Members of UN-mandated probe into human rights abuses in DPR Korea announced

[This announcement was published by the United Nations News Service on 7 May 2013. –CanKor]

President of the Human Rights Council Remigiusz A. Henczel (right) and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. (Photo by Violaine Martin)

President of the Human Rights Council Remigiusz A. Henczel (right) and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. (Photo by Violaine Martin)

The President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Remigiusz A. Henczel, today announced the appointment of the members of the commission of inquiry set up to investigate alleged abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The three-member commission will comprise Michael Donald Kirby, a retired judge from Australia; Sonja Biserko, founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia; and Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney General of Indonesia and the current UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korea Faces Heightened Human Rights Scrutiny, by Roberta Cohen

[CanKor Brain Trust member Roberta Cohen published an extensive analysis of the latest decision by the UN Human Rights Council regarding the DPRK in our partner-website 38North. For the benefit of CanKor readers we reprint the first part of this article here. For the rest of the paper, including footnotes, please access the 38North website here. –CanKor]

Roberta CohenOn March 21, 2013 the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body of 47 states, adopted by consensus a resolution to establish a commission of inquiry (COI) into North Korea’s “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights.” The commission is to be composed of three experts who will intensively investigate for a period of one year the human rights violations perpetrated by North Korea’s government with a view to ensuring “full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity” [emphasis added].

The establishment of the commission reflects long overdue recognition that a human rights ‘emergency’ exists in North Korea. Commissions of inquiry at the United Nations have mainly been directed at situations like Syria, Darfur or Libya where conflicts, atrocities and destruction are clearly visible and in the headlines. Adding North Korea to the list suggests a new look at what a human rights crisis might be. In contrast to other situations, North Korea has always managed to hide its crimes. Most prison camps are in remote mountain areas, access to the country is barred to human rights groups, and rigid internal controls make it impossible for anyone who does manage to visit to talk with North Koreans about human rights. Indeed, the lack of access and the UN’s inability to form an “independent diagnosis” of the situation has long contributed to the reluctance of its senior officials to speak out strongly about North Korea. Even the US State Department’s human rights report for 2011, published in 2012, contained the caveat that no one can “assess fully human rights conditions or confirm reported abuses” in North Korea. Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: Human Rights Progress In North Korea: Is It Possible? by Roberta Cohen

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by CanKor Brain Trust member Roberta CohenRoberta Cohen is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in human rights and humanitarian issues; a Senior Associate at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University; and Co-Chair of the the Board of Directors of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). The opinions expressed by the author are solely her own. Find more articles by Roberta Cohen. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

Despite hopes, even predictions that Kim Jong Il’s death might usher in progress on human rights in North Korea, no change is yet discernible. North Korean defectors have long speculated that Kim Jong Un would not enjoy the same lockstep support commanded by his father and grandfather and might have to respond in some measure to popular needs and aspirations.[1] The North Korean economy, moreover, might not survive without reform. Even though the government periodically clamps down on private market activity, the people, including some in the government, are increasingly showing themselves to be of a “market mentality.”[2] Since they will not easily relinquish this reliance, it could pave the way toward greater economic freedom and ultimately political reform. New information technology is further eroding the isolation imposed by the regime.

Is this wishful thinking? Even assuming Kim Jong Un were inclined to promote change (a very big unknown), could he do it? He is surrounded by his father’s advisers and hard line repression continues while he consolidates his authority. As one expert put it, Kim Jong Un will not be able “to depart from his father’s legacy until he has fully established himself as the new ruler.” But “the longer he spends strengthening his position based on the same system of brutal repression, the less of a chance he will have to break away.”[3] Arrests and purges have accompanied his ascension to power,[4] reinforced by the support of those in the military, party and elite who stand to benefit from the regime’s continuation.

Tacit support has been given to Kim Jong Un by the international community. Wary of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and aggressive stance toward the South, and fearful of possible refugee flows and instability, China, the United States and other countries have made ‘stability’ their principal objective. However, in the process of doing so, they have largely sidelined the equally compelling need for justice and human rights.

Of course, unexpected changes can take place in countries deemed unlikely for human rights reform.[5] They may arise less from external pressure than from the ripening of conditions inside the country toward openness and change. Or they may arise from governmental steps to institute reforms to ensure the regime’s survival and secure international aid. In the latter case, North Korea’s surprise announcement of a satellite launch in April appears for the moment to be scuttling prospects for international assistance from the US and other countries and ushering in a period in which prospects for human rights reform look dim. Nonetheless, it is important to identify the signs to look for when trying to gauge whether Pyongyang’s new leaders are ready to head in new directions. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korean Gulag Conference to be held in Washington DC

The US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) has announced that a one-day conference will be held in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, 10 April 2012, entitled “Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Political Prisoner Camp System & Calling for Its Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible Dismantlement”. The conference is organized together with the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, and will be hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics at the C. Fred Bergsten Conference Center (1750 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036).

Two CanKor Brain Trust members have prominent parts in the proceedings. As Chair of HRNK, Roberta Cohen (Non-resident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution) will make opening remarks. David Hawk, author of “Hidden Gulag” (First & Second Edition), will be the first presenter in the first panel of the conference.  Read the rest of this entry »

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