A TIMELINE OF THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA AND HRNK’S ROLE

“Commissions of inquiry are strong and flexible mechanisms that can yield ample benefits for governments, victim communities and the wider public, but they do not relieve States of their legal obligations to investigate and prosecute torture, and to provide effective remedies to victims of past violations, including reparation for the harm suffered and to prevent its reoccurrence.”[1]

INTRODUCTION

On March 21, 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously  decided to establish a “Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (hereinafter “COI”). Resolution A/HRC/RES/22/53 established and mandated the COI for one year “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.”[2] Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, identified “nine key inter-linked issues or patterns of violations of human rights that the United Nations has focused on” concerning North Korea:

1.     Violation of the right to food;
2.     Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;
3.     Arbitrary detention;
4.     Violations associated with prison camps;
5.     Discrimination;
6.     Violation of freedom of expression;
7.     Violation of the right to life;
8.     Violation of freedom of movement; and
9.     Enforced disappearances.[3]

The resolution also extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea for one year.[4]

On May 7, 2013, three commissioners were selected to serve on the COI: Mr. Michael Kirby, Ms. Sonja Biserko, and Mr. Marzuki Darusman (also the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea). Chief Commissioner Kirby stated, “The fact that the resolution establishing this commission was adopted in Geneva with unanimity is an indication that the international community now agrees that something must be done.”[5]
Under its mandate, the COI has had to provide an oral update to the Council at its twenty-fourth session and to the General Assembly at its sixty-eight session.” On March 17, 2014, the COI will submit a written report to the Council at its twenty-fifth session in Geneva.

Dr. Roberta Cohen, HRNK’s Co-Chair and Non-Resident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, explained:

The establishment of the commission reflects long overdue recognition that a human rights ‘emergency’ exists in North Korea. Commissions of inquiry at the United Nations have mainly been directed at situations like Syria, Darfur or Libya where conflicts, atrocities and destruction are clearly visible and in the headlines. Adding North Korea to the list suggests a new look at what a human rights crisis might be. In contrast to other situations, North Korea has always managed to hide its crimes.[6]

Predictably, however, the North Korean regime has been hostile to the mandate of the COI. In fact, “North Korean Ambassador So Se Pyong rejected the resolution as ‘an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces in their attempt to discredit the image of the DPRK,’ and said, “‘[a]s we stated time and again, those human rights abuses mentioned in the resolution do not exist in our country.’”[7]

KEY EVENTS

2000: Kang Chol-hwan and Pierre Rigoulot release The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag (The Perseus Press) in French. The book is Kang Chol-hwan’s memoir of growing up in a North Korean prison camp for ten years, beginning at the age of nine years old.
2001: The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) is formed to promote human rights in North Korea. It seeks to raise awareness and to publish well-documented research that focuses international attention on North Korean human rights, conditions, which have been so closed off from the rest of the world.
2003: HRNK publishes The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps by David Hawk. This is the first comprehensive study of the camps.
2004: The UN Commission on Human Rights (predecessor to the UN Human Rights Council) appointed the Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The first SR was Professor Vittit Muntarbhorn, an international lawyer, who subsequently became a member of HRNK’s International Advisory Council.
2006: HRNK publishes Failure to Protect: A Call for UN Security Council to Act in North Korea by Vaclav Havel, Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Elie Wiesel and prepared with DLA Piper LLP. The report highlights the failure of the North Korean government to exercise its responsibility to protect its own people from crimes against humanity and urges the UN Security Council to take up the situation of North Korea.
2008: HRNK publishes Failure to Protect: The Ongoing Challenge of North Korea with DLA Piper. The report recommends that the UN General Assembly:
Include in the operative paragraphs of the resolution, a recommendation to the Secretary- General to appoint a group of experts to report to the General Assembly about whether North Korea has committed violations of international human rights law and, if so, whether these violations constitute a failure to protect it citizens from crimes against humanity.[8]
2009: The UN Universal Periodic Review issues a report on North Korea identifying serious human rights concerns occurring in that country. Although North Korea participates in the review, it is the first State to not accept any recommendation out of the 167 received.
2010:  SR Vitit Muntarbhorn recommends Security Council action because of the nature of human rights violations in North Korea.
2011: The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) is formed to promote the establishment of a COI. HRNK joins this coalition along with over 40 other organizations.
MAR 2012: Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden is released, detailing the life and escape of former North Korean political prison camp prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk. Shin is the only known person to have been born in and escaped from a North Korean political prison camp (after 23 years).
APR 2012:  In a statement prepared for a conference organized by HRNK in Washington, D.C., SR Marzuki Darusman for the first time called for a mechanism of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in North Korea. HRNK publishes Hidden Gulag Second Edition by David Hawk.
JUN 2012:  HRNK publishes Marked for Life: Songbun, North Korea’s Social Classification System, by Robert Collins.
NOV 2012: In his statement to the Third Committee of the General Assembly in November 2012, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea called on Member States to undertake a comprehensive review of the many UN reports on the human rights situation in North Korea to assess the underlying patterns and trends, and consider setting up a more detailed mechanism of inquiry.[9]
JAN 2013: Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights brings Shin Dong-hyuk and Kim Hee-suk to meet UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who then calls for a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes taking place in North Korea.
FEB 2013: Special Rapporteur Darusman provides a report to the Human Rights Council detailing the range of UN documentation and reports on human rights in North Korea. He states that since 2004, the UN has issued 22 reports by the Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur and the General Assembly and its subsidiary organs have adopted 16 resolutions. The Special Rapporteur also identifies nine patterns of human rights abuses by North Korea from these reports that could constitute crimes against humanity.[10]
MAR 2013: On March 21st, the Human Rights Council establishes the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with a 47-member consensus in its 22nd Session.
HRNK’S ROLE

·      In 2006 and 2008, HRNK published the first reports that called attention to crimes against humanity in North Korea and for UN Security Council action.
·      Since September 2011, HRNK has been a member of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), which involves over 40 organizations from around the world and was formed to promote the establishment of a COI to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea.
·      As a member organization of the ICNK, HRNK has actively provided information needed to establish a COI.
·      Since the establishment of the COI, HRNK has actively supported the commissioners and staff members of the COI.
o   On October 30, 2013, HRNK hosted a private meeting with COI commissioners Michael Kirby and Sonja Biserko.
o   Responding to the COI’s call for submissions, HRNK provided the COI with a 100-page report on information and documentation on the situation of egregious, widespread, and systematic human rights abuses in North Korea.
o   At the COI hearings in Washington, DC on October 30-31, 2013, all but one of the expert witnesses invited to testify were HRNK Board and Advisory Council members or authors of HRNK reports.
§  On Access to Food:
·      Marcus Noland, Senior Fellow and Director of Studies at the Institute for International Economics (IIE), HRNK Board Member and co-author of HRNK reports Hunger and Human Rights: The Politics of Famine in North Korea (2005) and The North Korean Refugee Crisis: Human Rights and International Response (2006)
·      Andrew Natsios, Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, HRNK Co-Chair
§  On Prison Camps, Satellite Imagery, and the Gender Dimension
·      David Hawk, Visiting Scholar and the Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights, HRNK report author of: 1) The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps (2003); Hidden Gulag 2: The Lives and Voices of Those Who Are Sent to the Mountains (2012); and 3) North Korea’s Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps (2013)
·      Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., Senior Imagery Analyst and Publisher and Editor of KPA Journal, HRNK co-author of 1) North Korea’s Camp No. 22 (2012); 2) North Korea’s Camp No. 22 – Update (2012); and 3) North Korea’s Camp No. 25 (2013)
·      Roberta Cohen, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, HRNK Co-Chair
§  On Responsibility to Protect
·      Jared Genser, Managing Director of Perseus Strategies, LLC, HRNK International Advisory Council Member

COI ACTIVITIES

MAY 2013: Commissioners Michael Kirby, Sonja Biserko, and Marzuki Darusman are appointed on May 7th. North Korea rejects the COI.
JUN 2013: The COI sends a letter to North Korea on June 18th and receives no response.
JUL 2013: The COI sends two letters – on July 5th and 16th – requesting meetings with North Korea. North Korea does not meet with the COI or allow access inside its borders.
AUG 2013: COI holds hearings in Seoul, Republic of Korea from August 20th-24th. Over 40 witnesses, including Shin Dong-hyuk, testify in public hearings. COI holds hearings in Tokyo, Japan from August 29th-30th. Chief Commissioner Kirby states:
“What we have seen and heard over the past days in Seoul, the specificity, detail and shocking character of much of the testimony, appears to call for a response from the international community. In the contemporary world, it is not good enough to produce just another UN report. Today, leaders and governments are accountable and the commission of inquiry has been created with that objective in mind. But equally, it is not good enough to respond with denunciation.”[11]

SEP 2013: The COI provides an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its 24th Session on September 17th.

OCT 2013: The COI holds hearings in London, England on October 23rd. The COI provides an oral update to the General Assembly at its 68th Session on October 29th. On October 30th, the Commissioners Kirby and Biserko meet with HRNK in Washington, DC, and then hold hearings in DC from October 30th-31st. HRNK experts testify.

FEB 2014: The COI will release its findings to the public via the Internet on February 17th.

MAR 2014: The COI will submit its final written report to the Human Rights Council’s 25th Session in Geneva on March 17th.

HRNK’S POSITION

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea’s (HRNK) position is that North Korea has committed systematic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights with respect to the violation of the right to food, violations associated with its prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, violations of freedom of expression, violations of the right to life, violations of freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances. With the exception of the crime of apartheid, all of the criminal acts included within the duration and scope of crimes against humanity in modern international law have been committed in North Korea. The leadership of North Korea, including National Defense Chairman Kim Jong-un should be held accountable for these actions.[12]

HRNK’S RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE COI

  • HRNK strongly recommends that the Commission find that systematic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights have occurred in North Korea in regards to the nine identified patterns of abuse for investigation requested by the Commission.
  • HRNK strongly recommends that the Commission urge the North Korean government to account for the fate and whereabouts of all of North Korea's political prisoners, including those missing and those who have died in detention.
  • HRNK strongly recommends that the Commission ensures full accountability by stating in its report that crimes against humanity have likely occurred in North Korea and been committed by the Kim leadership, publically identifying alleged individual perpetrators.
  • HRNK strongly recommends that the Commission immediately refers the situation of North Korea to the Security Council and requests the Security Council’s referral to the International Criminal Court, pursuant to article 13(b) of the Rome Statute, as the North Korean justice system is unable and unwilling to address the human rights situation in North Korea.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission devise a strategic plan that addresses accountability and recommends creative transitional justice mechanisms to help victims heal.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission call on the Human Rights Council member states to translate and publish the Commission’s findings and hold seminars on those findings.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission call on China to obey its obligations under the Refugee Convention and recognize North Korean defectors as refugees.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission identify concrete, tangible ways for the international community to respond to continued violations of human rights by North Korea.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission present measures for North Korea to take to improve its human rights situation, including closing its political prison camps.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to issue public, periodic statements on the human rights situation in North Korea.





[1] The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, stated this in a report to the UN Human Rights Council. UN News Centre, Commissions of inquiry alone cannot fight impunity against torture – UN expert, March 5, 2012, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41455&#.UU3Us6X3A60.
[2] Human Rights Council, A/HRC/RES/22/53, Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Apr. 9, 2013, http://daccess-ods.un.org/TMP/2813816.66660309.html.
[3] ICNK welcomes the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry, March 22, 2013, http://www.fidh.org/ICNK-welcomes-the-establishment-of-13066.
[4] OHCHR, Council establishes Commission of Inquiry to investigate Human Rights Violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, OHCHR, March 21, 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13178&LangID=E.
[5] OHCHR, UN commission on DPRK human rights situation completing work in Seoul, Aug. 26, 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13656&LangID=E.
[6] Roberta Cohen, North Korea Faces Heightened Human Rights Scrutiny, The Brookings Institution, Mar. 21, 2013, http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/03/21-north-korea-cohen.
[7] Stephanie Nebehay, U.N. starts inquiry into torture, labor camps in North Korea, March 21, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/21/us-korea-north-un-idUSBRE92K0SZ20130321.
[8] Vaclav Havel, Kjell Magne Bondevik, & Elie Wiesel, Failure to Protect: The Ongoing Challenge of North Korea, 27 (HRNK & DLA Piper LLP, 2008), http://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/F2P_North_Korea_9-19-08_English.pdf.
[9] HRC, A/HRC/22/57, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Marzuki Darusman, Feb. 1, 2013.
[10] Id.
[11] OHCHR, UN commission on DPRK human rights situation completing work in Seoul, Aug. 26, 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13656&LangID=E.
[12] See David Hawk, The Hidden Gulag Second Edition, 162-164 (HRNK, 2012), available at http://hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/HRNK_HiddenGulag2_Web_5-18.pdf.

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