In mid-November the Third Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations, adopted Resolution A/C.3/69/L.28/Rev.1 that, among other things, requested the Security Council to refer the case of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This resolution has caught the attention of the media around the world because of the position that some States showed towards this topic. The long standing ally of the DPRK, China, voted against it because they don’t believe that the ICC’s involvement could improve any country’s human rights situation. Another example is the opposition presented by Ecuador. Its President justified the country’s position by claiming that it has been a long time since it was established that human rights reports should be general and not focused on a single country. It is understandable that most International Relations’ topics demand or require, up to a certain extent, a position from States to determine its policies, allies and actions. However, human rights should be one of the few exceptions. They should represent a concept that should be universal to all humans thus not requiring States to have a position other than to support them.  

The Resolution A/C.3/69/L.28/Rev.1 came as a product of the Report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Back in 2013, the Security Council of the United Nations established the commission and mandated it to “investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the State, with a view of ensuring accountability”. The report was provided to the United Nations early this year and it generated a variety of reactions among the international community. Most of them requested the DPRK to put an end to the human rights violations occurring inside its territory. It has to be noted that the authorities of North Korea did not grant the commission access to its territory; therefore, the commission elaborated its report mainly on testimonies of people who had survived and witnessed the reality lived inside the DPRK. The commission found that the main perpetrators of human rights violations are government officials who work under the direction of the central authorities of the country. Included in the most common human rights violations occurring in North Korea is discrimination, which is established by the songbun system which classifies people on the basis of birth, social class, religion, among others.  

The report also found severe violations to the freedom of thought, expression and religion. North Korea is a totalitarian country that monopolizes information. As a result, citizens are unable to have access to an independent source of information. The restriction to access information is so great that, “Citizens are punished for watching and listening to foreign broadcasts”. One could find it ironic that Ecuador voted against the resolution that looks for an improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea, particularly regarding freedom of expression. Specially because Ecuador’s foreign policy has had a rhetoric focused on promoting freedom of expression. An example of this rhetoric is the asylum that was granted to Julian Assange at its embassy in London. Simultaneously to this discourse of freedom of expression, Ecuador has been highly criticized for its domestic human rights violations, specifically against freedom of expression. Could this incongruence between foreign and domestic policy provide an explanation for its vote regarding this resolution? Could it be understood, up to some measure, as an implicit acceptance of these type of practices? It can be taken as such specially because President Correa’s explanation did not refer to North Korea and only to the procedure followed by the United Nations. China, on the other hand, at least does not try to portray an image to the rest of the world and has always been very clear of its position regarding the DPRK.

Human rights, as it was mentioned before, should not represent a topic in which countries should pick sides. Everybody, regardless of its nationality, is a human being and for that simple fact should be able to enjoy the fulfillment and respect of its rights. It is worrisome that some States implicitly support other States that sponsor and are the authors of inhumane acts. The situation in which a State needs to have a position is when human rights violations happen. Generally States are the ones in charged of making it posible for its citizens to live in dignity and to enjoy its rights. However, the fulfillment of Human Rights varies greatly from place to place. It all depends on how each State decides to handle them and up to what extent they chose to actually respect them. Keep in mind that the lack of fulfillment does not necessarily mean that a government is violating human rights. Regularly the incapability of a State to fulfill human rights leads up to human rights violations. Besides, human rights statuses don’t depend directly on the type of government a State has, rather it depends on the degree of that government. In this sense, there are democracies that incur in human rights violations as well as totalitarian regimes. 

The Resolution adopted by the General Assembly’s Third Committee might not change North Korea’s situation because most likely China or Russia will veto the petition to refer the DPRK to the ICC. Nonetheless, the effort to put an end to systematic human rights violations points to the right direction, to the only direction in which all States should march. Efforts like the one made by the commission of inquiry break the status quo of everybody knowing something but nobody saying anything, they break the silence. There is no circumstance under which human rights violations should be tolerated, specially if there is hard evidence of the reality.

Photo Credit: Roman Harak