Oral update on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General at 49th Session of the HRC

Mr. President, Excellencies,

I am grateful for this opportunity to provide the Council with an update on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Our Office has continued to lay foundations for future accountability with respect to violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including by gathering, analyzing and preserving information on human rights violations in the country, some of which may rise to the level of international crimes.

We have taken forward processes of gathering information on specific violations, in particular by interviewing escapees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Over the last year, there has been a significant reduction in the number of escapees leaving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, principally as a result of COVID-19 related restrictions. In 2021, only 63 escapees entered the Republic of Korea, as compared to at least 1,000 escapees in 2019. I urge relevant Member States with escapees on their territory to ensure full and unhindered access for OHCHR to them, in particular recent arrivals, to allow us to effectively fulfil our mandate to gather information. At the same time, I recall again that persons repatriated to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea face a significant likelihood of torture and other serious human rights violations. I urge Member States to provide them with full protection against the risk of refoulement and safe pathways in accordance with international human rights and refugee law obligations.

OHCHR has also continued to expand the information and evidence repository. The repository contains a wide range of research and contributions from civil society organizations, as well as files comprising interviews, reports, satellite imagery, maps, court documents, videos, audio recordings, and communications to the UN. Review and analysis of the information collected is ongoing.

Our Office recognizes the crucial role played by civil society in promoting justice and accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We continue to provide support to partners, including training programs on applicable international law and techniques for interviewing and preserving evidence. We have also facilitated regional discussions identifying potential strategies for future accountability, including through available extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction.

We are preparing to hold further consultations and outreach activities with victims, affected communities and other relevant stakeholders to allow their views to shape approaches towards future accountability.

Mr. President, Excellencies,

OHCHR’s information continues to suggest that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and may be ongoing. We urge the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to commit to systemic reforms needed to end all human rights violations and to hold those responsible to account. An acknowledgment of the existence of serious human rights violations is a first step to this end. In the absence of any such commitment, however, it is incumbent on the international community to pursue accountability avenues, whether through referral to the International Criminal Court, or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal or another comparable mechanism. Member States should also consider supporting complementary approaches at national levels, including criminal proceedings in accordance with international standards under accepted principles of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction, and relevant civil litigation.

Mr. President,

Long-term peace and stability on the Korean peninsula can only be achieved if victims’ rights to truth, justice and accountability for violations suffered in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are addressed adequately and in a timely manner.

In closing, I call upon this Council to continue to prioritize and act to safeguard the human rights of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Thank you.