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DPRK: Pursue Accountability For Human Rights Violations, UN Report Urges International Community

GENEVA (2 February 2021) – Seven years on from a landmark UN investigation into human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity continue to be committed in the country, a new UN human rights report says, calling on the international community to act to ensure accountability.

The report, published on Tuesday, lays out the work of the UN Human Rights Office in collecting and analysing information relating to possible crimes against humanity as identified by the Commission of Inquiry on the DPRK (2014)*. These include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, persecution on political grounds, and enforced disappearance.

Specifically, analysis of interviews with people who escaped the DPRK provides reasonable grounds to believe that the crime against humanity of imprisonment continues in the ordinary prison system, the report has found. The UN Human Rights Office has also continued to receive consistent and credible accounts of the systematic infliction of severe physical and mental pain or suffering upon detainees in the ordinary prison system – which may amount to the crime against humanity of torture.

Such treatment includes beatings, the prolonged use of stress positions, psychological abuse, forced labour, denial of medical care and sanitation and hygiene products, and starvation, which all combine to create an atmosphere of severe mental and physical suffering in detention, exacerbated by extremely poor living conditions.

“[The UN Human Rights Office] is gravely concerned by credible accounts of forced labour under exceptionally harsh conditions within the ordinary prison system, which may amount to the crime against humanity of enslavement,” the report notes.

The report highlights the lack of progress on the urgent need to establish the truth and ensure accountability on cases of abductions and enforced disappearances of ethnic Koreans, Japanese nationals, and others since the Korean War until the present. The victims of these violations and their families are reaching advanced ages, with diminishing time for them to see justice and truth realised.

“A lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula can be achieved only if such violations end and the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence are fulfilled,” the report says.

Proper investigation and prosecution of the alleged international crimes committed in the DPRK must remain a priority, the report states, whether through referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court or with the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal or other comparable mechanism. The report recalls that there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for a reinvigorated effort to bring justice to victims of gross human rights violations in the DPRK.

“Seven years after the historic Commission of Inquiry report on the DPRK, not only does impunity prevail, but human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity continue to be committed,” she said. “I urge the international community to prioritize justice and to take immediate steps to prevent further infliction of serious human rights violations against the people of the DPRK.”

The report notes that it is imperative to ensure that information relevant to these alleged violations continues to be collected and preserved to support accountability strategies at all levels. That includes judicial processes in other countries based on accepted principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction, as well as possible future international accountability processes. Collecting, analysing and preserving information will also be useful in support of complementary, non-judicial measures towards the realization of wider rights of victims, such as developing a historical record, memorialization, reparation and truth-telling exercises.

The UN Human Rights Office, including its field office in Seoul, is contributing to the realization of such initiatives, particularly through information gathering and preservation analysis for accountability purposes, advocacy and awareness raising, the report notes.

The report also calls for international humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors to be given immediate access to the country, including to all detention facilities

Read the full report here:

* The 2014 Commission of Inquiry report is available here:

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