[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
It is a particular pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, as you are one of the few Members of Parliament to have visited North Korea.
North Korea is arguably the world’s most closed nation, with the worst human rights record. Looking through all 30 articles of the universal declaration of human rights, it is difficult to identify any of them that have been implemented and respected in North Korea. Almost all are severely repressed or denied. Indeed, the former United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea has described the country as “sui generis”—in a category of its own.
For those reasons, debates such as this are long overdue. For too long—more than 60 years—what amounts to the world’s worst human rights crisis has also been its most overlooked. Why has the appalling inhumanity in North Korea not generated the same headlines or provoked the same mass public outrage as apartheid in South Africa? I hope that young people in our universities and elsewhere will take the issue to heart, as they did apartheid. When I was at the university of Oxford the week before last, I talked to students about it, and I encourage colleagues to do the same when they visit universities and colleges.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this enormously important debate. What he wishes is actually starting to happen. Students from Oxford have come to see me, and one important point that they made is that if we could get the BBC World Service to broadcast to Korea in Korean, its reputation for impartiality would be an enormous force for good.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I will say more about the BBC World Service and broadcasting in general in North Korea later in my remarks. I welcome his support and intervention.
On 17 February this year, the UN commission of inquiry on human rights in North Korea published its report, concluding that North Korea’s brutal regime is committing a wide range of crimes against humanity, arising from
“policies established at the highest level of State”.
Such crimes against humanity include,
“extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”.
That is a pretty appalling list.
Among the reported abuses, the inquiry found that pregnant women are starved, while their babies are fed rats and snakes. More than 100,000 people—I think the Government estimate up to 200,000 people—are in gulags, which have existed for more than 60 years. There is systematic torture; everyone is forced to inform on each other; entire communities are denied adequate food; and the bodies of the dead are burned and then used for fertiliser.
When pregnant North Korean women are forced to return to North Korea from China—a serious issue in itself—they are subjected to forced abortions if it is suspected that the father of the child is Chinese. If the baby is born, it is killed. Widespread forced abortion and infanticide for purely racial reasons are just two of the brutal regime’s many barbaric acts.
The UN’s 400-page report, based on many hours of extensive first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses, details what it describes as “unspeakable atrocities”.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this incredibly important debate, which matters to all our constituents. Many of mine came to see me to raise the issue.
The North Korean delegation to the UN has said that it will examine 185 of the 268 human rights recommendations handed to it by the member states of the UN Human Rights Council. Does my hon. Friend believe, based on what has happened in the past, that North Korea will take the recommendations seriously? If not, what pressure does he think the UN and the British Government should bring to bear on the North Korean Government?
I am pleased that my hon. Friend’s constituents are engaging with him on the issue. As I will say in a little while, we could press the UN to take the matter to the International Criminal Court, which would be one positive step that could come out of the UN commission of inquiry. My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we must not let the report just gather dust on the shelf.
The UN report concludes that,
“the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”
The chairman of the commission of inquiry, Mr Justice Michael Kirby, has compared the situation in North Korea to the holocaust, and, as he says, that is no exaggeration.
The inquiry has made a variety of recommendations, but most particularly, it calls, as I have just said, for a case to be referred to the ICC. I welcome the Government’s support for the inquiry’s recommendations; their efforts at the Human Rights Council in March, when a UN resolution endorsed the commission of inquiry’s findings and recommendations; and the recent briefing at the UN Security Council in the form of an Arria formula meeting. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what steps the United Kingdom is considering taking in future; what role the UK will play in continuing to lead international efforts to ensure that the commission of inquiry’s report is turned into a plan of action and does not sit on a shelf; and specifically what steps the Security Council can take to seek a referral to the ICC or another appropriate mechanism for justice and accountability.
Today, the Conservative party human rights commission released its report, entitled, “Unparalleled and Unspeakable: North Korea’s Crimes against Humanity”. I pay huge tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for her leadership of that inquiry and her tireless campaigning on the issue. I will leave it to her, if she should be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr Streeter, to focus on the findings and recommendations of her report in detail, but I commend the report to the House and hope that the Minister will study it carefully.
Momentum is beginning to grow in other ways as well. The outstanding work of the all-party group on North Korea—if any colleagues present are not members, I encourage them to join—under the chairmanship of Lord Alton of Liverpool, has kept the issue on the agenda in Parliament for the past decade. The work of advocacy organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; campaigns by groups such as Open Doors and Release International; and the efforts of the international coalition to stop crimes against humanity in North Korea, have helped bring about the attention that is finally being given by the UN to North Korea’s human rights crisis. New organisations, such as the recently launched North Korea Campaign UK and the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, will help to bring the situation to a new level of public awareness and campaigning.
All those are vital steps to shine a light on the darkest corner of the world and to place North Korea’s human rights crisis where it belongs: at the centre of the international agenda. However, much, much more is needed.
Breaking the information blockade that surrounds North Korea is key to bringing about change, as has already been mentioned. I welcome the steps already undertaken by the UK to promote academic and cultural exchanges and scholarships for North Koreans to study abroad. I also welcome the activities of others, including distribution of information into North Korea via USB sticks, DVDs and other portable devices, and—crucially—radio broadcasts.
As Professor Andrei Lankov argues in his book, “The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia”:
“In order to initiate changes in North Korea, it is necessary to put North Korea’s rulers under pressure from its people and the lower echelons of the elite. Only North Koreans themselves can change North Korea…The only long-term solution, therefore, is to increase pressure for a regime transformation, and the major way to achieve this is to increase North Koreans’ awareness of the outside world. If North Koreans can learn about the existence of attractive and available alternatives to their regimented and impoverished existence, the almost unavoidable result will be the growth of dissatisfaction toward the current administration. This will create domestic pressure for change, and the North Korean government will discover that its legitimacy is waning even among a considerable part of the elite.”
Every tool available should be used to break the information blockade, but there is one that is not currently being used: the BBC World Service. A sustained campaign has developed over the past year or two for the establishment of a BBC Korean-language radio service to broadcast to the Korean peninsula, north and south. An excellent report by the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, called “An Unmet Need: a Proposal for the BBC to Broadcast a World Service in the Korean Language”, was published in December 2013. The report notes:
“In spite of restrictive media policies, severe punishments and radio jamming operations, changes to the global media environment are gradually impacting media consumption within the DPRK”—
that is, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, although of course it is a state that is neither democratic nor run for its people. The report goes on:
“Today, a surprisingly large percentage of North Koreans can access media devices that are capable of receiving foreign media”.
Intermedia reports that almost half of North Korea’s radio listeners are able to access illegal radios and over a quarter have actively listened to foreign radio broadcasts.
The remit of the BBC Trust sets out as a specific purpose for the World Service that it should
“enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues.”
A BBC strategy document, “Delivering Creative Future in Global News”, makes it a priority for the World Service to access
“a number of information-poor language markets with a clear need for independent information”.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He has touched on an interesting point about the BBC World Service. I believe that one reason why the Foreign Office is reluctant to ask the BBC to broadcast a Korean service is that it underestimates the number of North Koreans who could receive it, but if it looks at the figures, there is a much stronger case than it believes for asking the BBC to broadcast to North Korea.
My hon. Friend is right and I agree with him—the evidence available to us shows that despite the restrictions and the regime’s best efforts to stop them, more and more people in North Korea are managing to listen to such broadcasts.
Recently, Stephen Bosworth, the former US ambassador to the Republic of Korea and former US special representative for North Korea policy, said:
“I would like to lend my support to the effort to bring the BBC World Service to North Korea. I believe the interests of the people of North Korea and the rest of the world are best served by opening North Korea to information from the outside. The BBC World Service could clearly play an important role in that process.”
The all-party group on North Korea, the Conservative party human rights commission and the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, among others, have addressed many of the questions put forward by the BBC and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, particularly on cost-effectiveness, commercial opportunities, availability of shortwave radios in North Korea and availability of transmitters to broadcast. Has the Minister had an opportunity to read “An Unmet Need”, to assess the information provided by various groups in response to BBC and Foreign Office concerns and to review the Government’s position?
Last night, I was e-mailed by one of Radio Free Asia’s correspondents in Washington, and gave a radio interview over the telephone with that station. Given that today’s debate is in the British Parliament, it is a little ironic that perhaps the only broadcast into North Korea to be mentioned today will be one from an American-run radio station, and not a British radio communication.
There are many other concerns; I will briefly highlight some, in the hope that other Members might elaborate on them during the debate. First, there are the severe violations of freedom of religion or belief in North Korea, and particularly the extreme persecution of Christians. There is China’s policy of forced repatriation of North Korean refugees, which returns them to a dire fate and is in breach of international law. Further, there are the desperate humanitarian needs of the people of North Korea and the question of whether the United Kingdom could and should be providing aid. There are also concerns about possible breaches of existing sanctions and the need for more targeted sanctions to prevent the export of North Korean resources produced by forced labour in political prison camps and slave labour in the mining sector, as well as the trade in blood minerals.
Finally, there is a need to develop a much better understanding of how the brutal regime in North Korea works by engaging regularly with North Korean defectors, of whom there are several hundred in the United Kingdom. Last week, one prominent defector, Jang Jin-sung, addressed the all-party group ahead of the launch of his new book, “Dear Leader”. He provided a detailed insight into the centrality of the regime’s rather Orwellian- sounding Organisation and Guidance Department, or OGD. Understanding the key power structures in the North Korean regime is essential if we are to use our levers of influence in the most effective way.
In 2010, The Times published an editorial, headlined “Slave State”, which stated:
“The condition of the people of North Korea ranks among the great tragedies of the past century. The despotism that consigns them to that state is one of its greatest crimes.”
The UN inquiry and the courage of an increasing number of North Korean exiles and international NGOs are at long last beginning to shine a light on those crimes and awaken the conscience of the world. In this House, we have a responsibility to do all we can to ensure that the light shines brighter, the darkness is exposed and the appalling suffering of the North Korean people is brought to an end.
It is a pleasure to make a contribution to this debate. I commend the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for his introductory remarks, which set the scene clearly. I also commend the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), in anticipation of her speech; I know she will make a vast contribution.
It is always good to come along to debates such as this, because we can remember those in other parts of the world who do not have the freedom that we have in this country. North Korea is certainly a country where freedom is in very short supply and life is cheap. Human rights in North Korea simply do not exist: freedom of association, of worship, of movement and even of thought are all denied. Everything in North Korea is controlled and monitored, and life is not at all the same there as it is in our country. Often in my office we make jokes about dictators, but when we think about the dictator in North Korea we are increasingly aware of how blessed we are to live where we live and have the freedom that we have.
As Jong-un was educated in the west there was a brief hope that he would bring a more modern approach to running North Korea, but that hope has been dashed. A US intelligence assessment published in The Wall Street Journal depicted Jong-un as
“a volatile youth with a sadistic streak who may be even more unpredictable than his late father”.
We thought his late father was bad, but when we look at the suffering now it is manifestly even worse. When we discuss North Korea we have an opportunity to remember those who do not have human rights or even the very basics for life—we must be mindful of those people.
In North Korea now, there is to be no modernisation of thought, but simply of warfare, and with the dictator firmly established there are to be no kind of human rights. It is home to the world’s fifth largest army, of 1.2 million soldiers and 8.3 million reservists, and there is a monopoly of state-run media—TV, radio, and the press—that indoctrinates the population with the party’s propaganda. We know of the existence of 14 concentration camps, some of which hold as many as 50,000 prisoners. Some of those people do not even know the crime for which they have been imprisoned, but others know exactly why they are there—it is because of their faith and the fact that they want to tell others of that faith.
The precise number of Christians in North Korea is unknown, but it is estimated that there could be as many as 100,000 or more. Before the communists came to power, numbers were higher but during the Korean war of 1950-53 many fled to South Korea or were martyred in North Korea. Those who remain are forced to hide their faith or face terrible consequences. That is why it is important to make our point today on behalf of those in North Korea.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing this debate. This is about our third discussion in recent months about North Korea and, more broadly, human rights. I would have thought that one of the ways in which the United Nations could exert pressure is through China, which has a big influence on North Korea.
Does the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) agree that the images and films of prisoners in North Korea and how they are tortured put us in mind of Bosnia when the Muslims were being persecuted? It amazes me that there is not the same publicity and momentum—I am not talking about invading North Korea—that the west exercised at the time of the Bosnian conflict. That seems to be absent in this case. I wonder why. It is very strange.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is hard to understand what is happening in North Korea. We have seen films about the worst happenings in Germany and the atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda, which we discussed earlier today, and many other parts of the world, but nothing in the world adds up to what happens in North Korea. That is curious.
I attended an eye-opening event with Hae Woo—given my Northern Irish accent, I am not sure whether my pronunciation is correct; we would say “hay” as a matter of terminology back home, but this is someone’s name. The lady’s name was Hae Woo and she made a valuable contribution. We all had the opportunity to hear her testimony about what it is like to live in North Korea and how important it is to have the freedom she now has in South Korea. She has told the rest of the world.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said about the Radio Free Asia programme. I did a couple of interviews on it. I am not sure how my Northern Ireland accent went down in North Korea. I am sure it was challenging for most of them; it is a challenge for people here.
Hae Woo spoke candidly about her horrific experience in a North Korean concentration camp. I spoke to some of the staff in my office and gave them some of the books we had been given on the day. They were illuminating, but hard to read. They told the lady’s story, as well as that of thousands of others who had been beaten, tortured and abused. Those people had had their possessions taken, their children removed and their homes ransacked, all because they had a page from the Bible and were suspected of meeting other Christians.
Sometimes it is hard to understand, given how blessed we are here, what it is like for someone to have no job, no house, no clothes, no family and to be thrown into prison when no one knows where they are and they have no friends. That is reality for those in North Korea.
The hon. Gentleman reminds me of that day. What I also found chilling was that some people in the state apparatus masqueraded as Christians in the hope of entrapping others, almost as agents provocateurs. They took people off to camps because of their faith. I am sure he agrees that that requires greater international pressure.
I think it does. I will come to China later in my speech because I think something can be done. We need participation, encouragement and help from China to make that happen.
My parliamentary aide works with children at Elim church in Newtownards and told them the story of the lady from North Korea. When she said that mums and dads were taken away, the children were amazed. They asked what could be done; that is what we are all asking today, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire made clear. What can Parliament do? One child asked what we could do to help and take care of them, and that is what we are asking the Minister today.
We are fortunate in that the Minister has a clear interest in the matter. We know that from experience and our discussions with him, and we look forward to hearing what hope he can give us as Members of Parliament that we in turn can give our constituents. We have all been inundated with e-mails and correspondence, and we reflect that opinion in the Chamber in the best way we can. North Korea is closed off to the western world and our influence is almost non-existent, but there must be something that the greatest democracy in the world can do. If so, what are we doing to exert influence and to make a difference?
I turn to China. The harsh regime and grinding poverty have forced thousands of North Koreans to try to escape to China. It is estimated that as many as 350,000 North Koreans are in China as illegal immigrants. The Chinese authorities stubbornly uphold their policy of repatriating defectors found in their territory, even though repatriated North Koreans face notoriously harsh treatment and often death. The North Korean authorities allegedly pay Chinese informants to denounce defectors, so defectors in China are forced into hiding and often into the clutches of ruthless individuals who trap them into forced labour or sex work. Can we help these people? We have a duty to try. Can we ensure that aid comes their way to help them start a new life in which they can have their faith and freedom? Can we use our ties and links with China, with whom we have a semblance of a relationship, to make a difference?
I cannot help but think of those Christians in the world who cherish their Bible and see it as their guide, and my mind goes to tales of people in North Korea who shred and burn their Bible after they have memorised it so that they can treasure it in their hearts. A reminder of that is a film, “The Book of Eli”, which I saw the other week; it is similar at the end, when a blind person memorises the Bible.
Some people in North Korea have the memory of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelations. It shocks me that in the modern world some people do not have a Bible, and do not have the opportunity to read it, to worship and to enjoy freedom, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said. Like the child at Elim church in Newtownards who asked whether we can take care of those people, I ask the Minister, “Can we?” We have a responsibility to do so and we must use every avenue to make it happen for those Christians in North Korea who are suffering severe persecution.
One of the many remarkable meetings that the all-party parliamentary group on North Korea has had with refugees and asylum seekers from that country took place last week, when Mr Jang Jin-sung came to speak to us. He is a former North Korean poet laureate and a counter-intelligence official so his knowledge of the hierarchy of North Korean society gave us an unparalleled insight. He told us that the world never really sees the true North Korea because although there is individualised cult worship of the dear leader, real political power lies with the Organisation and Guidance Department of the Korea Workers’ party. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) mentioned that and I commend him on bringing forward this debate.
The OGD apparently controls all chains of command within North Korea, but very few people who have left North Korea are aware of that; of the 26,000 or so who have left, perhaps only a handful have an insight into what we were told last week. There is, of course, no Parliament in North Korea. All laws are prepared by the OGD for signature by the leader. It gives all orders for the military, appoints all high-ranking officials, operates the prison camps, co-ordinates extensive surveillance and even appoints the leader’s own bodyguards. We were informed that at the end of his life, the former leader, Kim Jong-il, was effectively living under house arrest controlled by those very bodyguards. That startling revelation demonstrated to us the frailty of the apparent power of the regime and of this failed state.
Mr Jang told us, in his own words, that the regime is “ruined inside” and that there is effectively a divide in North Korean society between the governing classes and the market classes. We have known for some time that the governing classes will make sure that they and the military are well fed and provided for. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that the rest of the population simply have to fend for themselves. He told us that provision for what are called the market classes has effectively been abandoned by the governing bodies.
Mr Jang confirmed that the market classes can only survive through black-market dealing, and he spoke of the governing classes having “lost control of the market”, saying that there is a façade of power, but the daily currency of survival in North Korea has been converted from loyalty to the dear leader to money. The North Korean regime does all it can to control its people, but it cannot even control the price of an egg. He also told us that no one in the North Korean elite believes that the regime will last for ever. For us, that is good news. That day cannot come soon enough.
Mr Jang encouraged those of us outside North Korea to stop focusing on the regime and to look at what he called the “wedge of hope” within the country. I took the phrase to mean that if the North Korean people in numbers are now beginning to use their individual initiative to survive independently of Government provision through the use of the black market, often using goods illicitly imported from outside the DPRK, surely there is hope that those same people, given information and inspiration from the outside world, could begin individually to appreciate, ultimately understand and finally act on the fact that there is a different and more humane way for a society to live than that offered by their own Government.
Our role surely has to be to increase the size and impact of the wedge of hope in the people’s hearts. One day, change will surely come within North Korea. Kingdoms rise and fall; no despotic regime ultimately endures. Our role and our challenge, bearing in mind the deplorable suffering of the North Korean people, is to do what we can, however slight it may seem, to increase that wedge of hope, so that change comes sooner rather than later—for one day, one month, one year, surely it will come.
I think it is very important that our Government and other Governments in the international community press China to alter its approach towards North Korea—in particular, its treatment of asylum seekers. It is appalling that asylum seekers, when they are found in China, are sent back to North Korea for torture, and, in many cases, certain death. It is appalling that women who are sent back, if they are found to be pregnant or are even carrying a babe in their arms, will have to see that child sacrificed. That must change.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her fine speech. Does hope not also come from communication and from hearing and knowing what is out there? Will she join me in urging—it is not necessarily a matter for the Minister—the BBC World Service to establish a Korean radio service broadcast in English to the Korean peninsulas, both north and south, so that they can hear much more about the hope out there?
I certainly will, and I hope to mention that later in my speech, given time.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked what we can do. Well, one thing we can do is speak out in this place, as we are doing today. The very first time I spoke out about North Korea in this Chamber, I was amazed to receive correspondence from Korea. It came from people who knew or were related to people in North Korea—from those living in South Korea who said, “Keep speaking out. We are hearing you here.” Given the increased use of technology to smuggle information into North Korea, through USB sticks and other means of communication, what is now even more encouraging is that our debates in this place can—and I believe, will—reach the hearts, minds and ears of people in North Korea, and they will be encouraged and strengthened to speak and take action. That is one thing we can do.
If people in North Korea are listening to any of these words, it is important that they understand that if regime change comes, they would not be abandoned by other countries. In fact, they would be helped by other countries and could see a manifestly better material life through help from many supportive nations and supportive peoples across the world.
That is exactly the point that I want to come to now. It is clear—I have heard this not only from Mr Jang last week, but from others—that although the regime in North Korea, the North Korean elite, perceive that their state is failing, they simply do not know another way. They do not know the solution to their difficulties. They cannot find a way through to feed their people. They cannot understand, because they have never known it or experienced it, what it means to live in a form of democracy, the like of which we know and must communicate to them in different ways.
Several ways to increase the wedge of hope are outlined in the report published today by the Conservative party human rights commission. I have just passed a copy to the Minister, so I do not expect him to be able to respond in detail to that in the debate, but it is called “Unparalleled and Unspeakable: North Korea’s Crimes Against Humanity”. I encourage Members to read it.
Clearly, I cannot refer to all the report’s recommendations today, but I want to put on the record my thanks to the commission’s deputy chairman, Ben Rogers, for his sterling assistance in the production of the report and for so much of the work that he has done over many years to highlight the human rights atrocities in North Korea.
I believe that we can be encouraged by what has happened in Burma, because that same man, Ben Rogers, worked assiduously for many years to highlight the difficulties that people in Burma suffered, and we have recently seen what has happened in that country. Just a few years ago, many of us might not have hoped for the changes that are occurring there. We must maintain the same degree of hope for the people in North Korea.
I do, and in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question that I referred to earlier, one way we can also provide support is through some of the organisations that go into North Korea; many of them are Christian organisations, such as Open Doors or Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The commission heard from Amnesty International, in a witness session, that support for them by means of food aid will get through to people in North Korea. There are means of reaching North Koreans and those organisations are providing tremendous strength and support for people in North Korea as they travel about and provide aid and information.
I turn back to the commission’s report. It was not its intention to repeat in detail evidence of the human rights violations, because they were already extremely well documented in the UN commission’s report, published earlier this year, by Mr Justice Kirby. As the Conservative party human rights commission’s report states:
“Instead, this brief report aims to serve as a policy document for the Conservative Party, summarising the scale of the challenge”
faced by the international community
“and then focusing on possible ways forward for the United Kingdom in helping to lead the international community’s effort to end the climate of impunity in North Korea, enhance mechanisms for accountability and justice, break the regime’s information blockade, and bring an end to more than half a century of horrific suffering endured by the North Korean people.”
Breaking that information blockade is, as my colleagues have mentioned, one way in which we can provide support. Mr Jang said, interestingly, that,
“this is not just a humane thing it is also a pragmatic thing to do”.
The commission urges the UK Government to continue their efforts while pursuing a critical engagement in the DPRK on questions of human rights on every level. We are also pressing them to continue to invest in academic and cultural exchanges, such as sponsoring the British Council’s English teaching in North Korea. Many escapees have told us they benefited directly from that. Although the British Council has only four people teaching there, it has taught hundreds of North Koreans over the years. In many cases, that has been extremely helpful when people have sought to move on.
Similarly, the report encourages increased investment in developing the skills and education of North Korean refugees in the UK. The country will need leaders who can go back to it when change happens; it will need men and women of courage, insight and vision who have experienced life in a free nation. I think, for example, of one young refugee, Timothy, who has done a little work experience in my office. He grew up in North Korea, but he was orphaned. From the ages of about eight to 14, he virtually lived on the streets. He then managed to escape to China, but unfortunately he was caught, repatriated and tortured. He managed to escape again, and he finally reached this country. He is now studying politics at Salford university.
We need to take care of such people. The UK has about 600 North Korean refugees—the largest diaspora in the world, outside South Korea. We really should increase engagement with them and draw on their knowledge and experience. We could then send communications from them into North Korea, using some of the technology we have these days—smuggled USB sticks, DVDs and other portable devices. Such things can also be used to send over films, newspaper articles and reports from the human rights organisations I mentioned, and information can also be brought back. If we can work more closely with the North Korean diaspora here, we can find another way of breaking the information blockade.
My hon. Friend is making a typically insightful speech. However, the concern most people have when thinking of North Korea is about the lack of hope. Individuals in the regime may be inclined to distance themselves in some way from the leader, but there is a fear of the risks associated with doing anything differently. My hon. Friend speaks positively about the wedge of hope and the things we can do to support the diaspora in this country, but what can we do to support those who are inclined to resist the pressure to conform to the leader’s direction?
I entirely agree that lives are lived in permanent fear. Even before they can read or write, children are taught to fear and worship the regime—that is a terrible mixture in people’s mindset. However, sending information will gradually free their minds. I accept that that is an extremely slow process, but if we do not try, how will these things happen? That is my question. If we do not do these things, people will never know the truth. However, we cannot say we do not know the truth, because the 400-page report from Mr Justice Kirby has told the world of the horrors of this regime, and we must act—we must take what steps we can to address the situation.
I turn now to the many calls made in this debate, and in several others, for the BBC to broadcast into North Korea and, indeed, South Korea. Again, I ask the BBC to consider the issue. A large percentage of North Koreans can now access media devices capable of receiving foreign media, and DVD players, televisions and radios are smuggled into the country. Under the remit of the BBC Trust, one specific purpose of the BBC World Service is to enable
“individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues.”
Under the BBC strategy “Delivering Creative Future in Global News”, a priority for the World Service is to access
“a number of information-poor language markets with a clear need for independent information”.
The World Service operating agreement also prioritises audiences
“which have the least access to news”.
Surely, nowhere qualifies more under that criterion than North Korea.
The two objections we have had from the BBC are, first, that
“an insignificant percentage of the population”
would be reached, but that can be discounted. In 2005, 18% of people had listened to a foreign radio. In 2009, the Asia Foundation collated information suggesting that 20% were listening to one. In 2012, InterMedia found that nearly half the respondents from a North Korean defector community owned radios and that,
“many radio listeners…modify fixed-dial radios in order to receive unsanctioned channels.”
The second concern raised about the BBC broadcasting into North Korea was that South Korean regulations would prevent broadcasting from South Korea. However, Voice of America broadcasts its Korean language service from a transmitter in South Korea, and there are other options involving transmitters elsewhere in Asia. Therefore, the commission—this is one of our strongest recommendations—urges the Government and the BBC to reconsider the issue and to invest in establishing a BBC Korean service and in training exiled North Koreans as reporters and producers, as well as to take on other staff positions in such a service.
Absolutely. It is incumbent on them to do that. I will close now—you have been extremely indulgent, Mr Streeter—by saying that if the BBC persists in being unwilling to broadcast into Korea, a solution will be found elsewhere. The option of another organisation broadcasting into Korea is being actively discussed. That would involve an independent radio station broadcasting from the UK into the DPRK.
It would be to the BBC’s shame if it did not take a role in righting the injustices experienced by the North Korean people—the injustices experienced by this generation, which are comparable only to the holocaust experienced by our forebears’ generation—and if it did not rise to the challenge that we are putting before it.
I am grateful to have caught your eye in this important debate, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). I also pay sincere tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who clearly showed her passion for this subject in the way she spoke about it. With the Conservative party human rights commission, she has produced a comprehensive report. I participated in some of the hearings, and I congratulate her on the report. I have read every word of it, and it would repay any Member of the House to read from it.
I want to concentrate on human rights in North Korea. Before I do, however, I want to put on record that North Korea is one of the world’s putative nuclear states. It carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. Whenever my right hon. Friend the Minister has dealings with any of the five powers in the six-party talks, I would urge him to see whether we can get the talks back on track. In my recent discussions with the Chinese—I was in Beijing last week and met Foreign Office Ministers at Minister of State level—it was clear that they, too, do not want a rogue nuclear state on their doorstep. There is, therefore, good cause to hope that China, which has the most influence of any country on the DPRK, can put some pressure on it to at least prevent it from becoming a nuclear power and deploying ever longer range ballistic missiles, potentially carrying nuclear warheads.
The UN commission of inquiry has been widely quoted today; indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton quoted widely from it. One of the most telling quotes from it was from Mr Justice Kirby, the retired and very respected Australian judge who wrote it. Let me quote just one sentence of what he said:
“The gravity, scale, duration and nature of the unspeakable atrocities committed in the country reveal a totalitarian state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”.
That is a pretty damning indictment, if ever there was one, of the inhuman treatment that the country metes out. The ordinary citizens of North Korea are sentenced to a slow death, because they do not have enough food. Their life expectancy is probably not beyond their thirties. If they go into one of the camps—and there are between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners—they face a quick death sentence, because they are starved there, and work harder; but it is not only that. The appalling thing about North Korea is that if someone commits a crime it is often not only that person, but their children and their children’s children, who are imprisoned. That often applies to those poor people who try to escape the misery across the Chinese border. They are sent back, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton has said, to appalling conditions in the prison camps. They are routinely tortured and forced to have abortions. People’s babies are routinely slaughtered in front of them and the other inmates of the camp. The regime is truly inhuman.
In an article in the Korea Times the other day Kim Mikyoung said that
“the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is one of the poorest nations, yet one of the proudest; it is one of the most sanctioned states, yet one of the most defiant; it is one of the weakest, yet one of the most resilient.”
Its people are incredibly resilient, considering the treatment that the state metes out to its poor citizens. As my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton said, the little known Organization and Guidance Department for the Workers Party of Korea is responsible for many aspects of ordinary Koreans’ lives—the prison camps and the re-education that happens in them, the “dear leader’s” guard and the watching of that guard to see who adulates the leader. Such is a state where the citizens spy on each other.
The recommendations of the UN commission are comprehensive and should be implemented in full, including by taking the report to the UN Security Council and referring the DPRK to the International Criminal Court. Along with the report of the commission of inquiry, the report produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton produced a number of excellent findings, and I encourage everyone to read it.
I put a question to my hon. Friend the Minister during the urgent question debate obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton on 16 December.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Before the break, I was about to draw attention to the Minister, because in response to a question that I put to him in the debate on 16 December 2013 on the urgent question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton, he said:
“It is important that whenever we see a chink of light, we try to widen it to expose to the people of North Korea that there is a better world out there.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 482.]
I entirely agree. The report prepared by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton has shone a strong light on North Korea, and we must continue to try to change the situation there. The leadership are aware of the current attention. They know that we are on their case. We must now use the report to show the people that there is a better world out there. Knowledge is power. People need knowledge so that they, and we, have the power to change things.
On the “knowledge is power” point, does my hon. Friend share my concern that apparently the number of defectors getting out of North Korea has dropped by some 40% since Kim Jong-un became leader? He has increased the number of troops on the Korean-Chinese border, as have the Chinese on the other side, because they understand that knowledge getting out is harmful to them.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is clear that the new, younger leader, Kim Jong-un, is more unpredictable than his predecessors. He is more ruthless. He is stationing more troops on the border to prevent people from getting out. Unfortunately another factor in the figure that my hon. Friend has just given the House is the hardening attitude of the Chinese towards sending people back, which is completely inhuman. We need to say to the Chinese that it is not acceptable.
We have certain tools that allow us to shine this light on the regime, and I would like to discuss briefly three of them. The World Service has been mentioned several times in the debate, and figures have been given for the number of people who could potentially receive it in the DPRK. I have no way of knowing whether those figures are true—perhaps the Minister has reliable figures—but as I said in the debate on the urgent question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton, I do not think that the Government can leave the matter completely to the BBC.
As my hon. Friend’s report makes clear on page 19,
“another argument used by the Government is that the BBC is independent and the Government cannot ‘interfere’ or make a decision on this. Yet under the new 2014 Operating Licence for the BBC World Service, the Foreign Secretary retains his decision-making authority over where, why, how and to whom the World Service is broadcast. The Foreign Office is required to agree to the objectives and priorities of the World Service, and thus can influence where, why and to whom to broadcast. Furthermore, in a letter to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee in February 2013, the Foreign Secretary states: ‘I…provide final agreement to any BBC proposal to open a new service.’”
The current operating licence for the BBC World Service, the new 2014 operating licence, a BBC Trust paper in June 2013 and the Foreign Secretary’s own words confirm that any new language service must be agreed between the BBC Trust and the Foreign Secretary. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister not to stand aside and say that that is a matter for the BBC, because I do not believe that it is. I believe that the Foreign Secretary could intervene, and I hope that my right hon. Friend has heard enough pleas this afternoon to convince him to ask his boss, the Foreign Secretary, to do so.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Does he agree that it is important that the Government take note of the increasing number of Members of Parliament who are calling for that and expressing concern about the human rights atrocities in North Korea? The considerable number of Members in this debate has reflected that, and others regularly join our all-party group. No less than 34 Members came to an open-doors meeting recently, many prompted by cards from their constituents, and 68 have signed early-day motion 1184, which calls on the Government to consider every possible mechanism for accountability for the human rights atrocities in North Korea. Surely that should include consideration of the BBC broadcasting into the country.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. A number of known voices in Parliament have made the case for North Korea for a long time, including Lord Alton, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire has referred. I have visited South Korea and looked across the demilitarised zone into North Korea, where I had my photograph taken. The ambassador said, “There you are; you will now be on the files of the North Korean authorities for evermore, and they will know who you are.” That is the sort of regime that we are dealing with. Those of us who have been campaigning on the matter for a long time—my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton referred to Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, who has done superb work on this subject—are beginning to find a wider camaraderie with people in both Houses of Parliament who want to campaign on this horrendous issue.
I pay tribute to the fantastic speeches that we have heard today. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) referred to the number of people who have signed early-day motions. I am not able to sign early-day motions, but I have been urged by a number of constituents to come here and express my concerns and theirs about human rights in North Korea. Will my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) pay tribute to the many Church groups that have campaigned on the matter, which have encouraged MPs to attend debates such as this and encouraged engagement in the issue?
There is no doubt about it; the increased interest by a number of Members of Parliament, which has been emphasised by the strong attendance at today’s debate, is in no small part attributable to the work that the Churches are doing. I have already referred to Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the work that it has done.
The second tool that we have in our armoury is the British Council, which my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire has referred to. The British Council had an excellent programme of training English teachers, but unfortunately when Kim Jong-un and his regime threatened the Foreign Office with the closure of our embassy last year, it had to stop its activities. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could, in his summing up, say something about the British Council and tell us if and when it is likely to be able to resume its activities.
The third tool in our locker is Kaesong. When I stood on the demilitarised zone and looked through the telescope into North Korea, I could see the industrial zone of Kaesong quite clearly. Working in the Kaesong industrial complex is one of the very few activities where both North Korean and South Korean workers can get together. The factories manufacture things that are needed in the south. The North Koreans who work there receive much-needed hard currency from the south, but, more than that, they are able to interact with South Koreans and encounter their ideas about what is going on in South Korea and the rest of the world. The hope is that they will spread those ideas by word of mouth into the rest of North Korea. That is an important tool in our armoury.
Another important tool in our armoury is the fact that there are an increasing number of electronic devices such as radios and mobile phones. Villages on either side of a valley that were previously unable to communicate with each other suddenly find that through the odd one or two people who have mobile phones, they can communicate with each other. That combined with the internet will probably bring down the regime more quickly than almost anything else.
Finally, in the very few minutes that I have left, I would like to say a word or two about China. As I said, I was in China last week with quite senior members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although they are not prepared at the moment to intervene in condemning the DPRK for its human rights record, it is quite clear that they do not want to see it becoming a nuclear state.
One of the things that China could do today, which would not be a big thing for them but would be a big thing for North Koreans, would be to give North Koreans who leave their country safe passage through China. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that would be a massive step forward?
I agree with my friend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I think that is a very valid point. We made the point to the Chinese that when people had gone to all the difficulties of escaping across the border—by golly, it is difficult, particularly with the number of soldiers now deployed on the rivers along which people escape in winter when they ice over—it is particularly unfortunate that China return those people to the DPRK where they face certain torture and probable death, as well as forced abortions and infanticide. We must continue to discuss those matters with China.
I end where I began. We are talking about one of the most terrible regimes in the world, which commits some of the worst human rights atrocities in the world. It starves its people, and it commits against them all sorts of crimes against humanity, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire has said. That is completely unacceptable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton has demonstrated, increasing numbers of parliamentarians in both Houses of Parliament are paying attention to the issue, and I expect yet more to do so. Let us all work, wherever we can and in our individual ways, to shine a light on this dreadful situation in the hope that we can bring about an improvement in the standard of living and quality of life for the people of North Korea.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing the debate. It is difficult to know where to begin talking about the horrors and atrocities in North Korea; as the hon. Gentleman said, the country is certainly in a category of its own. Although we can all unite in condemning the horrors in the country, we are, in fact, trying to identify ways to do something about the situation. I am sure that I am not alone in sometimes feeling a sense of impotence. There is only so much work that can be done in identifying the horrors, and the next step is to see what action can be taken.
We are in a stronger position than previously following the report of the UN commission of inquiry and the recent UN Human Rights Council resolution. I joined organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in supporting calls for the inquiry, not only on a personal level but on behalf of the Labour Front-Bench team, and I welcomed Foreign Office support for international action last year.
I thank the hon. Lady for what she is doing. Does she agree that now that the UN commission of inquiry has been received, and it is so devastating, we should press for it to be forwarded to the UN Security Council and call on the Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court?
I also congratulate the hon. Lady because she has done a huge amount of work on the matter through the all-party group on North Korea, and she made a powerful speech a moment ago. I will come to her point in a moment; that is one of the steps that should be considered.
The DPRK rejected the commission of inquiry and refused to grant access, but the commission still provided invaluable evidence of life inside the country and in the prison camps, as we have heard. I pay tribute to the members of the inquiry, its secretariat and the witnesses and experts that it heard from. We should reflect especially on the bravery required from the victims who shared their experience with the inquiry. There were 80 witnesses and experts who testified publicly, while 240 people gave confidential interviews. The commission rightly emphasised the duty to protect their safety and the need for member states to provide additional protection measures where necessary. It is imperative that such efforts continue.
The report, as we have heard, provides a comprehensive account of the complete absence of human rights in North Korea. The illustrations submitted to the inquiry provide a graphic impression of the unimaginable torture meted out in the prison camps. The conclusion that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been, and are being, committed by the DPRK, constituting crimes against humanity, demonstrates the clear need for the international community to respond.
Chillingly, the commission warns:
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”
As we heard, the violations include an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association. The commission highlighted how the spread of Christianity is considered a particularly serious threat, underlining why the work of organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Open Doors is so important.
The report details how the North Korean state is an all-encompassing indoctrination machine; how state surveillance permeates the private lives of all citizens; how people are punished for watching and listening to foreign broadcasts; and the pervasive state-sponsored discrimination under the songbun system. The gross violations of the right to food and its manipulation as a means of control mean that North Korean citizens are being left to starve. The commission warned that it was particularly concerned about the long-term effects of ongoing chronic malnutrition among children.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, particularly as I had to attend a Committee during the earlier part of the debate but still wanted to put my concern on the record. She mentioned the control of information. Does that not indicate the importance of taking steps to ensure that people in North Korea have more access to what is happening in the outside world? We must make sure that they have a true picture of what is going on in their country and elsewhere. That also highlights the importance of debates such as this that keep the British public’s attention on the issue.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said, debates such as this are important because if we speak out, our voices do get heard, despite the restrictions in North Korea. I would also echo the points made about the BBC World Service, although I am not going to dwell on that because those points were made comprehensively.
I do not wish to depress the House even more, but does my hon. Friend agree that things are actually getting worse by the day? We now have a situation in which Satan is devouring his children. The regime is slaughtering its own, and there has never been a time when it has been more vital that we promulgate these facts, as we heard at the meeting of the all-party group last week. Who would have thought that matters could get worse? But they have and continue to do so. That is why debates such as this are so vital.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I just mentioned the food situation in North Korea—how do we influence a regime that does not seem to care whether its people starve? What sort of leverage do we have when the issue is not just the repression of people’s freedom of expression and religion and their right to challenge the regime, but the fact that North Korea’s leaders seem perfectly happy to sit back and let their people starve? Things have indeed become much worse. I will come to how, as a matter of absolute priority, we must look at what we can do to try to change the situation.
We also heard from the report about how discrimination against women and girls has resulted in their becoming increasingly vulnerable to trafficking and prostitution. The punishments associated with transgressions are severe and arbitrary, including summary executions, most notably that of Kim Jong-un’s uncle in December last year.
The prison camps are indicative of the North Korean state’s complete rejection of basic human rights and international law. We hear about people being disappeared because of their connection with the Republic of Korea or Christian Churches—they are taken off to political prison camps. It was, I suppose, a small sign that things were not quite as bad as they have been that the commission found that guilt by association is now less frequent, although that is more than compensated for by some of the other atrocities that occur. Nevertheless, although some relatives are still at risk, the commission found that guilt by association is not quite as prevalent as it was previously.
To use the commission’s words, “unspeakable atrocities” are being committed in the camps, including
“deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide.”
It estimates that hundreds of thousands of people have died in the camps over the past 50 years, and that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are currently detained in four camps and being subjected to horrifying treatment.
The report leaves us in no doubt that action from the wider international community is imperative. As the commission stated,
“The fact that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as a State Member of the United Nations, has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community.”
It went on to stress:
“The international community must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has manifestly failed to do so.”
We know that that will continue.
The commission’s report must ensure not only that the world’s attention is on the plight of the people of North Korea, but that urgent action is taken. As has already been mentioned, action from China is key because it is one of the few countries that has some leverage on the situation. As the commission stated,
“China pursues a rigorous policy of forcibly repatriating”
North Korean citizens who have managed to flee their country, despite their being refugees in need of, and entitled to, international protection.
China not only fails to respect the principle of non-refoulement; the commission suggests that, in some cases, Chinese officials inform their North Korean counterparts about those they have apprehended. According to the commission, those repatriated are systematically subjected to
“persecution, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention and, in some cases, sexual violence, including during invasive body searches.”
As we have heard, repatriated pregnant women are subjected to forced abortions, while babies born to returned women are often killed. The risk of refoulement, and their fate in North Korea, prevents defectors who manage to get to China from registering their children’s birth in China, denying them access to health services and education. It is estimated that there are 20,000 children born to DPRK women in China. In failing such defectors, China is failing in its international responsibilities, so it is imperative that the international community challenges it.
I entirely agree. China provides some humanitarian assistance to North Korea; one would therefore hope that it had some leverage over the Government there and could persuade them to change their ways.
The hon. Member for Congleton mentioned the fact that one action that could be considered is referral to the International Criminal Court and the adoption of targeted sanctions. Resolution 25/25, passed by the UN Human Rights Council in March, was a welcome first step in taking the report forward, in particular by extending the mandate of the special rapporteur and requesting increased support, including establishing a field-based structure to strengthen monitoring and improve engagement with all states.
However, it was disappointing that 11 countries at the Human Rights Council abstained on the resolution vote, while six—Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and China—voted against it. There is more general concern about the composition of the Human Rights Council. The UK is on the council, but many member states have, shall we say, rather poor human rights records. There is concern about such countries’ failure to respect the special procedure or country-specific mandate holders. It would help if the Minister set out more about what he thinks the Human Rights Council can actually achieve—beyond mere condemnation of the DPRK regime—and how that can be done.
Following the recent universal periodic review, it has been reported that North Korea has actually agreed to consider 185 of the 268 recommendations. However, it has rejected some of them outright, including that it should co-operate with the ICC, end guilt by association, implement the commission’s recommendations, close the prison camps and abolish the songbun system. Critically, the Human Rights Council resolution recommended that the General Assembly submit the report to the Security Council for further action. The Human Rights Council called for the consideration of a referral
“to the appropriate international criminal justice mechanism”,
which would presumably be the ICC. On top of that, it called for consideration of the
“scope for effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity”.
Will the Minister update us on the Government’s discussions with Security Council members about formally putting the DPRK on the agenda? What sanctions does he think could possibly be effective in targeting the DPRK leadership? Bearing in mind Russia’s and China’s position on the Security Council, what are the prospects and time scales for action and any referral to the ICC?
Now that the commission has reported and the Human Rights Council has passed its resolution, it is crucial that we maintain the momentum and keep the spotlight and pressure on North Korea, to try to secure the co-operation of partners in key positions of influence. It would be so much easier to say that solutions are more easily at hand in other countries, where the UK operates more leverage and where we know that we can, perhaps, achieve more good in a shorter time, but to turn our back on what is happening in DPRK, just because it is a difficult case and the solutions do not immediately present themselves, would be morally wrong. We simply should not contemplate that.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady; she has been generous in giving way.
The approximately 600 people from the North Korean diaspora in this country have not been mentioned so far. Could we not harness them and perhaps ask the BBC to ask them to help with some editorial work on programmes broadcast into Korea? They would surely want to help their families still left in the country.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. What always has to be weighed up is whether such a move would make life easier or worse for the people in the country. People in the country know how dreadful the situation is there. People from the diaspora community here would, obviously, need to highlight that to win over international opinion, ensuring that this matter is firmly on the political agenda. I am not so sure, although I have only just heard the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, what the impact would be of such footage being displayed in North Korea. There is a particular danger of measures being taken against people’s relatives who are still in the country. We have to be slightly worried about that.
As my hon. Friend is aware, the North Korean embassy is in my borough of Ealing. I have tried to work with some of the North Korean diaspora in west London, to mount some sort of protest so that people can hear an alternative voice. I have to say to her that they are terrified. The crime of guilt by association throughout the family is so corrosive that, sadly and tragically, they will not dare to raise their heads above the parapet.
My hon. Friend obviously speaks from experience, having talked to the diaspora about this point.
I conclude with the words of the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, who has warned that in looking at what was happening in the DPRK,
“insufficient attention was being paid to the kind of horrific and sustained human rights violations”
that were going on there. Her conclusion was that
“there can no longer be any excuses”
for ignoring that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing this debate. I pay tribute to his work, and that of the all-party group on North Korea, in raising the profile of human rights issues in DPRK and seeking to give North Koreans, wherever they are, a voice. I also thank the Conservative party human rights commission for the report it released earlier today, called “Unparalleled and Unspeakable”, which makes harrowing reading. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), as I have done before, on her work in this respect.
I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to Church groups, non-governmental organisations and fellow parliamentarians for continuing to raise this issue and shining some light, as I have said before, on this dark, dark place.
The issue of human rights in North Korea has occupied a great deal of my time. I discussed it only yesterday with our ambassador to Pyongyang, who will also meet the all-party group next week. As I have said before to this House, and in two written ministerial statements in February and March respectively, I believe that the situation in North Korea is without equal in its scale and brutality. No one who has read Lord Alton’s book, “Building Bridges”, can fail to be moved by the suffering of North Korea’s people, or to recognise the urgent need to end this suffering.
Of course, the Government also have wider objectives in DPRK. We remain deeply concerned about the development of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes pursued in wilful disregard of UN Security Council resolutions. The DPRK’s behaviour poses a threat to regional stability and to the global non-proliferation regime, and its willingness to sell conventional arms to anyone who will pay fuels conflict around the world. Nevertheless, we have not allowed this to distract us from challenging the DPRK on its human rights record.
The UK played an active role in supporting the commission of inquiry, hosting a visit that allowed DPRK refugees in the UK to provide evidence to it. I myself met Justice Kirby on that visit. It is deeply regrettable that he has been subjected to personal abuse from the regime in Pyongyang. Following the commission’s report in February, I issued a statement welcoming the spotlight it shone on appalling human rights violations and called upon the DPRK Government to address them urgently.
We worked with the EU, Japan and others to ensure that the UN Human Rights Council adopted a strong resolution, recommending that the commission’s report be forwarded to the UN Security Council for consideration of appropriate action, including referral to an appropriate international justice mechanism. I have made it clear that, ultimately, the UK sees the International Criminal Court as the most appropriate option for this.
We took a similarly strong position in New York last month, when the commission gave an informal briefing to UN Security Council members—the first time members of the Security Council have ever considered DPRK human rights—although both China and Russia were notable for their absence. Again, we took a tough line at the DPRK’s universal periodic review on 1 May, using our role as a member of the troika to counter any exaggeration of DPRK engagement with the review’s recommendations.
We will continue to keep the spotlight on North Korea: when the DPRK special rapporteur, Marzuki Darusman, presents his report to the Human Rights Council in June; when Ministers meet at the UN General Assembly in September; and through a tough UN General Assembly resolution in the autumn.
With an UNGA resolution behind us, we could work with like-minded partners to gather the nine votes necessary to put DPRK human rights on the Security Council’s agenda, but we are realistic about the prospects for holding individuals to account before an international justice mechanism, at least in the short term, because the DPRK is not a signatory to the Rome statute and a referral to the International Criminal Court requires a UN Security Council resolution, as would the creation of an ad hoc tribunal. We expect both would be blocked by China and Russia. However, that does not mean that we should give up. We will continue to work to change the position of those members of the international community—and there are too many of them—who will not condemn the DPRK’s human rights record. The DPRK’s response to the commission of inquiry’s report shows it is sensitive to international criticism, so we will ensure there is no let-up. We all have a part to play in that.
We will also pursue another of the commission’s recommendations, endorsed by the Human Rights Council, which is the creation of a new body to continue the commission’s work of documenting human rights violations, so that when conditions allow for criminal investigations, as they surely will, there will be up-to-date, credible evidence for prosecutors.
Alongside our efforts to ensure that DPRK human rights remain high on the international agenda, the UK will continue to use our policy of critical engagement to raise our concerns directly with the North Korean authorities. Critical engagement means robust exchanges that leave our DPRK contacts in no doubt about our views, not least about their appalling human rights violations. It means raising specific cases, like the 33 people reportedly sentenced to death for alleged contact with Kim Jong-uk, a South Korean national who entered the DPRK for missionary purposes and has been convicted on charges of espionage. It means reminding the DPRK that, in the modern world, even it cannot keep its misdeeds hidden and that, if the rest of the world really is wrong about its political prison camps—its gulags—it has the means to disprove the claims by providing access to independent observers. Those we speak to may be able to do no more than repeat standard lines, but what we say is repeated up the chain to those with real power. We are expanding our engagement, but we are doing so cautiously, not least because we do not want to give the impression of rewarding the DPRK when there is nothing to reward.
For example, we took an important step earlier this year when we accredited a non-resident defence attaché to Pyongyang and gave the DPRK attaché in Moscow similar status. That process is opening up new opportunities for engagement with a different part of the DPRK system, opaque though that system may be. We have also provided training to improve DPRK officials’ understanding of international economic standards. Also, through our contacts with NGOs, the all-party group on North Korea and DPRK refugees, we are ready to consider how we can support others who want to engage directly with the DPRK.
Critical engagement means finding ways to inform DPRK citizens, especially officials and others with influence, about the UK and its values, so that they recognise the benefits of working with the outside world rather than remaining isolated. This is a policy aimed at long-term, incremental change. We are honest enough to acknowledge that nothing the UK says or does will lead to any improvement in the immediate future.
However, we have a responsibility to use our embassy in Pyongyang to do the things that many of our partners cannot do, so as to exploit what the US special envoy for human rights in the DPRK, Ambassador Bob King, described to me in a meeting we had in London last week as our “advantage”, and to take forward the commission of inquiry’s recommendation that states and civil society organisations foster opportunities for dialogue and contact in areas such as culture, good governance and economic development.
For example, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) said, through the British Council and educational immersion programmes, we have provided thousands of North Koreans with their first access to a foreigner and an understanding of British culture and values. Sustained engagement by the UK and other European countries, and by NGOs, has resulted in modest improvements in the treatment of disabled people, with a particular boost being given by the participation for the first time of a DPRK athlete in the Paralympic games when they were held in London in 2012. I met that athlete myself.
Several Members from all parties have again raised—quite rightly—the introduction of a BBC World Service Korean-language programme, which would be a further way for us to inform DPRK citizens about the outside world. As hon. Members know, and must accept, the BBC World Service is operationally, managerially and editorially independent. Nevertheless, we kept in close contact with it during its review last year, which we believe to have been a thorough consideration of all the options. Although the World Service board concluded that it was not currently possible to offer a meaningful and cost-effective Korean-language service, it has undertaken to keep that decision under review. We have passed on to the BBC the report from the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, “An Unmet Need”. We understand that the BBC will complete its response to the report in the next few weeks. We will continue to engage with the BBC and bring to its attention any changes in circumstances that might affect its assessment of the viability of a Korean-language service. As hon. Members have already said, the Foreign Secretary has to agree to new BBC World Service programmes. However, it is rightly and properly for the BBC itself to make proposals to him in the first instance. That may just sound like a sequencing issue, but it is an important distinction and one that Members must respect.
Many other issues were raised in the debate, but alas, in my remaining minute I do not have time to address them. Let me conclude by reiterating the Government’s desire, which is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire, to see concrete progress on alleviating the appalling human rights situation in North Korea, on ending the climate of impunity and on bringing those responsible to account. I would just say that—