Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

20 October 2011

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

20 October 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights


in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


Among several concerns about the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman highlighted today the food security situation there, as well as the situation of asylum-seekers from that country.

Asylum-seekers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were sometimes “aided” by human traffickers, said Mr. Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in that country during a Headquarters press conference following the presentation of his annual report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural).  (See Press Release GA/SHC/4015.)

He said that women and children were particularly vulnerable, with women often exposed to various forms of violence.  Moreover, most South-East Asian countries, used detention as a migration management tool against refugees and asylum-seekers.  He therefore called on the States in the region that had not yet done so to ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Turning to the right to food, he called the food situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea “critical”.  Current rations provided by the Government would meet less than half of the daily calorific needs for the 68 per cent of the population receiving those provisions through the Public Distribution System.  In response, he said, the World Food Programme (WFP) was launching an emergency operation designed to support over 3.5 million most vulnerable people.

Among other human rights concerns, he mentioned the lack of the Government’s ability to deal with large-scale health problems; lack of monitoring access for United Nations entities and non-governmental organizations; restricted freedom of speech, expression and assembly; and the dire situation of political prisoners.

Answering a correspondent’s questions about the “abduction issue”, Mr. Darusman said his predecessor had considered a commission of inquiry on the matter.  He himself, however, thought that settlement of the issue might merit from a consideration of the legal aspects, separated from the political aspects that had impacted the relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and Japan.  The issue must be settled one way or the other, and the political process might benefit from a possible legal recourse, which should include the accountability and criminal aspects.

Addressing a question regarding women asylum-seekers who reportedly were often sold as sex slaves or forced into a marriage, he said most asylum-seekers crossed over into China, where they were considered economic refugees who did not qualify for asylum.  To avoid being returned to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, they often tried to leave China with the “help” or “aid” of persons who turned out to be human traffickers.  In some instances, they agreed to arranged marriages.

Asked about specifics on the number of refugees, Mr. Darusman said that 2010 had seen a peak of some 2,482 asylum-seekers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Thailand.  There had been some 900 asylum-seekers during the first four months of 2011, which might indicate that the number this year could exceed 2010.  He thought there was a direct correlation with the deteriorating food situation — “called a state of alarm by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WFP”— and with the political situation.  There had been no significant investments in the country since the 1990s, despite “economic reforms”, because those economic reforms had not been followed-up by a regulatory framework to support them.

As Special Rapporteur working outside the country he was mandated to monitor, he worked in conjunction with the Government and in coordination with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he answered another question.  There was, however, enough “outside” data available to make an assessment, with asylum-seekers as the main source.

Answering another question, he said his mandate was driven by concern for humanitarian issues.  There was a direct link between humanitarian and human rights issues, and there should be no artificial separation between the two.  An opening in “humanitarian space” would provide an opportunity to assess the needs of the population regarding basic foods, health and education and could lead to other human rights observations, he added.

He was also asked about his challenge to the Third Committee about what the international community intend to do with the results before them of nearly 25 reports issued on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the Special Rapporteur and the Secretary-General over the past five years.  Having 25 reports, the Committee might want to see if they could discern any trends that could guide their next action.  “It is now a good time to take stock,” he said.

Asked about his specific recommendations, he said the call to declare that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was ineligible as a member of the Human Rights Commission, based on its human rights record, could indeed be contemplated, but such a recommendation should be based on a solid analysis of the available data.  After all, the country was the only one among Member States that had not responded to recommendations made by the Universal Periodic Review.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.