Foreign Policy Blogs

Will the DPRK’s Increased Militarism Unify the International Human Rights Approach?

Image: U.S. Dept. of State.

Image: U.S. Dept. of State.

In what is often being labeled the “Korean Crisis” or “Korean Missile Crisis” the latest outward displays of military prowess by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have prompted concerted international efforts on not only strategies of military containment, but of human rights inquiry. Comprehensive investigation into the domestic human rights record of the DPRK has eluded the international community for years, a shortcoming exacerbated by a lack of access to the DPRK and its people as well as the relative dearth of information and corroborated evidence.

Key U.N. Security Council Resolutions have focused on the DPRK in relation to the international policies and laws on the nonproliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Security Council Resolution 1781 (2006) established sanctions against the DPRK, albeit in a version more toned down than originally proposed. An embargo on technological, military and luxury goods was established, but the DPRK’s primary trading partner, China, has done little to prevent the DPRK’s regime from acquiring weapons, military technology and various luxury goods.

Reports indicate that it was the efforts of Japan that helped the U.N. Human Rights Council create the Commission of Inquiry on the DRPK. The Commission of Inquiry is charged “to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with a view to ensuring full accountability.”

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK was also extended for one year. The Special Rapporteur is here particularly concerned with “the existence of detention camps, the use of torture, enforced disappearances, the abduction of foreign nationals, systematic violations of the right to food, and continuous violations of the right to freedom of expression.”

The threat of militaristic belligerence coupled with the ongoing reports of grave human rights abuses have pushed the international community as a whole toward greater action regarding the DRPK situation. Policies couched in concerns for territorial integrity and sovereignty from the DPRK’s neighbors such as China and the Russian Federation that have heretofore prevented a stronger approach towards the DPRK human rights situation will necessarily begin to fall closer in line with the newly-minted strategy spearheaded largely by Japan, the European Union, Canada, and the U.S. For once it appears that the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program is not overshadowing the human rights situation on the world stage, and the issues are being examined as different outgrowths of the same root problem of an abusive regime.

The DPRK has already responded to the mounting international pressure regarding its human rights record, though it has done so with resentment. The DPRK’s responses admit to mere denials of a deplorable human rights record and newly issued threats against Seoul and Washington, D.C. So Se Pyong, the U.N. Representative for the DPRK has promised “serious consequences” if the Commission of Inquiry proceeds with its work, adding the people of the DPRK are “happy with pride and honor that they have one of the best systems for promotion and protection of human rights in the world.” Though this stance passes little muster in the international or human rights communities, the conflation of the DPRK’s internal human rights abuses and external humanitarian threats appears poised to usher in new progress in international law and action, or at least a more unified approach from the international community.



Marc Gorrie

Marc C. Gorrie holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, a JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington, and an LLM in international human rights law with a specialization in international labor rights law from Lund University (Sweden). He is a port welfare worker and ship visitor for the Seamen's Church Institute in Ports Newark and Elizabeth, NJ, where he also collaborates on an educational program on the Maritime Labour Convention directed at port chaplains and welfare workers. He recently contributed to an EU project on legal education and law school curricula in the Gambia, and has held a research fellowship in legal ethics, lectured on federal Indian law and American legal ethics, and worked as a disability advocate.