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Human Rights in North Korea - a talk at Glover Cottages by Michael Kirby AC, CMG

Published 13 Mar 2015

10 March 2015

To a capacity audience at Glover Cottages on 10 March 2015, Michael Kirby AC, CMG,  described his experiences as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights in North Korea. The Commission was established on 21 March 2013, and published its findings on 17 February 2014. Drawing largely on the testimony of North Korean defectors whom it heard in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington, the Commission found gross systematic denial of human rights supposedly guaranteed in the North Korean Constitution. The denials included fettering the press, depriving people of food, imprisoning those whose opinions were deemed to be against the ill-defined interests of the state or the people, forcing abortion, performing many public executions, and carrying out international abductions. Such was the impact of the Commission’s report that on 18 November 2014, the UN voted in favour of a draft resolution to refer North Korean behaviour to the International Criminal Court. The resolution was referred to the Security Council in December 2014. Eleven members voted in favour, but the resolution failed because of opposition from Russia and China.


Michael said that there the matter rested. Bearing in mind a precedent set in the Privy Council in an earlier New Zealand case, Michael was conscious of the need not to deny Kim Jong-un natural justice. He wrote to Kim warning him that the Security Council had his human rights record on their books, and could conceivably at some future date refer him and his colleagues to the ICC for criminal prosecution. Michael had received no reply, although the DPRK had earlier rejected the findings of the Commission as ‘the product of politicisation of human rights on the part of the European Union and Japan in alliance with hostile United States policy.’

Michael observed that whether or not his letter had had any impact on President Kim, he seemed at the time,  at least, to be attempting to mend a few international fences, including relations with the EU. The Chair added that Kim seemed to be attempting to improve relations also with South Korea, Japan, Russia and certain countries in South East Asia. He was also apparently seeking to reduce his country’s overwhelming dependence on China. Michael would not risk a prediction on North Korea’s future. Under Kim Jong-un, the regime might improve its egregious human rights record along with its living standards. But it might not. The future was unknown and unpredictable.


Report by Richard Broinowski

for more details on ” North Korea Human Rights: the Road Ahead” please click on 2757 – SPEECH – WASHINGTON D.C. 17-18 FEBRUARY 2015 – DPRK AFTER THE UN COI REPORT – DILEMMAS AND PARADOXES