Combining UN pressure on human rights, nukes & missiles, by Roberta Cohen

[CanKor Brain Trust member Roberta Cohen, non-resident senior fellow at Brookings and co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, conveys to Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report her personal views regarding both optimism and pessimism surrounding Monday’s statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in the DPRK. –CanKor]

Roberta CohenRoberta Cohen: It was the first stand alone statement – and a strong one at that – by a High Commissioner on human rights conditions in the DPRK. The statement has a few interesting features:

First, High Commissioner Navi Pillay acknowledged that “the deplorable human rights situation in DPRK…has no parallel anywhere else in the world” and called for greater international attention to the abuses reported by former prisoners with whom she met for the first time in December 2012. This sharply contrasts with the past when High Commissioners failed to meet with defectors and generally qualified their remarks about North Korea in part because the UN could not directly access the prisons or give an independent diagnosis of the situation.

Pillay in fact repeats, “We know so little about these camps and what we do know comes largely from the relatively few refugees who have managed to escape from the country.” Yet, far more than a “few” have escaped and given credible testimony. [CanKor Brain Trust member] David Hawk‘s 200-page report Hidden Gulag, published in 2012 by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, contains the testimony of 60 former prisoners and guards. A lot of the accumulated testimony corroborates other testimony, making it factual and hard to ignore. Moreover, hundreds of the 25,000 North Koreans now in the South were former prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for international inquiry

[The following article was issued by the Media Centre of the Office of the UNHCHR, dated Geneva, 14 January 2013. The South African lawyer Navanethem Pillay has been the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights since 1 September 2008. –CanKor]

Pillay urges more attention to human rights abuses in North Korea

Press conference Navanethem PillayThe UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called Monday for the international community to put much more effort into tackling the “deplorable” human rights situation of people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and said the time had come for a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes that had been taking place in the country for decades.

“There were some initial hopes that the advent of a new leader might bring about some positive change in the human rights situation in DPRK,” Pillay said. “But a year after Kim Jong Un became the country’s new supreme leader, we see almost no sign of improvement.”

“I am also concerned that, at the international level, the spotlight is almost exclusively focused on DPRK’s nuclear programme and rocket launches,” she said. “While these, of course, are issues of enormous importance, they should not be allowed to overshadow the deplorable human rights situation in DPRK, which in one way or another affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere else in the world.” Read the rest of this entry »

Publication: Bridging the chasm between human rights and peace

Pro-engagement activists have often argued that the pursuit of peace and reconciliation with the DPRK requires that human rights take a back seat in negotiations. At the other end of the spectrum have been anti-engagement activists who have argued that negotiation for peace and reconciliation is futile in the absence of human rights.

In May 2010 the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) published a report entitled, PURSUING PEACE WHILE ADVANCING RIGHTS: The Untried Approach to North Korea, by David Hawk. To my knowledge, this is the first serious attempt to bridge what have been assumed to be irreconcilable positions. Read the rest of this entry »

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