By Santo D. Banerjee
NEW YORK (IDN) - Two days after the United Nations human rights wing drew attention to more than 60 years of "involuntary" separation between families from the two Koreas and called for steps to encourage reunion and alleviate suffering, senior UN officials have highlighted the need for the Security Council to pay attention to human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) adding that the situation is “of great concern”.
“History teaches us that serious human rights violations are warning signs of instability and conflict,” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said in a briefing requested by nine of the Council’s 15 members: France, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay.
The nine – of which three (France, the United Kingdom and the U.S.) are permanent members of the Security Council – had sent a letter to the Council President, seeking further information from the UN Secretariat on this situation in DPRK (North Korea) and its implications for international peace and security.
“Abduction of foreign nationals, enforced disappearances and people fleeing desperate situations all demonstrate the links between human rights, humanitarian crisis and international peace and security,” UN News quoted Eliasson saying.
He also said that the international community had "collective responsibilities to protect the DPRK's population from the most serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, live up to the principle and norm of the Responsibility to Protect and consider the wider implications of the human rights situation for regional stability".
On November 30, the Security Council adopted a resolution toughening its sanctions on the DPRK, aiming to step up pressure on the country to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
The Council condemned North Korean regime "for pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles instead of the welfare of its people". People in the DPRK have great unmet needs, the Council said and emphasized "the necessity of the DPRK respecting and ensuring the welfare and inherent dignity of people in the DPRK”.
According to Eliasson, this was the first time the Council specifically requested the DPRK to respect and ensure the welfare and inherent dignity of people in its territory.
He noted that about 70 per cent of the county's population, or 18 million people, are considered food insecure, 25% has inadequate access to health services and 20% lacks access to clean water and proper sanitation. Stunting is a rampant phenomenon among children, he added.
As required by “no one left behind” principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN humanitarian and development support must be decoupled from geopolitical considerations, the UN Deputy Secretary-General stressed.
Addressing the Council, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, provided more details on human rights violations in the DPRK. “There has been no improvement in the truly appalling human rights violations in the country,” he said.
According to UN News, he noted that the Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in the DPRK found that numerous crimes against humanity were committed and ongoing, including 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.
Gilmour added that in the previous 12 months, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had intervieweds more than 110 persons who had left the DPRK. “All of those who had been detained stated that they were subject to, or witnessed, practices that clearly contravened international human rights standards,” he said.
UN News said: The General Assembly has again in its resolution this year encouraged the Security Council to take appropriate action to ensure accountability, including through consideration of a referral of the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Improvement in human rights in the country will not only protect the livelihoods and dignity of people in DPRK but also promote long-term security and stability in the region and beyond, Gilmour said.
“Escalated security tensions, however, will further isolate the country and leave the DPRK population as usual to bear the terrible consequences, at yet further expense of their human rights,” he warned. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 December 2016]
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
Photo: Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General, addresses the Security Council meeting on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas