The 33rd meeting of the 70th session of the General Assembly Third Committee was focused on the reports presented by the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Belarus, and Eritrea. The speakers delivered informative statements on a range of human rights issues.
Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman opened the meeting with his report on human rights situation in the DPRK as the follow-up work to the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, based on the Human Rights Council Resolution 25/25. In December 2014, the General Assembly submitted the Commission report to the Security Council, encouraging the latter to consider targeted sanctions against persons, committed crimes against humanity, and a possible referral of the issue to the International Criminal Court. Ultimately, the Security Council resolved to add the human rights situation of the DPRK on its agenda. Six months later, the Commission of Inquiry of OHCHR was established in Seoul, and is now fully engaged in carrying out its mandate: consolidate monitoring and documentation of human rights situation in the DPRK, enhance engagement and capacity-building with the governments of all states concerned, civil society, and other stakeholders, and maintain the visibility of the DPRK human rights situation.
In his speech, Mr. Darusman condemned the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and abuses committed in the DPRK, including arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, forced labor of estimated 50,000 workers (sent primarily to China and Russia), institutionalized discrimination based on “the songbun principle” that classifies people according to their loyalty to the Kim dynasty. Furthermore, Rapporteur Darusman devoted special attention to the matters of international abductions and forced disappearances, and appealed to the Supreme Leader of the DPRK to grant a chance for reunion of families separated by two Korean countries. Lastly, Mr. Darusman expressed the hope that the government of the DPRK would accept the Rapporteur’s requests for meeting, technical cooperation and engagement with the international community in a meaningful manner for the sake of its own people. “Demands for justice and accountability cannot go unheeded”, he concluded.
Proceeding to the human rights situation in Belarus, the report provided by the Special Rapporteur Miklos Haraszti was particularly focused on the right of freedom of expression. According to Mr. Haraszti, the government of Belarus has taken a primary responsibility of regulating the country’s media market: permission-based system of registration, arbitrary rules of revocation of licenses, tight control of registration of independent activities, criminalization of content deemed “harmful for the state”, criminal defamations, routine harassment of journalists and media professionals. Moreover, Mr. Haraszti was utterly concerned with the adoption of the amendments on the Law of Mass Media in December 2014 that placed Internet, social media and free publishing (as in case of Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich) under strict government’s control. He emphasized that the findings of the 2015 report showed no improvements of human rights situation in Belarus. In conclusion, Mr. Haraszti presented a wide range of recommendations aimed at protecting the right to freedom of expression, and reiterated the readiness to cooperate with the government of Belarus to implement relevant recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review, treaty bodies, and recommendations of previous reports in 2013, 2014.
As for the human rights matters in Eritrea, Mr. Mike Smith, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), asserted that the findings of the CoI report confirmed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations committed by the authorities of Eritrea, including Eritrean Defense Forces, Ministry of Justice, and the Office of the President, and the President himself. Arbitrary arrests, absence of due process and trials of detained, forced labor, torture (including sexual torture), extrajudicial executions were reported to be among the most persistent human rights violations in Eritrea that also greatly contributed to the refugee exodus in Europe. Mr. Smith was deeply concerned with the ongoing human rights situation in Eritrea and called for the Eritrean government to respond positively to the Special Rapporteur’s request to visit the country. Mr. Smith concluded by stating that the protection of human rights represents “the bedrock for successful development”, and expressed his hope that the government of Eritrea would engage in cooperation with the international community to provide the opportunities for its citizens to participate in the process of building a strong economy in Eritrea.
All in all, the excellent work of the Special Rapporteurs on informing the Third Committee members was addressed by the world delegates that were divided into two distinct camps: those who opposed the statements and who were thankful for detailed reports. The strong adversarial reaction by the former reflects the quality work committed by the Special Rapporteurs for finding facts about human rights abuses in targeted countries. In my opinion, the reports of Special Rapporteurs along with the Universal Periodic Review play an important role in pressuring repressive states and influencing governments to change their policy towards adopting internationally accepted human rights norms and practices.
 Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, 25th session, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session25/Pages/ResDecStat.aspx
 Security Council, in Divided Vote, Puts Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Situation on Agenda following Findings of Unspeakable Human Rights Abuses http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11720.doc.htm
 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus – 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session23/A-HRC-23-52_en.pdf
Filed under: Human Rights