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A chronic protection problem” – How R2P can help towards improving the human rights situation in North Korea

Written by Amelie Theussen, Ph.D. Candidate at Center for War Studies

In a recent article in International Affairs Alex J. Bellamy gives an interesting analysis of the importance of including the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in dealing with human rights issues in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). As he argues “[t]he human protection crisis in the DPRK is arguably the world’s most chronic and intractable; and yet to date it has been largely overlooked by those engaged with R2P” (Bellamy, 2015, p.244). 


However, the situation is progressing: On November 18 of last year, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural matters, passed a resolution regarding the human rights situation in the DPRK, which can be regarded as a turning point for the engagement of the international community in this matter. The resolution not only referred to R2P as responsibility of the international community as the DPRK “has manifestly failed to fulfil its Responsibility to Protect” (p.239), but also called on the UN Security Council “to refer the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court and to adopt targeted sanctions” against those most responsible for the human rights violations in the DPRK (p.225).

This progress was made possible after the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (CoI) found in February 2014 “that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the DPRK” which “[i]n many instances … constituted crimes against humanity” and were to be regarded as “essential components” of the political system in the DPRK (p.225). These findings were repeated in the special rapporteur Darusman’s report in October 2014.  

Bellamy argues that this progress in including R2P in the matter of human rights violations in the DPRK “will make it more difficult in future for these UN bodies [Human Rights Council, General Assembly, and Security Council] to resist further action” (p.239). He identifies 5 possible future options focused on employing diplomatic means under R2P to improve the protection of the DPRK’s population from human rights violations: deeper engagement with China; placing human rights concerns at the forefront of UN and international community considerations regarding the DPRK; using the good offices and mediation role of the UN Secretary General; establishment of a standing office collecting information about the human rights situation in the DPRK; and putting the human rights issue in the DPRK on the formal agenda of the UN Security Council.

Interested in finding out why R2P seems to provide a chance for substantial progress in the matter and how R2P and diplomacy work hand in hand in Bellamy’s five initiatives? You can find his International Affairs article A chronic protection problem: the DPRK and the Responsibility to Protect here.

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