Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Human Rights Priority Country update report: July to December 2016 - Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

In the latter half of 2016 the DPRK government continued to refuse to engage substantively with the international community on human rights. Events in this reporting period reinforce our serious concerns about human rights in the DPRK and the DPRK regime’s continued disregard for, and violations of, international norms and obligations.

Following its campaign in the early half of 2016, from late May until 15 December the DPRK government imposed a further 200-day mobilisation of North Korean citizens to work on various countrywide activities (such as construction and building repairs). In addition to these activities, the population were also required to attend political gatherings organised by the DPRK Workers’ Party of Korea in support of the DPRK leadership. These actions demonstrate the DPRK authorities’ continued disregard for basic human rights freedoms, including freedom of speech, expression and movement.

In July, the US government imposed its first bilateral sanctions on DPRK senior government officials and ministries for human rights abuses, including the listing of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un. The DPRK government denounced these sanctions in DPRK state media as a “hideous crime” and a “declaration of war”. The US government urged the DPRK government to “refrain from statements and actions that raise tensions in the region”.

On 15 July, DPRK authorities held a press conference, in which Ko Hyon Chol, a DPRK national and defector, admitted to alleged crimes against the DPRK state. Ko had been arrested by the DPRK authorities in May 2016. No details were given regarding dates of trial or the next steps in the DPRK’s prosecution. This public event followed the format of previous press conferences held by the DPRK and highlights the DPRK authorities’ continued disregard of its international obligations regarding judicial processes and the right to a fair trial.

During 2016, we have maintained our support for small-scale humanitarian project activities through our Bilateral Programme Budget fund, intended to support the most vulnerable elements of DPRK society, including in remote communities outside Pyongyang. On the same basis, the UK also provided emergency humanitarian support to disabled groups in the flood-affected areas of North Hamgyong Province in north-east DPRK following Typhoon Lionrock at the end of August.

The UK directly engaged on several occasions with DPRK officials regarding human rights during this reporting period. The British Ambassador to Pyongyang raised human rights concerns in a number of his meetings with senior officials in Pyongyang. At every opportunity we continue to press the DPRK regime to engage meaningfully with international organisations and the international community on human rights. In addition, UK officials both in London and Pyongyang continued to engage with a number of NGOs focused on human rights in the DPRK.

A statement on 6 December by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed the DPRK’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This would be a positive development towards the DPRK’s work to support the rights of the disabled persons. However, an article on the DPRK’s official web portal claimed that “North Koreans enjoy full human rights” and that “disabled people…exercise their rights and lead a happy life without any distinction.” There is little evidence of the DPRK’s activities towards implementation of other international human rights treaties it has ratified, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1981); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990); and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2011).

Tomas Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur, stressed that ratification of UNCRPD should be implemented “in full consultation with people with disabilities” and used to move forward the implementation of the other human rights treaties ratified by the DPRK. He reiterated calls for the DPRK to engage with human rights mechanisms and to allow technical experts to visit North Korea. In December, the British Ambassador to Pyongyang met officials of the DPRK’s Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled (KFPD), where he reiterated the UK’s support for human rights in the DPRK, particularly the rights of disabled persons, and he offered UK technical assistance to the DPRK on implementation of the UNCRPD.

On 5 December, the ambassador in Pyongyang attended events to mark the International Day of Disabled Persons, hosted by the KFPD. During the ambassador’s meeting with KFPD officials, it was noted that, following the embassy’s funding to support the first International Day of the Disabled Persons event in Pyongyang, the DPRK were now able independently to organise this annual activity.

As in previous years, the UK strongly supported the EU/Japan-led resolution on DPRK at the UN General Assembly 3rd Committee, which was adopted by consensus in October. The resolution, which was also adopted by consensus at the UN General Assembly in December, reiterated the international community’s concerns about the extensive human rights violations in DPRK, and condemned the DPRK’s human rights record. This ensures that international attention remains focused on the human rights situation in North Korea. The DPRK government rejected the resolution, continuing its practice of rebuttal of international resolutions and refusal to work with the international community on human rights.

On 9 December, the UK Permanent Representative to the UN delivered a statement at the UN Security Council discussion on the human rights situation in North Korea, condemning the DPRK’s human rights record and focused on the DPRK regime’s use of forced labour as a form of modern slavery.

A video featuring the British Ambassador to Pyongyang, in which he outlined the current human rights situation in the DPRK, was posted online as part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office activities to mark Human Rights Day in December. At a subsequent meeting with DPRK officials, the ambassador reiterated the UK’s serious concerns and urged the DPRK to engage meaningfully with the international community on human rights issues.

The UK continues to work with other international partners on future human rights resolutions and to raise human rights issues with DPRK officials at every opportunity, as part of our policy of critical engagement.