Will Denuclearisation of North Korea Protect Human Rights?

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (file)
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (file)

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People`s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), Tomás Ojea Quintana, has warned the States involved in any denuclearisation negotiations that avoiding the topic of human rights in North Korea could jeopardise sustainable agreements in the future.

“A denuclearisation deal will remain fragile if it sidelines the rights and needs of the DPRK population. Peace and security cannot be achieved only in the form of intergovernmental agreements but also, and perhaps more importantly, in the shape of domestic policies that guarantee the full enjoyment of human rights without discrimination,” the expert said.

Leaders of the two Koreas will meet on 27 of April for the first time in 11 years, while efforts are being stepped up to organise a summit between North Korea and the US by the end of May 2018. South Korea has already indicated that human rights concerns will not be included in Friday’s agenda, but for Ojea Quintana the issue must be brought back in focus.

“In line with what the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been advocating, I call upon all concerned Governments to uphold human rights as a conflict prevention and peacebuilding mechanism,” he said. “The DPRK has proven to be a tough negotiator, and not even mentioning human rights at this very first stage of negotiations would be a misstep and a lost opportunity.”

A number of pressing human rights issues were highlighted in the expert’s recent reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

On 21 April the DPRK’s Supreme Leader announced that the country would halt nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches. “This is of course very good news and a particularly welcome development after years of conflict rhetoric that often reached alarming levels,” said the UN Special Rapporteur. “What we need to see now from North Korea is the same kind of attitude towards its human rights issues,” he added.

Although the DPRK is engaged with a number of UN mechanisms in recent years on issues such as the situation of women, children and persons with disabilities, requests by the Special Rapporteur to visit North Korea were rejected and the country has generally remained closed to independent human rights monitors.

The Special Rapporteur will visit the Northeast Asia region in the near future and present his annual report during the General Assembly in October 2018.

Photo courtesy: UN Human Rights

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Rakesh Raman