North Korea and the Responsibility to Protect
The human rights and humanitarian situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is dire. Crimes against humanity as well as other systematic and widespread human rights violations continue to be committed by the government under the current “Supreme Leader,” Kim Jong-un. Despite testimony from defectors and other credible evidence accumulated over the last decade, the government has never acknowledged the existence of abuses, nor amended its repressive policies. Extreme political isolation and governmental intransigence continue to hamper further investigation and accountability.
Amid mounting human rights concerns in DPRK, on 21 March 2013 the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council adopted resolution 22/13, establishing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights, particularly where “these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.”
The CoI published its findings on 7 February 2014, establishing responsibility at the highest level of government for ongoing crimes against humanity, including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” The report noted the government’s failure to uphold its primary responsibility to protect its population.
For nearly a decade UN bodies, including the General Assembly, Human Rights Council and Secretariat, have expressed concern over grave human rights violations and called upon the government to improve the situation. While the UN Security Council (UNSC) has been engaged on DPRK in relation to nuclear weapons, it has never directly addressed ongoing human rights abuses. DPRK’s provocative nuclear policies, as well as security concerns over the ongoing division of the Korean Peninsula as a result of the 1950-1953 Korean War, have continued to overshadow human rights issues.
The DPRK government bears the primary Responsibility to Protect (R2P) its population from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but is manifestly failing to do so. This Policy Brief clarifies the application of R2P in the case of DPRK, outlining the responsibility of the international community in relation to the government’s commission of crimes against humanity. While the situation remains complex and dangerous, the international community, especially the UNSC, has not exhausted all options and can no longer continue to overlook ongoing mass atrocity crimes in DPRK.