Statement delivered by Carolyn Schwalger, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 9 December 2016.

New Zealand shares the concerns outlined by Deputy Secretary General Eliasson and Assistant Secretary-General Gilmour, as well as those expressed by other Council members, about the severity and systematic nature of human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Sadly, we have seen no discernible improvement since the Council last discussed this agenda item. Some of the most serious human rights violations of our time, including murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, other sexual violence and starvation continue to be reported. It is no surprise that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea regime works so hard to restrict an independent assessment of the situation.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea leadership maintains tight control over its population — control grounded in terror instilled by egregious and widespread human rights violations. It is a regime that executes its citizens, without due process, for acts as minor as watching or distributing foreign media. Torture and ill-treatment at detention facilities, including in its extensive prison camp system, are routine, as we have heard this morning. Harsh restrictions remain on the freedom of movement by ordinary North Koreans.

The continuation of such gross violations of human rights demonstrates that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea authorities do not feel bound by the rules of the international system. Pyongyang’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programme exemplifies that attitude. We must not stand by and let that rejection of internationally accepted norms, under the guise of this being a so-called internal matter, go uncontested. To do so would be to fail the people of North Korea. To do so would be to fail the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s neighbours, which are faced with a heightened security threat resulting from Pyongyang’s reckless development of weapons of mass destruction — a programme advanced on the back of the suffering of its people. And, to do so would be to fail ourselves, given the regime’s continued defiance of the Council’s resolutions.

As the Council stressed in resolution 2321 (2016), there is an urgent need for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to respect and ensure the inherent dignity of people within its territory. As noted by others this morning, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea nationals are being sent abroad by their authorities to work under conditions that reportedly amount to forced labour. That is one of the ways in which the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is able to subvert United Nations sanctions and fund its weapons-of-mass-destruction programme. New Zealand finds the diversion of domestic funds towards weapons of mass destruction, and away from desperately needed humanitarian support, simply deplorable.

Despite the time that has passed since the release of the commission of inquiry’s report (A/HRC/25/63), the urgency of its recommendations has not diminished. We must ensure that our picture of the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remains up-to-date. In that regard, we welcome the important work being undertaken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul. We also welcome the appointment of a new Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation, Tomás Quintana, who recently completed his first visit to the region. The Special Rapporteur has emphasized the importance of efforts to both engage the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and pursue accountability. Those are not mutually exclusive goals.

Engagement is important in order to ensure that we improve the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In that regard, there have been some small positive developments, such as improvements in the rights of persons with disabilities. We should also be prepared to support practical options for pursuing accountability against those within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea system who bear primary responsibility for the worst crimes that have been committed.

New Zealand reiterates its call on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to take immediate steps to bring an end to all human rights violations and to meaningfully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and other international human rights mechanisms. We urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to review its policies, remove constraints on the United Nations and other international organizations, and ensure that meaningful assistance is provided that can make a practical difference to the lives of its citizens.

New Zealand also encourages the international community, particularly those States with an established relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to engage the Pyongyang authorities on human rights issues where possible, and to encourage its cooperation and participation in human rights dialogue. We must make our concerns known and be clear that we expect tangible improvement.

Finally, we call on the Council to remain seized of the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, given its clear link to Pyongyang’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programme and the continued absence of meaningful engagement or any discernible progress by the authorities in addressing the Council’s concerns.