First UNCHR Resolution on Human Rights in Korea

Apr 22, 2003 05:30 PM EDT

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights drafted its first ever resolution on human rights in North Korea, April 17. The adoption, made at the UNCHR session in Geneva, marks a significant step for the international community in addressing the severe human rights violations in the East Asian country.

The resolution essentially calls on North Korea to abide by the thematic procedures of the Commission, including those on food, torture, religious freedom, arbitrary detention and disappearances. It also requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to engage in a comprehensive dialogue with the authorities and to submit his findings and recommendations to the next session of the Commission. The text also addresses mistreatment of women and discrimination against disabled children. It focuses upon the critical issue of humanitarian aid, highlighting the need for aid to be distributed according to humanitarian principles and the need for international access for monitoring.

Nonetheless, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the international persecution watchdog, said it remains concerned that the text “does not do justice to the seriousness of the violations taking place in the country and fails to address certain key human rights issues.”

CSW’s President Baroness Cox chaired a parallel meeting on the grave human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea before the session in Geneva was held. Among the speakers were two former North Korean prisoners, who described the gruesome and dehumanising treatment of prisoners.

Baroness Cox said: “I greatly welcome the adoption of the resolution. This new initiative in tabling and passing the first ever resolution on North Korea within the Commission is a very positive and encouraging sign. I hope that this will prove to be a key step in the international community’s resolve to address the large-scale human rights abuses taking place in virtually every sphere across North Korea.

“The seriousness of the violations of human rights cannot be over-emphasised. The whole population lives without guarantee of rights, subject to arbitrary punishment and severe controls on freedom of information, expression, assembly and movement. Freedom of religion is heavily repressed, with the harshest of penalties meted out to those found practicing religious beliefs, especially Christianity. Anyone suspected of failing to fully support the regime is liable to torture, imprisonment in a brutal camp or execution.

“While welcoming the resolution, I am disappointed that it does not sufficiently address a number of key concerns, including the punishment of family members and the right to a fair trial. Outstanding issues also include the desperate plight of the refugees and the need for a solution to be found so that those wishing to leave North Korea can reach a place of safety. If the international community is serious about protecting the rights of North Koreans it needs to attend to this issue as a matter of urgency. The resolution also fails to address the horrific treatment of women returned to North Korea, where they can be subject to forced abortions or to watching their newborn babies killed in front of them.

“I am encouraged that the resolution reflects a growing awareness amongst the international community that it needs to react to live up to its responsibilities to defend human rights. When we have failed to address atrocities taking place around the globe in the past, history has shamed us for our inaction. I am glad that the resolution is a positive indication of increased concern and resolve over this issue. I hope that the international community will continue to focus on the violations of human rights in North Korea and act to halt the appalling suffering of the people.”

While encouraging the resolution, CSW pointed out the weaknesses in the text.

According to CSW, the resolution fails to adequately address the desperate situation of North Koreans out side the country, especially those in China. Currently, China refuses to recognize North Koreans as refugees, and instead labels them as economic migrants. China refuses even to allow the UN High Commission for Refugees access to the North Koreans in its territory, instead sending the escapees back to face punishment.

The CSW also voiced concern over the resolution’s lack of addressing the fair trial and due process in the nation.

By Pauline J.