Thank you Madam President.
I thank Under Secretary-General Feltman and High Commissioner Zeid for the sobering briefings that they have just given us and I agree with them that this debate is a sad, but fitting way to mark International Human Rights Day.
It has to be right that we focus on what is probably the worst human rights situation in the world.
As the recent report of the Special Rapporteur makes clear, the DPRK remains an unnecessary and unending human rights tragedy. Today we’ve heard yet more horrifying accounts and we’ve heard many times of summary executions, of arbitrary detentions, of abductions and disappearances - all this against a backdrop of secrecy and fear.
This is the work of a totalitarian state with no parallel anywhere elsewhere in the world today. It is a state that deliberately starves its people. It’s a state that punishes relatives for the alleged crimes of their family. A state that instrumentalises forced labour, prison camps, torture and rape. Such flagrant human rights violations cannot go unchallenged by this Council.
Let me be clear, we are not here today to score political points. We are here because a stream of factual reports of systematic human rights violations cannot be ignored. The failure of states to respect the principles set out in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights should concern everyone in this chamber. Without human rights, participatory government and the rule of law, peace and security are at risk.
These clear links can be seen through the DPRK’s focus on military and nuclear programmes at the expense of its people; and through its prioritisation of spending on weapons development or its nuclear programme at a time of mass starvation. We cannot consider either human rights or peace and security in isolation.
And concern for the situation in DPRK goes far beyond this Council as I think the audience here demonstrates today. Over a hundred countries expressed this through last month’s Third Committee resolution. That was not a conspiracy, nor was it propaganda. It reflected a shared belief from all parts of the world that we all want North Koreans to have the human rights that we all want and demand for ourselves.
It is nearly a year since we last met to discuss the DPRK. Given the absence of any tangible progress, many of us will be looking today and asking what more we can do to improve human rights in the DPRK. Yes, we can point to the opening of the OHCHR office in Seoul. That is a welcome move, sadly attacked, as Zeid’s just reminded us by the DPRK itself. We can speak about our encouragement that the DPRK engaged in the Universal Periodic Review last year. That was a good thing. But nothing can mask the fact that the onus to change the situation on the ground rests with the DPRK. It is in their power to improve the lives of their citizens in a meaningful way.
Pyongyang is likely to disregard, dispute and deny the facts that have just been set out to us in this Council. They say that they do not have a human rights problem. That people are treated fairly, that there is accountability for all. The DPRK has claimed that it is willing to host inward visits on this issue.
So if the DPRK really has nothing to hide, it should not fear transparency. And so we look forward to proper access to international observers, including you Zeid, to increase the understanding of human rights in the DPRK. We look forward to DPRK explaining to us how they will implement those Universal Periodic Review’s recommendations which they have claimed to accept.
Until we see the DPRK take the steps to address the shocking crimes detailed in so many reports, this Council should bear witness to the shocking reality. The DPRK needs to know that the world is watching. If the DPRK will not enable or ensure accountability, the international community must be ready to do so. The United Kingdom fully supports the call for the Council to consider how it can best ensure accountability, including through considering a referral to the International Criminal Court.
One bilateral reflection: this week marked the 15th year of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the DPRK. We have built links in education, in culture and in sport. We have done so because we do firmly believe that persistent, patient dialogue is the best way to help the citizens of this country in the long term. We will continue to use that dialogue as well as this forum to stress the need for concrete action by the DPRK to improve human rights and ensure accountability.
Until those steps are taken, until the DPRK authorities treat their obligations to their people seriously, we have no option but to remain seized of this matter. We grow increasingly concerned about stability and security on the Korean Peninsula and what that means for all of us, most of all for the citizens of a country whose regime will allow them no voice in this debate at all and who will try their level best to ensure that they do not hear it.