Resolving the various human rights issues related to North Korea requires the understanding and cooperation of the international community. With this in mind, Life Funds has recently been working to build and deepen ties to the United Nations.
ECOSOC Consultative Status Application
One major way that NGOs can participate in the UN system is by going through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Since NGOs which have been granted ECOSOC Consultative Status have more opportunities to participate in the UN system, including by attending meetings, making oral statements, and submitting expert opinions, Life Funds submitted its application for consultative status in June of this year.
There are always questions about whether the UN system is actually effective; however, NGOs with Consultative Status have the opportunity to raise awareness about North Korean human rights issues on the international stage, and relevant countries can raise their concerns about Chinese and North Korean human rights violations. Participation in the UN system can also provide NGOs with opportunities to network with like-minded organizations.
What is ECOSOC?
ECOSOC is the primary UN body dealing with international economic and social issues. Among its main aims are “economic and social progress” and “encouraging universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Thus, in order to obtain consultative status, an NGO’s activities must be relevant to the aims of ECOSOC, its constitution must be democratically adopted, and there must be appropriate mechanisms of accountability and democratic and transparent decision-making processes.
How can Life Funds be involved even without Consultative Status?
The decision on whether to grant consultative status to Life Funds for North Korean Refugees will not be made until next year. So what can we do in the meantime? Although we cannot participate formally in official meetings, we can take part in the “side events” that run parallel to the main meetings. At these parallel sessions, numerous NGOs give lectures and make presentations on their activities and on the various human-rights issues with which they are involved.
The Human Rights Council and the UPR
In addition to submitting its application for ECOSOC Consultative Status, Life Funds is endeavouring to deepen its relationship with the UN in other ways. In 2007, the Human Rights Commission created the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process by which the human rights record of all 192 UN Member States is reviewed every four years.
The countries of most concern to Life Funds—North Korea and China—will be reviewed this year and then again in 2013. Governments, experts, and NGOs all have the opportunity to participate in this review process, and to submit reports on the country being reviewed. Unfortunately, we were not able to submit a report on China this year; however, we did submit a report on North Korea jointly with Human Rights Without Frontiers, and are currently exploring ways of participating meaningfully in the December review process.
It is still too early to say how effective the UPR process will be. However, the process does exist and for that reason we must take advantage of it. If nothing else, it is an opportunity to send a message to the North Korean (or Chinese) government that the international community is watching.
We plan to submit reports every four years for the UPR process and to attend, and submit reports to, as many relevant meetings as possible if granted consultative status. Examples of opportunities we are planning to take advantage of include:
- Submit a report on human-rights abuses suffered by North Korean women to the Commission on the Status of Women (the majority of North Koreans fleeing to China are women, and most have suffered grave human-rights abuses);
- Participate in parallel sessions and lobby the Human Rights Council member states (December, during the UPR session);
- Participate in other sessions running parallel to the main UN meetings, for example the CSW meeting in February 2010.
Groups concerned with North Korean human-rights issues have employed various strategies over the years, but it is time for a frank re-evaluation of the effectiveness of those methods. At the very least, deepening ties with the United Nations, and using the mechanisms available to us, constitute one tool available to us in our work.