Academic journal article The Journal of East Asian Affairs

Human Rights in North Korea: A European Perspective

Academic journal article The Journal of East Asian Affairs

Human Rights in North Korea: A European Perspective

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In February 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI ) on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPR K) of the UN Human Rights Council, published a report about North Korea's human rights situation unprecedented in scope and depth. The Commission's analysis portrays massive human rights violations and crimes against humanity:

The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world. Political scientists of the 20th century characterized this type of political organization as a totalitarian state: A state that does not content itself with ensuring the authoritarian rule of a small group of people, but seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens' lives and terrorizes them from within. (UN COI 2014, 365) However, these "unspeakable atrocities" are largely ignored and do not get much attention in the European public and media.

North Korea terrorizes its own population with widespread executions, torture, disappearances, and arbitrary detentions, as the Commission meticulously describes in its report of about 400 pages. On December 18, 2014, the UN General Assembly condemned these violations and encouraged the Security Council of the United Nations to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC ). The Security Council did not follow the recommendation, mostly because of the expected veto by China and Russia. The European Union and in particular Germany - mindful of its own past - should continue to address North Korea's human rights situation in the United Nations and press for more action of the international community.

TH E UNITED NATIONS AND HUMAN RIGH TS IN NORTH KOREA

The Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was installed in March 2013 by UN Human Rights Council resolution 22/13 that was adopted unanimously without a vote. The initiative to take a closer look on North Korea's human rights situation came from the Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), who was supported in this initiative by a group of other special procedures mandate holders. Mr. Darusman was also one of the three members of the COI , together with Michael Kirby, a former judge from Australia and chairman of the Commission of Inquiry, and Sonja Biserko, the president of the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (UN Human Rights Council 2013). The COI published its report on February 28, 2014. As a reaction to the devastating and horrible findings of the COI , the UN Human Rights Council strongly condemned the human rights situation in North Korea in its resolution 25/25 on March 28, 2014. 30 states voted in favor, 6 against, and 11 abstained (UN Human Rights Council 2014).

On December 18, 2014, the UN General Assembly followed suit. The Assembly also strongly condemned North Korea's human rights situation in its resolution 69/188 that was primarily authored by the European Union and Japan. The General Assembly acknowledged the results of the COI 's report and decided to submit it to the Security Council and encouraged the Council to take appropriate action in order to ensure accountability for the human rights violations. The resolution mentions the possibility for the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court and/or impose targeted sanctions against those persons who appear to be the most responsible for the crimes against humanity that the COI have found to have taken place. The resolution was adopted by 116 votes against the votes of China, Russia and 18 other countries. 53 countries abstained (UN General Assembly 2015, 6; UN Security Council 2014, 10). The resolution was not only a breakthrough because of the large majority of states condemning the human right situation in the DPR K, but also because of its tough wording. …

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