Human Rights Update II: the North Korean Counter-Resolution



No sooner had we summarized the recent state of play at the UN on North Korean human rights yesterday than we received a copy of a draft counter-resolution that North Korea will now circulate on the issue. The DPRK circulated the draft at a meeting it convened on October 15. The purpose of this resolution is to provide an alternative to that being advanced by the EU and Japan. These two parties have taken the lead since 2005 in putting forward resolutions on North Korea, backed by the US but also by a large and increasing majority of UN members, even counting abstentions and those not voting (see our post yesterday and here on the vote counts over time).

The major difference this year is the finalization of the Committee of Inquiry report, which concludes that the North Korean regime may have committed crimes against humanity and that the leadership and others responsible should be held accountable. Informative posts by Roberta Cohen and David Hawk provide complementary interpretations and more detail on recent events at the UN General Assembly.

The draft Resolution—reproduced in full below—fully confirms our interpretation of North Korean strategy: on the one hand, the DPRK remains completely opposed to any scrutiny of its human rights record, invoking standard sovereignty arguments; on the other hand, it claims a contradictory willingness to engage in dialogue on the issue. These tensions are by no means confined to North Korean statements. The North Korean draft invokes recent UN resolutions, including UN General Assembly Resolution 66/157 and 68/100 that embody precisely these tensions: recognizing all countries’ sovereignty and right to pursue their own path while also arguing that human rights is a legitimate area of international concern.

North Korea has focused particular attention on the fact that any such scrutiny should conform with “principles of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity.” However, North Korea was given an opportunity to participate in the Commission of Inquiry process and consistently refused to do so; only now has it issued its indirect response in the form of a lengthy 167-page Report of the DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies (Thanks to Adam Cathcart, available in .pdf here).

The basic argument of the report and draft resolution is that North Korea is participating in international human rights dialogue through the Universal Review Process—although ignoring its more uncomfortable recommendations--and is making a number of other efforts to cooperate more generally: in its outreach to Japan on abductees; in the Incheon visit and inter-Korean affairs; and in the signing of new protocols such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

The problem, however, is that the report and resolution remain completely silent on the very behaviors that the Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate, including those that may have risen to the level of crimes against humanity. They are designed, rather to either paint a misleading picture of the North Korean human rights situation or to suggest that things have improved.

Nonetheless, the international community should seize this opportunity with both hands. There is currently no meaningful discussion of any sort on human rights issues with North Korea. Little is lost by opening such channels, and there is much to be gained. In the article cited above, Roberta Cohen lists important caveats with which we agree: that the effort should not constitute a bargaining process designed to dilute the CoI’s message or secure short-term rewards and that at least one point of contact should be through the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid of Jordan, and his Office. But Cohen—and we assume others in the human rights community—should see this as an opportunity.

There is, however, an important poison pill in the draft counter-resolution; it is clearly designed to undermine support for the Japan-EU resolution. Given the highly misleading nature of the DPRK human rights report, it is important that this not be allowed to occur; it is not the time to waiver or sign on to an alternative resolution designed to weaken the dialogue process from the outset. The CoI report made reference to opening a dialogue and the Japan-EU resolution should and will as well. But such a process must rest on the important principle that sovereignty cannot be invoked to defend the outrageous. Dampening the outrageous—such as the abuses of the prison camp system—is precisely where the international community must continue to focus its attention.

Witness to Transformation Posts on the CoI

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)

Human Rights Racket: Alive and Kicking (October 10, 2014, on the October 6 letter from the DPRK Permanent Representative)

Human Rights Roundup (October 20, 2014)

All Witness to Transformation human rights posts



Dialogue and cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”

The General Assembly,


  1. Reaffirming the necessity for genuine cooperation without discrimination of all kinds in the international efforts to promote, protect and guarantee the human rights and fundamental freedoms, proceeding from the purposes and principles of the UN Charter,

  2. Also Reaffirming that promotion, protection and guarantee of the human rights and fundamental freedoms for all as a legitimate concern of the international community, should be based on the principles of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity against misuse for any political objectives,

  3. Noting with appreciation that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) participated and engaged in constructive exchanges of views in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 1 May 2014 and that the Human Rights Council positively appreciated that the DPRK made an advancement in implementing the previous recommendations it accepted,

  4. Welcoming the signing by the DPRK of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 3 July 2013 and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography on 9 September 2014,

  5. Noting the talks between the DPRK and Japan to resolve the outstanding issues held in May 2014, which resulted in the Stockholm agreement,

  6. Hoping that the positive changes taking place on the Korean Peninsula including the DPRK’s proposals to improve inter-Korean relations, agreed arrangement of reunion of separated families and relatives, and participation of the DPRK’s team in the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, will contribute to reconciliation and cooperation between the north and the south,

  7. Recognizing that the report of the Association of Human Rights Studies of the DPRK on the human rights policy and mechanism in the DPRK released on 13 September 2014 contributes to improved understanding of the member states ;

  8. Noting with appreciation the DPRK’s active efforts to achieve the MDGs through universal compulsory free education and free medical care systems as well as its close cooperation with resident UN agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, UNDP and WFP,

  9. Taking note of the high appreciation by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights that the DPRK has expressed its willingness to engage in human rights dialogue and requested for technical assistance from the OHCHR, with a view to promoting the understanding of its human rights situation,


  1. Reaffirms the rights of all people enshrined in the UN Charter to decide freely on their political status without external interference and pursue economic, social and cultural development, on the principles of equality and sovereignty.

  2. Reaffirms also that impartial treatment of human rights issues will strengthen international cooperation and contribute to effective promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  3. Encourages to further revitalize the UPR system of the Human Rights Council based on cooperative and constructive dialogues, put an end to the practice of calling into question the human rights situation of specific individual countries and solve mutual concerns through dialogue and consultation.

  4. Recommends the DPRK to continue its efforts to implement the recommendations made during the review of its human rights situation in the second cycle of the UPR.

  5. Welcomes the willingness expressed by the DPRK for human rights dialogue and cooperation, and encourages all member states to resume the human rights dialogue between the DPRK and the countries concerned, contributing to removal of mutual concerns and misunderstanding.

  6. Requests the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and other UN human rights mechanism to positively respond to the proposed cooperation of the DPRK.

  7. Requests the Secretary General of the UN and relevant UN human rights mechanism to make unbiased reassessment of the human rights situation of the DPRK, in the spirit of the UNGA resolutions 66/157, 68/100 and other relevant resolutions and in view of the report of the Association of Human Rights Studies of the DPRK and the objective facts.

  8. Calls on all member states to make further efforts to deal fairly with human rights issues through constructive and non-confrontational dialogues and negotiations, taking into account consideration of the political, historical, social, religious and cultural characteristics of individual countries.

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