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Statement by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen in the Security Council VTC AOB on the Human Rights Situation in DPRK, December 11

12.12.2020 - Speech

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We have requested today’s AOB to draw attention to the egregious human rights situation in the DPRK. This situation would merit a much broader and public discussion on what can be done by this Council to stop the widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights by the DPRK’s regime. Unfortunately, two Security Council members blocked our request to have it in an open format.

The situation of human rights in the DPRK is appalling and gets worse by the day. The shocking findings of the report by the Commission of Inquiry of 2014 have qualified these violations as crimes against humanity. The COI also demonstrated that these crimes are pursued at the highest level of state. We have no reason to believe that there has been any change. To the contrary, recent reports by OHCHR and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK have shown that the situation is deteriorating even further.

Individuals in the DPRK are stripped of nearly all their human rights, their freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion or belief, among many others. Media freedom is non-existent, neither is there any possibility of a political opposition to the regime’s tight grip on its people.

The regime has established a long-standing system of political prison camps where hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, including children, have died as a consequence of torture, forced labor, summary executions, starvation, sexual and gender-based violence and other forms of inhumane treatment.  It is estimated that, as we speak, 100 000 prisoners are being detained, suffering from the horrors of being maltreated and abused on a daily basis.

OHCHR’s recent report on the horrific situation of women in the DPRK contains testimonies of over one hundred women who were tortured, raped, abused, trafficked and malnourished. Its title reads “I still feel the pain…”. There are heart-wrenching accounts of pregnant women returning from abroad being subjected to forced abortions, of newborns being killed in an effort to maintain “ethnic purity”. The multiple and grave human rights violations women are subjected to by the hands of the State, in particular sexual and gender-based violence, are unimaginable. They must stop immediately.

Those responsible for these systematic human rights violations must be held accountable.

The onset of COVID-19 has exacerbated the humanitarian situation in the DPRK and further curtailed North Koreans’ right to food. The catastrophic humanitarian situation in the DPRK is well known to this Council and has been discussed here before. The recent report by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK indicates that this situation might spiral into a completely disastrous situation with over 40% of the people having been food insecure already prior to the pandemic. Imagine now! As a consequence, stunted growth, malnutrition and starvation are daily realities for North Koreans.

Again the regime is to blame here: it has closed its borders to humanitarian aid and has made the work of humanitarian assistance in the country impossible. To make this perfectly clear: The sanctions committee has, under my leadership, expeditiously processed every humanitarian request. The dire, if not tragic situation of the North Korean population is due exclusively to the regime’s cynical policies, putting nuclear weapons first and food for its people last.

When we talk about the human rights situation in the DPRK, the facts are clear and abundant. They deserve our immediate attention. Yet, this Council has been failing to even discuss the topic for far too long.

And there is a clear connection with international peace and security here. Some of the most egregious human rights violations by the DPRK are international in their nature, notably the unresolved issues of international abductions. I call on North Korea to finally release the abducted Japanese and South Korean citizens.

And at a systemic level, the regime’s illegal pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles and its gross human rights violations are deeply intertwined. The regime uses a fictitious state of siege to justify its complete repression of liberties. It diverts precious resources to illegal weapon programmes while the people in the DPRK go hungry.

I call on all Council members to no longer close their eyes, to no longer protect the perpetrators, but rather to unite and send a clear message of our joint grave concern to the people of North Korea who have been neglected for far too long. Their human rights need to be restored and protected.

Today, after yesterday’s International Human Rights Day, is the right moment for this Council to deal with the issue.

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