Calls Made In Geneva To Hold North Korean Regime To Account for Crimes Against Humanity
Remarks by David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool), co-chairman of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, March 9th 2017, at a forum held during the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, and speaking alongside His Honour Judge Michael Kirby (chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry) and Dr.Marzuki Darusman, former UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea.
I have four points.
Let me deal with impunity and accountability first:
The Korean regime has committed egregious and enormous outrages so great that they constitute crimes against humanity.
With China increasingly unhappy with a regime that it has protected thus far, new efforts should now be made to persuade China to consider not using a veto and to allow a resolution referring Kim Jong-Un’s regime to the ICC.
Failing that, an ad hoc Regional Tribunal, allowing victims to detail the crimes committed against them, should be established.
Three years ago a referral to the ICC was a key recommendation of the United Nations damning report on North Korea’s appalling human rights record. 80 witnesses, and more than 240 confidential interviews with victims and witnesses, led Justice Kirby’s Commission of Inquiry to conclude that “the gravity, scale and nature” of the human rights violations in North Korea “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”.
It detailed a catalogue of crimes against humanity, that included “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions”, as well as severe religious persecution, enforced disappearances, and starvation and that the “unspeakable atrocities” faced by up to 120,000 prisoners in the country’s system of prison camps “resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian States established during the twentieth century”. No official or institution is held accountable, the inquiry concluded, because “impunity reigns”.
On their website the ICC says this about the crimes it was established to investigate:
1. 27. What are crimes against humanity?
“Crimes against humanity” include any of the following acts committed
· persecution against an identifiable group – such as – on religious grounds;
· other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or
serious bodily or mental injury.
– The small group of people that rule North Korea (the 5-6, 80 years old-plus men who run the Organisation and Guidance Department; and KJU) will never put themselves in a position to be prosecuted. But, like Sudan’s Field Marshall Bashir they can be tried in absentia. He was indicted for genocide.
The new UN Special Rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, rightly insists that the international community must “ensure that serious human rights violations, especially those amounting to crimes against humanity, do not go unpunished.”
Countries like the UK should be laying a Resolution to that effect before the Security Council.
Ultimately, accountability and justice for millions of North Koreans will come through transitional justice mechanisms (Truth Commissions, memorials, evidence taking sessions etc) where communities come to terms with the horrors of the past decades that have been committed by people they know.
Shining a light on these outrages and making it clear that a Nuremburg moment awaits those who continue to carry out such outrages and atrocities.
Secondly, in the UK:
In Parliament we have an effective and active all-party group that regularly raises questions and debates.
Among its achievements have been to focus on breaking the information blockade and persuading the BBC and the British Government to support BBC World Service broadcasts to Korea. Other Parliaments all over the world should be urged to establish similar groups and to co-ordinate specific initiatives.
But even in the UK – with an embassy in Pyongyang and an active parliamentary presence –
– The Government has not assigned any funding to promoting human rights inside North Korea, and should support UK-based NGOs who work on North Korea.
– However, to its credit, the UK Government has long supported General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, often helping draft them, and enforced appropriate sanctions.
Thirdly, In the EU:
– The media focus has been on forced labourers in Poland and Malta. This has achieved some success in that Poland claimed it had stopped issuing visas to North Korean workers and the company that hired North Koreans in Malta sent them home. However, we hear that Poland’s claims and realities don’t match and that North Koreans still enter and disperse across the Shengen area, as per their visas allow.
– Moreover, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of North Korean ‘businessmen’ living legally in Europe that operate for the state and pass almost undetected. It is worth noting that one of the suspects in the killing of Kim Jong Nam was living perfectly legally in Malaysia, but can be considered a sleeper cell. The same is true all over Europe – especially in Southern Europe.
– The EU remains too focused on the nuclear issue.
Less so on the human rights issue.
It was encouraging to note the Group of Independent Experts report issued last week, and the UN Special Raporteur’s first report, both of which contain helpful ideas- some of which I and other raised during a Question on the floor of the House of Lords last week.
This is precisely the sort of information – along with the COI Report – that needs to be regularly despatched to parliamentarians and governments.
To those who suggest that there have been improvements on human rights in North Korea, I would say that all the evidence suggests the opposite.
Human rights of ordinary North Koreans continues to decline in the KJU-era. . Individual human rights based sanctions have been instituted by the US, but not the UK or EU.
No on-the-ground action has been taken to prevent the Kim regime from continuing their depredations.
Meanwhile, even as we meet, children in North Korea are taught to hate South Koreans, Japanese, Americans and the ‘West’ in general. A new report, Forced to Hate: North Korea’s Education System, analyses text books in North Korean schools. In their classrooms children are fed on a diet of distorted history and Kim worship along with hateful propaganda against those denounced as their enemies.
Kim Jong-nam’s cruel assassination in Malaysia using a banned toxic nerve agent – in a country that has an estimated 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons – is a wake-up call to us all, including China, that the North Korean regime is not simply a pariah to be ridiculed, but a dangerous threat to the world; that human rights and security are two sides of the same coin; and that, if this is truly a State without parallel, then our efforts to expose what it does to its own people must surely be without parallel too.
U.N. urged to prepare N.Korea case for alleged crimes against humanity
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, March 9 (Reuters) – A veteran investigator urged the
United Nations on Thursday to appoint an international legal
expert to prepare judicial proceedings against North Korea‘s
leadership for documented crimes against humanity.
His call came amid an international furore over the murder
of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un and critic of his rule, in Malaysia last
A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a 2014 report issued after
it conducted interviews and public hearings with defectors,
catalogued massive violations in North Korea – including large
prison camps, starvation and executions – that it said should be
brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general who
served on the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea, said
the U.N. Human Rights Council must pursue North Korean
accountability during its current session.
“There is a need for the Human Rights Council to appoint an
independent special expert to oversee the judicial prosecutorial
process which will lead up to an eventual mechanism of
accountability,” Marzuki told a panel held on the sidelines of
the Geneva forum.
The landmark 2014 report, rejected by Pyongyang, said North
Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for
crimes against humanity.
Evidence recorded over the past decade or more by U.N.
investigators should be given to a new U.N. mechanism for
prosecution, he said, adding: “Let us prevail in the end-game.”
Experts hope an ad hoc tribunal on North Korea may be set up
someday, as China would be expected to veto any move in the U.N.
Security Council to refer its ally to the ICC.
The “assassination” of Kim Jong Nam ought to be a “wake-up
call”, Lee Jung-Hoon, South Korean ambassador for North Korean
human rights, told the event.
“That is why I think this assassination is such a
game-changer because a general audience is seeing for the first
time live what kind of regime we are really dealing with,” Lee
“If North Korea is able to do this to the older brother of
Kim, to the uncle of Kim (Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013), and
all the elite purging left and right, can you imagine what life
might be like if you are a prisoner in a North Korean prison
camp, with over 100,000 of them?” he said.
Australian Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the 2014
inquiry, said witness statements would be used once a tribunal
and prosecutor were appointed. “Accountability is the name of
the game in human rights, otherwise it’s all rhetoric.”
During the Session at Geneva Lord Alton also met with Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea:
GENEVA (Issued as received) – A call to firmly assign responsibility for gross human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will be made by the UN Special Rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, when he presents the first report to the Human Rights Council since his appointment in June 2016.
The report* will be discussed amid increasing political tensions between the DPRK and its neighbours after the authorities in Pyongyang resumed nuclear tests and missile launches using ballistic technology. The UN Security Council has already strengthened sanctions against the DPRK as a result.
The report of the Special Rapporteur highlights the need to hold perpetrators of gross human rights violations accountable, and practical options towards accountability are further explored in the report by the group of independent experts, Sonja Biserko and Sara Hossain, who were mandated by the Human Rights Council to support the Special Rapporteur on issues of accountability.
Mr. Ojea Quintana argues that recent political developments and the push for militarization have further isolated the country from the international community and reduced opportunities to discuss human rights. He says: “It is clear that the deteriorating security and political situation, and the prospect of instability, do not make room for an easy conversation about human rights.”
There have been a few attempts to set up a dialogue between the DPRK and UN human rights mechanisms, including through the submission of long-overdue national reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
“These are important channels for the DPRK to discuss ways to implement their international human rights obligations, and I urge the authorities to make the most of them,” the expert said.
The report provides an overview of developments in several key issues, including deficiencies in the public food distribution system, restrictions on access to information, and violations of international labour standards concerning overseas workers. The report also expresses continuing concern over the grave situation in political prison camps and the unresolved cases of enforced disappearances involving the DPRK, including the abduction of citizens of Japan and the Republic of Korea.
Mr. Ojea Quintana says the information he received came from several sources including people he met who had recently left the DPRK. He said he was “impressed that they were well aware of their rights and despite all the obstacles they faced, looked forward to the future.”
“The testimonies I have received confirm what the international community has been saying for years regarding the critical nature of the human rights situation in the DPRK, and the need to take immediate steps to protect people. The current tensions should not distract us from pursuing that goal,” Mr Ojea Quintana added.
The Special Rapporteur is calling on all parties to implement without delay the recommendations in the report of the group of independent experts on accountability, which is annexed to his report.
The group of independent experts said: “We call for a framework for accountability that is human rights-based – ensuring that the rights and needs of victims of human rights violations are at the centre of any accountability measures.” They added: “this goal can be achieved only through a fully participatory process involving victims and affected communities, to ensure that accountability measures reflect their experiences, views, and their expectations of justice.”
The group of independent experts emphasized that given the severity and complexity of the human rights situation in the DPRK, “a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach is required, in line with international norms and standards.”
This approach should encompass measures to establish individual criminal responsibility of perpetrators, as well as measures to ensure the rights of victims and societies to know the truth about violations, the rights of victims to reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence. In this context, “accountability requires coordinated efforts on all these fronts and in multiple forums,” the group added.
In their report, the independent experts mapped options for accountability within the domestic system of the DPRK and other countries; through international and internationally assisted courts; as well as through the international human rights machinery. The group of independent experts reiterated that “the DPRK is the primary duty holder of the obligation to bring perpetrators of violations in the country to account,” while the group concluded that it appeared that no viable options for accountability were in existence or had been used in the DPRK.
Given these findings, the group of independent experts called on the international community to “continue to pursue a referral of the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court. The scope for the establishment of an ad hoc international tribunal must also be duly considered – including as a deterrent for future crimes and a signal that victims will be heard,” the group added.
Finally, the report of the group of independent experts identified practical steps that should be taken immediately to contribute to a comprehensive approach towards accountability.
The group of independent experts stressed that: “concrete steps towards making accountability a reality are needed now”. The group said practical steps should include conducting awareness-raising of victims and affected communities, as well as coordinated and comprehensive consultations with victims and other stakeholders. Additionally, the group called for sustained and sound information and evidence gathering and storage, and for an assessment of available information and evidence to be undertaken in order to identify gaps and develop possible investigation and prosecution strategies and blueprints for suitable international court models.
The Special Rapporteur and the experts will hold a joint press conference on Monday 13 March at 14:00 in Palais des Nations, Press Room 3. Once delivered, their statements will be available here.
(*) Check the advance edited reports by the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/34/66) and the Group of Independent Experts (A/HRC/34/66.Add1):
Mr. Tomás OJEA QUINTANA (Argentina) was designated as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Ojea Quintana, a lawyer with more than 20 years of experience in human rights, worked for the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and represented the Argentinian NGO ‘Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo’ in cases concerning child abduction during the military regime. He is a former Head of OHCHR human rights programme in Bolivia, and served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar from 2008 to 2014. Learn more:
Ms. Sonja Biserko (Serbia) was designated by the High Commissioner as a member of the Group of Independent Experts. She is the founder and President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, a founding member of the Centre for Anti-War Action in the Belgrade Forum for International Relations, and a senior fellow in the United States Institute of Peace. She has received several human rights awards, including the Human Rights Award of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York and the Human Rights Award of the University of Oslo. She was a member of the former commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Ms. Sara Hossain (Bangladesh) was designated by the High Commissioner as a member of the Group of Independent Experts. She is a Barrister, practicing in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh for over 20 years, with a focus on constitutional and public interest litigation, including on freedom of expression, economic and social rights, and gender justice. She ran the South Asia Programme at INTERIGHTS from 1997 to 2003. She served as a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, and founding Director of the South Asia Women’s Fund. She is a recipient of awards, including from the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
Learn more: The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
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28 February 2017
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the sanctions imposed by China against North Korea following the assassination of Kim Jong-nam and the recent ballistic missile test, whether they will call in the North Korean Ambassador.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I should mention that I am co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.
My Lords, on 14 February we summoned the ambassador for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in response to its ballistic missile test on 11 February. We made it clear that such actions were in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a threat to international security, and that such destabilising activity must stop. We continue to be deeply concerned by its actions, including reports that it is responsible for the killing of Kim Jong-nam.
My Lords, does not the horrific use of VX, a toxic nerve agent, to assassinate Kim Jong-nam serve to remind us of North Korea’s total disregard for international law, whether through the use of banned chemical weapons, of which it has some 5,000 tonnes, its nuclear and missile test, or the execution and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens? Has the noble Baroness noted that at the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is currently meeting in Geneva, there are recommendations to establish an ad hoc tribunal or to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court? Will we be endorsing this and seeking China’s support to bring to justice those responsible for these egregious and systemic violations of human rights?
The noble Lord is right in his condemnation of the DPRK’s complete disregard for international norms. Dealing with those is a difficult matter. We certainly support the UN Commission of Inquiry and want to see how we can take forward its recommendations.
With regard to the alleged use of VX, Malaysia has gathered its own information. We have no reason to doubt its conclusions that it is VX, a highly toxic nerve agent, and that the DPRK is responsible, since it has the capacity to produce it. Until there is an international awareness of that information, we cannot take action internationally to condemn what has happened and provide the evidential link between the DPRK and the murder of Kim Jong-nam.
My Lords, there was a very similar assassination on British soil not a mile from here—that of Alexander Litvinenko—by the Russian Secret Service. Can my noble friend please tell us when she last called in the Russian ambassador, and what progress has been made on that inquiry?
My Lords, I cannot recall the exact date because, of course, I do not call in the Russian ambassador. But I can reassure my noble friend that I am aware that the Russian ambassador has been called in on at least one occasion last year with regard to Russia’s disregard for international norms. Whatever country uses international murder to dispose of people who are inconvenient to it is wrong and should face international opprobrium.
My Lords, China is the key player in relation to North Korea, and its action appears to complete the isolation of that country. How do the Government interpret its sanctions? Are they temporary, or can we expect a sea change in China’s policy?
The noble Lord is right to point to the fact that China has now made it clear that it is compliant with the UN Security Council resolution on sanctions on the coal trade between the DPRK and China. On 18 February this year, China declared that it would be fully compliant. It had actually been in breach in December, so it has made sure that throughout the whole of this year it will now be compliant. We welcome that public declaration and look forward to receiving further details about how it is observed. It was an important step forward.
My Lords, I have a particular interest in those who escaped from North Korea, both through my membership of the all-party group and the link that we have in the diocese of Peterborough with the diocese of Seoul in South Korea, which does a lot to support escapees. Can the Minister please tell us whether our Government are talking to the Government of China about their apparent policy of sending refugees straight back to North Korea, where they face execution or incarceration in camps, and whether we will ask China to allow people freedom of passage to those countries which welcome them?
The right reverend Prelate raises an important issue on which we are at variance with the Chinese. They believe that those who flee the DPRK to save their own lives are in fact economic migrants and are therefore subject to return. I can assure the right reverend Prelate that we did indeed raise the issue of forced repatriation of refugees on numerous occasions with China, most recently at the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue in October, and we will continue to do so, including in international fora. We have also discussed the UN Commission of Inquiry report with senior Chinese officials in Beijing. It is important that we keep up pressure on this matter.
The imposition of sanctions is all the more significant having regard to the previous ambivalence of the Chinese Government towards North Korea. Should not these sanctions be warmly welcomed, not only here but in the White House, so that, whatever their differences, China and the United States can make common cause in the containment of North Korea?
The noble Lord is absolutely right. As the new Trump Administration have taken office, it is important that they and China find accord on this matter.
My Lords, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of the security of North Korean defectors here in the United Kingdom and the potential security threat of the North Korean embassy in this country?
My Lords, it is a matter of fact that we have, of course, concern for all those who are in this country, whatever their nationality. We have a duty of protection in general terms. We do not provide individual protection for those who are not British citizens, as such, but we are aware that some persons are at particular risk. Because of security matters and the safety of those individuals, it would be wrong of me to go further than that.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report which urged all democratic countries to help break the information blockade that engulfs North Korea. The All-Party Parliamentary Group has organised a successful campaign to persuade the BBC World Service to broadcast to North Korea. Is the Minister able to tell your Lordships’ House when those broadcasts will begin?
My Lords, I am not at present able to do so, but we strongly support the BBC’s mission to bring high-quality impartial news on this matter, including, of course, providing information about DPRK. I will see whether the BBC has come forward with any further information that I have not heard about recently.
My Lords, does my noble friend have any information about the number of Christians who are now incarcerated in North Korea for the sake of their religion? It is one of the countries where they are most harassed and oppressed.
My noble friend is right to raise the plight of Christians in North Korea. Although the constitution in DPRK provides the right to have freedom to believe, those who practise religion outside very closely state-controlled faiths find themselves subject to appalling persecution. It is matter that we raise frequently with the North Korean Government through our embassy in Pyongyang, the United Nations and the Human Rights Council. But it is a continuing, appalling, flagrant breach of international norms.