Note by the Secretariat
In the present report, the Special Rapporteur evaluates the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the context of the current progress in political, peace, security and denuclearisation efforts in the Korean peninsula. While highlighting that human rights and humanitarian situation continues to be serious in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Special Rapporteur advocates that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea implement a human rights based approach to development and guarantee fundamental freedoms to ensure that all people including the most vulnerable ones benefit from the new economic opportunities in the country. He continues to reiterate the need for integrating human rights agenda in the ongoing denuclearisation and peace discussions and urges that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea enhance its human rights engagement with the international community.
1. In the present report, submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to Council resolution 37/28, the Special Rapporteur covers main human rights developments in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since his previous report to the Council. This present report should be considered in conjunction with the report most recently submitted by the Special Rapporteur to the General Assembly (A/73/386), in which he noted the ongoing developments and the prospects for achieving long-lasting peace in the Korean peninsula and called upon member states to push for a peace process that includes measures to improve the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
2. In this report, the Special Rapporteur reflects on the overall progress in political, peace, security and denuclearisation efforts and reiterates that respect for human rights remains central to the peace and denuclearisation agenda in the Korean peninsula. He also evaluates the impact of sanctions on the economic and social rights of the population of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He highlights that the country’s pursuit of economic growth and improved living standards can only be achieved through a human rights based approach to development, and urges the Government to guarantee fundamental freedoms, respecting labour rights and upholding the rule of law. The Special Rapporteur sees the upcoming Universal Periodic Review as an important opportunity to enhance human rights cooperation with the international community and recommends that the Government use this forum to initiate open and evidence based human rights dialogue both internationally and at the national level.
3. While summit diplomacy and other interactions have progressed, the human rights situation on the ground remains mostly unchanged and continues to be extremely serious. The Special Rapporteur continues to receive reports of the existence of the political prison camps where people are being sent without due process. Torture and ill-treatment reportedly remain widespread and systematic in detention facilities. Surveillance and close monitoring of the population as well as severe restrictions on their basic freedoms remains widespread. There are also consistent reports of corruption by state officials, leading to further violations of rights of the most vulnerable individuals and groups in particular. The Special Rapporteur believes that the only way to achieve prosperity, peace and economic stability is by embracing and implementing the universal fundamental rights. The population of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should be part of and central to this.
4. The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues to refuse to cooperate with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur conducted official visits to the Republic of Korea from 2 to 10 July 2018 and from 7 to 11 January 2019. In the Republic of Korea, he held meetings with government officials, representatives of civil society organisations, the Korean Red Cross and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, members of the diplomatic community and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights field-based structure in Seoul. He also met with individuals who had recently left the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Special Rapporteur travelled to Thailand from 19 to 21 November 2018 to join the United Nations Strategic Framework Consultation Workshop. During his trip, he also held meetings with regional civil society organisations working on human rights issues in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Special Rapporteur travelled to Geneva from 4 to 7 June 2018 and New York from 22 to 24 October 2018 and held consultations with member states. On 23 February 2019, he also briefed the members of the European Parliament about the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea via video-conference.
II. Overview of progress on political, peace, security and denuclearisation
5. The improved inter-Korean relations that began in early 2018 continued throughout the reporting period, with an unprecedented three summits between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. In contrast to 2017, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea did not conduct nuclear tests or missile launches during 2018. The first ever summit between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States, held on 12 June 2018 in Singapore, and four summits between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China also showed increased efforts to find peaceful solutions to the security situation. The Special Rapporteur acknowledges the significance of this peaceful engagement and dialogue, and highlights that this approach is the only way to secure improvements to the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
6. While acknowledging the importance of the confidence building diplomacy that took place in 2018, the Special Rapporteur highlights that 2019 represents a critical juncture to bring human rights issues into the on-going talks. He emphasizes that all parties involved in the negotiations must ensure that diplomacy paves the way to sustainable peace and prosperity which places the rights and aspirations of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the very centre. The United Nations must play an active and engaged role in this process, in line with its global aims of peace and security, development and human rights.
7. The inter-Korean Summits led to the two countries issuing the 27 April 2018 Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula and the 19 September 2018 Pyongyang Joint Declaration, which included a commitment to work towards a nuclear free Korean peninsula and to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War with a peace treaty. In the Pyongyang Joint Declaration, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea committed to permanently dismantle the Dongchang-ri missile engine test site and launch platform under international observation, and expressed a “willingness” to permanently dismantle the nuclear facilities in Yeongbyeon as the United States takes “corresponding measures”.
8. Included in these Declarations were important proposed steps to develop cross-border cultural, social and economic exchanges in order to build trust and ensure progress towards a denuclearized Korean peninsula. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the accompaniment of these commitments with concrete actions. Subsequently, cross-border talks took place on 36 occasions in 2018, and in September, the countries established a joint liaison office in Kaesong, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Panmunjom Declaration also provided for a reunion event for families separated by the border, and this event took place in August 2018. The Special Rapporteur welcomed the event encouraged both sides to arrange additional reunion events.3 Furthermore, in December 2018, the two countries held a ceremony initiating an inter-Korean project to reconnect and modernize roads and railways across the border, as committed to in the Pyongyang Joint Declaration. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the sanctions exemption from the United Nations Security Council which enabled this ceremony to take place, and encourages further exemptions and easing of sanctions to support the ongoing momentum towards closer inter-Korean relations into 2019.
9. During the Singapore Summit, United States President Donald Trump made a commitment to “provide security guarantees to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, and Chairman Kim Jong Un “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, with both leaders “recognising that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Following the Summit, encouraging steps have been taken. These include the suspension of Republic of Korea-United States joint military exercises, cessation of military drills along the Military Demarcation Line, and the removal of guard posts in the Demilitarised Zone. On 10 May 2018, the Special Rapporteur welcomed the release of three United States nationals by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as “another important building block for the prospects of peace.” He also welcomes the repatriating of US service-member remains, which enables their families to pursue the right to truth and to mourn relatives.6 The Special Rapporteur hopes that the sudden finalization of the the second summit between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which was being held in Hanoi, Vietnam by the end of February 2019, doesn’t compromise the peaceful environment for dialogue that all the parties haven working for during 2018.