WASHINGTON DC – State media outlet KCNA claimed yesterday that “there does not exist human rights abuses and they can not exist” in North Korea. Angry over a UN inquiry announced last week to investigate North Korean human rights abuses, the claim was made in an editorial attacking South Korea for its involvement in the UN action.
“It is exactly South Korea which is plagued with most serious human rights problems”, the editorial said while calling for a UN investigation of human rights abuses instead in its southerly neighbor.
Adding to a recent increase in tension between the two countries, the editorial added, “We will mercilessly sweep away the group of worst hooligans including those of the “Saenuri Party” which took the lead in fabricating the UN “resolution on human rights”.
North Korea’s focus on South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party comes after their party chair Hwang Woo Yea sent a letter to the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council to urge them to establish a commission of inquiry on February 1.
That letter helped create momentum behind a resolution approved on March 21 to establish a commission of inquiry into North Korea’s “systematic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights”.
The inquiry is designed to raise international scrutiny on North Korea and its alleged network of political prison camps, slave labor and food deprivation. While its three person team will unlikely be granted access into North Korea, satellite imagery and refugee testimony will be used to help detail the current level of human rights abuses in-country.
Evidence gathered by the team could be used in future prosecutions for crimes against humanity, with a particular emphasis put on investigating political prison camps throughout the country. Senior North Korean leaders could theoretically face trials at the Hague if sufficient evidence and international political will results from the inquiry.
Last Thursday North Korea’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council So Se Pyong responded to the Resolution by claiming the council is “is no more than an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces in their attempt to discredit the image of the DPRK”.
He added that his nation’s citizens are “happy with pride and honor that they have one of the best systems for promotion and protection of human rights in the world”.
However, refugee testimony and North Korea human rights experts argue that the country is among the worst offenders when it comes to guaranteeing the rights of its citizens.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has for months supported establishment of the commission, noting in January 2013 that “in-depth inquiry into one of the worst – but least understood and reported – human rights situations in the world is not only fully justified, but long overdue.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council has attracted negative attention in the past as a result of charges that claim its actions are often “politicized”. Israel suspended all ties with the body last year after being the victim of 32 Human Rights Council resolution condemnations since 2006: 48.1% of all county-specific resolution ever made in the council’s history. Pyongyang views the latest call to investigate it in a similar light.
North Korea has been under investigation by the Council since 2004, however opposition from Russia and China meant no commission of inquiry had ever been set up. This year human rights supporters saw a window of opportunity to set one up, because countries sympathetic to North Korea like China and Cuba were not included on the 47-member council.