Latest Update: 31 December 2013
There has been no significant change in the human rights situation in the DPRK between October and December 2013, although the case of Jang Song Thaek, a leading Korean Workers Party official, confirmed concerns about the DPRK judicial system. His arrest on 8 December, trial by special military tribunal on 12 December and execution later the same day, apparently without any appeal process, indicate a lack of compliance with international norms. In line with the UK’s opposition to the death penalty and reflecting our broader concerns, the Minister for Far East and South East Asia Hugo Swire issued a statement on 13 December. We have also expressed our concerns directly to the DPRK authorities, through their Embassy in London and our Embassy in Pyongyang.
The UK continues to take a leading role in the international response to the DPRK’s human rights record. During the last three months, we lobbied widely on the DPRK country resolution at the UN General Assembly Third Committee (human rights), and the resolution was adopted without a vote for the second year running. In October, with FCO assistance, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK visited London, primarily to gather information and record first-hand accounts of conditions in the DPRK. The Commissioners also met Mr Swire, FCO officials, Parliamentarians, UK-based experts and NGOs. The visit helped raise international awareness about the human rights situation in the DPRK.
In line with our bilateral policy of critical engagement, a group of DPRK officials visiting the UK in November and December to study English and learn about the UK were also taught about the police, the justice system and the UK media with visits to relevant organisations. Also in November, FCO officials discussed human rights with a visiting delegation from the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs in London and urged the DPRK to co-operate with the UN Commission of Inquiry, including by granting them access to visit the country. The delegation was also taken to visit a prison and a special needs school.
The British Embassy Pyongyang continues to provide assistance to humanitarian projects in the DPRK. It provided funds for the rehabilitation of a hospital water supply system in Singye County Town, North Hwanghae Province. It also helped the DPRK to send a team of four DPRK disabled athletes to the 3rd Asian Youth Paralympic Games in Kuala Lumpur in October. This included the swimmer who had been the DPRK’s sole representative at the Paralympic Games in London. Widespread coverage of the team’s success led to the (North) Korean Sports Association of the Disabled being contacted by further potential disabled athletes and their families.
Update: 30 September 2013
There has been little change in the human rights situation in the DPRK between July and September 2013. Concerns about ongoing abuses of the civil, political, economic and social rights of the DPRK people remain. We believe the DPRK government continues to devote significant time and resource to its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, while millions of people in the DPRK continue to suffer from chronic levels of malnutrition. Living conditions outside of the capital remain harsh, with many lacking adequate access to food, healthcare, water and sanitation.
The DPRK authorities continue to maintain their refusal to engage with the EU or its member states on human rights. While human rights issues can be raised at meetings with North Korean officials, the DPRK response is invariably that it will not discuss human rights while the EU continues to support annual DPRK human rights resolutions at the UN. The DPRK has taken the same approach to the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) into human rights abuses in the DPRK. Despite this, the three-member panel, Chair Michael Kirby, Sonja Biserko, and Marzuki Darusman, visited Seoul and Tokyo in August/September to conduct public hearings and confidential interviews with DPRK defectors. In an oral update to the September session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Chair Michael Kirby confirmed that testimony heard thus far points to widespread and serious violations in all areas that the Human Rights Council asked the COI to investigate. He delivered a powerful statement urging the DPRK to co-operate with the COI’s ongoing work.
Bilaterally, we continue to lobby and seek avenues to raise human rights concerns both in Pyongyang and elsewhere. In August, visiting FCO officials discussed human rights with the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pyongyang, and urged the DPRK to co-operate with the COI, including by granting them access to visit the country. In September, FCO officials raised the COI again with the DPRK through their Embassy in London, and made clear our intention to invite the COI to visit the UK in October to meet Minister for Far East and South-East Asia, Hugo Swire, and hear from DPRK refugees and defectors living in the UK. We have also encouraged and supported the EU to raise this matter, including through an EU demarche in Pyongyang.
The British Embassy in Pyongyang continues to engage with the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled on issues such as sport and education. Using money from the Olympic Legacy Fund and Bilateral Programme Budget, the Embassy has supported a number of activities aimed at raising the issue of discrimination against the disabled. We are also developing links with the Korean Federation for the Care of the Aged so that we can begin to help tackle problems encountered by the elderly in North Korea.
The British Embassy in Seoul hosted a launch event in June for the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights report (co-funded by the British Embassy in Seoul) on the status of women’s rights in the DPRK. Citizens’ Alliance submitted the report to the COI as part of its evidence-gathering activity. Report content will also be used to inform wider opinions in preparation for the DPRK’s next UN Universal Periodic Review in 2014.
Update: 30 June 2013
There has been little change in the overall human rights situation in DPRK between April and June.
Concerns about ongoing abuses of the civil, political, economic and social rights of the DPRK people remain. The DPRK government continues to prioritise significant time and resource on its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, while millions of people in the DPRK continue to suffer from chronic levels of malnutrition. The British Embassy in Pyongyang has observed that living conditions outside of the capital remain extremely poor, with many lacking adequate access to food, healthcare, water and sanitation.
The three Commissioners of the UN Human Rights Council’s DPRK Commission of Inquiry are: Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia); Sonja Biserko (Serbia) and Michael Kirby (Australia).
We are engaging with the Chair of the Panel to see how we can assist them as their work programme develops.
The DPRK government continues to refuse to engage in a specific dialogue with the EU or its members on human rights. The issue can be raised at meetings but the DPRK response is invariably along standard lines, which is that it will not discuss human rights when the EU continues to support annual DPRK human rights resolutions at the UN. Visiting Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials raised human rights in June with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pyongyang.
Embassy staff continue to engage with the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled, most recently on disabled sports. We have recently approved funding to send DPRK athletes to a disabled youth sports event in Malaysia in October and are looking at the possibility of supporting training for DPRK nationals in accurately categorising disabled DPRK athletes. The Embassy has also met with the Korean Federation for the Care of the Aged about possible future cooperation.
Update: 31 March 2013
There has been little change in the human rights situation in DPRK between January and March. Concerns about ongoing abuses of the civil, political, economic and social rights of the DPRK people remain. The DPRK government continues to give priority to its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes (it conducted a nuclear test on 12 February).
Millions of people in the DPRK continue to suffer from chronic malnutrition. The British Embassy in Pyongyang observes that living conditions outside the capital remain very poor, with many people lacking access to adequate food, healthcare, water and sanitation.
On 21 March the Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in the DPRK by consensus. The resolution was co-sponsored by the EU and Japan. It strongly condemned human rights violations in the DPRK and established a new Commission of Inquiry to investigate systematic violations, including the use of political prison camps. The Commission of Inquiry will run for one year and will produce a report for the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. The inquiry will be led by a panel of three experts, including the current UN Special Rapporteur. The UK stands ready to offer the panel every assistance once its work programme has been established.
The British Embassy in Pyongyang has continued to support NGOs operating in the DPRK to improve the lives of the most vulnerable. A number of embassy sponsored projects have been completed in the last three months, including improving food production in Kumchon County, providing clean water to a kindergarten in Unryul County and supporting a rehabilitation centre for disabled people in Songrim. Embassy staff have held preliminary discussions with the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled and the Korean Federation for the Care of the Aged about future cooperation. The DPRK government continues, however, to refuse to engage in a wider dialogue with the EU on human rights.
In February the DPRK’s telecoms provider Koryolink announced the official launch of mobile internet services for foreigners in DPRK. It announced the provision of similar services for foreign visitors in March. This enables foreigners to connect to the internet anywhere in the country where there is mobile phone coverage. While the additional internet connectivity is a welcome step forward and will, for example, allow NGOs and UN agencies to operate more effectively, DPRK citizens will not benefit directly from the service. Most people in the DPRK are still unable to use the internet and access remains severely restricted for those who can. Restrictions also remain in place preventing all but a few people in the DPRK from having telephone contact with foreigners.