North Korea Under UN Investigation for Alleged Human Rights Violations

Michael Kirby, head commissioner in UN investigation of North Korean human rights violations.  (from Voice of America)

Michael Kirby, head commissioner in UN investigation of North Korean human rights violations. (from Voice of America)

North Korea has been scrutinized for their human rights practices for years now.  This past March marked the start of a United Nations investigation of North Korea after many defectors were brave enough to commit to testifying.  It is  believed that North Korea’s practices are in violations of the United Nations international human rights law.  According to the United Nations website, “International human rights law lays down obligations which States are bound to respect… States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights.”  The head of the UN review of North Korea’s practices, Michael Kirby, says that the nation is “engaged in large-scale human rights abuses.”  According to NHK World, Kirby has been unsuccessful in getting North Korea to cooperate in the investigation, but that “North Korea has maintained that the inquiry is a political plot launched by its enemies and should not be believed.”

In addition to great speculation of these violations in the past and many proposed resolutions, this summer, the United Nations began this review in Seoul, South Korea.  There, the panel heard testimony from defectors of the North about the horrible situations they faced after being deported back to North Korea from the nations to which they fled.  Similar stories were heard later in the summer in Tokyo and most recently in London this past week.  Park Ji-hyun was one of the brave nearly 200 testifiers against the nation for the alleged “torture, sexual violence, denial of food, arbitrary detention, abduction of foreigners, [and] the return of refugees to certain imprisonment” (Voice of America).  In her testimony, she recounted her escape to China in 1998, where she was forced to marry a Chinese gambler with whom she had a son.  When she was later arrested and forced to return to North Korea, she had to leave her son behind (Arirang, Korea).

Arirang:  UN Coverage of North Korean Human Rights Hearing [YouTube]

Independent estimates have reported that 150,000-200,000 people are detained in North Korean prison camps (Reuters).  Many ex-prisoners of these camps shared their experiences that were similar to, and some even far more gruesome than that of Park Ji-hyun’s.  Jee Heon-a, an ex-prisoner told of her experience in a North Korean prison camp:  “Everyone’s eyes were sunken. They all looked like animals.”  She told of the salted frogs that were the only source of food for herself and the other prisoners, and she told of a mother who was forced to murder her newborn child  (Reuters).

CNN Coverage of North Korean Violations Hearing & Imprisonment Story [YouTube]

The investigation is expected to continue this week in Washington DC, where further testimonies will be heard from witnesses, including Joe Bermudez, an expert on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs, David Hawk, a long-time human rights advocate, and more.  In a press release, Michael Kirby stated “Although we do not have direct access to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)], we are still able to gather vital information from individuals who have bravely come forward to tell their stories” (Yonhap, South Korea).  Recommendations from the commission that are due in March will be passed on to the United Nations for review, when the UN will make a decision on what should be done (WXPI, Pittsburgh).


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