|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights
in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Investigations into human rights abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea benefited from the use of public hearings, the man heading those efforts said during a Headquarters press conference today.
Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said such hearings were not the normal practice but, given the situation and certain criticisms of the body’s work, they were especially useful as they heightened the process’s transparency. Testimonies and transcripts of depositions were posted online, allowing public judgement of the manner of procedures and the fairness of questioning. The Commission had worked hard, he said, not to put words into the mouths of witnesses.
Mr. Kirby, who was joined by Sonja Biserko, another Commission member, said the body’s investigations were close to completion, with a month-long analysis phase to follow and the final report to be presented in March 2014. At that point, he said, matters would be handed back to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Describing the oral update on the inquiry that he had just given to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), Mr. Kirby said several delegations had commented afterwards. The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had contended that the Commission was biased, listening to hostile witnesses whose statements were unfairly partial. Other countries had questioned the decision to conduct a country-specific study, suggesting that States should not be singled out and that quiet individual consultations should be held against a backdrop of more general efforts to improve human rights globally. (See Press Release GA/SHC/4080.)
He said his Commission was in no way biased and, on the contrary, had reached out to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea several times to request visits and engagement. The best way to respond to false testimony, he said, was to open up those parts of the country cited in depositions as the locations of detention and prison camps. By allowing access for the media and the Commission, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea could prove the veracity of its claim that evidence given to the Commission was false.
Regarding the contention of some States that there should be engagement and dialogue, he underlined the importance of interaction, and said he had asked representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for talks and to attend the hearings. Witnesses could then be cross-examined, statements on their credibility made and other witnesses called potentially to refute evidence.
Asked whether the final report would continue its condemnation of the country, he said he would cover the situation faithfully, honestly and succinctly. Some testimonies had been extremely distressing, he said, noting again that testimonies could be found online. Ms. Biserko pointed out that 80 per cent of the refugees fleeing to China and elsewhere were women and at risk for trafficking, detention and mistreatment.
Asked what global action could be taken in light of the country’s continued defiance, he said the United Nations body he headed was in no way interested in regime change. He thought an office for human rights based inside the country or close by could monitor developments, provide technical assistance and advice and support the Government. He stressed several times that his office did not seek renewal of its mandate, because extension would actually allow Member States to hide behind the idea that they were doing something useful to solve the problems.
Regarding laws in the Republic of Korea that infringed on human rights, he said that in democracies the letter of the law was often not enforced, adding that the Republic possessed an energetic civil society. He added that the Republic of Korea was not on his mandate and that he focused on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
He did hope to engage with China, he said in response to questions on that subject. He had had several conversations with Chinese officials and Commission officials would visit. Given China’s geographic and diplomatic closeness to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he believed it was in a good place to influence things.
He also fielded questions on naming names of officials and institutions implicated in rights abuses, saying the subject had not yet been considered. Though it was essential that any naming be backed by ample evidence, he acknowledged United Nations’ precedent for the practice. Some evidence collected by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on hospitals suggested gross malnutrition and stunting in 29.9 per cent of infants. That was a “grave issue” and, given that accountability had been stated in the Commission’s mandate, responsibility for that had to be addressed and would be.
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