The United Nations (UN) is the only multilateral forum of which the DPRK is a member, and that reviews, discusses and publishes reports on the country’s human rights record. Since 2003, the UN’s human rights head has tried to establish a dialogue with the DPRK on human rights. The UN’s main human rights body, the Commission on Human Rights, that year called upon the High Commissioner to engage in a “comprehensive dialogue” with the DPRK with a view to establishing technical cooperation programs in the field of human rights. However, she has reported since 2006 efforts have yielded no results.
1) UPR process
The Human Rights Council, established in 2006, is a subsidiary of the United Nations General Assembly, and works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It has established a package to monitor human rights, among which the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which reviews the human rights records of all UN member states every four years. North Korea’s first UPR took place in 2009-10 and authorities agreed to participate and sent a high level delegation. Member states made 167 recommendations to its government for improving its practices. It rejected 50 out of hand and separated out 117 recommendations that it said it would “examine.” But in the end, it did not identify a single recommendation it would carry out. In 2011, the General Assembly expressed “serious concern” at North Korea’s “continued refusal” to identify the recommendations that enjoyed its support. The next review of DPRK will take place in May 2014, which will be a critical time to address the human rights situation in the country. Considering that no national consultation will take place, the following actions can be undertaken by non-government organizations:
- Monitor the implementation by DPRK of UPR recommendations
- Send submissions to the Office of the High Commissioner before the next review
- Lobby members of the Working Group (in 2009, some delegations, including China, Iran, and Belarus, Yemen, Zimbabwe, and Palestine commended the “government success on human rights” in North Korea)
- Take the floor during the plenary before the adoption of the outcome
2) HRC resolutions
In March 2012, an EU-led resolution by the UN Human Rights Council against DPRK was adopted. This was the fifth year in a row such a resolution was adopted to denounce the abysmal, systematic human rights violations in DPRK. For the first time, North Korea’s allies in the council did not call for a vote, and instead allowed the resolution to pass by consensus. The EU-led resolution against North Korea seeks Pyongyang’s cooperation in facilitating access to the UN-mandated investigator but it was dismissed by North Korea’s envoy as a “product of political confrontation.” In 2010, the European Parliament had adopted a resolution urging North Korea to improve its human rights conditions and for the European states to step up their monitoring of the situation in the country. It urged the EU to support the establishment of a U.N. commission to assess human rights violations in the country, and its member states to sponsor a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly demanding that the DPRK’s “crimes against humanity” be subject to international jurisdiction, including the country’s systematic extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and political prison camps.
NGO/civil society side-events can be organized around the next HRC sessions to further
qualify the crimes under international law committed in DPRK and have these reflected in the future resolutions.
3) Other UN human rights bodies
The DPRK has acceded to four human rights treaties (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child) and is required to report to expert bodies set up under these treaties to monitor compliance with them. For the most part, the DPRK has reported inadequately and tardily. It has, however, made reports, albeit brief, to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but has failed to submit its report, due in 2004, on compliance with the civil and political rights covenant. Thematic reports can be prepared by NGOs whether DPRK submits its reports or not.
The DPRK has at different times reported to the UN the changes it has made in its laws. For instance, it revised its Criminal Code and Criminal Procedures Code to shorten pre-trial detention and restrict night time interrogations. It also reformed some of its laws on children, family law and disabilities. Some of these changes, although cosmetic, may have helped some individuals. Its reports about capital punishment, however, have hidden information. It reported to the UN that the number of offenses for capital punishment was six but the Special Rapporteur unearthed an addendum to the Criminal Code that brings to 22 the total number of crimes that carry the death penalty. NGOs can support the Special Rapporteur in his task and assist him in unveiling some of the shortcomings of DPRK’s legal framework.