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UN Commission of Inquiry (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)

Volume 578: debated on Monday 31 March 2014

On 28 March the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). I would like to update the House on this resolution and the role the UK has played in its passing.

Unlike in recent years, the resolution was not adopted by consensus. In part this reflects the current composition of the Human Rights Council, which is less supportive of country specific resolutions. But it also reflects the fact that this year’s resolution was much stronger, following the horrific findings of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into human rights violations in the DPRK and the comprehensive recommendations set out in the inquiry’s report. I am pleased to report that the final text of the resolution supports the report and makes clear the need for violators of human rights and perpetrators of crimes against humanity to be held to account. This includes a specific request that the UN Security Council consider referral of the situation in the DPRK to the appropriate international criminal justice mechanism.

The resolution also proposes concrete measures to ensure the work of the COI is continued. The mandate of the special rapporteur is extended and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is requested to provide the rapporteur with increased support, including through a new structure to strengthen monitoring and documentation of the situation of human rights in the DPRK, as well as through engagement and capacity building of others working to address this issue. These measures will ensure that whenever and however the DPRK regime is brought to account, the material will be there to build a strong case against those responsible for violations.

The UK played an active role in negotiations on the resolution, working with EU partners and Japan to ensure a strong first draft, with clear language on accountability. Officials lobbied hard to ensure the resolution would pass, as did I both during my own visit to Geneva at the beginning of the Council and subsequently.

The reports of human rights violations in the DPRK that are documented by the COI are systematic and deeply disturbing. It is incumbent on the international community to respond. This resolution is a good start.

On 31 March 2014, during a pre-planned and pre-advised live-fire exercise, a small number of DPRK artillery shells landed in waters south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow sea. The South Korean military responded with its own artillery fire into waters on the northern side of the NLL. There were no reported casualties. We would urge both sides to exercise restraint and not to retaliate further. We do not believe this incident is connected to the COI.