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November 24, 2011

UN Investigator Calls On N. Korea to Improve Human Rights

by Jason Strother

The United Nations’ human rights investigator for North Korea is speaking out about the treatment of prisoners in the country, days after the General Assembly’s human rights committee adopted a resolution condemning the nation for its human rights policies.

A record number of nations voted in favor of a non-binding resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights record on Monday. Speaking Friday in Seoul, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, Marzuki Darusman, says this indicates the international community’s growing concern with the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, the North’s official name.

Darusman repeated the resolution’s requests.

“I urge the government of the DPRK to overhaul the prison system, the criminal justice system and related detention policies in camps that give rise to a plethora of abuses, including torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Darusman.

Pyongyang has dismissed the new resolution as a smear campaign orchestrated by the United States.

Human rights groups say hundreds of thousands of North Koreans languish in labor camps.

The North has repeatedly rejected U.N. requests to send Darusman and his predecessor there to verify conditions.

During his visit to South Korea, Darusman spoke with government officials, human rights campaigners and North Korean refugees. His findings will appear in a report to the U.N. General Assembly next march.

The special rapporteur also called for both Koreas to set political differences aside in order to resume stalled reunions of famililes separated since the Korean War. And Darusman urged the international community to send humanitarian assistance to the North to help offset a worsening food shortage.

Daursman commended South Korea for its North Korean refugee resettlement program. There are currently more than 22,000 defectors living in the South. But Darusman noted that many more escapees face forcible repatriation, called refoulement, which he says is another human rights violation.  

“I call on other neighboring countries to protect and treat all people fleeing the DPRK humanely and respectful of non-refoulement,” said Darusman.

Human rights activists and North Korean defectors say China is the greatest violator of the U.N. convention on the treatment of refugees.

Darusman was careful not to point the finger at Beijing during his speech, but says he has been in contact with Chinese officials and hopes to engage them in talks about the human rights of North Korean escapees.