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North Korea; United Nations: Human Rights Office Dedicated to Monitoring North Korea Opened

(June 29, 2015) On June 23, 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, announced the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Office (Seoul) in the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea), dedicated to monitoring human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea). (Opening Remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at a Press Conference During His Mission to the Republic of Korea Seoul [Opening Remarks], Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website (June 25, 2015).) The new office, according to its website, has the mandates of:

  • strengthening monitoring and documentation of the human rights situation in the DPRK as steps towards establishing accountability in that country;
  • enhancing engagement and capacity-building with the governments of the states concerned, civil society, and other stakeholders; and
  • maintaining the visibility of the DPRK’s human rights situation, by such means as sustained communications, advocacy, and outreach initiatives. (About Us: United Nations Human Rights Office (Seoul), U.N. Human Rights Office Seoul website (last visited June 25, 2015).)

The decision to open the Seoul office grew out of the release of a report in February 2014 prepared by the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK. (Taylor Brailey, UN Opens North Korea Rights Office in Seoul, PAPER CHASE (June 24, 2015).) The Commission had been established by the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 21, 2013, at is 22nd session, with the mandate, under Resolution A/HRC/RES/22/13, “to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in North Korea “with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular for violations which may amount to crimes against humanity.” (Latest News: Launch of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in DPRK, OHCHR website; Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Feb. 7, 2014), A/HRC/25/63 & Report of the Detailed Findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, A/HRC/25/CRP.1 (Feb. 7, 2014), both accessible on OHCHR website.)

Al Hussein’s predecessor, Navi Pillay, had issued a statement in 2013 urging the Commission’s establishment. As Al Hussein pointed out, this “was an unusual call for a High Commissioner, because there was no new war, or particular atrocity, that triggered it. And this was precisely why she made it.” (Opening Remarks, supra.)

According to the Commission’s report, in its section on conclusions and recommendations,

Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been, and are being, committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials. In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the Commission constitute crimes against humanity. These are not mere excesses of the state. They are essential components of a political system that has moved far from the ideals on which it claims to be founded. The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world. (Report A/HRC/25/63, ¶ 80.)

Al Hussein pointed out:

Thanks to the Commission of Inquiry, the human rights situation in the DPRK is now firmly on the international agenda, and is a regular topic of discussion in all three principal organs of the United Nations dealing with human rights, namely the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly and the Security Council. Some of its most important recommendations – such as a referral by the Security Council of the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court – have not yet been acted on, but still could be. But the fact that this UN human rights office in Seoul is now a reality, and will start fully operating in a month or so, is a sign that the Commission’s work is starting to bear fruit. (Opening Remarks, supra.)