Michael Kirby - "I Hope a Time Will Come When Human Rights Are Truly Respected in North Korea"

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Jul 01, 2015
by Rachitaa Gupta
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Michael Kirby - "I Hope a Time Will Come When Human Rights Are Truly Respected in North Korea"

Chair of the UN's Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea explains how his report has had a positive impact Michael Kirby chair of UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea at Salzburg Global

Following the release of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Salzburg Global held a symposium, chaired by Michael Kirby, on International Responses to Crimes Against Humanity: The Challenge of North Korea.

Michael Kirby was appointed the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council's COI on Human Rights in DPRK in 2013, and in 2014 along with other members, Marzuki Darusman, and Sonja Biserko, he published a report with the findings and recommendations of the COI, after having interviewed over 80 witnesses.

Kirby spoke to Salzburg Global on the impact of the report, international response to it, and the role the international community can now play in dealing with the human rights violations in the DPRK.

"The COI report has made a difference, because if you look at the relations of DPRK with the United Nations and the international community over the past 30-40 years, it’s basically been one of non-engagement. Since the COI report has been delivered, not only has North Korea begun to engage, in particular with the process of the universal periodical review, which is conducted by the Human Rights Council (HRC), but it has also engaged in a so-called charm offensive," said Kirby.

According to Kirby, before being appointed as the chair of the COI, he had very limited information about the human rights violation in the DPRK and after having spoken to the witnesses, he was glad for the existence of the UN and its commitment to hold people responsible for crimes against humanity accountable.

"It came to me as a terrible shock and surprise to uncover the horrible crimes against humanity which were recorded in the testimonies of the witnesses who gave evidence before the COI. It was a very unpleasant, upsetting, distressing time in my life. However, at least I know that the UN exists and hopefully will render accountable those who are proven to be responsible for crimes against humanity. That’s the big difference between the world before 1945 when the charter of the UN was adopted and after 1945 in which we now live and work."

Kirby believes that the good thing about COI report was that it not only forced the DPRK in to action but has also geared the international community in to responding to the situation in North Korea.

"We have now reached a point in the United Nations system, where almost everything we asked for has been achieved. What we have got to do now is translate these steps in to action of the international community relating to North Korea. And that is not going to be done by whispered conversations in great halls. It is going to be done by civil societies, diplomats, international organizations and policy makers coming together to engage North Korea."

He also expressed his appreciation for the Salzburg Global symposium and its process to encourage people from different fields to interact and work cohesively to develop an action plan that can inspire their work in the advancement of the protection of human rights in the DPRK and the quest for accountability.

"It brought together people from different backgrounds: some were civil society people, others were experienced diplomats, and some had experience in international law. It was an opportunity for different points to be expressed and for strategies to be proposed that could be considered by the institutions and organizations which the participants came from. It can also bring attention of the world community to the report and insist on follow up."

Michael Kirby, a long time Fellow at Salzburg Global, hoped that the work on the human rights issue in the DPRK will continue even after the end of the symposium and that the next time he comes to Salzburg Global for another session on the North Korea, he would hear good news on the issue.

"There have not been any developments in the past 70 years on the human rights in North Korea, but I hope a time will come, when there will be a Salzburg Global Seminar [program] that reports on human rights truly being respected in North Korea."

Read the full Salzburg Statement on International Responses to Crimes Against Humanity: The Challenge of North Korea.


The symposium on International Responses to Crimes against Humanity: The Challenge of North Korea continues Salzburg Global Seminar's commitment to Justice issues, including international law, human rights and genocide prevention.