On Sept 23, 2014 the US Secretary of State John Kerry held a meeting near UN headquarters in NYC helping to set in motion UN actions to condemn the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly referred to as North Korea, for alleged human rights violations. (1)
The subject of the meeting was allegedly a UN Human Rights Commission of Inquiry (COI) Report claiming human rights abuses in North Korea. The North Korean Foreign Minister who was attending the opening session of the 2014-5 General Assembly and his delegation were not allowed into this US sponsored meeting about North Korea.
The allegations in the COI Report against the DPRK are based on defector testimony and satellite imagery. Similar sources were used to support the allegations of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. These sources of information in the Iraq case proved to be bogus but provided the pretext used to justify the US and UK invasion of Iraq in 2003.
US officials later acknowledged their allegations had been wrong, yet similar false allegations have been used by the US against other countries. For example false claims about Libya were used to justify the overthrow of its legitimate government in 2011 and similarly false claims against Syria are being used to try to force regime change there.
Now this kind of information warfare is being waged at the UN against North Korea by the US, the EU, Japan, Australia and several other countries. The COI Report is now being proposed as the basis for the Security Council to refer North Korean government officials to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The DPRK has challenged the false accusations. In November several countries spoke in the Third Committee of the General Assembly(GA) against Resolution A/C.3/69/L.28/Rev.1 designed to send the DPRK to the Security Council for referral to the ICC.(2) The Resolution was introduced by the EU and Japan. Cuba on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement introduced an amendment A/C.3/L.63 to the Resolution. The amendment would have removed the parts of the two paragraphs, #7 and #8, which encouraged the Security Council to refer North Korea to the ICC. The vote on the proposed amendment was 40 in favor, 77 against and 50 abstaining. The amendment did not pass, but the vote on the amendment demonstrated that there were more opposed or not in favor of paragraphs 7 and 8 than there were in support of the them. Only 77 out of 167 voting, voted not to accept Cuba’s proposed amendment.
Among those nations speaking in favor of the amendment or explaining why they did not vote for the Resolution, were Cuba, South Africa, India, China, Belarus, Venezuela, the Russian Federation, Iran, Ecuador, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Lao People’s Republic, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, and Singapore.
One of the arguments made challenging the Resolution was that by including a trigger mechanism referring a human rights issue to the Security Council, the Resolution was being used by countries not interested in dialogue to solve a problem, but rather as a political tool of attack.
Speaking in favor of the Resolution against North Korea were Italy for the EU, Japan, the US, Albania, Thailand, Uruguay, Brazil, and Switzerland on behalf of Iceland, Australia, Norway and Lichtenstein.
India’s statement explained why it voted for the amendment. Then when the amendment was not passed, India abstained rather than supporting the Resolution against North Korea.
India explained that allowing the Security Council to refer nations to the ICC, even nations that are not signatories of the Rome Statute, the treaty setting up the ICC, is a violation of the Vienna Convention on the Law on Treaties. The Law on Treaties specifies that only nations agreeing to be party to a treaty can be bound by that treaty. India argued that not only is the Security Council violating international law by acting to put a nation not party to a treaty under the authority of that treaty, but also “even more invidious is that it gives non-States Parties working through the Council the power to bind other non-States Parties. For us,” India explained, “this is indefensible.” India is referring to the fact that there are nations like the US who are on the Security Council and who have not agreed to be bound by the treaty creating the ICC, yet they can force other nations, who have not agreed to that treaty, to fall under the jurisdiction of that treaty. For India this demonstrates a political abuse as it is in violation of international law. Furthermore India sees no basis in the UN Charter to authorize such actions.
In discussing the Resolution against the DPRK at the Third Committee, the DPRK offered negotiations and other means of clarifying the actual situation of human rights on the ground. By a contested vote, however, this offer of a negotiation process was rejected. The vote was111 in favor of the Resolution, 19 opposed and 55 abstaining. This means that even though the EU-Japan Resolution against North Korea passed, more than one third (74 of 185) of those present for the vote abstained or opposed the Resolution.
Subsequently on December 5 a letter signed by 10 Security Council members was sent to Chad, the President of the Security Council for December 2014. (See S/2014/872) The letter requested that the matter of Human Rights allegations against the DPRK be added to the agenda for consideration by the Security Council. The purpose of this action was to maneuver toward referring the DPRK to the ICC based on the COI Report’s allegations. By its Provisional Rules of Procedure, if any Security Council member requests that the President call a meeting, the President must honor the request. The request in the letter, however, was broader than a request to call a meeting.. The letter asked that the issue of Human Rights in the DPRK be added as a permanent item on the Security Council agenda. For this request to be accepted, a procedural vote of at least 9 members in support was necessary. In procedural votes there is no veto power.
This letter to the Security Council was sent before the General Assembly had considered or passed the Resolution against the DPRK. The GA voted on the Resolution on December 18. It was passed by a vote of 116 in favor 20 opposed and 53 abstaining.
The Security Council met the following Monday, December 22 to discuss the Letter submitted on December 5. As India had predicted, two of the members of the Council who reject the authority of the ICC for themselves, the US and Rwanda, voted in favor of putting the Human Rights situation in North Korea on the Security Council agenda. This represented an additional step in the threat to refer the DPRK to the ICC. Similarly as the DPRK pointed out in a statement distributed to the press shortly after the meeting, “the Security Council is not an appropriate forum to consider human rights issues.” (3) The Security Council seemingly acknowledged this by making the agenda item for considering human rights in the DPRK under the more general title, “Situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. The DPRK explains that, “The title of the agenda item, which is called ‘Situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ recognizes by itself that the Security Council is not the forum for discussing human rights issues and shows that the United States and its subservient countries have tried their utmost to avoid self-contradiction.”
The DPRK notes that in putting this issue on the agenda of the Security Council, those voting in favor were acting “in disregard of the DPRK’s sincere efforts to promote dialogue and cooperation in the field of human rights.”
The DPRK press statement furthermore maintains that the “so-called ‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry’“ is “unverified and fabricated….”
At the December 22 Security Council meeting Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun and Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic presented reports for the UN. Describing what he claimed was the content of the COI Report, Mr Simonovic presented a graphic elaboration of human rights abuses attributed to the DPRK.
He was not asked any questions by the members of the Security Council about the nature of the presentation he made during the meeting.
After the meeting, however, he held a stakeout for journalists. At the stakeout he was asked whether he had confidence in the evidence against the DPRK. His response was that this was an area where he had “mixed feelings”. That there was a need to have good “solid evidence” and that the COI report was not “what can be used in a court of law.”(4)
In the interests of the impartiality with which the UN officials are supposed to function, however, one has to wonder why a statement that the COI report is not something that represents the kind of evidence that can be used in a court was missing from the presentation he made to the Security Council.
Similarly, in his report to the Security Council, Mr. Zerihoun mentioned the fact that the US FBI had issued a report alleging that the DPRK was responsible for a recent cyber attack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment. That accusation has been refuted by knowledgeable computer security professionals. It is not the job of a UN representative to repeat allegations against member states without an independent investigation of those allegations. Some of those who are challenging what they see as false and unsupported accusation in the Sony hacking incident point to the false testimony presented at the UN by the US Secretary of State Colin Powell in alleging weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq. This experience should put not only UN officials on notice, but member states as well that allegations like those accusing the DPRK of responsibility for the Sony hacking episode or allegations in the COI Report which are based on defector testimony and satellite photos, are to be viewed with distrust, just as the falsified allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq should have been.
During the Security Council meeting several Ambassadors said it would be up to the nations that had relations with the DPRK to encourage the DPRK to negotiate over the issues involved. Those nations with relations with the DPRK, however, are precisely the ones that opposed bringing this issue to the Security Council. Instead they pointed out that the DPRK had offered to negotiate, but that offer was turned down at the UN. This represents a serious failure of the UN and a significant fact to be considered in any effort to evaluate the motives of those who make serious allegations without any evidence that could stand up in a court of law against the DPRK. Furthermore the failure to accept the DPRK offer of negotiations can only lead one to believe that if those nations at the UN promoting action on the allegations in the COI Report had any real concern for human rights in the DPRK, their course of action on this issue at the UN would have been very different.
(1)Ronda Hauben, “DPRK Human Rights Briefing at UN Challenges US Unending War Strategy”, October 14, 2014
(2) See UN Press Release “Intensely Debating Targeted Country Reviews, Third Committee Approves Draft Texts on Iran, Syria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” 18 NOVEMBER 2014, GA/SHC/4122
(3)Press Statement of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the United Nations, No. 17/12/14, New York, 24 December 2014.
(4) Ivan Šimonović on the situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – Security Council Media Stakeout (22 December 2014)
Following is a transcript of the question asked by journalist at the stakeout about Mr Šimonović’s confidence that the conclusions and findings of the COI Report are sufficiently corrorborated by other evidence and Mr Šimonović’s response.
Q: Are you satisfied that the conclusions and findings in the Commission of Inquiry are sufficiently corroborated not only by the statements of the defectors but by other evidence of documentary and visual nature from satellites?
And do you agree mostly from your visits to other countries and examining the records of human rights records with the conclusions of the commission that the abuses in North Korea are unparalleled.
Mr Šimonović’s response: “Well, Here I would like to share with you my mixed feelings. I do think that it is really good to have solid evidence of crimes against humanity being perpetuated. On the other hand we have to be fully aware that this threshold used for (the) Commission of Inquiry is not the threshold for evidence that can be submitted in the court of law.
There is plenty to do in further collection of documents and in further collection of other forms of evidence. We think its highly important to have those other things collected to ensure that there is accountability when there will be an opportunity to implement it in real life.”