Elizabeth Salmon, the newly-appointed UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, said that she will uphold and protect the human rights of victims by redoubling efforts to secure accountability for human rights violations.
“This mandate will promote and support new and effective ways of securing truth and justice for victims given the current absence of accountability for victims of human rights violations, including crimes against humanity,” Salmon said during the UN Third Committee's interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in North Korea.
“This demands that the international community continues to monitor and document serious human rights violations including those that may amount to crimes against humanity.”
Salmon notably raised the necessity of prosecuting, criminalizing and punishing perpetrators of human rights abuses conducted by the Kim Jong-un regime in and outside of North Korea to break the cycle of impunity.
“Furthermore, the international community should advocate for the need to end impunity and achieve accountability including through criminal prosecutions,” the UN independent expert said.
To that end, Salmon said she will engage with stakeholders including governments and advocates to explore “all available avenues such as universal jurisdiction, domestic courts and others” to guarantee and protect victims’ human rights and justice for them.
The UN independent expert reiterated her endorsement of bringing cases of human rights violations suffered by North Koreans to the International Criminal Court. The Hague-based ICC is an independent judicial institution empowered to hold to account those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
“I will continue to advocate with the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court and for the General Assembly to establish an ad-hoc tribunal or other comparable mechanisms.”
Salmon also proposed a reopening of a public debate at the UNSC on the matter as one of the ways to shed light on human rights violations in North Korea.
UNSC should resume open debate
Echoing the view, Lee Shin-wha, South Korea’s ambassador-at-large on North Korean human rights issues, underscored that the UN Security Council should resume holding a public debate on the human rights situation in North Korea.
But open sessions on North Korea’s human rights situation have been contentious issues among UNSC member states, mainly due to differing views and strenuous objections from China and Russia.
A procedural vote is required to hold a public discussion and briefing on the human rights situation in North Korea due to a divided opinion among UNSC member states. At least nine affirmative votes out of 15 votes need to be secured to proceed with the open session.
Lee also raised a wide range of human rights issues during the interactive session, including six South Korean citizens detained in North Korea as well as the killing of South Korean fisheries official Lee Dae-jun by North Korean soldiers two years ago.
Lee said abductions, enforced disappearances and prisoners of war “continue to be a deep concern and should be addressed immediately.”
“I also deplore the incident of an unarmed civilian of the Republic of Korea, killed by the DPRK military in the Yellow Sea in September 2020 and urge the DPRK to disclose all relevant information and ensure such events are not repeated.”
US Ambassador Larry Dinger also expressed the US’ concerns over North Korea’s “egregious human rights violations and abuses, including those involving extrajudicial killings and torture” during the televised discussion.
“We call on the DPRK to acknowledge that serious human rights violations and abuses are occurring within its borders, to take immediate steps to address them, and to grant international humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors immediate and unhindered access.”
Dinger called for countries, likely referring to China and Russia, to stop forcibly repatriating North Korean defectors against the international human rights law forbidding refoulement.
“The United States also strongly condemns the DPRK government’s involvement in transnational repression, including those acts involving enforced disappearances and strongly urges all states to respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement,” he said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
But Russia and China claimed during the interactive session that the North Korean regime has strived to improve human rights and the livelihood of their people.
Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin publicly degraded the duties of the incumbent UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, accusing her predecessors of “distorting and politicizing” the human rights situation in North Korea, according to an official translation.
“It's time to stop gathering information about events in the DPRK from NGOs that are on the West's payroll. Believe me, their main interest is not a concern for human rights at all,” Kuzmin said, according to a translation provided by the UN. “Cookie-cutter and fabrication of the situation in the DPRK have been propagated by the West …”
During the interactive session, an unnamed Chinese official said that the “United States and a few Western countries are obsessed with establishing countries-specific human rights mechanisms targeting developing countries,” according to an official translation.
“I want to ask these few countries, including the US, since no country has a perfect human rights record. Why do you always attack developing countries without exception?” the Chinese official added.