After pressure on rights, North Korea offers UN visit
UNITED NATIONS – As North Korea faces the possibility of prosecution for human rights atrocities, it made the rare move of offering the United Nations a visit into one of the world’s most secretive societies.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea revealed that Pyongyang officials met with him for the first time ever at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly here in New York on Tuesday, October 28.
Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia said that North Korean diplomats offered him access to Pyongyang in exchange for the deletion of clauses in a UN resolution that would refer the country’s human rights abuses to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The offer was unprecedented as North Korea has barred entry to UN rights rapporteurs and officials for years. Besides the rapporteur, North Korea is now offering the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights a visit to discuss “possible technical cooperation with the government.”
“They laid it out in the way that gave the impression in one breath that by mentioning certain parts of the resolution, they thought that the possibility of the rapporteur [visiting] would be enabled on the understanding that certain parts of the resolution reflect their concerns,” Darusman said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
In particular, Darusman said that the 4 North Korean officials he met with asked to delete clauses in the UN General Assembly resolution that held Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un liable for human rights violations, and referred the reclusive state to The Hague-based ICC.
The meeting and the offer are the latest in North Korea’s charm offensive and sudden engagement with the UN human rights system in response to a groundbreaking and damning UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report.
The report released in February found that North Korea committed crimes against humanity primarily through its system of prison camps including extermination, murder, enslavement, rape, and persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds. The findings drew strong global condemnation.
Last week, North Korean defectors told a UN panel discussion that the prison camps starved prisoners so much that some women ate their own babies to survive.
Japan and the European Union (EU) co-sponsored a resolution at the UN General Assembly for the UN Security Council to adopt the COI’s recommendations and refer North Korea to the ICC. (READ: 'North Korea rights abuse is world's moment of truth')
Darusman said that the North Korean officials told him the visit will “balance out” the COI report because they felt “it didn’t reflect their side of the story.”
The special rapporteur said that he told the North Korean delegation that he will convey their message to Japan and the EU.
“The answer of the co-sponsors was they needed greater assurance that such an invitation was forthcoming before anything can be done to look into these clauses, which have gone through very thorough discussions among member states,” Darusman said.
Among the North Korean diplomats Darusman met with was Deputy UN Ambassador Ri Tong Il.
‘Visit separate issue from resolution’
Darusman said that he clarified to Pyongyang’s diplomats that the UN resolution should not be linked with his work.
“My response was inviting the special rapporteur is an independent issue. The rapporteur is never consulted on the context of the text to maintain the independence of the rapporteur,” he said.
Darusman added that he will seek another meeting with the North Koreans to convey the response of the co-sponsors, and then “step back and let the matter take its course.”
Special rapporteurs are independent experts that are not employed by the UN. They are mandated to look into specific countries or human rights themes.
Whatever conditions North Korea will set, Darusman said a UN visit must be “substantive and effective.”
“Any visit would have to be undertaken with the view to allow the rapporteur access into any location, institution, which would be a primary concern of the international community.”
If allowed into North Korea, the rapporteur said high on his agenda will be visiting prison camps.
‘Pragmatic, positive move’
North Korea has responded aggressively to the UN report, releasing its own positive human rights report, holding press conferences and briefings, and speaking at UN discussions on its human rights record. (READ: Prison camps? North Korea calls them 'reform centers')
It claims that the COI report was a political ploy of the US to undermine Kim Jong-Un’s regime, and calls the witnesses that testified “human scum.”
Still, the special rapporteur said that North Korea’s engagement with the UN is a positive and pragmatic step.
“Understandably, there’s been a lot of skepticism about the way North Korea goes about interacting with the international community. There are initiatives but also reversals. There has to be some way of creating, allowing a measure of trust but also a larger measure of verification,” Darusman said.
“It’s interesting that these actions, movements took place one after the other. I don’t think it’s incidental.” – Rappler.com
Rappler multimedia reporter Ayee Macaraig is a 2014 fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She is in New York to cover the UN General Assembly, foreign policy, diplomacy, and world events.