GENEVA, March 14, 2016 — UN Watch, together with North Korea Watch (NK Watch), held a meeting today on the parlous state of human rights in North Korea, with a particular focus on the human rights of women and people with disabilities. The meeting aimed to raise awareness on the international stage of the suffering endured by people in North Korea by revealing the dire human rights conditions in the country. Victims gave vivid testimony of their first-hand experiences in North Korea, while US and South Korean ambassadors both addressed the event. Earlier that morning, Ms. Kayoung Kim addressed the Human Rights Council on the subject of women defectors from North Korea.
Ambassador Robert King, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, stressed the importance of “passing tough and articulate resolutions on North Korea’s human rights record.”
He suggested that “North Korea is feeling the pressure from the human rights publicity that they have received – and it’s not been positive publicity […] Very few countries, if any, defend North Korea.” Although states will “stand on principle arguing that [the Human Rights Council] should not focus on a single country, we don’t see anybody arguing that North Korea’s is a good human rights record.”
According to Ambassador King, “the fact that North Korea has so little [international] support […] is an indication of progress made.”
He praised the “role that NGOs play in terms of raising these human rights issues. Organizations like UN Watch… are playing critical and important roles focusing on North Korea’s human rights record.”
Ambassador Lee Jung-hoon, Ambassador for Human Rights of the Republic of Korea condemned the “tyranny of the Kim Jong-un regime” and underlined the necessity for accountability during his address.
He alluded to the Commission of Inquiry’s damning report which concluded that North Korea’s “atrocities do not have parallel in the contemporary world,” and are “tantamount to […] crimes against humanity.” North Korea is “violating practically every one of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Illustrating the “ongoing crisis” that is North Korea’s human rights predicament with vivid examples, Ambassador Lee spoke of women “subjected to sexual assault, rape and forced abortion.”
“This is why accountability is so important,” he continued. We need a Special Rapporteur mandate “with a keen focus on accountability” and “actual (or the threat of) criminal prosecution of those responsible for the atrocities.”
Ambassador Lee remained hopeful for the prospect of real accountability, despite possible reluctance from China, North Korea’s staunch ally. “China looms over any enforcement, but even China is not indifferent to its responsibilities as a global steward on the Security Council. To be a global leader it needs recognition as a power which embraces human rights. China’s stance on North Korea may be its litmus test.”
Acknowledging civil society’s importance, Ambassador Lee expressed his thanks to the event organizers: “I’m of course particularly grateful to the UN Watch and NK Watch not only for putting together this important gathering, but also for their tireless efforts in combating human rights abuses throughout the world.”
He reserved particularly warm praise for UN Watch: “I just want to emphasize the recognition of UN Watch as a true champion of human rights worldwide. Its work on North Korea is very important. UN Watch is a difference-maker and I’m glad it’s on our side.”
He concluded with a question to those present: “If our human rights instruments cannot stand against these unparalleled atrocities, then we have to ask what is the point of them?”
Han Dong-ho, Director of the Center for North Korean Human Rights Studies, the Korean Institute for National Unification spoke of the suffering of people under the regime “in the name of national security.”
“There is no evidence that Kim Jong-un is curious to improve the human rights situation. Even though he talks about well-being, Kim Jong-un does not focus on ordinary people,” said Mr. Han.
He called on the international community to pay attention not only to the labor camps but also to the prison camps, where the situation is “very serious.” The ordinary prison system bears witness to “gross violations,” and the vast majority of inmates are the victims of arbitrary detention facing torture, rape and other forms of mistreatment.
He spoke of the growing number of refugees fleeing North Korea as an indication of the deteriorating human rights situation there. “In South Korea we have around 30,000 North Korean refugees. Since Kim Jong-un took office, the number of refugees in South Korea has significantly increased.”
Ahn Myeong-chul , a former guard at North Korean prison camps is now a human rights activist and Executive Director of NK Watch. Mr. Ahn’s testimony to the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in DPRK has been crucial in establishing the nature and extent of human rights abuses in that country.
Ji Seong-ho is a North Korean defector who suffers from disabilities and is President of NAUJ (NGO for North Korean Human Rights)
“I was forced to hide myself in North Korea in order to not disgrace the Supreme Leader and the nation by showing my crippled appearance,” he said. Addressing Kim Jong-un rhetorically, he said “you cannot hide the truth forever, you must face justice and punishment.” A copy of his testimony can be found here.
Na Young-mi defected from North Korea and was forced to have an abortion by DPRK security agents upon her repatriation. Read her powerful testimony here.