear issue,” he said.
David Hawk, the leading expert on human rights in North Korea, described the UN Commission of Inquiry report on human rights violations in the DPRK as “the most authoritative and definitive account of these severe violations.”
According to him, in March the UN human rights council in should adopt a resolution recognizing and condemning the crimes against humanity that North Korea commits against its people, after which the issue should be submitted to the UN Security Council (UNSC) to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
In his opinion, the further actions will depend on the fact if China and Russia will veto a referral to the ICC, and if the US will put China in the situation where it may have to use its veto power.
“If the DPRK wants to join the 21st century and have normalized relations with, and trade, aid and investment from the outside world, it will have to change its human rights policies. If they want to keep their current combination of Korean feudalism and 1930/1940 Stalinism, then there is very little the outside world can do,” emphasized the expert.
Meanwhile, Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Asia division, stated that the report will make it impossible for any state to say that they do not know what is happening in the DPRK.
“The UN report is a scathing indictment of the human rights crimes of the North Korea government, revealing that the abuses are systematic and pervasive, and done as a matter of state policy. This is a huge blow to Kim Jong-Un and the North Korean government, who now stand accused of crimes against humanity – and now it is up to the UN and the international community to find a way to hold North Korean leaders accountable for their actions against their own people. North Korea has been revealed as among the worst of the worst of the world’s human rights abusing governments, and governments like China or Russia should recognize that anyone who defends Pyongyang will now pay a higher price in the international community for doing so,” the expert said.
In his opinion, concerns about North Korean human rights abuses for too long have been moved aside because of other concerns, like Pyongyang’s nuclear program, missile tests or threats to South Korea. However, he stressed, the UN report will now place human rights at the center of the international community’s attention to North Korea.
“It’s hard to say what is going to happen next. I think that the Human Rights Council will endorse the report and press for implementation of its recommendations, but the problem is that North Korea is totally denying that there are any rights abuses at all. Pyongyang’s obstinate refusal to recognize that the game has changed and they will be held accountable means that achieving justice for the North Korean people could take a number of years. As for the ICC, since North Korea has not signed or ratified the Rome Statute that established the court, only through a UN Security Council referral can the ICC receive a case on North Korea. I expect that there will be a lot of international pressure on Russia and China to support referring North Korea to the ICC, and that pressure will grow from the other members of the UN Security Council as well as member states in the UN General Assembly. If they are not prepared to support that referral, then at least Russia should not object or use its veto to stop it,” the expert added.
At the same time, Jasper Becker, journalist and writer, author of books on China, Mongolia and the DPRK, expressed doubt that there will be any steps taken on the situation in North Korea.
“I don’t think you can do anything, because China is going to support North Korea whatever it does, and so China will block everything to the UN. For 30 years, people have been trying to persuade China to use its influence on North Korea, but it hasn’t proved successful, and then the South Koreans for more than 10 years tried engagement policy with North Korea – and that didn’t really work. The first Bush administration tried to frighten North Korea and China, and that didn’t really work. And then they had the six-party talks which had gone down nowhere,” he reminded.
However, in his opinion, the document has certain symbolic significance. One of the reasons, Jasper Becker said, is that the report criticized the food aid program to North Korea that took place during the 1990-s, which, according to the criticism, only kept the regime in power.
“I like the idea that the UN human rights report has threatened to put Kim Jong-Un on trial for crimes against humanity, actually target the ruling family, because this is a sort of reversal of the earlier thinking that if you were nice to the leadership of North Korea, you could persuade them to undertake reforms. Everybody tried to avoid antagonizing the leadership of North Korea. And now that’s a new policy to target them and threaten them individually,” the expert noted.
Nadine Godehardt, consulting fellow of Asia Research Division at German Institute for International and Security Affairs, stated that the evidence represented in the report gives voice to people that are rarely heard.
“This is in many regards an incredible document which reports in detail the human suffering in North Korea and the totalitarian reach of the North Korean regime. The graphic illustrations by former prisoner Kim Gwang-il show the cruelty in many details and speak a language of its own. They may have more ‘power’ than the countless interviews that make up the report,” the analyst said.
She also noted that there is a very obvious “tiredness” in China's political elite on having to deal with the North Korean neighbor.
“We can observe that China is deeply rethinking its policy towards North Korea. However, the question remains if China can bring (once again) North Korea back to the table. Without collaboration between China and the US this, however, seems unrealistic,” the expert concluded.