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Universal Periodic Review ; a Nexus Between States, NGOs and the United Nations
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2015-04-08 21:01:00
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Universal Periodic Review

:a Nexus Between States, NGOs and the United Nations

Joanna Hosaniak

It is a rare sight when an issue causes uproar at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Of these rare instances, the government of North Korea is often at the center. For example, when its 2010 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was being finalized, North Korea refused to articulate its position on the 117 recommendations it had earlier received from other States. Many of those States understood such behavior as a flagrant disregard of their recommendations and the values behind the UN. Cooperation is integral to the success of the UN’s work. In response, the States gathered in large numbers in front of a red-faced Ambassador of the DPRK and demanded explanation. Countries that had advocated for giving North Korea a chance during the UPR, citing the DPRK’s presence at the meeting as evidence of its wiliness to cooperate, were clearly embarrassed by North Korea’s evasive attitude. 

The Universal Periodic Review is a system by which every member State of the UN undergoes an interactive assessment of its human rights record every four years. Questions and recommendations are submitted by other member States in response to three reports about the country under review. The first report is submitted by the country at issue, and the second is prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and is based on information produced by UN agencies. The third report is also submitted by the OHCHR, but is based on information provided by NGOs and other stakeholders. North Korea completed its second review on May 1, 2014.

Because NGOs may not participate officially in the UPR process, their only direct channel of interaction is submission of reports to the UN, in hopes that the information is quoted by the OHCHR. They also participate indirectly by conducting massive advocacy campaigns vis-a-vis other states so that foreign governments voice the concerns of the NGO during public discussions with the country under review.

As it did during the DPRK’s UPR four years ago, NKHR used the 2014 UPR to voice its concerns about North Korea and to make recommendations. NKHR’s Campaign Team submitted a report to the OHCHR analyzing the largely defunct Women’s Law enacted by North Korea and the lack of improvements in women’s rights since the first UPR four years ago. The report also addressed the treatment of persons with disabilities and the often-ignored issue of the unresolved abductions of South Korean citizens by the government of North Korea. In the OHCHR report entitled Summary prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 and paragraph 5 of the annex to Council resolution 16/21, the OHCHR used NKHR’s submission extensively. The OHCHR report referred to NKHR’s concerns about the abductees, stating: “Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) stated that the Government should sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.” In the section of the report pertaining to North Korea’s implementation of its international human rights obligations, the OHCHR quoted NKHR’s criticism of North Korea’s Women’s Act for being too vague and lacking definitions. It also cited NKHR’s criticism of North Korea for failing to implement the law and for maintaining policies that contradict the spirit of the law itself.  The OHCHR report also quoted NKHR’s conclusion that there has been a lack of improvement concerning violence against women and that the DPRK must enact a separate law prohibiting such violence. Finally, it quoted NKHR’s concerns regarding the treatment of persons with disabilities, such as discrimination and the use of the disabled for weapons testing.
The author also met with several diplomatic missions to request their cooperation during North Korea’s UPR. And in April, the author participated in the official briefing for governments organized by the Geneva-based NGO UPR Info. At that briefing, roughly 50 member States listened to NKHR’s recommendations on North Korea before the official UPR session began. The author also met with the Geneva representative of Conectas Human Rights, our long-time partner in Brazil, to cooperate on a joint letter to the Brazilian government. The letter made the following recommendations to the DPRK, which were also presented by NKHR to other States during bilateral meetings and public briefings:

1) Engage meaningfully with the Human Rights Council, OHCHR and UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation in the DPRK, including issuing an authorization for the Special Rapporteur to visit the country.

2) Ensure the speedy enactment of a national legislation on violence against women, which should include definition of rape or trafficking of women. This law should be followed by a complete policy to combat such violation, as support structures for victims, police reports of domestic violence, and should give special attention to violence against women and sexual harassment in detention centers where a majority of deported border-crossers are women.

3) Ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances; and to clarify the fates of the victims of enforced disappearance after ceasefire of the Korean War, allowing an independent assessment to determine whether the taken people willingly chose to remain in the DPRK and providing a line of communication between victims who are alive and their family members in the South, who have experienced lifelong trauma, anguish, and sorrow caused by the abductions of their loved ones.

North Korea’s attitude during the 2014 UPR toward tackling the dire human rights situation remained unchanged and lacked significant improvement. Many countries focused on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry for the DPRK, but North Korea immediately rejected 83 recommendations, especially those recommending accession to the Rome Statute, abolishment of guilt by association, cooperation with the UN Special Procedures and the Special Rapporteur on DPRK, abolishment of discrimination through the songbun system, abolishment of the death penalty and public executions, and acknowledgment of the existence of kwalliso and the release of all prisoners. It also rejected all recommendations on abductees. The DPRK did say, however, that it would further consider 185 recommendations. DPRK should clarify its position on these recommendations by September of 2014.
During the UPR, many countries focused on the women’s issues NKHR presented in our 2013 report on women and that NKHR advocated for during briefings. Ireland recommended that North Korea “prevent sexual violence against female prisoners”; France requested “measures against discrimination and violence against women”; Canada requested that the DPRK “enact legislation to combat violence against women, including [the] definition of rape”; Chile recommended that North Korea “punish violence against women and establish measures to protect victims”; Italy called for “equal treatment of women in terms of [the] right to food, education and work”; and Indonesia recommended that North Korea “ensure gender equality.”

NKHR successful raised the issue with Brazil as well. The Brazilian government recommended that North Korea “ratify human rights instruments, in particular the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and [the] Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment.” It also asked the DPRK government to “fully cooperate with all human rights mechanisms and special procedures, particularly the Special Rapporteur on [the] Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK” and to “establish [a] mechanism for separated families and take measures on [the] vulnerable situation of women and children”.

One of the most interesting and unique recommendations challenging the DPRK’s vague statements was made by South Korea, which recommended that the DPRK “clearly indicate which recommendations it accepts and how it plans to implement them.” Thailand also interestingly “noted the discrepancies in information in the reports, given inability by the UN to verify information provided by the government.”

In order to effectively advocate at the UN and with other States, NKHR must pay constant attention to North Korea’s activities at the UN. NKHR’s Campaign Team regularly monitors the DPRK’s statements, makes submissions to the UN, and meets regularly with foreign governments, especially those with an embassy in Pyongyang. Our Campaign Team also immediately responds to information presented by North Korea by producing “briefing reports.” These reports have been extremely popular with many governments since 2009. However, without NKHR’s use of those reports as a tool for active advocacy, the reports would just remain on the shelf and gather dust.

Much tact and diplomacy is needed to convince States to use information and recommendations presented by NGOs. Effective advocacy means that comments, reports, and recommendations made by NGOs are delivered directly to the government of North Korea through foreign governments speaking at the UN. During the UPR process, this is the only form of communication possible between NGOs and the North Korean government. Even though this communication is indirect, its impact cannot be underestimated. Successful advocacy proves that the nexus between NGOs, the UN, and member States allows even a small NGO to place issues high on the agenda of the UN and other governments.

Attach file#1 : Joanna - UPR photo.jpg