‘Unspeakable atrocities’ reported by UN-mandated human rights inquiry on DPR Korea

Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Michael Kirby presents an oral update during the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré

17 September 2013 – The head of the United Nations-appointed inquiry into human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reported today that testimony heard so far by his team pointed to widespread and serious abuses, including abductions and torture, as well as “unspeakable atrocities” in detention camps.

“What we have seen and heard so far – the specificity, detail and shocking character of the personal testimony – appears without doubt to demand follow-up action by the world community, and accountability on the part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” said Michael Kirby, chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK.

Providing an oral update on the commission’s work to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mr. Kirby said the testimonies received during the recent public hearings in the Republic of Korea and Japan indicated a large-scale pattern of abuse that may constitute systematic and gross human rights violations in the DPRK.

According to a news release issued in Geneva, Mr. Kirby cited a host of alleged abuses, ranging from abductions, torture and a policy of inter-generational punishment to arbitrary detention in prison camps marked by deliberate starvation and “unspeakable atrocities.”

“We heard from ordinary people who faced torture and imprisonment for doing nothing more than watching foreign soap operas or holding a religious belief,” he told the 47-member Human Rights Council, which appointed the commission in March of this year.

“Women and men who exercised their human right to leave the DPRK and were forcibly repatriated spoke about their experiences of torture, sexual violence, inhumane treatment and arbitrary detention. Family members of persons abducted from the Republic of Korea and Japan described the agony they endured ever since the enforced disappearance of their loved ones at the hands of agents of the DPRK.”

The commission, which has a one-year mandate, is tasked with investigating several alleged violations, including those concerning the right to food and those associated with prison camps; torture and inhuman treatment; arbitrary detention; discrimination; freedom of expression, movement and religion; the right to life; and enforced disappearances, including abductions of nationals to other countries.

The three-member commission has also stressed that it will investigate to what extent any violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

“As the Human Rights Council requested us to do, we will focus our inquiry on ensuring accountability, including with regard to potential crimes against humanity,” Mr. Kirby said. “We will seek to determine which state institutions and officials carry responsibility for gross human rights violations proved to have been committed.”

Mr. Kirby also noted that the commission had invited DPRK authorities to take part in the public hearings in Seoul, but received no reply. Nor has Pyongyang allowed the commission entry into DPRK to carry out its work.

“Instead,” he said, “its official news agency attacked the testimony we heard as ‘slander’ against the DPRK, put forward by ‘human scum.’ Truth is always a defence against accusations of slander. If any of the testimony on political prison camps, international abductions, torture, starvation, inter-generational punishment and so forth can be shown to be untrue, the commission invites the DPRK to produce evidence to that effect.”

The commission – which also includes Sonja Biserko, founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, and Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney General of Indonesia and the current UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK – will make its final report to the Human Rights Council next March.

Prior to that, it will continue its investigation, give an oral briefing to the UN General Assembly in New York in October, and meet with a number of experts, victims and officials with knowledge of the situation in DPRK.


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