U.N. Commission of Inquiry Documents “Systematic, Widespread and Gross Human Rights Violations” in North Korea

While long-time observers of North Korea are more than familiar with the regime’s appalling record on human rights, the report released earlier this week by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea makes a critically important contribution by documenting and raising public awareness of these issues. 

Based on extensive testimony by survivors, witnesses, and experts, the report paints a picture of a country where the systematic denial of rights and freedoms does not “have any parallel in the contemporary world.” It describes a prison camp network in which hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have been killed and tormented over the years through “deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture, rape, and the denial of reproductive rights through punishment, forced abortion, and infanticide.” And it illuminates a dark world in which the average citizen faces an “almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.” 

Concluding that it has documented offenses entailing “crimes against humanity,” the Commission makes recommendations for holding perpetrators to account. As the United States and the international community consider these recommendations, we will also continue efforts to focus attention on the horrific human rights situation in the DPRK, including through the work of our Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, Robert King. Recognizing that the plight of the North Korean people is too often crowded out of international headlines by the regime’s belligerent and vitriolic behavior, the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports will continue to tell their story. And on the multilateral stage, the U.S. government will continue to work with our partners—including at the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the report will be presented next month—to help ensure the ongoing engagement of the international community.

In the meantime, we applaud the work of the U.N. Commission for giving survivors of North Korean abuses the opportunity to publicly tell their stories, and for shining a clear, bright light on human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime. 

Stephen Pomper is Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council.

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