On the Human Rights Situation in North Korea

February 6, 2016

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January of this year despite the suffering of its people. Although North Korea claims that it was a hydrogen bomb, questions remain due to the nature of the seismic activity associated with the blast.

The North Korean government announced that the hydrogen bomb test “firmly protects the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the nation…and reliably safeguards the peace on the Korean Peninsula and regional security” and even now is going ahead with missile launches.

However, the North is showing cracks despite its tough stance. According to the South Korean National Intelligence Service, in the three years that Kim Jong Un has been in power, approximately 70 top officials, 60 of whom were Party members, have been executed. In addition, 46 top-ranking Party officials defected while on work assignments abroad; 20 of those were in 2015.

After the purge of Hyon Yong-chol, a senior North Korean military officer, at the end of April 2015, Party officials that they live in fear of Kim Jong Un’s reign of terror.

In December 2015, 119 countries overwhelmingly adopted a resolution holding North Korea responsible for its appalling human-rights record and calling for redress. The resolution urged the Security Council to refer the North Korean government’s human-rights abuses to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

A Security Council referral is a prerequisite for starting an action at the ICC, but has not been possible because of the opposition of permanent members China and Russia. However, the General Assembly can still propose a resolution to establish a special tribunal.

In light of the half-century of suffering of the North Korean people who have been deprived of their freedom and basic human rights, the words of former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who was instrumental in establishing the Commission of Inquiry (COI), come to mind.

Pillay said, “We have only had glimpses of this terrible system from those who do succeed in getting out, but what we do know should compel the international community to action. For this reason, I believe it is time the international community took a much firmer step towards finding the truth and applying serious pressure to bring about change for this beleaguered, subjugated population of 20 million people.”

We must not abandon the North Korean people in their hour of need. It is more important than ever that we force open the door that North Korea has slammed shut. The international community must redouble its efforts in opening a dialogue and finding a way to help the North Korean people.

We must bring the light of freedom and human rights to all the people of North Korea. History demands that we who enjoy freedom and respect of our human rights ensure that the people of North Korea may do the same.