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Release of U.S. nationals by North Korea: A welcome step to further address human rights concerns, says UN expert

GENEVA (10 May 2018) – A United Nations human rights expert has welcomed the release of three US nationals by North Korea, saying the move was “another important building block for the prospects of peace” for the two Koreas and beyond.

“I have consistently advocated for the release of these foreign detainees, who were reportedly under arbitrary detention and prevented from enjoying their basic freedoms,” said Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). “I welcome this important decision of the DPRK Government, which I hope will offer an opportunity to further address human rights and humanitarian concerns.” 

Kim Hak Song, Kim Sang-duk (“Tony Kim”) and Kim Dong-chul were among several foreign nationals arrested in the DPRK in recent years. 

Ojea Quintana urged North Korea to release six South Korean nationals, including three pastors, who are still being held in the DPRK. “I remain concerned by reports that the foreign detainees have not received due legal process and may be held in inhumane conditions without consular access,” he said. “Moreover, as peace talks progress, a comprehensive assessment of the overall penitentiary system in North Korea will become unavoidable”, he added. 

The Special Rapporteur will visit the Republic of Korea in the first week of July, and will present his next report to the General Assembly in October 2018.  


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. 

UN Human Rights, country page – North Korea  
OHCHR Seoul Office

For additional information and media requests, please contact
-In Seoul: Signe Poulsen  (+82 2 725 3521 / spoulsen@ohchr,org)
- In Geneva: Olga Nakajo (+41 22 928 9348 / onakajo@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Jeremy Laurence (+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