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Statements Multiple Mechanisms

Oral Updates on DPRK and Eritrea

DPRK and Eritrea

14 March 2018

By United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

37th session of the Human Rights Council

14 March 2018

Mr President, Excellencies,

This [morning] I have the responsibility for providing you with the oral updates you have requested on th e Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Eritrea, pursuant respectively to your resolutions 34/24 and 35/35.

Oral update on the DPRK

Excellencies I will start by reporting on progress made towards accountability for human rights violations in the DPRK.

Your resolution decided to strengthen the human rights office’s capacity to monitor and document human rights violations in the DPRK, particularly those that may amount to crimes against humanity.

You also called for the establishment of a central information and evidence repository, and for the recruitment of legal accountability experts to assess information and victims and witnesses’ accounts, with a view to developing possible strategies for any future accountability process.

In the past year, OHCHR has worked to develop the best modality for fulfilment of the Council’s decision, and is steadily moving ahead, within the limits of the resources provided to us eventually under approval of the General Assembly. On this basis we have developed “the Accountability Project for the DPRK” which foresees a team of five staff, to be based both in Geneva and Seoul, bringing the legal expertise and skills to establish the information repository as foreseen.

I am pleased to announce that the High Commissioner has appointed a high-level expert to lead the project and we are in the process of filling the other posts.

We have also begun work on the the electronic repository, which will be the first independent and comprehensive information system on human rights violations committed in the DPRK.  It will bring together a wealth of information from a wide range of actors. It will be publicly available, allowing for comprehensive and annotated searching. And, this tool will facilitate the building of cases that eventually could be used for the purposes of criminal prosecution.

The information collected by our office in Seoul from a range of sources – notably including that held in its database of interviews with victims of human rights violations - will constitute a vital building block for the larger accountability project.

Setting up such an information management system is a major undertaking, with considerable financial implications. We will adopt a step by step approach so that the elaboration of this tool can be incremental, according to the resources made available to us.

As part of our accountability project on the DPRK, we are in the process of organizing training to be provided in Seoul, on international criminal law and international human rights law.  This will be held in the first half of 2018 and will convene judges, prosecutors, governmental and non-governmental actors involved in documenting human rights violations perpetrated in the DPRK.

The recent thaw in relations between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea is welcome.  The High Commissioner hopes that this easing of international tensions that was evident during the Winter Olympics exchanges presages deeper dialogue with the DPRK Government on a wide range of serious human rights concerns.

We also hope that the opportunity for many elderly people and separated families to visit their missing relatives will be seized. We further hope that the missing may be accounted for, and that the Special Rapporteur will be provided opportunity to speak with people inside the country.

The SDGs remind us, as do their foundation the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that peace, security and development are sustainable only in as far as they benefit all, with no one left behind, with no one excluded or forgotten.

The international community’s aim must be to support long-term, a principled protection and accountability approach that improves the situation for the people of the DPRK.  Measures that will hold those responsible for human rights violations to account are necessary steps in this, and will provide victims with their right to justice, to remedy, to restoration of their dignity.

The accountability project is a unique and, in many ways, historical opportunity for us all to support, promote and, we trust, deliver accountability for human rights violations perpetrated in the DPRK.

 I call upon this Council to ensure the necessary support is provided for all of us to work towards this important aim.

HC oral update on Eritrea

Mr. President,

Turning now to our oral update on Eritrea – which follows on from the enhanced inter-active dialogue held earlier this week with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, members of civil society and other relevant experts.

Since our last update to this Council at its 35th session, the human rights office has continued to pursue dialogue with the Government of Eritrea on the human rights situation in the country and on possible areas of technical and other support.

In October last year, we undertook our fourth mission to the country since 2014.  We were able to discuss human rights concerns with Government officials and to hold a workshop on human rights and the administration of justice. We are grateful to the Government for their facilitation of the visit.

We were given extensive access to key decision-makers and discussions were frank and straightforward.

Our delegation met the President’s Senior Adviser, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Information, the Minister of Labour and Human Welfare, the Chief Justice, Eritrean civic associations, the diplomatic community, and the United Nations Country Team (UNCT). The delegation also undertook a visit to Massawa and visited the High Court of Asmara.

However, the test of the merits of our engagement with Eritrea – like Eritrea’s commitments at the international level – lies in whether or not they produce concrete human rights improvements for the people of Eritrea.

During our latest mission, we raised a series of issues of fundamental importance to this ultimate aim. We emphasised the need to strengthen the rule of law and ensure access to justice. We urged an end to indefinite national service - which is the root cause of so many human rights violations.  We called on the authorities to release people who are arbitrarily detained and ensure their right to a fair trial.  We asked that information on the whereabouts of disappeared persons be provided urgently, as should access for the families of those in detention. We strongly advised enacting a Constitution under which human rights are fully protected, we advised this is crucial and we emphasized our willingness to support efforts in that regard.

The Government advised in turn that it was still considering a review of the Constitution. This Council may wish to urge progress not only in that regard, but on implementing the demobilization directive.  The Government reports that  due to the ongoing border dispute, it is yet so to do, although it has reported that it recently introduced a stipend to pay graduates of the national service who are working in State offices.


Your resolution specifically requested the Government to “provide OHCHR with relevant information on the identity, safety, well-being and whereabouts of all detained persons and persons missing in action, including members of the G-15, journalists, those detained in the aftermath of the attempted takeover of the building of the Ministry of Information (on 21 January 2013), and the 13 Djiboutian combatants still detained”.

I regret to report that the Government did not provide us with that information and instead only underscored to us that some of the individuals about whom you expressed concern were being held for national security reasons.

Arbitrary detention without charge or trial are still the norm in the country, affecting thousands imprisoned within the country’s jail cells, including those who were reportedly arrested after participating in the funeral of the 93 year old founder of an Islamic school who himself had been arrested for opposing the takeover of the school by the State. 
As I mentioned during the Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on Eritrea, the findings by the 2016 Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea remain relevant; including their findings on extensive use of arbitrary arrest and detention.

I reiterate our call on Eritrea to immediately release all those unlawfully and arbitrarily detained, to fully respect their right to a fair trial and provide information on the whereabouts of disappeared persons and access to justice by family members.

Mr President

I will also brief this Council on our recent capacity-building activities.

I am pleased to report that during our mission to the country, we held a workshop on human rights and the administration of justice.  Participants included those from the judiciary, the prosecution, police, correction personnel, the Ministries of Justice and the Interior, and civic associations.

A number of recommendations were put forward by the participants, taking into account the commitments made by Eritrea in the context of its UPR commitments.   The workshop encouraged the Government to work with the UNCT to implement these commitments so that the administration of justice and human rights for the people of Eritrea may be improved.

Then, in February this year, Eritrean officials joined a regional training workshop on reporting to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, organized by OHCHR and held in Kampala, Uganda. We hope that along with the country’s participation in the treaty body capacity building programme, this will assist the country to increase its treaty reporting and implementation capacity. 

Eritrean authorities have also been invited to participate in further regional training, this time on the UPR, which will also be held in Kampala at the end of April 2018.
During our mission to Eritrea in October 2017, the Government agreed to consider a proposal to continue cooperation with the Office in the area of the administration of justice. We are preparing a project proposal focused on elements of reform that Eritrea could adapt to bring its system of justice in conformity with international standards. 

We are committed to remain available to visit Eritrea so that we can engage with the Government and be of assistance given the pressing need to bring about urgently, comprehensive tangible human rights reforms that would bring an end to decades of human rights violations.

Thank you.