11 December 2017, Security Council Briefing on the Human Rights Situation in DPRK, Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenča

Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs. UN Photo/Cia Pak
Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs. UN Photo/Cia Pak

Mr. President,

Members of the Security Council,

This Security Council meeting on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is timely and again demonstrates that it is not just the nuclear issue that deserves international attention and action.

While it is difficult to obtain up-to-date and comprehensive information about human rights developments in the DPRK, the information gathered reveals a continuing pattern of serious human rights violations and lack of progress on issues such as family reunions and the abduction issue. There are no indications that the situation has significantly improved since the finding in the Commission of Inquiry’s 2014 report that, on balance of probability, crimes against humanity had been and were being committed in the DPRK. In keeping with its obligations under international law, the DPRK has a responsibility to protect its population from crimes that are considered the most serious in international law. And the international community has a collective responsibility to protect the population of the DPRK, if the State does not protect its own citizens, and to consider the wider implications of the reported grave human rights situation for the stability of the region.

During the past year, the security environment has had a negative impact on human rights in the DPRK. The country’s continued nuclear and ballistic missile activities have led to its further isolation from its neighbours and the international community. The country has imposed more severe restrictions on freedom of movement both within the country and on the border with China. People pay a heftier price and take riskier routes to leave the DPRK, and women continue to be the primary targets of human traffickers who help them escape if they accept to be sold into the sex industry. 

The situation of prisoners and foreign detainees continues to be a cause of concern, with reports about abject detention conditions in holding centres and labour camps throughout the country. In June, student Otto Warmbier died a few days after he was released from detention in Pyongyang and repatriated to the United States. His case highlighted the situation of foreign detainees, who risk being cut off from the outside world and are unable to enjoy basic entitlements such as access to medical treatment and to consular assistance. Today three citizens of the United States and six citizens of the Republic of Korea remain in custody. We continue to advocate for their release.

 

Mr. President,

The past year witnessed a surge in forced repatriations of DPRK nationals in China, particularly in the months of December 2016, April, July and November 2017. Reports of DPRK escapees being sent back are regularly received by the United Nations and civil society groups. Many of these are women victims of human trafficking who leave their children in China. As we speak, dozens of DPRK nationals remain detained in China and scheduled for refoulement back to the DPRK, where they are at risk of torture and ill-treatment.

 

Mr. President,

The United Nations has taken a number of steps this year to address the human rights situation in the DPRK. The Special Rapporteur presented his report (A/72/394) to the General Assembly in September, and in August, the Secretary-General also issued his report (A/72/279) to that body. The Third Committee has agreed on a draft resolution (A/C.3/72/L.40*) that is to be adopted by the General Assembly this month. In response, the DPRK has maintained its strong objections to country- specific resolutions and mandates, though is open to non-country specific cooperation on human rights.

The pursuit of accountability continues to be an urgent priority on the DPRK human rights agenda. In 2016 the Human Rights Council appointed a group of independent experts on accountability who recommended in their report to the council in March this year that steps be taken to strengthen current monitoring and analysis efforts by OHCHR, including through the recruitment of additional staff and the setup of a central repository to be used in any future accountability mechanism.

 

Mr. President,

While emphasis is placed on the political and security situation, the DPRK is a forgotten crisis on the global humanitarian agenda. An estimated 18 million people (70 per cent of the population) are suffering from food insecurity, and 10.5 million people (41 per cent of the population) are undernourished. The situation is even more critical with the current lack of funding.

In response to the accelerated nuclear and ballistic missile testing, the Security Council has strengthened its DPRK sanctions regime with three additional resolutions since the last briefing. The Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK alerted in his latest report of the possibility that sanctions may have a detrimental impact on livelihoods and medical care, requesting that human rights be given due consideration when drafting and assessing sanctions resolutions. Humanitarian partners operating in the country have reported increasing operational challenges including custom clearances of life-saving items, procurement of humanitarian supplies, transport of goods, rising food prices (up 160% since April). In addition, the banking channel for the international organizations working in the country has broken down for the third time in the last seven years.

 

Mr. President,

The Security Council, in its latest resolution (OP 26 of resolution 2375 (2017)), reaffirmed that the measures imposed by the relevant resolutions are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK or to affect negatively or restrict the activities of the work of international and non-governmental organizations carrying out assistance and relief activities for the benefit of the civilian population of the DPRK. I take note of the 8 December communication from the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006) to all Member States offering clarifications on this point and highlighting mechanisms to seek exemptions for humanitarian activities.

 

With this in mind, I would like to make four requests: 

  • First, I encourage all international and non-governmental organisations who are facing operational challenges to use the established process to inform or seek the necessary guidance or exemption from the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006). Doing so helps to remove ambiguity and provide reassurance for the relevant entities and partners to facilitate the work of such organizations in the DPRK.
  • Second, I urge the 1718 Committee to continue to expeditiously review these requests to ensure that the already fragile humanitarian situation does not deteriorate further.
  • Third, I urge all Member States to support the life-saving activities in the country. Funding for relief activities is essential. Some USD 114 million are required to address the critical humanitarian needs in the DPRK.
  • I echo the 1718 Committee’s communication to Member States which emphasizes each Member State’s obligation to comply with sanctions obligations and exemptions including by clarifying to public/private sector entities that humanitarian activities should not be unduly restricted.
  • Finally, I call on financial institutions to exercise their corporate social responsibility and provide the life-saving banking services for humanitarian organisations in the country. The channel would be sent to the Security Council for approval.

 

Mr. President,

The United Nations remains committed to contributing to furthering efforts to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution of the outstanding issues, and to ensure genuine and meaningful improvement of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the DPRK. The United Nations system is ready to assist with the General Assembly’s call on the DPRK to – QUOTE: “engage constructively with international interlocutors with a view to promoting concrete improvements in the human rights situation on the ground, including through human rights dialogues, official visits to the country that include adequate access to fully assess human rights conditions, cooperation initiatives and more people-to-people contact as a matter of priority”. END QUOTE.

To conclude, let us use all the tools at our disposal — the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, the Security Council and United Nations and other international entities — to work towards a better future for the people of the DPRK.

Thank you, Mr. President.