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Visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to Mongolia

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea issued the following statement today:
22 December 2006

The United NationsSpecial Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, paid an official visit to Mongolia from 18 till 23 December 2006. This was his second visit to the country in his capacity as Special Rapporteur and was part of information-gathering to prepare his next report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in early 2007.

The UN Special Rapporteur conveys his warmest thanks to the Government of Mongolia and the UN Development Programme and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for facilitating his visit. He had full access to all individuals and agencies which he sought to meet. He carried out discussions with government officials, parliamentarians, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society, on the issue of human rights in the DPRK and its impact on the Mongolia. He also had access to those fleeing from the DPRK.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was established in 2004 by the UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva. It was extended under the newly formed UN Human Rights Council in 2006 for one year, and the Special Rapporteur is tasked with preparing and submitting reports to both the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. The mandate of his work encompasses a variety of questions relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, ranging from humanitarian aid (especially food aid to the DPRK) to asylum, abductions of foreigners and related transgressions on the part of the DPRK. Regrettably the DPRK has refused to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and has declined to invite him into the country.

In 2006 matters were made more complicated by the various missile and nuclear tests carried out by the DPRK which led to global condemnation, especially through unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolutions imposing sanctions on the DPRK. Interestingly, in the Preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 imposing such sanctions, the issue of human rights is referred to impliedly by the emphasis on “other security and humanitarian concerns of the international community”.

The current position of the Mongolian authorities is to treat those fleeing from the DPRK as humanitarian cases. The policy abides by the international principle of non-refoulement which prohibits the sending back of refugees (or deportation) to their country of origin or other territories where there is a threat of persecution. In reality, these persons are in transit in Mongolia, as they later depart for another country for long-term settlement. That position on the part of the Mongolian authorities should be commended and supported for its humanitarian stance which bodes well for the country’s commitment to democracy and human rights. The office of the UNHCR is also present in the country and is ready to offer necessary assistance under its mandate. The country also has various mechanisms, such as the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia, which help to provide checks and balances to promote and protect human rights, in addition to a vibrant civil society and a variety of media.

There is the question of accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. The authorities in Mongolia are in the process of consulting various agencies on the issue. A positive consequence of accession would be that it would help to set clear benchmarks for dealing with those who seek refuge and this would result in a system providing greater clarity and transparency in relation refugee status. It would need to be enhanced by international support to shoulder the task together in the quest for durable solutions, including resettlement in other countries where appropriate, bearing in mind the limited resources which Mongolia may be able to provide as a developing country.

For the future, key directions for Mongolia include the following:

- Sustain its humanitarian policy and practice towards those who seek refuge in the country ;
- Protect and assist refugees, bearing in mind various vulnerable groups such as women and children and the need to cooperate closely with the UNHCR;
- Ensure that the conditions, under which those who seek refuge are temporarily maintained, are transparent and open to access by the UNHCR;
- Continue to abide by international human rights law and international law concerning refugees, ensure effective implementation measures, and build capacity among law enforcers, including by means of training on human rights and refugee law for border officials, and raise awareness among the public to nurture sympathy and understanding for those who seek refuge;
- Accede to the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, and adjust the country’s laws, policies and mechanisms accordingly, with key support from and in cooperation with the UNHCR and other UN agencies, coupled with effective implementation measures.

The international community should complement the above by providing relevant support as part of international solidarity, bearing in mind the responsibility of the State of origin (of those who seek refuge elsewhere) to address the root causes of outflows and the need for all countries to abide by international human rights and refugee law, whether as source, transit or destination countries.