This post provides a meeting summary for the Security Council's Arria-formula meeting on human rights in the DPRK, which took place on 17 March 2023 (as meeting summaries are not produced by the UN secretariat for such meetings). The summary is complemented at the end with references to human rights in Security Council outcomes that might be relevant for negotiations on a draft resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, which expires on 30 April, as noted by the NGO Security Council Report.
This post may also be useful ahead of the dialogue in the Human Rights Council with the Special Rapporteur on 20 March afternoon. Please forgive errors and omissions, as the summary was partly affected by the quality of the video recording and the lack of interpretation. The recording was made available thanks to Mission of Albania, but not through the usual UN WebTV due to a veto by China.
Key topics below
Click heading to jump to section
Concept note for the Arria-formula meeting [293 words]
Information from UN officials and reports.
Briefers [680 words]
OHCHR representative offered detailed update on current situation.
The Special Rapporteur called for the Security Council's attention and pursuing both accountability and dialogue.
Two refugees shared their testimonies.
Comments by Members of the Security Council [866 words]
Key points stated by most members of the Security Council and the ROK.
Joint statement by the US, Albania, Japan and the ROK.
References in Security Council outcomes [808 words]
Security Council resolutions from 2017 on non-proliferation and the DPRK including human rights language: 2371, 2375 and 2397.
Security Council resolution 2664(2022) on general issues relating to sanctions.
Security Council resolution 2577(2021) on sanctions in South Sudan.
Concept note for the Arria-formula meeting [293 words]
The concept note for the meeting, organized by the US and Albania and co-sponsored by Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK), cited the UN Secretary-General's 2022 report (A/77/247). The report detailed concerns such as the use of torture, lack of public participation in politics, severe penalties for distributing foreign media content, and denial of freedom of expression, thought, conscience, and religion. The 2022 report of the Special Rapporteur on the DPRK (A/77/522) also drew attention to hundreds of unresolved cases of international abductions and disappearances. The Special Rapporteur is advocating for mechanisms of accountability and expanding dialogue. The first mandate holder, Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn (2004-2010), highlighted the challenges of: 1) Democratization; 2) Regional peace and security; 3) Regional demilitarization and disarmament; and 4) Sustainable development and the need for broad-based popular participation and protection of vulnerable groups. In 2014, the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in the DPRK found (A/HRC/25/63) that the country's human rights practices amounted to crimes against humanity. The report also found that the Government prioritized military spending over feeding hungry citizens, even during periods of mass starvation. The State committed systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations. In 2017, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs stated that the international community has a responsibility to protect the population of the DPRK if the State does not, and to consider the wider implications of the reported grave human rights situation for the stability of the region. Repression increased during the COVID-19 pandemic with shoot-to-kill orders, further suppression of fundamental freedoms and access to information. Reports suggest that there are 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners today. Forced labor – domestic and overseas – plays a key role in sustaining the Government and generating revenue for its weapons programs.
Briefers [680 words]
Mr. James Turpin, Chief of the Prevention & Sustaining Peace Section, delivered a statement on behalf of the ASG. He noted that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, information suggested that 10.1 million people – 40% of the population – were food insecure and in need of food assistance. At present, parts of the country reportedly face starvation. However, all international humanitarian staff remain outside the country. People’s access to life-saving humanitarian assistance, including to food and medicines, is impaired also due to continued tight restrictions on freedom of movement internally and across the country’s borders. During and since the COVID-19 pandemic, the DPRK has deepened its isolation and increased the repression of civil and political rights. The State maintains an extreme level of surveillance, systematically violating people’s right to privacy and subjecting them to random searches at home for possession of any information that has not been authorized by the State. Anyone attempting to exercise their basic human rights may be subjected to punishments, which in themselves constitute gross human rights violations. People held in detention centers and prisons are subjected to arbitrary imprisonment, torture, forced labor, and sexual and gender-based violence. While the Government has not indicated when it will allow the return of the international community and humanitarian agencies, it had publicly signaled the gravity of the food and economic situation in the country, and has referred to the need for diplomatic efforts, exchanges and cooperation with other countries. This may provide the Security Council with an opportunity to consider actions to bring the DPRK out of its current isolation and to encourage it to embark on meaningful dialogue to address its chronic human rights situation. A UN Country Team could return and implement a new partnership framework, incorporating recommendations from the UN human rights system, including the Universal Periodic Review (which will take place in October next year) and several forthcoming reviews by treaty bodies. While the UN Human Rights Office in Seoul will continue to monitor, document and analyze information of human rights violations in the DPRK, to support future accountability processes, the situation may be referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court. Individual Member States might actively pursue domestic avenues of accountability. Administrative reparations programmes for escapees may also be implemented.
The Special Rapporteur on the DPRK, Ms. Elizabeth Salmón, stated that the limited information available indicated increasing suffering by the people in North Korea. Access to food, medicine and healthcare remains a priority concern. People have frozen to death. The country has introduced more severe penalties for accessing information from outside the country. Over a thousand escapees have been detained in China indefinitely. Many more are in hiding, at risk of forced repatriation. "The peace and nuclearization agenda cannot be addressed without considering the current human rights violations in the DPRK." The Special Rapporteur urged the Security Council to address the situation from two tracks: 1. Accountability, including through the ICC and national frameworks; and 2. Engagement, including setting a number of country visits by Special Procedures mandate holders every year, a number of family reunions and benchmarks to measure the implementation of recommendations accepted by the DPRK in the UPR.
Mr. Joseph Kim stressed that North Korea was still his home and that it was a land with darkness, not a land made of darkness, because people there have hopes and dreams too. He noted that human rights and security were inextricably linked. For example, to finance its nuclear program, the Government was offering its citizens as forced labor overseas.
Ms. Seohyun Lee noted that her family was always monitored, though enjoyed certain privileges due to her father's high ranking position. As a child, she learned not to develop doubts. Her perception changed when a friend's father was executed and the family was sent to political prison. She discovered that everyone was dispensable, guilty only of being born in the DPRK. She said people in the DPRK didn't even know that their rights were being violated because they were unaware they had human rights.
Comments by Members of the Security Council [866 words]
The US stated that Pyongyang’s WMD and ballistic missile programs are inextricably linked to the regime’s human rights abuses, always trumping the human rights and humanitarian needs of its people. Its use of forced labor drives the unlawful weapons program forward. Food distribution policies favor the military at the expense of more than 10 million North Koreans who are food insecure. And totalitarian control of society ensures the regime can spend inordinate resources on weapons development without public objection. The UK (scroll to 1:26:45) stated similar points and called to keep up the pressure for rights to be respected and to promote accountability and to insist on access for the UN Special Rapporteur. It reminded Member States to respect the obligation of non-refoulement.
Albania stated that the community of free nations must care about people being paid every month less than the World Bank poverty line per day. The Security Council cannot stay aside. It must stand and assume its responsibility.
Japan emphasized the abduction of foreign nationals, including Japanese nationals, as a serious human rights violation, as well as a violation of the sovereignty of countries concerned and a threat to international peace and security. Most of the abductees have not yet returned to their home.
Ecuador (scroll to 56:30, in Spanish) noted the competence of the Security Council to address the situation in a holistic manner, including humanitarian and human rights concerns. That is particularly as the DPRK did not recognize the Human Rights Council's competence to address its situation.
Malta (scroll to 1:00:15) deplored the use of food as a method of State control. It noted that discrimination and pervasive and routine violence against women and girls, including sexual and intimate partner violence are widespread and not considered a serious crime. Malta is especially concerned by reports of forced labor of children. It urged the DPRK to facilitate humanitarian access by international organizations. The Security Council has a responsibility to address the violations of IHL and IHRL, including through referral to the ICC.
Brazil (scroll to 1:05:50) called to do more to reduce the impact of the sanctions regime on the humanitarian situation. It called for dialogue to address the human rights situation.
France (scroll to 1:00:05, in French) called to maintain the issue on the Security Council's agenda. It noted that the lack of respect for political, economic and social rights undermines regional peace and security. Without consideration for the well-being of the people, no lasting peace can be established.
Ghana (scroll to 1:11:45) welcomed the activities of OHCHR and the Special Rapporteur and called to continue investigations to promote accountability, while pursuing dialogue.
Switzerland recalled the COI's description of the situation, which has not improved since its report a decade ago: "The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." The Security Council cannot remain inactive on these issues, as they affect its responsibility for international peace and security. The development of weapons of mass destruction remains possible only at the cost of serious human rights violations and a precarious humanitarian situation. The link is unequivocal: Large resources are allocated to the expensive nuclear program, even in times of famine. The production of these resources involves human rights violations.
Mozambique (scroll to 1:20:35) expressed its belief that protecting human rights is most needed to ensure peace and security.
The UAE was deeply concerned about the widespread human rights violations and reiterated its support for relevant resolutions of the Human Rights Council and General Assembly. It was also concerned by the prioritization of the nuclear and missile programs, instead of feeding the hungry.
The Republic of Korea also delivered a statement as an observer. It stated that without scaling up efforts to address the human rights situation in the DPRK, the nuclear issue cannot be expected to be resolved. Therefore, it is a critical issue of national security for the ROK, which threatens international peace and security. The ROK supported the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that the Security Council revive public meetings on the human rights situation in the DPRK, as it did from 2014 to 2017.
At the conclusion of the meeting, a joint statement was delivered by the US, also on behalf of Albania, Japan and the ROK. They referred to the DPRK as one of the most repressive Governments in the world. In addition to human rights violations which they had detailed in the concept note (as noted in the first section above), they noted the use of gender-based violence, including forced abortions. With reference to acts of transnational repression, they noted assassinations, surveillance, intimidation, abductions, and forced repatriations, as well as international abductions and enforced disappearances of citizens of Japan and the ROK. In conclusion, they recalled a request by 62 co-sponsors in a joint letter last month that the Security Council remain seized with the human rights situation in the DPRK. They also called for an open briefing in the coming months to discuss the DPRK’s human rights violations and abuses and their implications for peace and security.
References in Security Council outcomes (not verbatim) [808 words]
In 2017, three Security Council resolutions which focused on non-proliferation in the context of the DRPK included relevant human rights languages, generally improving specificity from resolution 2371 to 2375 to 2397, all adopted by consensus: Underlining also that measures imposed by this resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK [Resolution 2371(2017), PP5]. Underlining once again the importance that the DPRK respond to other security and humanitarian concerns of the international community including the necessity of the DPRK respecting and ensuring the welfare, inherent dignity, and rights of people in the DPRK, and expressing great concern that the DPRK continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by diverting critically needed resources away from the people in the DPRK at tremendous cost when they have great unmet needs [Resolution 2397(2017), PP4]. Reiterates its deep concern at the grave hardship that the people in the DPRK are subjected to, condemns the DPRK for pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles instead of the welfare of its people while people in the DPRK have great unmet needs, emphasizes the necessity of the DPRK respecting and ensuring the welfare and inherent dignity of people in the DPRK, and demands that the DPRK stop diverting its scarce resources toward its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at the cost of the people in the DPRK [Resolution 2397(2017), OP23]. Regrets the DPRK’s massive diversion of its scarce resources toward its development of nuclear weapons and a number of expensive ballistic missile programs, notes the findings of the UN OCHA that well over half of the people in the DPRK suffer from major insecurities in food and medical care, including a very large number of pregnant and lactating women and under-five children who are at risk of malnutrition and 41% of its total population who are undernourished, and, in this context, expresses deep concern at the grave hardship to which the people in the DPRK are subjected [Resolution 2397(2017), OP24]. Reaffirms that the measures imposed by resolutions [...] and this resolution are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK or to affect negatively or restrict those activities, including economic activities and cooperation, food aid and humanitarian assistance, that are not prohibited by resolutions [...] and this resolution, and the work of international and non-governmental organizations carrying out assistance and relief activities in the DPRK for the benefit of the civilian population of the DPRK, stresses the DPRK’s primary responsibility and need to fully provide for the livelihood needs of people in the DPRK, and decides that the Committee may, on a case-by-case basis, exempt any activity from the measures imposed by these resolutions if the committee determines that such an exemption is necessary to facilitate the work of such organizations in the DPRK or for any other purpose consistent with the objectives of these resolutions [Resolution 2397(2017), OP25].
On 9 December 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2664 on general issues relating to sanctions, by a vote of 14 in favor and 1 abstention (India): Reaffirming the need to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law, including applicable international human rights law, international refugee law, and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security, stressing in this regard, the important role the United Nations plays in leading and coordinating this effort, including through use of its sanctions regimes [PP2].
As an example of a sanctions resolution addressing human rights, it may be worth noting Security Council resolution 2577(2021) on South Sudan, which was adopted by a vote of 13 in favor and 2 abstentions (India and Kenya). Strongly condemning past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, further condemning harassment and targeting of civil society, humanitarian personnel and journalists, emphasizing that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights must be held accountable, and that the RTGNU bears the primary responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity [PP8]. Expressing deep concern at reports of misappropriation of funds that undermine the stability and security of South Sudan, and stressing that these activities can have a devastating impact on society and individuals, weaken democratic institutions, undermine the rule of law, perpetuate violent conflicts, facilitate illegal activities, divert humanitarian assistance or complicate its delivery, and undermine economic markets [PP9]. Requests the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and the Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict to share relevant information with the Committee in accordance with paragraph 7 of resolution 1960 (2010) and paragraph 9 of resolution 1998 (2011), and invites the High Commissioner for Human Rights to share relevant information with the Committee, as appropriate [OP20].