- Posted February 17, 2014 by
seoul, South Korea
How to approach Human Rights in North Korea?
Regarding the COI’s report and human rights situation in North Korea, South Korean civil society organizations, including People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy(PSPD), submitted the written statement to the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. They agreed that there are on-going human rights violations in North Korea, but at the same time, shared their concerns on politicising public discourses on North Korean human rights.
North Korean human rights issues are closely related to the division of Korean people on the Korean Peninsula and the military tension in Northeast Asia. So, the efforts to enhance the human right situation in North Korea should rely upon a comprehensive and effective approach, which requires sound criticism on and cooperation with the government of the DPRK.
South Korean civil society organisations pointed out that North Korean human rights issues should not be limited to the situation inside the DPRK. They cover human rights concerns of all North Korean people, their separated families, and relatives, regardless of their place of residence. They consist of three parts: 1) human rights of people who are living in the DPRK, 2) human rights of DPRK defectors in the ROK or a third county, 3) human rights and humanitarian concerns for people such as prisoners of war, separated families and abductees.
Militarism and under-development that are the main causes of human rights violations in North Korea are caused by the political and economic systems of the country. At the same time, armistice systems that have been in place for more than 60 years, along with the U.S. sanctions imposed on the DPRK since its establishment also affected human rights violations within the DPRK. North Korean human rights issues should not be limited to the human rights violation inside the country only, but should be understood as human rights across the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, blaming the government of the DPRK as the only perpetrator of human rights violations in the county is a narrow approach and raises concerns on politicising public discourses on North Korean human rights.
It would not be effective in protecting human rights of North Korean people without getting cooperation from the government of the DPRK. The UN human rights mechanisms have been urging the government of the DPRK to enhance human rights of its own people and calling for attention and participation of the international community to improve the situation. Unfortunately, in response to these concerns, the government of the DPRK has refused to work together with the majority of the international community but have cooperated selectively with some UN human rights mechanisms and a few governments. This is also due to the UN Command confronting the DPRK along with many countries and organizations, including the UN Security Council are imposing sanctions against the DPRK. In the written statement, South Korean civil society organisations urge both the international community and the government of the DPRK to put their full efforts to build constructive and cooperative relationships with each other through the normalization of human rights dialogues and technical cooperation. At the same time, they insist that the consequences of the current sanctions on the human rights situation in the DPRK should be fully examined.
In the statement, they argue that pressuring and isolating the DPRK from the international community will not bring positive results in improving its human rights. Therefore, building trust with the DPRK is required to make positive changes in the North Korean human rights situation. In this regard, North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 by the U.S., Act on Handling of Abduction Issues and Other Human Right Issues Related to North Korean Authorities of 2006 by Japan and North Korean Human Rights Act, which is being discussed by the South Korean National Assembly, would not be effective in enhancing human rights in the DPRK. Since the ROK and the DPRK established different political and economic systems, both governments have been confronting each other ideologically and militarily. This situation put the ROK in enhanced difficulty where it should actively work on improving human rights in the DPRK while ensuring that human rights concerns are not raised as a means to impose political pressure to the government.
In the written statement, they propose the following three ways to improve the human rights situation in the DPRK.
First, the international community should continue to monitor the human rights situation in the DPRK and suggest solutions for the improvement of human rights in the DPRK while supporting its human rights infrastructure and encouraging its efforts to advance human rights of its own people. International community should remember that in the past, political and military intervention by the international community under the cause of the promotion and/or protection of human rights often ends in catastrophe.
Second, it is necessary to take comprehensive approaches towards human rights issue of the DPRK. In addition to those rights enshrined in the five international human rights treaties that the government of the DPRK has ratified and signed, other rights such as the right to development, right to peace and cultural rights should also be taken into consideration. Among all, to guarantee rights to peace for all people residing in the Korean Peninsula, economic sanctions against the DPRK should be lifted, confrontations between two Koreas should be turned into a cooperative relationship and a dialogue on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula should be resumed immediately.
Third, enhancing the human rights situation in the DPRK should be in line with other universal values enshrined in the UN Charter, Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action along with other international human rights treaties. Based on these values, humanitarian aid and efforts to settle peace in the Korean Peninsula should also be continued. The international community, including the ROK should embrace development, humanitarianism and peace to enhance the human rights of the North Korean people.
The statement emphasized importance of taking consideration into peace in the Korean Peninsula while raising concerns on human rights in North Korea. Establishment of the COI on the DPRK was also a unique case since COI is normally established on a country where an armed conflict is recently happened or on going. (eg. Syria) Generally, when the COI is established at the UN human rights council, they recommend to establish special procedure mandate specifically on the concerned country. But in case of the COI on the DPRK, the UN Special Rapporteur on the DPRK has been there for almost 10 years even before the COI on the DPRK was established. As a result, the only left over recommendation was to bring DPRK to the International Criminal Court via Security Council.
This is why we should carefully analyse the recommendations from the COI and see feasibility of bringing the government of the DPRK to the International Criminal Court. It may be one of few options to enhance human rights situation in the country, but comprehensive views considering various aspects should be applied to raise concerns on one country’s human rights situation, especially when it comes to deal with a country with different political system.