On 21 March 2013, at its 22nd session, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Resolution A/HRC/RES/22/13 mandates the body to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular for violations which may amount to crimes against humanity.
Among the violations to be investigated are those pertaining to the right to food, those associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to life, freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other States.
On 7 May 2013, the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Remigiusz A. Henczel (Poland), announced the appointment of Michael Donald Kirby of Australia and Sonja Biserko of Serbia who will join Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to serve as the members of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK. Mr. Kirby will serve as Chair of the three-person commission. The Commission of Inquiry is supported by a team of nine experienced human rights officials comprising the Secretariat.
In addition to establishing the Commission of Inquiry for one year, the resolution also authorized a one-year extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a post that was created in 2004 and currently filled by Mr. Darusman. Through this decision the Council also urged the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to ensure full, rapid and unimpeded access of humanitarian assistance and for the Government to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and the commission of inquiry.
The same resolution requested that the commission present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-fourth session in September 2013 and to the General Assembly at its sixty-eight session, and a written report to the Council at its twenty-fifth session in March 2014.
From 1 to 5 July 2013, the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK began its operations in Geneva with key meetings that included a number of diplomatic missions, UN agencies, scholars and NGOs. The Commissioners also discussed the strategy, methodology and investigative approach they will employ during their mandate. They have written twice to DPRK representatives in Geneva to “seek engagement in a spirit of co-operation and transparency”. The response has so far been negative, but the Commissioners intend to continue to reach out to the Government of the DPRK and to seek its cooperation, given assurances that representatives of DPRK have previously given to the Human Rights Council that the DPRK “prioritizes human rights and honours the UN Charter and international human rights instruments.”
The Commission of Inquiry has published a call for submissions and will issue regular public updates on their work.