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National statements

The Situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Thematic issues

  • Accountability
  • Commission of inquiry
  • DPRK
  • Human Rights
  • Humanitarian
  • North Korea
  • Peace and Security
  • Women


Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you Mr President. And thank you to Assistant Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun and Assistant Secretary-General Ivan Å imonović for their briefings.

Today's meeting is an historic step forward for the international community's efforts to consider the situation in the DPRK and its broader implications.

It also sends a vital message to the people of North Korea that the international community is aware of their suffering and stands in solidarity with them.

By meeting, the Council recognises that the dangerous threat to international peace and security posed by the DPRK regime is not limited to its weapons programs and proliferation activities – but that this threat also flows from its atrocious treatment of its people and its determination to use every means possible to resist action it perceives as a challenge to its authority.

The DPRK is in effect a totalitarian state which uses violence and repression against its own citizens to maintain itself and its threatening military apparatus in power. The regime's atrocities against its own people have created an inherently unstable state. The regime's system of repression enables its proliferation policies; and its deprivations of its people fund those policies.

Some have asserted the Council has no business considering this issue. But Australia strongly disagrees. History shows that human rights violations of the type and scale we are seeing in North Korea have reverberations well beyond the country in which they are committed. They amount to a rejection of international norms which underpin stable societies, and they undermine peaceful relations between states. As we have seen time and again, serious violations of human rights serve as a warning sign of instability and conflict, especially in the absence of accountability for such violations.

With the publication of the seminal report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK, the international community now has a comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of the systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations being committed by the North Korean regime. The report is deeply disturbing and compels a response.

The Commission's findings on the extent of the DPRK's indoctrination program highlight a deliberate strategy to control the population to secure its hold on power. The program seeks to instil national hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, and propaganda for war.

The Commission's report lays bare the depraved nature of the DPRK regime's tools of control, including the denial of access to basic human needs– food, water, heating, shelter, work. The massive humanitarian catastrophe that has resulted from the scale of the DPRK's reign of terror has affected all of the DPRK's neighbours and threatened regional stability.

There is a lethal restriction on the freedom of expression. One witness told the Commission that no one would dare object to the harsh living conditions in the DPRK, and I quote, "as protest is equivalent to death".

The citizens of the DPRK are forced to denounce conduct that is perceived by the regime as a threat to it. Family members must report on each other. The regime's vast surveillance apparatus ensures harsh punishment – even summary execution – for those who don't comply.

The extreme militarisation of the DPRK has come at a devastating cost. The North Korean people have paid for the world's fourth largest standing army – and the development of nuclear weapons and an increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile system to deliver them – with mass starvation and deprivation. The Commission estimates that the DPRK devotes up to 25 per cent of its Gross National Product to defence expenditure. And yet, the Commission also finds malnutrition and starvation in the DPRK could have been avoided through even a marginal redistribution of state military spending.

The Commission also found an entrenched pattern of discrimination – based on the uniquely harsh songbun class system which is systematically applied to maintain control against perceived threats, both external and internal.

Likewise, the extreme restrictions on the freedom of movement – within North Korea and across its borders – are designed to maximize state control. Punishments for violations are severe, often vicious and inhumane. Women, who are subjected to horrific discrimination, resort to international traffickers to escape. The torture they endure if they return cannot be regarded as a solely domestic concern.

One of the cruelest policies of the regime is the system of arbitrary detention and political prison camps.

An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 are imprisoned – without trial – in four political prison camps, and the Commission found that the majority – including children – had no prospect of ever being released. Summary executions and other cruel extrajudicial punishments are meted out for violations of camp rules. Torture is routine. As the Commission notes, and I quote, "the limited information that seeps out from the secret camps creates a spectre of fear among the general population, creating a powerful deterrent against any future challenges to the political system."

The Commission found that the information it received established that crimes against humanity have been committed in the DPRK, pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State.

We strongly support the Commission's conclusion that the international community must accept its responsibility to protect the people of North Korea from crimes against humanity because the DPRK Government has manifestly failed to do so.

The gravity, the scale and the nature of these human rights violations distinguishes North Korea as a State that – in the Commission's words – has "no parallel in the contemporary world". The need for an international response could not be more obvious.

This view is clearly shared by the majority of UN Member States, who last Thursday adopted Resolution 69/188 in the General Assembly which submitted the Commission's report to this Council for consideration and action. This is broad recognition by the UN Membership that this Council has a responsibility on this issue, including to ensure accountability for the crimes being committed.

These crimes are integral components of the DPRK political system. We must assume that crimes against humanity will continue if there is no international response.

A core element of the Commission's mandate was to ensure accountability for human rights violations, in particular where such violations amounted to crimes against humanity. The Commission asked this Council to refer the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court. The General Assembly has called on the Council to consider this recommendation. Australia believes that the crimes against humanity documented in the Commission's report warrant the attention of the International Criminal Court. In the absence of any move by the North Korean regime to ensure accountability, the Council should seriously consider this recommendation.

Mr President

The North Korean regime does have the power to change its behaviour. Most of the Commission's recommendations are directed towards the DPRK itself.

The DPRK's recent indications of a purported willingness to increase its cooperation with the international community on human rights were welcome, but those offers have since been withdrawn, and there has been no sign of any internal reform.

Instead the DPRK has responded to the General Assembly's call for it to engage on human rights issues by denouncing that call and indicating it would engage in further hostile acts. When the DPRK responds to human rights criticisms with threats to use nuclear weapons, it only strengthens the link between the DPRK's human rights policies and their implications for international peace and security.

Recent cyber-attacks against international companies have been attributed to the DPRK. This is another example of the extraterritorial reach of their crimes, along with abductions of foreign nationals, and demonstrates the extent to which it is prepared to defy international norms, and aggressively seek to destabilise other countries and international commerce.

The international community's message to the DPRK regime is direct – it must change course. It can take steps immediately to put an end to all systematic, wide-spread and gross human rights violations being perpetrated in its country, which only further weaken the North Korean people and the stability of the state itself. It can commit to cooperate with the international community, by extending full cooperation to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, including by granting him full, free and unimpeded access to the DPRK, and by providing unfettered access to humanitarian agencies.

There are options for the DPRK regime – humane options – and we will continue to press its leadership to embrace them. Assistant Secretary-General Å imonović alluded to some of these options just a moment ago. But in the meantime, we are realistic about the brutal prospects for the North Korean people and what needs to be done to provide them a measure of protection.

We continue to look to those countries that have most influence on North Korea ‑ including those in the North Asian region and other partners – to continue to press the case for fundamental change to the DPRK state apparatus. We know, of course, that this will not be easy.

To conclude, Mr President

The Security Council must also live up to its responsibilities in the absence of action by the regime, particularly in relation to accountability for crimes against humanity. Given the scale of the human rights violations and their link to international peace and security, it is essential that the Council remain seized of "the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea". The Council must regularly assess this situation, and give serious consideration to further action it might take – in the interests of the North Korean people themselves and in support of peace and security in their region and globally.

Thank you.

(As delivered)

Last Updated: 17 June 2015
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