Human Rights and Democracy Report 2014: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) - in-year update July 2015

Published 15 July 2015


The period between January and June 2015 saw little discernible change in the DPRK’s approach to human rights or the human rights situation in-country.

The DPRK maintained contact with the international community on human rights during the reporting period. This included the attendance of Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva from 2-27 March, where the DPRK protested against past resolutions on the human rights situation in the DPRK. The 14th session of the EU-DPRK political dialogue (19-24 June) covered areas of concern to the EU, including respect for human rights, DPRK prison camps, torture, and lack of freedom of expression or political participation. Human rights were also raised in meetings with other parts of the DPRK regime, including the Workers’ Party and the Supreme Court. The European External Action Service delegation’s subsequent statement highlights that in the discussions they “urged the DPRK to re-engage in meaningful terms with the international community on all issues of concern”. DPRK state media reported that discussions had included human rights, but provided no further details.

The UK worked with international partners to ensure this year’s HRC resolution continued to focus on the findings and recommendations of the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in the DPRK, as well as reflecting recent developments, such as the December 2014 UN General Assembly resolution and the UN Security Council discussion of the situation in the DPRK the same month. The resolution also requested that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) convene a panel discussion on human rights in the DPRK at the September 2015 session of the HRC. UK diplomatic missions around the world lobbied governments in support of the resolution, which was passed on 27 March with 27 votes in favour, six against and 14 abstentions. In a state media report at the end of March, the DPRK condemned the HRC resolution as a “politically-motivated fraudulent document” and strongly criticised the decision to open an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul, South Korea.

Direct engagement in Pyongyang during the early months of 2015 was limited by the quarantine restrictions DPRK imposed in response to Ebola in West Africa. A senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official met the DPRK Ambassador in London in January 2015, reiterating concern over the DPRK’s failure to adhere to international obligations. During the meeting, the FCO underscored the credibility and importance of the COI report. The FCO urged the DPRK to engage with international organisations and to allow visits by international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the UN Special Rapporteur and the EU Special Representative for human rights.

In addition to meeting the DPRK Ambassador, FCO officials held regular meetings with other DPRK diplomats during the first half of 2015. Most recently, the FCO met the DPRK Embassy in June, requesting an update on the DPRK’s progress on the 185 Universal Periodic Review recommendations it had accepted following the last peer review in 2014.

During February and March, a group of DPRK young disabled artists and officials from the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled (KFPD) and National Paralympic Committee visited the UK and France at the invitation of a UK NGO. During their visit, the DPRK officials participated in seminars to discuss disabled rights, hosted by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and attended by a FCO official, and the young performing artists gave concerts.

On 26 March, the DPRK held a press conference in Pyongyang at which two South Korean citizens, Kim Kuk Gi and Choe Chun Gil, read from prepared statements about their alleged espionage activities against the DPRK. Their alleged crimes included spreading religious materials and encouraging “underground” churches. On 23 June, the DPRK state media (KCNA) reported that Kim and Choe had been tried by the DPRK’s Supreme Court. The KCNA report stated that they “confessed to all the crimes they had committed” and that the court had sentenced them both to life imprisonment with hard labour. The trial failed to meet international standards.

Also on 23 June, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, officially opened the field office of the UN OHCHR in Seoul, Republic of Korea. The FCO Minister for Asia Pacific, Hugo Swire, welcomed the opening of the new field office in a statement as an important step in improving the monitoring of human rights in the DPRK. The British Embassy in Seoul attended the opening ceremony and confirmed the UK’s readiness to support the OHCHR’s work. The DPRK issued an official statement strongly condemning the office’s opening, referring to it as “a hideously politically-motivated provocation” and claiming that the office will be “no more than a centre for gathering misinformation cooked up” by North Korean defectors and others”.

On 26 June, the Protocol Department of the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed diplomatic missions and international organisations in Pyongyang that all foreign nationals, including diplomats, were prohibited from importing into the DPRK “data media including printed matters, mobile phones, and memory sticks…including photos, movies and literature” which contained “strategic and false propaganda data slandering and profaning the dignity of [the] supreme leadership and the system of the DPRK”. This action contravenes international human right standards, in particular freedom of thought and freedom of the media, and highlights the DPRK’s continuing failure to acknowledge (and uphold) its international obligations regarding human rights.

During this period, the DPRK held events for the international community to mark International Women’s Day (8 March), International Red Cross Day (7 May), and International Day of the Disabled Person (18 June). However, it is difficult to judge the extent to which the DPRK is raising awareness amongst its own population of issues such as equality, the status of women, or domestic violence, reportedly prevalent in the DPRK.