Advocacy at the United Nations

In 1997, NKHR began its advocacy work at the United Nations to mobilize the international community to condemn the human rights abuses in North Korea. Our first major 3 accomplishment was contributing to the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK in 2004. Since then, NKHR has continued its advocacy at the United Nations by hosting international conferences, briefing various UN agencies and treaty-monitoring bodies, organizing parallel meetings during sessions of the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, and lobbying member states. Another major milestone was the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry in 2013 and the subsequent briefing on crimes against humanity in North Korea at the UN Security Council in 2014. NKHR also keeps the North Korean government accountable in front of the international community by continuously monitoring North Korea’s statements at the UN, changes to North Korea’s laws and its legal system, and the actual situation on the ground in North Korea.   ​NKHR closely works with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK and various other UN special procedures. It regularly submits cases of abduction of South Korean nationals by North Korea to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

​Some of NKHR’s most important achievements at the United Nations include:​

  • Lobbying for the first resolution on North Korean human rights by the then UN Human Rights Commission (replaced by UN Human Rights Council) and the subsequent establishment of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK in 2004.
  • ​December 2012 meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, to encourage prioritizing North Korean human rights. Following 4 the meeting, Ms. Pillay issued a strong statement calling for an investigation into possible crimes against humanity in North Korea.  
  • Establishment of the 2013 Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. NKHR lobbied foreign governments for the historic UN resolution establishing the Commission. The Commission’s report found crimes against humanity in North Korea and recommended referral of North Korean officials to an international justice mechanism.
  • Strong resolutions from both the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly following the UN Commission of Inquiry’s 2014 report that, for the first time, called for legal accountability for the North Korean regime. NKHR advocated in both Geneva and New York to increase support among member states for those groundbreaking resolutions.
  • First-ever official discussion of North Korea’s human rights violations at the UN Security Council, in part as a result of NKHR’s advocacy following the Commission of Inquiry’s report.
  • Briefings and submissions of NKHR reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2005 and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2009.
  • Participation in North Korea’s Universal Periodic Review in both 2010 and 2014. NKHR submitted reports and recommendations and briefed member states during both UPR cycles.
NKHR Advocacy to Establish COI for DPRK
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2015-04-08 21:01:00
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NKHR’s Meeting with UN High Commissioner Results in Historical Statement Last December, NKHR staff Joanna Hosaniak and Eun-young Kim met with Navy Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva. The delegation was accompanied by two political prison camp survivors -- Ms. Hyesook Kim from Camp 18 and Mr. Donghyuk Shin from Camp 14.

The mission of the NKHR delegation was to discuss the unchanging situation of North Korean human rights and to appeal the high commissioner’s office to take a more aggressive stance to improve the status quo. It was the first time that a North Korean human rights NGO met with a high commissioner.

After a short briefing on the background of North Korean political prison camps, Ms. Kim gave an account of her life in Camp 18, where she was taken without notice at the age of fourteen and imprisoned for 28 years. She lost her mother and brother in the camp and gained a son and a daughter through the so-called “commandment marriage” system, but soon lost her husband in a mine accident. Nearing the end of her story, Ms. Kim tried to keep her voice calm but sometimes could not help her tears. A number of the UN officials shed tears listening to the story as well.

Following Ms. Kim, Mr. Shin Dong-hyuk gave his speech. He was born and raised in Camp 14 until he escaped it at the age of 23. Mr. Shin said he was reminded of the camp when he recently visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and watched a video of the Allied Forces burying dead bodies as they were surrounded by the smell of rotting corpses. He added that the same scene will be repeated if the UN does not take more aggressive actions to improve human rights in North Korea. He explained the reason he testifies and relives his painful past countless times: He wants to save the lives of people in prison camps who might be still suffering from forced labor, torture, and public execution.

The meeting closed with NKHR and Human Rights Watch calling for a stronger voice from the UN to improve North Korean human rights. Feeling frustrated and powerless by the status quo, the delegates pressed for the creation of the Commission of Inquiry. Commissioner Pillay responded that she would continuously raise the issue of North Korean human rights and will seriously contemplate over the solutions to improve them.
In addition to High Commissioner Navy Pillay, six other officials from OHCHR were present, including Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman. NKHR was also supported by Julie de Rivero of Human Rights Watch, who was instrumental in setting up the meeting.
On January 14, a little more than a month after NKHR’s meeting with High Commissioner Pillay, she released the first ever statement on the North Korean human rights situation from her office. In it, the Commissioner said that she had met two survivors of North Korea’s labor camps and found their personal stories “extremely harrowing.” Significantly, she called for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity inside North Korea. Commissioner Pillay also commented on the urgent need to “clarify the fate of the many South Koreans and Japanese abducted by DPRK over the years.”

To read the entire text of Commissioner Pillay's statement, please download the PDF file attached to this article.

Selected media coverage:

Reuters article
Wall Street Journal blog article with quote from Joanna Hosaniak