1. The present report, submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to Council resolution 28/22, is the first to be submitted by the current mandate holder since his appointment in August 2016. The outcome of the work of the group of independent experts who were appointed pursuant to Council resolution 31/18 to outline options for accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in particular where such violations amount to crimes against humanity as found by the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2014 (A/HRC/25/63), is presented in an addendum (A/HRC/34/66/Add.1). In his report, the Special Rapporteur briefly reviews key developments concerning the human rights situation in the country, including political and security developments, the impact of the August 2016 flood in the north-eastern provinces and the Government’s engagement with some of the United Nations human rights mechanisms. He then discusses human rights issues which were brought to his attention during his first mission to North-East Asia. Finally, he discusses the value of the two-track approach in addressing the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with reference to diverse efforts by a range of actors.
2. Two seemingly contradictory developments characterized the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2016. On the one hand, the country’s repeated nuclear and missile tests deepened its international isolation, halting international dialogue on key human rights issues and hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid. On the other hand, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea took a few important steps to fulfil some of its international human rights obligations, including the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 6 December 2016 and the submission of treaty reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Nevertheless, access to the country by United Nations human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur, to assess the impact of these steps on the ground has not been granted.
II. Latest developments
A. Political and security situation
Pursuance of simultaneous economic and nuclear development
3. In 2016, the authorities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continued to consolidate domestic political power around Kim Jong Un as the Supreme Leader. In May 2016, the Workers’ Party of Korea held its seventh congress, the first to be held since 1980. Mr. Kim, elected as Chair of the Party, outlined policies of simultaneously advancing economic development and nuclear capability. The congress also led to the adoption of a five-year strategy for economic development. Notably, in his presentation of the five-year strategy Mr. Kim did not acknowledge the increasing trend of marketization throughout the country, nor did he reflect on the potential impact of sanctions imposed by the Security Council. In June 2016, the thirteenth Supreme People’s Assembly held its fourth session. The Assembly replaced the National Defence Commission, the highest military decisionmaking body, with a commission of State affairs. Mr. Kim was also elected as Chair of the new commission. These political events were held against the backdrop of two nuclear tests in one year (the country’s fourth nuclear test was conducted on 6 January and its fifth on 9 September 2016) and several launches of missiles of various ranges.
4. Mr. Kim reflected again on the policy of simultaneous development of the economy and of nuclear weapons in his 2017 New Year address. First, he emphasized the importance of concentrating national efforts on the implementation of the five-year strategy for economic development. He described the areas to be developed in some detail, making repeated references to the improvement of people’s livelihood and the importance of education, public health and culture. At the same time, he stressed that the country would “continue [to] build up [its] self-defence capability, the pivot of which is the nuclear forces, and the capability for pre-emptive strike”, stating that the country had “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of [an] intercontinental ballistic missile”.
Increased tensions and isolation
5. The repeated nuclear tests and missile launches in 2016 contributed to further isolating the country from the international community. The tests violated Security Council resolutions and significantly raised tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the North-East Asian region more broadly. Following each nuclear test, the Council adopted a resolution to further tighten sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. These sanctions expanded arms embargo and non-proliferation measures, including on some dualuse items. The sanctions also aimed to restrict the country’s capacity to earn foreign currency, including by imposing an annual cap on coal exports. In resolution 2321 (2016), the Council reduced the possibilities for the livelihood purpose exception, for example by adding further requirements for applying it to coal exports. Some States also adopted unilateral measures, increasingly restricting contact between people and exchange of goods between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other countries. In February 2016, the Republic of Korea closed the Kaesong industrial complex, where citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea worked for companies from the Republic of Korea. The Special Rapporteur notes that the sanctions imposed by the Security Council are not intended to affect the livelihood of ordinary people, and the international community should monitor the potentially negative impact of the sanctions closely.
Impact on human rights dialogue
6. Rising tensions and increased isolation hindered the advancement of the human rights dialogue between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other countries. Reunion events to allow meetings between family members separated by the armistice line between the two Koreas have not been held since October 2015. In reaction to “autonomous measures” adopted by Japan after the January 2016 nuclear test and the February launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea using ballistic missile technology, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea announced that it would stop the investigations on all Japanese nationals and dissolved the special investigation committee established under the agreement concluded in Stockholm in 2014, in which the country had committed to conduct comprehensive investigations on all Japanese nationals including victims of abductions and other missing persons.
7. Notably, in his 2017 New Year remarks, Mr. Kim referred to unification of the two Koreas. He stated that “all countrymen in the north, in the south and abroad should do something to make this year a meaningful year of a new phase in independent reunification”. He further noted the forty-fifth anniversary of the joint statement of 4 July 1972 and the tenth anniversary of the declaration signed by the two Koreas on 4 October 2007. The Special Rapporteur hopes that these anniversaries could offer an opportunity for productive dialogue to address outstanding human rights issues.
B. Impact of the August 2016 flood
8. In late August 2016, Typhoon Lionrock caused heavy rains over the north-eastern part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea described the storm as the “strongest … and heaviest downpour in meteorological observation since the liberation of Korea in 1945”.7 The storm resulted in large-scale flooding and landslides that affected residential areas and farmland in North Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces. Failure of river embankments and discharge from the Sodusu power plant possibly aggravated the impact of the natural disaster.
9. As a result of the flooding, 138 people were killed and 400 remained missing as of October 2016. It is estimated that 600,000 people were affected, with 140,000 of them severely affected and 70,000 displaced. About 30,000 houses were reportedly damaged.10 More than 180 road sections and more than 60 bridges were destroyed. More than 27,400 hectares of cultivated land were reportedly washed away or submerged.
10. The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea requested international humanitarian agencies in the country to assist in responding to the humanitarian situation. The Government also invited United Nations agencies to participate in a joint assessment mission to the affected areas from 6 to 9 September 2016. Another mission was undertaken from 18 to 22 November. While these missions visited three (Yonsa, Musan and Hoeryong) of the six most affected areas, they were not able to visit the rest (Onsong, Kyongwon and Kyonghung). The Special Rapporteur reiterates his call on the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to ensure full access for humanitarian workers to those in need, including persons in detention facilities and prisons.
11. On 10 September, the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea sent an appeal to all party members, service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and others, urging them to participate in recovery operations. Reportedly, 230,000 civilians and 140,000 soldiers were mobilized to support reconstruction efforts. As of late November, over 3,000 buildings for almost 12,000 families had reportedly been constructed.
12. The damage from the flood had an impact on the human rights of people in the affected area in multiple ways. Access to water and sanitation, which is critical for the right to an adequate standard of health, was severely limited with affected communities reportedly continuing to depend on hand pumps, dug wells and water purification tablets as of December 2016. Forty-five health facilities were damaged, with serious implications for the availability of health care for the local population. Damage to arable land, with the destruction of crops and kitchen gardens, had serious implications, especially for the right to food of those relying on agriculture for their livelihood.
- With the destruction of 107 primary/middle schools, kindergartens and nurseries, 8,360 students were out of school. The authorities prioritized the rehabilitation of nurseries, kindergartens and schools damaged by the flood and undertook a campaign to supply consumer goods to the affected areas. The need to continue the provision of food to nurseries and kindergartens was among the needs highlighted by provincial authorities during the joint United Nations-Government review mission in November 2016.
14. Significant efforts have been made to respond to the natural disaster. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether sufficient humanitarian assistance has reached all those in need. Infrastructure and roads remain inadequate in the affected area, which is mountainous and home to several remote communities. The deployment of a large number of personnel for the reconstruction efforts allegedly burdened already limited local food supplies and health facilities.
15. The situation of detainees at various law enforcement detention centres and correction facilities is also of concern. There exists at least one prison camp (prison camp No. 12) in Hoeryong city, which was among the most severely affected areas. No information is available concerning the impact of the flood on political prison camp No. 25, which is reportedly located in Chongjin city, North Hamgyong Province.
16. The Special Rapporteur notes with concern that international funding for emergency relief remains inadequate. As of 10 December 2016, the United Nations country team had mobilized only 38 per cent of the $28 million required to respond to the emergency. Similarly, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies had reportedly secured only 25 per cent of its September 2016 emergency appeal for 15 million Swiss francs. Multiple factors could be at work to make the raising of funds for the emergency in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea challenging, including crises in other parts of the world as well as increased tensions on the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur stresses that political or security concerns should not prevent the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid.
C. Engagement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with United Nations human rights mechanisms
17. The Special Rapporteur has been encouraged by increasing engagement of the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with United Nations human rights mechanisms. In line with commitments made during the second cycle of the universal periodic review, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea submitted national reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in April and May 2016, respectively. The Committee on the Rights of the Child will review the report in September 2017 and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will do so in October. Both occasions will provide an important opportunity to move the human rights agenda forward with the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. These processes also provide a significant opportunity for civil society organizations to push for effective progress on the ground.
18. On 6 December 2016, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Special Rapporteur welcomed the ratification as a useful step forward towards implementing accepted recommendations emanating from the 2014 universal periodic review. The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities similarly congratulated the country on the ratification, reiterating her offer to provide technical advice in the course of implementation of the treaty. The ratification of the Convention brought the number of core human rights treaties ratified by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to five.
19. The Special Rapporteur also welcomes the integration of the human rights-based approach in the United Nations strategic framework 2017-2021, setting out agreed priorities of the United Nations agencies operating in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and co-signed with the Government. The Special Rapporteur further welcomes the work, referred to in the strategic framework, by the United Nations country team to support the implementation of the recommendations accepted during the 2014 universal periodic review and the country’s obligations under international human rights treaties. The Special Rapporteur is ready to work closely with the United Nations country team together with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to follow up on the implementations of the recommendations accepted during the universal periodic review and other human rights treaty obligations.