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

2 November 2012

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

2 November 2012
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


The human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea showed “no sign of improvement” over the past eight months, a United Nations expert said today.

“Despite my repeated request, I have not been granted access to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in that country said during a Headquarters press conference, which was held ahead of the presentation of his annual report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural).  (See Press Release GA/SHC/4049.)

Mr. Darusman, who assumed his mandate in August 2010, said no fresh approach had been forthcoming under new leader Kim Jong Un.  Out of the total population of 25 million, 16 million people in the country continued to suffer varying degrees of chronic food insecurity and high malnutrition.  He was also wary that Mr. Kim had declared that his first, second and third priorities were to strengthen the nation’s military.  Moreover, the slow economic growth there, coupled with the military-first policy, was detrimental to its people.

It was also concerning that the freedom of expression was restricted and some provisions of its criminal code were not in line with the international standards, Mr. Darusman said.  On the issue of abduction of Japanese and other foreign nationals, regrettably, there had been no further developments. 

He also noted that his report included a set of recommendations, which, among others, urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to ensure protection and promotion of human rights.  His report also pressed the Government to cooperate with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to rethink its “military-first” policy and to allocate more resources to improving living standards.

He also asked the Government to repeal the provisions of its criminal code that were not in line with international norms, and to free people being detained for “guilt by association”.  He had also called on States to ratify the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees if they had not done so, while asking the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to share information on the status of treatment of people who were forcibly repatriated to the country.

More than 20 reports, including those presented by the Secretary-General, had been submitted since the inception of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur in 2004, he noted.  In that regard, Mr. Darusman recalled that he posed a question during the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly about what should be done with those reports.  In his own latest report, he called on Member States to assess those documents, find trends and set up a more detailed mechanism of inquiry.

Answering a question about access to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said:  “From the moment I assumed this post, I have requested entry.”  But so far, he had not been successful.  But compared with previous letters of request, which had been merely sent back by that country’s authorities, his requests had received refusals on official letterhead, which he described as “progress”.  When asked if he had travelled to the Chinese border with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said he was in discussion with the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations about the best timing to ask for a visa but had not actually applied for it.  His predecessor had visited Mongolia, he added.

When asked to elaborate on a mechanism of inquiry, he said was not mandated to make that decision and the Human Rights Council would eventually have to decide.  “Everything that can be said about North Korea has been said,” and now was the time for that Council and the Third Committee to take stock of what had taken place in the past 10 years and decide the best course of action going forward.

To an inquiry about reports that Mr. Kim was interested in expanding the use of the Internet in his country, Mr. Darusman said that country would inevitably have to face up to globalization, including the impact of information technology, but doubted that access to any information that would lead to the unravelling of its political system would be allowed.  “This is a State that has a specific resilience that allows it to continue to survive and defy any kind of analysis of [whether it is] becoming a failed State for so many years,” he said, urging Member States considering a resolution on the matter to craft language around a long-term rather than not short-term perspective.   

On the abduction issue, he said he had discussed with Japan and the Republic of Korea about a possibility of resorting to international legal prosecution.  But he had no legal standing with the International Criminal Court and he had to follow-up with the two nations on whether they had considered any further steps.  

Asked about cooperation with working groups and other mandate holders, he said collaborative efforts and a joint meeting in Geneva had led to an issuance of an urgent appeal for investigation of six alleged prison camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Commenting on an improvement in the humanitarian situation, he said the World Food Programme (WFP) had reasonably effective working relations with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea authorities, but food scarcity was a chronic problem.  Yet, he argued that an improvement in that area would not have immediate impact on the whole system, adding only substantial reform within the country could change the overall situation.  “Any speculation of the regime’s collapse is not realistic,” he said.

A reporter asked if sanctions against that country resulted in malnutrition.  He said when he met with Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who recently visited that country, she said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would never be able to secure its own food needs and the impact of sanctions was clearly registered on the most vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, children and women.

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