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March 19, 2013

South Korean Official: UN to Probe North's Violations

by Mike Richman

A South Korean official said the United Nations Human Rights Council is likely to adopt a resolution this week to establish a commission to investigate rights violations in North Korea.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the Geneva-based council will vote on a resolution on Thursday to create the independent commission.

Human rights advocacy groups have long called for international efforts to stop North Korean rights abuses, thought to be among the worst in the world.

Human rights "nightmare"

A Northeast Asia analyst at the U.S.-based Brookings Institution said that creation of the commission will reflect "greater courage" by the U.N. Human Rights Council to cite violations that are going unnoticed. Richard Bush said the commission will learn what the U.S. government in its annual human rights report and NGOs in the U.S. and South Korea have discovered - that North Korea is a "human rights nightmare.”

"I’m sure that North Korea will not be happy with the international scrutiny," Bush said. "But I think it’s very important to expose what a tragic situation is occurring there and has occurred for a long, long time.”

According to Bush, frequent rights abuses in North Korea are a denial of political rights and civil rights. He said the victims often fall into social categories defined by political loyalty and behavior. If someone does something bad, he said, both the person and that person's family will be punished.

Prison camps

"Those that are in the good social categories have preferential access to wealth, status and power," Bush said. "Those who are in the lowest ones spend their lives in a prison camp or almost as badly.”

A U.N.-appointed human rights authority, Marzuki Darusman, recently recommended an inquiry into violations in North Korea.

In a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Darusman said a formal probe will help pressure Pyongyang to improve conditions. The report described "systematic and widespread" abuses, including murder, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, political and religious persecution, and enforced disappearances.

Darusman also said conditions in North Korea have worsened since Kim Jong Un took power following the death in 2011 of his father, Kim Jong Il.

North Korea's delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Choi Seokyoung, denied the allegations in Darusman's report. He said the report was part of a Western-led conspiracy against his government.

Support for a U.N. inquiry has been mounting, partly because Russia and China - traditional North Korean allies - have rotated out of the human rights council. The United States and Japan have voiced support for an international inquiry.