Statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the end of his visit to the Republic of Korea, 21 to 25 November 2011

25 November 2011

Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for attending the press conference this morning

As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I was on my second official visit to the Republic of Korea (RoK) from 21 to 25 November 2011. The purpose of my visit was to assess the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and some of the immediate humanitarian needs of the country. Since my appointment in August 2010, I have made several requests to visit the DPRK and meet with the Permanent Representatives of the DPRK to the United Nations in Geneva and New York, neither of which has been honoured so far. Hence, as in the previous year, this paved my decision to travel to the neighbouring countries, such as the RoK.

During the last 4 days of my visit to the RoK, I held meetings with the Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, members of the Inter-Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights, the Director General for International Organisations bureau, and the Senior Policy Coordination Officer for the Unification Policy of the Ministry of Unification. I also had the opportunity to interact with the members of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, national and international non-governmental organizations, diplomats and other relevant individuals.

While the main focus of my visit was to gather information on topics such as human rights violations of the people of the DPRK, the issue of abduction of Korean nationals by the agents of the DPRK, family reunion of separated Korean families, the situation of asylum seekers from the DPRK and the food situation in the DPRK, I was also briefed on the current state of play of the inter-Korean dialogue, the Six Party talks, and the situation in the Korean peninsula in general. At the outset, I wish to note that there has not been much progress on most of these issues since my last visit to the country in November 2010.

Despite several calls made by the UN Secretary-General and myself, including through our reports to the General Assembly in October 2011, to cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, the DPRK continues to be either late, as in the case of reporting to the treaty bodies or non-cooperative with the Special Procedures, including with the thematic mandates. Coupled with numerous reports of dismal human rights record of the State, the DPRK is perhaps the only country today that does not recognize that non-cooperation with the human rights mechanism is not an option. Domestically too, no steps have been taken by the DPRK to reform its legislation to ensure conformity with the international standards. Counter parts here in the RoK have shared with me some important legislation, such as the penal code and its addendum, which include in them provisions that stipulate punishments such as death penalty and correction by hard labour. Information that trickle in through the asylum seekers confirm that imposition of such harsh and inhumane punishment on the people of the DPRK continues. The recent adoption of the General Assembly resolution on the situation of human rights in the DPRK with a record number of votes in favour of the resolution condemning the human rights situation in the DPRK is indicative of the growing concerns of the international community on the dire human rights conditions in the State.

However, there are small signs of cooperation with other UN entities, for instance with the World Food Programme and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The DPRK should take the opportunity of the recent visit to the DPRK of Ms. Valerie Amos, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, and engage more openly with her Office and with the UN in general.

On the issue of asylum seekers from the DPRK, there has been a steady increase in the number of persons seeking refuge in the RoK. Up until the late 1990s, fewer than 1,000 asylum seekers from the DPRK had made their way to the RoK. Today, however, there are around 23,700 of them sheltered in the RoK. Of these arrivals, around 75% are women, which has been more or less the case for the last 5 to 6 years. This year, as compared with last year, there has been an increase of 17 %. As in the previous year, I had the opportunity to visit the Hanawon, which is Government supported reception center for newly arrived asylum seekers. The increase in inflow of asylum seekers into the RoK has prompted the authorities here to build a new reception center that could accommodate an additional 500 asylum seekers at any given time. At Hanawon, I interacted with a number of asylum seekers who had been through different harrowing experiences in the DPRK. Most of the asylum seekers I interacted with had undergone harsh punishments in the forced labour camps and had either witnessed or heard of torture being implemented on other inmates.

While some asylum seekers manage to finally make their way to the RoK, numerous others are forcibly refouled or returned to the DPRK by the neighbouring countries. During the current visit, a number of NGOs and diplomats raised serious concerns on such refoulment of asylum seekers. This is something I too strongly share and have reflected in my previous reports to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.

With regard to the family reunion of separated Korean families, I note with concern that the process has been stalled since November 2010, since the suspension of the inter-Korean dialogue. Any meaningful progress on this issue would seem to require an early resumption of the inter-Korean dialogue. It is worrying to note that out of the 128.000 separated families who had originally applied for the family reunion; nearly 50,000 have died as of October 2011. So far only 1,800 individuals have benefitted from the programme organized by the two Korean Red Cross Societies, indicating that perhaps a more robust mechanism might be needed to ensure the speedy re-union of separated families.

Another serious issue where not much progress has been achieved is the issue of abduction of Korean nationals by the DPRK agents. It is estimated that roughly 500 Koreans, who were abducted from the RoK are still held in the DPRK. One such case of abduction, which has recently gathered a lot of public interest in the RoK is that of O’Gil-nam. O’Gil-nam, along with his wife and 2 children were deceived and taken into the DPRK in 1985. While O’Gil-nam managed to escape in 1986, he left behind his wife and two children back in the DPRK. I had the opportunity to meet with him and hear his case. I also discussed his case with the Government of the RoK, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, diplomats and NGOs. The case of O’Gil-nam is an emblematic case that illustrates the seriousness and magnitude of the problem and reminds us of the need to resolve the issue of abduction urgently. On the question of abduction in general, I heard with much interest the possibility of setting up of a Pan-Governmental Organisation for the Repatriation of Abductees, a platform for members from various Government Ministries who will be tasked with seeking ideas and possible solutions on the question of abduction with the DPRK.

With regards to the humanitarian aid, the RoK has revived its provision of medical assistance through the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, which I welcome. Numerous reports over the past few months have indicated that the current food situation in the DPRK is dire. While I recognize that the primary obligation to feed its people is that of the state, I seize this opportunity to call on both, the RoK and the international community to commence the provision of more humanitarian assistance, in particular food and supplementary nutrition for vulnerable group, such as children and women.

Based on this visit, below are some of my immediate recommendations to the DPRK, the RoK and the international community:

  • I call on the Government of the DPRK to cooperate with the various UN human rights mechanisms and commence implementing some of their recommendations and those reflected in the Secretary-General’s and the Special Rapporteur’s report to the General-Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
  • I urge the Government of the DPRK to overhaul the prison system, the criminal justice system and related detention policies in camps, which give rise to plethora of abuses, including torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  • I recognize the paramount importance of resuming the inter-Korean dialogue in order to create conducive atmosphere, which could then lead to resolving a number of outstanding issues, such as the reunion of separated families and repatriation of abducted Koreans.
  • I call on the government of the DPRK and the RoK to explore the possibility of setting up of an additional mechanism that could be more robust than the current setting in addressing the problem of separated families.
  • I stress the need for the revival of effective humanitarian assistance by the RoK and the international community to the people of the DPRK. Provisions of such humanitarian aid, including food and medicine, while subject to ‘no access, no aid’, should not be made contingent upon any political requirements.
  • While commending the RoK for integration of asylum-seekers from the DPRK, I call on other neighbouring countries to protect and treat all people fleeing the DPRK humanely and respect the principle of non-refoulment, as provided under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

These are some of my preliminary observations and recommendations, which I will elaborate in my report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in March 2012. In January 2012, I intend to travel to Japan on a similar assessment mission. The findings of that mission will also be incorporated into the Report to the HRC in 2012.

Finally, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Government of the Republic of Korea for their warm reception. Many individuals and entities were keen to meet me. I personally experienced the full range of diverse views on human rights in the DPRK.


Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia) was designated Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in August 2010 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organisation and serves in his individual capacity. He is a member of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, and has served in various capacities at the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission. Mr. Darusman is a Law graduate from the Catholic University of Parahyangan Bandung, Indonesia.

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