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After 6-year hiatus, UN Security Council holds public discussion on NK human rights

Joint statement condemning NK human rights abuses issued with support of 52 countries and EU

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Aug. 18, 2023 - 13:59

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Hwang Joon-kook, the South Korean ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the human rights situation in North Korea on Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, (Photo - AP) Hwang Joon-kook, the South Korean ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the human rights situation in North Korea on Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, (Photo - AP)

The UN Security Council on Thursday convened a public discussion on the human rights situation in North Korea, the first such discussion since 2017.

The open briefing occurred following a request made earlier in the month by the United States, Albania, South Korea, and Japan. The primary purpose of this briefing was to illuminate the relationship between North Korea's human rights violations and abuses, and their impact on international peace and security.

The outcome of the discussion was the release of a joint statement that condemned the "acts of cruelty and repression" by the Kim Jong-un regime. This condemnation was supported by 52 UN member states and the European Union.

The statement emphasized that the human rights violations and abuses committed by North Korean authorities are intricately intertwined with the country's advancements in weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, which go against Security Council resolutions.

"The DPRK’s repressive political climate allows the government to divert resources to weapons development – at the expense of the welfare of the people in the DPRK who suffer from severe economic hardship and malnutrition," the joint statement read, referring to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The Kim Jong-un regime utilizes both domestic and international forced labor, as well as labor exploitation, as a means to finance its illicit weapons developments, among other examples.

"None of this is acceptable. And there continues to be a lack of accountability."

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, The US ambassador to the United Nations and sitting president of the United Nations Security Council, is flanked by representatives and ambassadors of nations supporting continued international engagement on human rights abuses in North Korea after a meeting of the council on Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (Photo - AP) Linda Thomas-Greenfield, The US ambassador to the United Nations and sitting president of the United Nations Security Council, is flanked by representatives and ambassadors of nations supporting continued international engagement on human rights abuses in North Korea after a meeting of the council on Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (Photo - AP)

Echoing the view, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the North Korean regime's unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs are powered by the "oppression and brutality" it imposes.

"Colleagues, we cannot have peace without human rights. And the DPRK is a case in point," she told during a public discussion.

South Korea's Ambassador to the UN, Hwang Joon-kook said human rights violations constitute a significant concern not solely for the North Korean people, but were also a crucial matter of national security for South Korea.

Kim Il-hyeok, a defector from North Korea, recounted his childhood in a small rural village. He mentioned that from a young age, he was conscripted into farming, and the crops he painstakingly nurtured through sweat were mostly taken to the military after being harvested.

"Tyranny cannot last forever. I implore you to cease further wrongdoing and to adopt humane behaviors from now on," he said, addressing the Kim Jong-un regime. "We, the people of North Korea, also hold the right to opt for a life of dignity for ourselves."

During the open briefing, Thomas-Greenfield also denounced countries for having resisted addressing human rights issues in North Korea within the framework of the UN Security Council.

"This meeting has always had a singular objective: to fight for the rights of the people in the DPRK. To fight for international peace and security," she said. "And it is unfortunate that some continue to try to protect the DPRK government from international accountability."

The UNSC had failed to resume an open discussion on North Korea’s human rights situation since 2017. Escalating tensions among the United States, China, and Russia, all of whom hold veto power as permanent members of the Security Council, have complicated efforts to reach a consensus.

Contrary to expectations, neither China nor Russia made an effort to prevent the convening of the public meeting this time.

Neither country proposed a procedural vote to determine whether to proceed with the open briefing on the subject, likely because the US had already secured enough votes beforehand.

In the event of a procedural vote, a minimum of nine affirmative votes out of the total 15 UNSC member votes are required to proceed with the open session. Such a vote cannot be vetoed by a permanent member, however.

But both countries publicly voiced opposition to addressing North Korean human rights issues at the Security Council.

"The human rights situation in the DPRK does not constitute a threat to international peace," China's deputy ambassador to the United Nations Geng Shuang claimed during the meeting.

"Pushing the council to consider the human rights situation in the DPRK will not only not help to ease, but escalate the situation. It is irresponsible, unconstructive and an abuse of the council's power."

Russia's Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy also claimed that "human rights issues are not part of this Council’s mandate," dismissing the meeting as a "cynical and hypocritical attempt of the United States and its allies to promote their political agenda."

Nonetheless, support from the international community for addressing human rights concerns in North Korea within the UN Security Council has been on the rise. At the start of this year, a letter, endorsed by 62 co-sponsors -- a number double that of the previous year -- was submitted. The letter's aim was to urge the Security Council to maintain its focus on the human rights situation in North Korea.