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North Korea detente: UN expert urges opening for human rights

GENEVA (8 March 2018) – Welcoming rapprochement on the Korean peninsula, including possible discussions about denuclearisation, the UN Special Rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, called on the DPRK Government to take the opportunity to open up to UN human rights mechanisms.

“In looking back at the unprecedented tensions that marked the past year, the two Koreas must be commended for the efforts that led to the remarkable Olympic Truce that brought the two countries together in such a short period,” he said.

“I had always stressed that engagement with North Korea should never be underestimated, and also that human rights remain a priority, and must not be held hostage to the security situation. In this regard, I urge the DPRK to consolidate the rapprochement with a parallel opening to UN human rights monitoring.”

Ojea Quintana also noted that family reunion events, which have not taken place since October 2015, must resume without delay, given the average age of the 59,000 individuals registered in South Korea for reunion with their loved ones in the North is 81.
“One year ago”, the expert noted, “I urged the Human Rights Council to make sure that human rights in North Korea remains a top priority despite the rising tensions. Today, I am calling upon them to keep human rights their priority while taking advantage of the critical openings that the current political situation offers.”

In a report* to the Human Rights Council, Ojea Quintana highlighted a continuing pattern of violations, including restrictions on freedoms of expression, movement and access to information, as well as dire access to basic needs, including food rations. His findings on ill-treatment in detention, including of women in pre-trial detention, are also included, as well as the continuing pattern of forced repatriation of North Korean escapees, including children, from China.

“The international community has a responsibility to ensure that these critical issues remain on the agenda – the momentum is there, and it must be seized for meaningful human rights dialogue that can translate into concrete results, whether through mainstreaming of human rights concerns in further interactions or technical cooperation,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“My key message to the DPRK authorities remains the same and consistent: we have a common agenda, which is the advancement and promotion of the well-being of their people,” said the Special Rapporteur, whose mandate on the situation of human rights in the DPRK is rejected by the North Korean authorities.

Recalling that the Government has taken some important steps in the past year to re-engage UN human rights mechanisms, the expert added: “I urge the Government of the DPRK to continue on this path by taking a crucial step: open its frontiers to relevant UN human rights mechanisms.”

The Special Rapporteur will report to the Human Rights Council on his findings on 12 March (AM). A press conference will be held at 11:30am on Monday 12 March, in press room 3, Palais des Nations.

(*) Check the advance edited report by the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/ 37/69)


Mr. Tomás OJEA QUINTANA (Argentina) was designated as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Ojea Quintana, a lawyer with more than 20 years of experience in human rights, worked for the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and represented the Argentinian NGO “Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo” in cases concerning child abduction during the military regime. He is a former Head of OHCHR human rights programme in Bolivia, and served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar from 2008 to 2014.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact Olga Nakajo (+ 41 22 928 9348 / onakajo@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org