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Human Rights are key to progress in North Korea talks, says UN expert

North Korea talks

25 April 2018

GENEVA (25 April 2018) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People`s Republic of Korea, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has warned the States involved in any denuclearisation negotiations that avoiding the topic of human rights in North Korea could jeopardise sustainable agreements in the future.

“A denuclearisation deal will remain fragile if it sidelines the rights and needs of the DPRK population. Peace and security cannot be achieved only in the form of intergovernmental agreements but also, and perhaps more importantly, in the shape of domestic policies that guarantee the full enjoyment of human rights without discrimination,” the expert said.

Leaders of the two Koreas will meet on 27 of April for the first time in 11 years, while efforts are being stepped up to organise a summit between North Korea and the US by the end of May 2018. South Korea has already indicated that human rights concerns will not be included in Friday’s agenda, but for Ojea Quintana the issue must be brought back in focus.

“In line with what the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been advocating, I call upon all concerned Governments to uphold human rights as a conflict prevention and peacebuilding mechanism,” he said. “The DPRK has proven to be a tough negotiator, and not even mentioning human rights at this very first stage of negotiations would be a misstep and a lost opportunity.”

A number of pressing human rights issues were highlighted in the expert’s recent reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

“Implementing a rights-based approach to the reunion of families separated during the Korean War, releasing foreigners who were arbitrarily detained, or addressing the detrimental impact of sanctions on the economic and social rights of the DPRK population, are some of the less controversial issues that can be first included in these talks,” he said, adding that “at the same time, a DPRK commitment to cooperate with the UN mechanisms would be a perfect benchmark to test progress in the negotiations.”

On 21 April the DPRK’s Supreme Leader announced that the country would halt nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches. “This is of course very good news and a particularly welcome development after years of conflict rhetoric that often reached alarming levels,” said the UN Special Rapporteur. “What we need to see now from North Korea is the same kind of attitude towards its human rights issues,” he added.

Although the DPRK engaged with a number of UN mechanisms in recent years on issues such as the situation of women, children and persons with disabilities, requests by the Special Rapporteur to visit North Korea were rejected and the country has generally remained closed to independent human rights monitors.

“Now is the time for the country to pursue a new start in engaging with my mandate and in allowing me to carry out an official visit,” Ojea Quintana said. Reflecting on North Korea´s concern about politicisation of the human rights agenda, and the “security of its system”, he added: “UN mechanisms are primarily conceived to contribute in the improvement of a given human rights situation. I would never let my mandate to be used for other purposes.”

The Special Rapporteur will visit the Northeast Asia region in the near future and present his annual report during 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
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