COI Opens New Horizons for North Korean Human Rights Movement

The 69th Session of the UN General
Assembly’s Third Committee is close to voting on the resolution on North Korean
human rights. After the start of the UN General Assembly in September, interest
in the resolution from South Korea and the international community has been
high. The issue garnered even more attention after Marzuki Darusman, United
Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, gave an annual report on the
morning of October 28th (EST) at the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee in
New York.

North Korea’s actions in anticipation of
the resolution vote are drawing equal levels of attention. Unlike past actions regarding its human rights situation, North Korea is
taking an aggressive diplomatic approach toward the international
community due to the activity and report of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on
Human Rights in North Korea. In other words, the resolution’s clause for a
referral of the abusers of human rights in North Korea to International
Criminal Court (ICC), as recommended by the COI, has lit a fire under the North
Korean authorities.

Referral to ICC Included in Resolution on
Human Rights in North Korea

Mandated to start investigations by the UN
Human Rights Council in March 2013, the COI held interviews with 300 defectors
and relevant specialists that same summer. Then in February, the COI presented
their report at a press conference in Geneva. In March, a resolution
authorizing UN-affiliated organizations to pursue the recommendations of the
COI report was also passed. The core of the COI report and resolution states
that North Korean officials committed “crimes against humanity,” and as such, recommends that the UN Council submit the COI report to the Security Council for the responsible parties to be tried for their crimes by international
criminal justice mechanisms.

The COI’s intent for using the term
“international criminal justice mechanisms” in the Human Rights Council’s
resolution was to avoid drawing controversy by specifying the ICC, and to leave
open the opportunity for a wider range of possibilities. Realizing the COI’s true
intentions, the European Union (EU) and Japan drafted a UN General Assembly
resolution embodying the COI’s motives and distributed it to UN Permanent
Representatives. This only caused further distress to Kim Jong Eun and North
Korean officials.

North Korea’s Human Rights Diplomatic

Backed into a corner, North Korea actively
started their diplomatic counter-offensive: actions that included drafting
their own human rights report and resolution, hosting a session on North Korean
human rights, and holding two meetings with the Special Rapporteur on Human
Rights in North Korea. North Korea requested in particular “the removal of the
language mentioning the ICC referral, and in exchange, what has been so desired
for the past ten years: the special rapporteur’s visit to North Korea.” At the
same time, North Korea also showed signs of dismantling Camp 15 (Yodeok
Political Prison Camp). Additionally, they stepped forward with an aggressive
counteractive on human rights by releasing defector-activist Shin Dong Hyuk’s
father from Camp 14 (Kaecheon Political Prison Camp), and internationally
broadcasting a propaganda video with him claiming that Shin Dong Hyuk had
fabricated testimonies about his past.

These actions are a complete denial of the evidence presented in the COI
report. However, in 2012, when the International Coalition to Stop Crimes
Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) asked North Korea through the UN Working
Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) about the current status of Shin Dong
Hyuk’s father, they responded that there was no such person and that this was a
conspiracy attempting to overthrow the republic–all statements that were clearly recorded in the opinion of the UN WGAD. Furthermore, the dismantling of prisoner quarters
and related buildings from Camp 15 were spotted recently on Google
Earth. Through the NGOs at UN headquarters, UN diplomats were informed of these
facts, and the content of the communication between the WGAD and North Korean
officials was also shared with the special rapporteur and UN permanent

For the past 10 years, North Korea
thoroughly disregarded the human rights mechanisms of the UN, and it is clear
that North Korea’s current claims for discussion on human rights lacks
sincerity. In response, the UN will not be receptive to North Korea’s continuously duplicitous and flippant demeanor.

However, North Korea accepted 113
recommendations from the UN General Assembly’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and the opinion that a UPR-based approach to human rights issues, as opposed to
human rights resolutions specifying a particular country, is a more appropriate
method has been spreading among countries similar to North Korea, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere. This is one element of the age-old argument against UN
human rights mechanisms that claims human rights diplomacy of Western
developed nations is being used for political means. It seems that North Korea
is taking this opportunity to appropriately make use of this claim while building, to some extent, an underground alliance. At the most recent UN General
Assembly and UPR sessions in May, North Korea and nations sharing some similarities displayed a certain kinship of mutual
criticism on human rights resolutions.

International human rights NGOs at UN
headquarters have started to lobby against North Korea’s unprecedented
diplomatic counter-measures on human rights. First, they are emphasizing to
permanent representatives that no matter what cards North Korea may throw down,
the content of the resolution drafted by the EU and Japan must not change.
Additionally, they emphasize the fact that North Korea’s crimes against
humanity are extensive on a scale that is unparalleled, unprecedentedly grave,
and occur on an organizational level. Furthermore, the victims of North Korea’s
violation of human rights confirmed these facts in person. The international
human rights NGOs at the UN headquarters will continue their activities until the resolution’s vote, expected to be settled this week. As this resolution includes the referral of
human rights in North Korea to the ICC, it is largely predicted that the
nations friendly with North Korea will react sensitively and unlike the past
two years, be pushed to a vote.

However, it is expected that the
international community’s general call for justice demanding that those
responsible for North Korea’s organized and systematic atrocities of over sixty
years, during not a time of war but of peace, be found and forced to go through
the critical international law procedure of the ICC as recommended by the COI, will gain the upper hand in the vote.

If this happens, the North Korean human
rights issue will not just be a matter for the South Korean government or NGOs,
it will reach a level where responsible actors can be identified and tried on
an international justice level. Of course, for this to occur, the UN Security
Council must agree to the ICC referral. The biggest hindrance is China. Still,
looking at UN Security Council resolutions on human rights issues in the past,
the outlook is not without hope. While the United States used their power of veto
83 times, China used their power of veto only 10 times. It is important to focus on the fact that China does not often use its veto power, and no one can guarantee how long
China’s steady support of North Korea will continue.

The work of the COI has already opened new horizons for the North Korean human
rights movement and we are seeing it unfold right from out in the field.

*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.