Security Council: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Note: A complete summary of this morning’s Security Council meeting will be made available after its conclusion.


VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that rarely has the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea been “more painfully closed” to the outside world than it is today. This is a result of Government policies that were initially linked to containing the COVID-19 pandemic, but which have grown even more extensive as the pandemic has waned. Information collected indicates increasing repression of the rights to freedoms of expression, privacy and movement, the persistence of widespread forced labour practices and a worsening situation for economic and social rights. Anyone who views so-called “reactionary ideology and culture” – a term used for information from abroad, in particular the Republic of Korea – may now face imprisonment of 5 to 15 years. Any person found to have distributed such content faces life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Widespread imposition of forced labour by the State has continued during the recent border closures, he said, underscoring that the “profoundly disturbing” practice of forced mobilization has extended to children. Within the country, markets and other private means of generating income, have been largely shut down, and such activity is increasingly criminalized. “Given the limits of State-run economic institutions, many people appear to be facing extreme hunger, as well as acute shortages of medication,” he said. There are reports that starvation exists in parts of the country. Meanwhile, people’s fear of State surveillance, arrest, interrogation and detention has increased. Their rights to privacy are systematically violated. Homes are subjected to random searches. Neighbours and family members are encouraged to report on each other. Punishments for even minor infractions can be severe, possibly amounting to gross human rights violations.

Thousands of enforced disappearances have been perpetrated by the State over the past 70 years, including of Koreans from both north and south of the demilitarized zone, he continued. The north-south cross-border family reunion scheme has been cruelly stalled since 2018 due to political tensions. For all the victims of violations and crimes, accountability is essential. However, in the absence of meaningful action, he encouraged action from Member States or international fora, including the International Criminal Court. Further, he urged all States to refrain from forcibly repatriating North Koreans, and to provide them with the required protections. Many of the violations stem directly from, or support, the increasing militarization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Sustainable peace can only be built by advancing human rights, and its corollaries: reconciliation, inclusion and justice, he recalled.

ELIZABETH SALMÓN, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, stressed that the human rights of people in that country “continue to have deteriorated under the current state of tensions and unprecedented isolation”. The prolonged border shutdown, which started in early 2020, has brought increased hardship, with informal markets significantly repressed, depriving a vast number of people from their livelihoods and preventing many from buying food. She noted that some people are starving while others having died due to a combination of malnutrition, diseases and lack of access to health care. While 2023 marks the seventieth anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement signed in 1953, there is no visible sign of peacemaking. On the contrary, “Songun”, the Military First Policy, gives priority to the allocation of resources to the military, thereby reducing the limited resources for respecting and fulfilling people’s human rights.

She emphasized that the country’s leadership continues to demand that its citizens tighten their belts, strengthens gender stereotypes and creates the ongoing demand for forced labour. It has further caused the systematic abduction of its people and other nationals, notably from the Republic of Korea and Japan, creating cycles of separated families, and triggering economic sanctions, with a detrimental impact on the people. “The international community must look again at the use and impact of such tools,” she affirmed. Voicing particular concern over the situation of women and girls, she noted the former are detained in inhuman conditions and subjected to torture and ill-treatment, forced labour and gender-based violence by State officials. Female escapees who are forcibly repatriated to the country are subjected to invasive body searches for money hidden in their body cavities and genitals – while gender-based violence, including domestic and sexual violence, is prevalent.

Noting that victims have no access to reporting or protection mechanisms, she called on third countries to refrain from forced repatriation complying with the principle of non-refoulement. She further urged Member States of the Council to support victims and civil society organizations in both judicial and non‑judicial accountability efforts. “Preparation for any possible peacemaking process needs to include women as decision makers and this process needs to start now,” she affirmed. She called for a set number of country visits each year by special procedures mandate holders, including access to detention facilities, and a set number of family reunions per year – with implementation of the recommendations that Pyongyang accepted during the universal periodic review of the Human Rights Council. “We cannot remain indifferent. The pain is there,” she stressed.

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