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  • Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefs the Council. The Security Council met to discuss the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The agenda for the meeting was adopted by a procedural vote of 9 in favour and 4 against (Angola, China, Russian Federation and Venezuela), with 2 abstentions (Chad and Nigeria).
Security Council discusses Human Rights situation in DPRK. UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

Madam President, 
Members of the Security Council, 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

One year ago, on 22 December 2014, the Security Council extended its debate on the DPRK beyond nuclear concerns to include human rights. It is fitting that we meet today, Human Rights Day, commemorating the day on which, in 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Madam President, on 19 November, the Third Committee approved, by a recorded vote of 112 in favour, the draft resolution on the situation of human rights in the DPRK. The General Assembly is due to formally adopt the resolution later this month. As is well known, the Commission of Inquiry concluded that “the gravity, scale and nature of the violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”. Efforts to engage the Government of the DPRK to improve the human rights situation in the country must go hand in hand with efforts to hold perpetrators of crimes accountable.  

In keeping with its obligations under international law, the DPRK has a responsibility to protect its population from the most serious international crimes. And the international community has a collective responsibility to protect the population of the DPRK, and to consider the wider implications of the reported grave human rights situation for the stability of the region. 

The international community has yet to find and agree on an effective way to address the serious human rights concerns raised by the report of the Commissions of Inquiry, and how to bring about positive and lasting change for the North Korean people. Particular challenges have been posed on how to balance calls for accountability and focus on security matters, and the need for engagement and dialogue. 

Despite different perspectives on this matter, discussion of human rights concerns by Member States, including in the Council, allows for a more comprehensive assessment and action when addressing security and stability concerns in the Korean Peninsula. History has shown that serious violations of human rights often serve as a warning sign of instability and conflict, especially in the absence of accountability for such violations.


Madam President, 

The DPRK has on multiple occasions made clear its objection to the General Assembly resolution on the human rights situation in the country. Unlike in 2014, however, the DPRK has refrained from raising the possibility of conducting a fourth nuclear test in its statements rejecting the resolution.

We are concerned by the report that the DPRK conducted a further submarine-launched ballistic missile test on 28 November. The Security Council has repeatedly demanded through relevant resolutions that further launches using ballistic missiles be ceased and obligations be met for the verifiable denuclearization. Although each challenge has different contexts, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran shows that diplomacy can work to address non-proliferation challenges. There is strong international consensus on the need to work for peace, stability and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. To achieve this goal, dialogue is the way forward. Meaningful dialogue must be revitalised and conducted in a sincere manner.


Madam President, 

Over the past two years, consistent efforts by the humanitarian community to engage, and the commitment on the part of the Government to improve its disaster management capacity have resulted in concrete progress in improving overall United Nations-DPRK relations. The Government’s increasing openness to carrying out joint assessments with United Nations agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations has facilitated access and data collection, ensuring that assistance reaches those in need. Continued engagement is key to maintaining this momentum.

The engagement between the DPRK authorities and the United Nations in the preparation of the 2016 Needs and Priorities document is welcome. The document will provide an overview of the urgent humanitarian priorities in the country and will call on Member States to support the activities of the humanitarian community in this regard.

International assistance plays a critical role in safeguarding the lives of millions in the country. Humanitarian funding to the DPRK has however steadily declined during the past decade, from USD 183 million in 2003 to less than USD 50 million in 2014.  Lack of timely, predictable and sufficient funding is crippling humanitarian agencies’ ability to respond effectively to the affected communities. The United Nations urges Member States to increase humanitarian assistance to those in need in the DPRK. 

The new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is a promise by leaders to all people everywhere. As we move to implement the 2030 Agenda and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the principle of leaving no one behind is a challenge that every nation must address. The United Nations Country Team is in discussion with the Government on a new strategic framework starting in 2017 that would cover both humanitarian assistance and development support for the coming five years. 


Madam President, 

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, as well as the division of the Korean Peninsula. Inter-Korean relations have remained deadlocked for far too long. 

The United Nations therefore warmly welcomes the holding of family reunions between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea from 20 to 26 October at Mount Kumgang. Humanitarian measures such as the reunions of separated families should be regularised and not subject to political and security considerations. 

The Secretary-General is encouraged by the positive trends related to inter-Korean relations, particularly the “August Agreement”, and plans for inter-Korean talks on 11 December. He hopes that the recent momentum will pave the way for greater inter-Korean dialogue, people-to-people contact, reconciliation and cooperation. He further hopes that more dialogue and exchanges will contribute to the promotion of human rights, and peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. 


Madam President, 

For the second time, Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong of the DPRK attended the General Assembly Debate in September 2015 and met with the Secretary-General, confirming the commitment of his country to sustaining and continuing the dialogue with the United Nations. The Secretary-General has often stated his willingness to play a constructive role if there was an opportunity, including through a visit to the DPRK, in an effort to promote inter-Korean peace and reconciliation. 

The DPRK has extended invitations to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the first time in history, and the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights to visit. While the DPRK continues not to recognise the mandate of the Special Rapporteur or the OHCHR Seoul Office, the invitations are positive signals that the DPRK may become more substantively engaged with the United Nations human rights system. 


Madam President, 

It is worth noting that several Members of this Council have previously made it known that they stand ready to adjust their positions in response to concrete steps that the DPRK takes to improve human rights in the country. The international community’s attention on the human rights situation in the DPRK, including the discussion today, is an opportunity for the DPRK authorities and the international community to take concrete steps to improve human rights and the living conditions of the people in the DPRK. I urge both the DPRK Government and concerned Member States to begin taking these steps. The United Nations is committed to helping toward that end. 

Thank you, Madam President.