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Date : March 1, 2023
Open letter to Permanent Representatives of member and observer states of the United Nations Human Rights Council
   https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/02/26/open-letter-permanent-representati… [438]

Open letter to Permanent Representatives of member and observer states of the United Nations Human Rights Council

February 26, 2023

Re: Support Human Rights Council Resolution on Accountability for Abuses in North Korea

Dear Excellencies,

In advance of the 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, we write to urge your government to support the resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea, DPRK) to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the DPRK and the strengthened capacity of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding accountability in North Korea.

Ten years have passed since the Council established the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK in March 2013. The 2014 Commission of Inquiry report found that the North Korean government, “pursuant to policies at the highest level of the State,” committed crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, rape, deliberate starvation, and enforced disappearances.

North Korea remains one of the most repressive countries in the world. It maintains fearful obedience of the population through threats of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, collective punishment, enforced disappearance, executions, and forced labor in detention and prison camps, including its system of political prison camps known as kwanliso. In 2022 the North Korean government used the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to maintain extreme and unnecessary restrictions on basic freedoms, while barring almost all official and unofficial international trade. North Korea deepened isolation and repression, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis with millions of citizens enduring severe food insecurity and lack of health care.

The North Korean government has refused to meaningfully cooperate with UN human rights bodies for the past 20 years. It rejected the findings of the Commission of Inquiry and does not engage with the Special Rapporteur and has called for the abolishment of the OHCHR Seoul office, established to monitor and document human rights violations in North Korea. The victims of grave human rights violations in North Korea have endured more than two decades without justice. They are entitled to full redress and should not be forgotten.

In her 2022 update to the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner stated that, “there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and may be ongoing.” In the absence of North Korea’s commitment to systemic reforms needed to end human rights violations and hold those responsible to account, the High Commissioner said, “it is incumbent on the international community to pursue accountability avenues, including through referral to the International Criminal Court, or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal or another comparable mechanism.”

In this context, it is essential that the Human Rights Council renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and the OHCHR's strengthened resources for accountability work. We urge your government to support those renewals. Furthermore, we recommend that the mandate of the OHCHR’s accountability work to “assess all information and testimonies, with a view to developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process” be updated and strengthened to align with other international accountability mechanisms by including the following language:

having legal experts collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law consistent with international law standards, with a view to cooperating and sharing information and facilitating fair and independent criminal proceedings in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes.

We also recommend the Human Rights Council request that the OHCHR prepare, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur on the DPRK and other relevant UN special mechanisms, a study on the human rights situation in North Korea since the end of the COI’s mandate, in consultation with victims of abuses and their families, human rights defenders, and diaspora North Korean communities.

We encourage you to use the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry to recommit to addressing North Korea's dire human rights situation, including by advancing avenues toward justice for victims and their families.


34 Organizations, including non- government organizations and coalitions, representing over 300 organizations in over 100 countries:

Amnesty International

Jubilee Campaign

Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw, Inc. (BALAOD Mindanaw)

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK)

Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL)

Kanagawa Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea

Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR)

New Korea Women’s Union


No Fence

Commission on the Status of Women

NK Watch

Families of the Disappeared (FoD)

Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet)

International Federation for Human Rights (Fidh)

North Korea Freedom Coalition


North Korea Human Rights Network (NKHRN)

Human Asia

Peace and Hope International 

Human Rights Foundation (HRF)

People for Successful Corean Reunification (PSCORE)

Human Rights in Asia

Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD)

Human Rights Watch

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).

Human Rights Without Frontiers

The Society to Help Returnees to North Korea

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (ILGA) Asia

Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG)

International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK)

UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea

Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights

Unification Academy


Lord Alton of Liverpool

Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords & Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool


Sonja Biserko

Former Commission of Inquiry (COI) member on the situation of human rights in DPRK

Marzuki Darusman

Former UN Special Rapporteur/COI member on the situation of human rights in the DPRK


Yanghee Lee, Ph.D.

Former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar & Former Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child