The United Nations Commission set up to investigate human rights violations in North Korea has begun its operations with an initial meeting in Geneva. The three Commissioners welcomed the large amount of information that is already being provided by witnesses and experts. The UN Human Rights Council established the Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in March 2013 to look into “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights”. It is the first such in-depth inquiry to be created by the United Nations to investigate the situation in North Korea.
“Our key aim is to help provide the DPRK with the means to improve the human rights of its population,” said Commission Chairperson Michael Kirby. “Our work is guided by respect for the region’s proud history, as well as international human rights standards.”
Mr Kirby, a former Australian judge and previously UN Special Representative on human rights in Cambodia, is working with Marzuki Darusman from Indonesia, who is also the current Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, and Sonja Biserko, the founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia.
The Commissioners have come together for the first time in Geneva this week, and have been holding key meetings including with a number of diplomatic missions, UN agencies, scholars and NGOs. They have also been discussing the strategy, methodology and investigative approach they will employ during their mandate.
“We have a clear mandate from the Human Rights Council with the aim of providing hope and prospect to the people of DPRK,” said Mr Darusman.
“Our inquiry is designed to give voice to the suffering of the people of the DPRK. We are especially keen to closely look at how the current situation is affecting the lives of women, children and vulnerable groups in the country,” said Ms Biserko.
The Commissioners said they had written to DPRK representatives in Geneva to “seek engagement in a spirit of co-operation and transparency”.
The response has so far been negative, but the Commissioners said Friday that they intend to continue to reach out to the Government of the DPRK and to seek its cooperation, given assurances that representatives of DPRK have previously given to the Human Rights Council that the DPRK “prioritizes human rights and honours the UN Charter and international human rights instruments.”
The Commission of Inquiry, which consists of the three Commissioners with a supporting team of nine experienced human rights officials, has already received an “encouraging” amount of information, and will shortly publish a call for submissions. The Commissioners said they planned to issue regular public updates on their work.
The Commission of Inquiry on the DPRK was established by Human Rights Council resolution 22/13 to investigate a variety of alleged violations. These include alleged violations relating to the right to food; as well as those associated with prison camps, torture, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to life, and freedom of movement; it will also look into enforced disappearances, including the abduction of nationals of other states.
Video documenting the visit of the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, to DPRK in 2011
Biographies of COI members:
Michael Donald Kirby (Australia) – retired judge, jurist and academic. Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1996 to 2009. President of the International Commission of Jurists (1995-98), member of UNESCO International Bioethics Committee (1996), President of the Court of Appeal of Solomon Islands (1995-1996); Member of the World Health Organisation’s Global Commission on AIDS (1988-1991); and Special Representative of UN Secretary-General for Cambodia (1994-96). Special concerns have included human rights, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the impact of science and technology on society and its laws. In the past he has been involved in issues raised by HIV/AIDS, including sexuality and the law.
Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia) – currently Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK. Member of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons for Sri Lanka, and has served as Chair of the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission as well as Attorney General of the Republic of Indonesia 1999 to 2001. In 2010, assigned as Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka. In 2009, appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to a three-member UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Law graduate from the Catholic University of Parahyangan Bandung, Indonesia and has received an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the same university.
Sonja Biserko (Serbia) – founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. Written extensively on the wars in the former Yugoslavia and war crimes including on the Srebrenica genocide, the fall of Vukovar, and accounts of the trials of Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj. Founding member of a European movement in Yugoslavia and the Centre for Anti-War Action in the Belgrade Forum for International Relations. Senior fellow in the United States Institute of Peace. In 1994 she received the Human Rights Award of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York. In 2005 was one of 1,000 women in the group 1,000 Women for Peace nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Awarded the 2009 Human Rights Prize of the City of Weimar (Germany) jointly with Jestina Mukoko. In 2010 awarded the Human Rights Award of the University of Oslo. Holds a degree from the University of Belgrade Faculty of Economics.
UN Human Rights, country page – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK):