North Korea has taken the unusual step of taking part in an event sponsored by human rights activists focused on the country’s human rights issues, NK News has learned.
This news comes as the UN General Assembly prepares to vote on a resolution that could potentially refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court over its poor human rights record.
A nine-member North Korean delegation took part in the event in New York, which featured remarks by Michael Kirby, the former chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) for North Korea, and testimonies from two victims of North Korea’s political prison camps. The event was sponsored by Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), a human rights advocacy group, and the governments of Australia, Botswana and Panama.
“The delegation of Australia sent out invitations and the DPRK asked if they could participate, but we didn’t think they would actually appear,” Joanna Hosaniak, deputy director general of Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), told NK News.
During the event, the North Korean delegation reportedly debated the findings and methodology with Kirby and accused the COI of “manipulating witnesses and evidence” while calling the report’s claims of crimes against humanity “groundless,” a press release by NKHR said.
Kirby reportedly responded that such allegations were untrue, and denied “any political motivations on the part of the COI.” He also requested that the DPRK “withdraw its previous statements that witnesses who testified before the COI are ‘human scum’” and “implored” that the COI report be made available to all North Korean citizens so they can judge its credibility themselves.
Kirby headed the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, which produced a 372-page report in March on North Korean human rights abuses, including prison camps, torture, starvation and killings. The report led to calls from Western states for action against Pyongyang. North Korea, for its part, responded by calling the report a “conspiracy by the West.”
Facing pressure from the international community about its human rights situation, North Korea has seemingly begun a “charm” offensive, which has involved speaking in detail to the press about its human rights situation and even releasing its own human rights report.
The EU and Japan have used the COI report’s findings to draft a resolution that acknowledges that crimes against humanity have been due to “policies at the highest level of the State” and recommends the referral of North Korea to the ICC for crimes against humanity for the upcoming UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights.
The resolution appears to have touched a nerve in Pyongyang, particularly concerning the culpability of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in human rights abuses.
In a recent interview with Voice of America, Jong Il Hoon, head of North Korea’s UN delegation in New York, admitted that it is “really hard for us to stand by” while “they talk that way about our supreme leadership.”
North Korea has traditionally been very sensitive about what the outside world says about its supreme leadership. Just last year, North Korea media attacked the South Korean press for “damaging the dignity of the supreme leadership.” The country recently filed a complaint to the UN saying that the American movie The Interview, which portrays a mission to assassinate Kim Jong Un, “hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of DPRK.”
“Because North Korea is a country where the suryeong (leader) has absolute control, it is hard to accept the suryeong’s authority being damaged,” said Oh Gyeong-seob, a North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute near Seoul.
“Kim Jong-un will also perceive being blamed for crimes against humanity and judged by the ICC to be the worst possible kind of dishonor,” said Oh. “It appears to me that North Korea’s elite are conducting a full-fledged diplomatic campaign to prevent Kim Jong Un from being tried by the ICC.”
Featured image: Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights
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