Council holds interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Tuesday, 16 March 2010 14:09



On 15 March, the Human Rights Council (the Council) heard the final report from Mr Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Mr Muntarbhorn presented the report, the last of his six-year term as Special Rapporteur, as both an update on the human rights situation from the middle of 2009 and an overview of the previous six years. The report describes the human rights situation in the DPRK as unique ‘given the multiple particularities and anomalies’ and the human rights violations as both ‘harrowing and horrific’. Mr Muntarbhorn touched briefly on the six main sections in his report: food and livelihood, other basic necessities and related development, personal security and freedoms, asylum and migration, specific groups, and impunity and responsibility. Food and livelihood received the greatest attention, both by the Special Rapporteur and in the ensuing interactive dialogue. The main issues revolved around a recent drop in internal food security in DPRK due to drought and lack of fertiliser, an unequal distribution of food aid, and the negative effects of the 2009 currency revaluation. Other issues highlighted by Mr Muntarbhorn included a general decline in health and education infrastructure, forced labour and public executions, concerns over asylum seekers and collective punishment upon family of returnees, and legal impunity for those responsible for human rights violations.


As the country concerned, the DPRK responded first to Mr Muntarbhorn’s report. It took the opportunity to ‘categorically reject’ both the Special Rapporteur and his report, calling it a product of political confrontation as a result of resolutions enforced by the United States, Japan, and the European Union (EU). It urged the Council to instead direct its attention to human rights violations in the context of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the continued occupation of Palestinian territories, and historical ‘crimes against humanity’ by Japan. The DPRK stated it was committed to the universal periodic review (UPR), but that the ‘anachronistic Special Rapporteur on the DPRK’ must be eliminated.


Many comments focused on the current situation in the DPRK. The main concerns raised were reports of torture, execution, collective punishment, and slave labour (EU, Japan, Canada, UK); continued food shortages due to unequal distribution of food aid (Canada, Thailand, UK, Switzerland, Norway); and mistreatment of people repatriated to the DPRK (Canada, USA, Republic of Korea).


The majority of States to take the floor during the interactive dialogue were supportive of the work of the Special Rapporteur. There was significant support for renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and of country-specific mandates in general, with both Japan and Chile among others indicating that the UPR was not sufficient in cases such as the DPRK.


Other States took the opportunity to express their general opposition to country specific resolutions and mandates, accusing the Council of unfairly targeting the DPRK for political motivations (DPRK, Syria, Cuba, China, Angola, Sudan, Myanmar,  Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC)). Another specific issue raised was the negative effects of sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights (Syria, Sudan). This group of States urged the Council to constructively engage the DPRK, avoid confrontation, and focus on the UPR as the fairest means of promoting and protecting human rights.

The Special Rapporteur had also raised the question of whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) could be accessed, on the basis of individual criminal responsibility, even though the DPRK is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC. This novel suggestion received some attention from States as a measure to combat impunity, with both the EU and Switzerland expressing their interest in investigating the issue further.


In his response, Mr Muntarbhorn continued his stated practice of impartiality and fairness by addressing each State in turn. He expressed his support for the UPR, while stressing that it should be seen as complementary to other UN human rights mechanisms, including the Council, treaty bodies, and special procedures. He characterised the UPR as having three separate goals: ratification of treaties, implementation of law reform, and cooperation with international agencies and mechanisms. On all three points Mr Muntarbhorn indicated he awaits a response from the DPRK. The Special Rapporteur also reiterated his support for unconditional food aid and highlighted the importance of bilateral and multilateral negotiations both in terms of human rights and other issues. He took the opportunity to stress that the DPRK must move from a ‘military first’ policy to a ‘people first’ policy in order to address the injustice being done against its people, described as ‘latent, patent, and blatant.’ As the meeting marked the end of his six-year term, Mr Muntarbhorn expressed his pleasure and honour at being able to ‘independently, objectively, and pluralistically’ pursue his agenda, while being a ‘voice to those who don’t have a voice’.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 August 2010 17:13
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