The Human Rights Council Resolution



One of the more heartening institutional developments at the UN over the last decade has been the emergence of a functioning Human Rights Council. Created in 2006, it replaced the Commission on Human Rights, which suffered from a simple but profound disability: all UN members were eligible to participate no matter how dismal their human rights record. As the Jacob Blaustein Institute has documented in some detail, greater engagement by the US and the other advanced democracies gradually allowed the Council to speak truth to power even if the question of how to actually sanction violators remains a vexing puzzle.

Several weeks ago, the Council passed a new resolution on North Korea, sponsored by a coalition of about 50 democracies (some outside of the 47-member body); the Special Rapporteur’s strong statement and report on the issue—including with respect to the issue of accountability—can be found here. The very procedure by which the resolution was passed was itself interesting. In the last several years, HRC resolutions have been passed by on-the-record vote. The Commission of Inquiry report and its findings on crimes against humanity and possible referral to the International Criminal Court was simply too great a leap to permit consensus. But consensus is now back. Although a number of authoritarian regimes disassociated themselves from the consensus—some on grounds of general opposition to country-specific mandates, they did not call for a vote and the comments of both Russia and China, although veiled, even suggested the need for improvements. This left North Korea without any real support on the Council; reading the writing on the wall, no doubt, North Korea did not even participate to defend itself.

Much of the resolution is taken up with the usual over-long preface recounting all prior actions on the topic, a restatement of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry (para. 1) and a call to cease and desist (para. 2). The resolution included a separate paragraph on the punishment of returned refugees (para. 3), a subtle swipe at Chinese violation of its obligations under the Refugee Convention.

But the resolution did add something new. Despite managing to get the issue on the UN Security Council agenda—it was last discussed there in December—the referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court is clearly a non-starter. Since the DPRK is not a signatory, the referral would have to come from the UNSC itself, implying Chinese and Russian consent. But the new resolution created a panel of experts on accountability to try to move the issue forward, tasking them as follows:

(a) To explore appropriate approaches to seek accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in particular where such violations amount to crimes against humanity, as found by the commission of inquiry;

(b) To recommend practical mechanisms of accountability to secure truth and justice for the victims of possible crimes against humanity in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including the International Criminal Court.”

It is not clear what mechanisms are available to any UN body that would circumvent the UNSC bottleneck on referral to the ICC. But at least someone will be thinking about it.

Witness to Transformation Posts on the Commission of Inquiry

Commission of Inquiry Report: the Mandate (March 25, 2013)

Commission of Inquiry Report: Initial Reaction (February 17, 2014; includes full links to Commission materials)

Commission of Inquiry Report: What Next? (February 24, 2014).

Roberta Cohen, Karin Lee and Christine Hong on Human Rights (January 29, 2014)

Commission of Inquiry Roundup I: The UN Role (March 3, 2014)

Commission of Inquiry Roundup II: the UN Role (March 6, 2014)

The Human Rights Council Vote (March 31, 2014)

The Commission of Inquiry: The Arria Meeting (April 21, 2014)

North Korea Admits to Prison Camps–Or Does It? (October 8, 2014)

On the UN politics, October-December 2014: Human Rights Racket: Alive and Kicking (October 10, 2014, on the October 6 letter from the DPRK Permanent Representative); Human Rights Roundup and The North Korean Counter-Resolution   (October 20 and 21, 2014); UN Diplomacy Continued, Parts Oneand Two (October 28 and 29); The End of the Charm Offensive, Part One and Part Two (November 6 and 7).  The Third Committee Vote (November 19). Human Rights Roundup and Now the Hard Part (November 24 and December 1 on the aftermath).

Implementing the Commission of Inquiry Report (February 23 2015).

Stephan Haggard on the CoI Process (March 2015 for the East Asia Institute)

The UN Vote on the Human Rights Situation in North Korea (November 2015)

Human Rights Update: the UNSC and the Committee on Torture (December 2015)

All Witness to Transformation human rights posts

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