Shining a Light on North Korea's Human Rights Crisis
Image Credit: Flickr (keithpr)

Shining a Light on North Korea's Human Rights Crisis


On November 27, the third committee of the UN General Assembly, the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, passed a resolution condemning the human rights situation in North Korea. For the first time since a resolution was first introduced in 2005, this year’s resolution was passed by consensus, which, as Stephen Haggard notes on Witness to Transformation, constitutes a trend of more and more countries supporting the condemnation of North Korea’s humanitarian and human rights catastrophe each year. As Haggard notes: “In 2005, the first resolution garnered support from 88 nations, but 21 voted no outright, 60 abstained and 22 did not vote. Fast-forward to 2011: 123 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 16 voted no, 51 abstained and only 3 failed or refused to vote…. The number of countries willing to go on the record with respect to North Korea’s human rights has increased by about 50 percent over the last seven years”

This year, Even North Korea’s longtime ally China did not seek to vote against the resolution. The resolution expressed concerns about "persistent reports of systematic, widespread and grave violations" of fundamental human rights and North Korea's use of public executions, torture, illegal and arbitrary detention, concentration camps for political prisoners, the punishing of the relatives of these prisoners, and for draconian restrictions on freedom of expression, religion, thought and movement. It also expressed concern for the rights of North Korean defectors repatriated by China who have been ferociously punished and can be killed for the "crime" of leaving the country.

North Korea, as it has done every year, rejected all of the allegations and effortlessly dismissed the statement as "political terrorism." But, in truth, the resolution only touches the surface of the humanitarian and human rights emergency within North Korea.

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Numerous reports over the last ten years have determined that North Korea's exploitative and discriminatory food policy, which has been the primary cause of between one and four million deaths since the mid-1990s, and its inhuman treatment of political prisoners constitute crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In December of last year, Genocide Watch, a non-partisan NGO which exists "to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide" and whose board of advisers includes respected anti-genocide activists such as Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire and Samantha Power, published a report which found conclusively that North Korea has committed genocide as defined by the UN Genocide Convention, stating that there is "ample proof that genocide has been committed and mass killing is still underway in North Korea."

At this moment, every method which constitutes genocide as outlined in Article 2 of the UN Genocide Convention is being utilized by the DPRK security apparatus within North Korea's prison camps, where up to 250,000 innocents, one-third of them children, are being forced to do slave labor on starvation rations and are daily subjected to heinous torture and executions. In addition, the DPRK is actively targeting for destruction every group which is protected under the Genocide Convention through its decades-long policy of killing the half-Chinese babies of North Korean women forcibly repatriated by China (constituting genocide on national, ethnical, and racial grounds) and through its systematic annihilation of its indigenous religious population and their families (genocide on religious grounds).

In 2006, the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik commissioned a report which called for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution urging open access to North Korea for humanitarian relief and for the release of political prisoners. In an op-ed for the New York Times the same year, they called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to "make his first official action a briefing of the Security Council on this dire situation." This has yet to take place.

Again, in 2009 and 2010, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in North Korea Vitit Muntarbhorn urged for the "totality of the United Nations system, especially the Security Council," to be mobilized "to take measures to prevent egregious violations and protect people from victimization," and for an "end to impunity."

To date, no U.S. administration has meaningfully addressed this genocide, focusing rather on the security threat but without success. North Korea is at present the world's worst proliferator of nuclear weapons technology and, according to an August 16 assessment of Pyongyang’s potential fissile material production over the next four years, the The Institute for Science and International Security concludes that North Korea could possess anywhere from 14 to 48 nuclear warheads by 2016. The upper bounds of this estimate, according to ISIS, would constitute an increase of up to 25 nuclear warheads from its current estimated stockpile. Critical opportunities have been missed and time continues to be wasted while masses of North Korean innocents suffer brutality and die. What is long overdue is for the United States and other members of the world community to bring the matter of crimes against humanity and genocide in North Korea before the UN Security Council and, to prioritize the fundamental freedoms and lives of the North Korean people in all bilateral or multilateral discussions and initiatives on North Korea in the future.

Robert Park is a minister, human rights activist and founding member of the nonpartisan Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea, a non-profit working to provide life-saving resources to victims and their families within North Korea.

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