The top United Nations human rights official today called on the Security Council to refer the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the International Criminal Court, citing continuing gross rights violations, “the institutional nature and severity of which pose a threat to international peace and security.”
The call from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is the latest chapter stemming from a report report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK almost two years ago, which found “unspeakable atrocities” driven by policies established at the highest level of State.
It follows similar appeals from the General Assembly to the Council, which alone has the power to make such a referral, as well as from independent UN rights experts.
“The abduction of foreign nationals, the enforced disappearances, the trafficking and the continued movement of refugees and asylum-seekers makes this point clearly,” Mr. Zeid told the 15-Member body.
“These, in addition to a litany of other gross human rights violations, have still not been halted or reversed by the Government of the DPRK. Victims are still unable to find judicial redress and there is still no accountability grounded in the work of an independent judiciary,” he said, noting that it was apt that today’s discussions were taking place on International Human Rights Day.
“Once again, this year, the General Assembly has called on the Security Council to take action by referring the situation in DPRK to the International Criminal Court, which I believe to be essential, given the scale and extreme gravity of the allegations.”
But he said calls for accountability must go hand in hand with an open dialogue to encourage the Government toward reform and cited an invitation from the DPRK Foreign Minister for him to visit the country as a “welcome” sign of tentative efforts to engage in the international area.
“Millions of people in the DPRK continue to be denied their basic rights and freedoms,” Mr. Zeid said. “They are not allowed to move freely within and outside their country, or to speak out about injustices. They are not allowed to follow their faith. They are denied access to information not sanctioned by the regime, and the right to form organizations that can, in any way, be seen to be critical of the Government.”
He cited the Commission’s graphic description of the appalling nature of the DPRK’s political prison-camp system, where people including children have been deliberately starved, made to carry out forced labour, subjected to extrajudicial killings and summary executions, tortured and raped, where hundreds of thousands of people have died over several decades.
The camps are still believed to contain between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners.
“The continuing violations and systemic failings simply heighten international anxieties over the possibility of a precipitous turn, an event of great centrifugal consequence, which could rapidly engulf the region,” he concluded.
“As we have stated time and again, if the international community is serious over reducing tensions in the region, more must be done collectively to ensure respect for human rights in the DPRK.”
Also addressing the Council, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman stressed that the international community has yet to find an effective way to address the deplorable state of human rights in the DPRK.
But he noted that although the DPRK has often made clear its objection to General Assembly resolutions on its human rights, unlike in 2014 it has refrained from raising the possibility of conducting a fourth nuclear test in its statements rejecting this year’s resolution.
Particular challenges have been posed on how to balance calls for accountability and focus on security matters, and the need for engagement and dialogue, he said.