Five years and 25 reports later, Special Rapporteur asks GA what to do about human rights in DPRK
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 22:14



On 19 October 2011, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Mr Marzuki Darusman held an interactive dialogue with the General Assembly’s Third Committee. Despite the DPRK’s refusal to recognise the mandate and grant him access to the country, States voiced their strong support for Mr. Darusman during the interactive dialogue, commending his thorough work.


Mr Darusman’s report noted the well-publicized denial of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to the DPRK population. Central to his address, however, was the grave challenge of subsistence for the majority of the country’s 16 million citizens.  68% of the population relies upon the State-run Public Distribution System (PDS) of food for their survival – a system that shows signs of continued deterioration and shortages and that may have run out of food in July of this year. In light of worsening threats of food shortages and malnutrition in the DPRK, Mr. Darusman called upon the international community to respond by resuming food and humanitarian assistance.


During the interactive dialogue, many States acknowledged that food security will continue to be of international concern, but expressed a reluctance to increase humanitarian aid without proof of the DPRK’s cooperation with international relief efforts.  Most pertinently, States called for a thorough and transparent restructuring of the PDS.  Given the DPRK’s unresponsiveness to recommendations put forward at its Universal Periodic Review, and its policy of political isolationism, many States called for a closer assessment of the perceived inequities of the PDS before guaranteeing greater food aid (Canada, Korea, US, UK). Australia suggested that the DPRK redirect money from its extensive military complex to the food program.


The severity of the food shortage is exacerbating a second theme of the Special Rapporteur’s report – the swelling number of asylum seekers and trafficking victims from the DPRK in other countries in the region. Mr Darusman pointed to the increase of DPRK asylum seekers in Thailand from 40 to 2,482 between 2004 and 2010 as illustrative of the increasing flight of the DPRK population. Praising Thailand’s adherence to the principle of non-refoulement, the Special Rapporteur noted with dismay that it is not standard practice in all countries.  Many of those returned face recrimination and are treated as enemies of the State. Notably, the Special Rapporteur pointed to satellite imagery as evidence of the expansion of political prisons – now estimated to hold up to 200,000 political prisoners.


Mr Darusman also voiced his concern over reports of violence against women in the DPRK. Connecting it to a cultural expectation of obedience and passivity in women, the Special Rapporteur encouraged State authorities to establish awareness-raising programmes and undertake proper efforts to protect victims of violence and prosecute perpetrators.


The dialogue portion of the program revealed somewhat of a disconnect between the concerns of greatest urgency to the States and those raised in Mr Darusman’s report. Even though he encouraged States to look at his more expansive March 2011 report to the HRC, and announced plans to focus on areas such as abduction of foreign nationals and government accountability for human rights violations in future reports, it was clear that many States viewed these issues to be of greater importance at the moment. Japan, Korea, the US, and the Maldives wanted greater clarity on the fates of those who have been allegedly abducted by DPRK. Other States deplored the lack of freedom of expression and pressed for expansion of these rights (EU, UK, Switzerland). Still others spoke out against the conditions in prisons and called for a release of the thousands of political prisoners (Australia, Canada, Switzerland). 


The Czech Republic asked about the potential for a commission of inquiry or referral of the case against the DPRK for crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. Noting the 25 reports written on the dire situation of human rights in the DPRK in the last five years, Mr. Darusman closed by putting the question back to states. He seemed at a loss as he asked what the international community intended to do, urging States to consider whether a commission of inquiry was warranted. He also mentioned his intention to provide a future report on legal perspectives applicable to the abductions of foreign nationals in the DPRK. 


The DPRK soundly rejected the SR’s report and decried it as rife with manipulated facts and motivated by political dishonesty. The delegate added that the DPRK never recognised the mandate nor did it accept the resolution by which the mandate was created. 

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 October 2011 17:16
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