(Geneva, Paris, Tokyo, March 22, 2013) - The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) today welcomes the establishment of a special, three-person UN Commission of Inquiry to examine rights abuses in North Korea by the UN Human Rights Council at its 22nd session.
The ICNK has campaigned since its founding to see the establishment of such a commission of inquiry (COI). This is a historical step towards ensuring accountability for human rights abuses in North Korea. The COI will give all the victims of human rights abuses in North Korea an opportunity to ensure their voices, and their experiences, reach decision-makers in the UN and the international arena. In this way, the COI will serve as an entry point to ensure that North Korea’s human rights record – and the issue of accountability for those abuses - will be increasingly placed at the core of the international community’s approach vis-à-vis North Korea. For families of foreign nationals abducted and forced to North Korea, the Commission will offer an opportunity to demand the return of their loved ones.
The ICNK believes that the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, with the leadership of the current UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, represents a critical turning point in international efforts to promote and improve North Korean human rights. The UN will appoint two additional independent experts of significant stature to join Darusman in carrying out an in-depth investigation of egregious human rights violations committed by the North Korean government.
The ICNK in particular would like to express its great appreciation for Japan’s commitment to promoting the creation of this commission of inquiry. Japan played a crucial early role in persuading other key countries, including member states of the EU, South Korea, and the USA to support creation of the commission. A number of EU member states also played leading roles in making this commission a reality. As the sponsors of the resolution noted in Geneva during passage of the DPRK resolution establishing the commission, North Korea’s regime will now be under greater pressure than ever to account for its extensive human rights violations.
As defined by the resolution on North Korea, the Commission of Inquiry will have a mandate to “investigate all systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” The resolution made particular note of “the use of torture and labour camps against political prisoners and repatriated citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” and “the unresolved questions of international concern relating to abductions of nationals of other states.” The resolution empowers the commission to undertake a one-year investigation into the “violation of the right to food, the violations associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, violations of freedom of expression, violations of the right to life, violations of freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.”
The commission will report to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, and will be tasked to examine the issue of accountability for any crimes against humanity and other rights violations it finds.
The persisting deterioration of the human rights situation in the DPRK and the systematic non-cooperation of North Korea with the UN human rights mechanisms – including a refusal to acknowledge or cooperate with the UN special rapporteur, or recognize UN resolutions on North Korean human rights – make the setting up of this new mechanism particularly timely.
Part of the problem is not only the seriousness of the violations but the lack of information about them. The COI is expected to provide more detailed figures showing the number of prisoners who are still in the political camps and the number of persons who have been released. By collecting the testimonies of victims, their families, survivors and witnesses and gathering all other available information, the Commission should produce a highly authoritative account on the patterns of abuse in North Korea that can inform further future actions towards accountability.
The Commission’s work will represent an important step forward in the legal analysis on the abuses committed by the North Korean Government, looking at both institutional and personal accountability, in particular if evidence is gathered which proves that crimes against humanity have been committed in the DPRK.
The ICNK firmly believe that the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry represents a great opportunity to initiate a process aiming not only at the promotion but also at the protection of human rights in North Korea, and we sincerely look forward to working with the commissioners as the COI undertakes its important work.