Landmark investigation slams North Korea but has little power to effect change
GENEVA, October 28, 2013 – Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch applauded today’s report by the landmark UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, a vehicle that investigates human rights brutalities in North Korea and provides a forum for victims to educate the world about their suffering.
“But the question now,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, “is what action will come from the report’s alarming findings?”
Led by Michael Kirby, the commission told the UN of the “unspeakable atrocities” inflicted in North Korea including the imprisonment and torture of 200,000 people in high-security prison camps.
UN Watch addressed the commission at the UNHRC’s September session, and recently honored the only known escapee of such a camp, 30-year-old Shin Dong-hyuk, with its 2013 Moral Courage Award. Born in the camp, Dong-hyuk escaped at age 23 and has since become a human rights activist who speaks all over the world on behalf of his fellow victims.
“We are grateful to the inquiry commission for recommending action against the horrific abuses that millions of North Koreans continue to suffer,” Neuer said.
“But UN Watch is concerned that the call to action will be stymied due to the political allegiances of numerous despotic regimes at the UN. China and Cuba, both influential at the UN, invariably back North Korea.”
As the Commission prepares to release its full report in March 2014, UN Watch will continue to bring issues of North Korean human rights abuses to the Human Rights Council.
NEXT STEP: PRESSURE CHINA
What will happen once the Commission of Inquiry releases its final report in March 2014? The sad reality is that the UN has little power to influence human rights reforms in North Korea.
“Aside from sanctions already imposed against North Korea, the UN has little else to leverage pressure on the rogue, nuclear-armed state,” says Neuer.
“However, the Human Rights Council should use this opportunity to mobilize shame and pressure on one of its soon-to-be member states — China — for aiding North Korea in defiance of sanctions, and for turning away desperate North Korean refugees.”
UN investigators are considering summoning senior North Korean regime figures to appear before the International Criminal Court, a move that would likely face stiff resistance from veto-wielding Security Council member China.
“Sadly, North Korean ally and fellow human rights abuser China would first have to approve any ICC summons,” said Neuer. “And as things stand, that is extremely unlikely.”