"The UK stands ready to adjust our position in response to any concrete steps that the DPRK takes to improve human rights in the country"

Statement by Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant Permanent Representative of the UK Mission to the UN, to the Security Council Briefing on the Situation in DPRK

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Thank you, Mr President.

I would like to thank Assistant Secretary-Generals Zerihoun and Simonović for their appropriately bleak briefings.

In February this year the international community received a wakeup call to the truly shocking violations of human rights in the DPRK.

In a 400 page report the UN Commission of Inquiry provided an unprecedentedly detailed insight into the appalling situation in the DPRK. Due to the DPRK’s consistent refusal to cooperate or allow access to the country the Commission instead gathered extensive first hand testimony from witnesses and victims now living outside the DPRK.

What they heard painted a picture of authorities who are so frightened of losing control that indoctrination begins in the kindergarten. So scared of what will happen if ordinary people get a glimpse of the outside world that just owning a tuneable radio is a criminal offence. So insecure that religion is seen as a sign of divided loyalties and an act of treachery. The Commission’s report describes a regime so paranoid that punishments are extended to whole families. So cruel that those fleeing for a better life are imprisoned, tortured and sexually violated. So callous, that it stood by and let hundreds of thousands die from starvation rather than ask for international assistance.

The Commission concluded that the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations being committed in the DPRK were components of a totalitarian state without parallel in the contemporary world. They called on the International Community to protect the people of the DPRK, given the regime’s manifest failure to do so.

The International Community cannot ignore such detailed and grave findings. Since the report issued, we, alongside international partners, have worked to ensure that the Commission’s report is a beginning, and not an end.

The setting up of an OHCHR presence in Seoul is a practical demonstration of the international community’s determination not to forget the people of the DPRK. This field office will continue the Commission’s work of evidence collection as an important step towards accountability. It is a reminder to those, at any level of the regime apparatus, who are responsible for these awful human rights violations that the world is watching and that they should consider themselves put on notice. If the DPRK fails to hold violators to account, the international community must be ready to do so.

Both the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have condemned in the strongest terms the findings documented in the Commission of Inquiry report and have demonstrated the widespread concern across the globe at the enduring misery of the North Korean people. Both bodies by overwhelming majorities have encouraged the Security Council to consider the human rights situation in the DPRK. The United Kingdom supports the call for the Security Council to consider appropriate action to ensure accountability, including through consideration of a referral of the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court.

Mr President

Despite these calls from the UN membership there were those that opposed discussion in the Security Council today. But the failure of states to abide by the universal principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms - as set out in the UN Charter and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights – is a legitimate concern of the Security Council. Human rights, democracy and strong institutions, founded on the rule of law, are essential. Without these key foundations in place, peace and security are at risk, both in individual states and in the wider international community.

That is why the United Kingdom is pleased that ‘the situation in the DPRK’ has been added to the agenda of the Council today and that we have been able to have this long overdue discussion. It is a signal to the DPRK authorities of the International Community’s focus on the issues highlighted in the Commission of Inquiry’s report. Our message to the authorities in Pyongyang is this: “listen and engage with these concerns”.

The majority of the recommendations in the Commission’s report are directed towards the DPRK government. It is the DPRK government that hold the power to transform the lives of their people for the better. Rather than continuing to deny the existence of human rights violations and refusing to engage with the international concerns, we urge them to accept and address them seriously.

We are disappointed that the DPRK responded to the recent Third Committee resolution by withdrawing their previous offers of dialogue and their invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on DPRK to visit the country for the first time. The United Kingdom urges them to reconsider. If done fully and without preconditions these would be positive first moves towards taking the bold step of admitting there are problems and making a genuine effort to improve the human rights situation on the ground.

The DPRK has an opportunity. The United Kingdom, like so many in the International Community, stands ready to adjust our position in response to any concrete steps that the DPRK takes to improve human rights in the country. But if the DPRK continues to flout the obligations they owe to their people, then the International Community should be ready to take further steps to address the situation. We urge the Council to remain seized of this matter.

I thank you.

Published 23 December 2014