Conference Reflecting on COI’s 10 Years: North Korean Human Rights and Pathways to Progress – Opening Remarks


Reflecting on COI’s 10 Years: North Korean Human Rights and Pathways to Progress

Hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea

15 September 2023, Seoul

Congratulatory/ opening remarks by the EUSR for Human Rights


Dear Minister PARK Jin, dear Ambassador LEE Shin-wha, distinguished guests and participants, I am honoured to address today’s conference, albeit only remotely, as my other commitments have not allowed me to be with you in Seoul in person. I hope that I will be able to visit the Republic of Korea in my capacity as the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights at a later date. I wish to thank the organizers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, for their kind invitation.

The conference is a timely initiative. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but it also marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry tasked to investigate systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). There are few places in the world where human rights set out in the Universal Declaration have been systematically violated and denied at the same scale and gravity as in the DPRK.

Ten years ago, the European Union led global efforts to establish a Commission of Inquiry by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Commission’s meticulous work, involving defectors and their testimonies, resulted in a ground-breaking account of the human rights situation in North Korea. It reported that crimes against humanity of an unimaginable scale continued to be committed in the DPRK and called for the DPRK to be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. This was a wakeup call for the international community that the DPRK crisis is not just about security-related issues, but also about the lives, rights and dignity of millions of people in the country.

Since the Commission of Inquiry published its findings, the European Union has continued leading the multilateral efforts addressing the human rights situation in the DPRK. Our resolutions at the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly maintain international attention, reiterate the need for accountability, while inviting the DPRK to engage with the UN system as a first step to improve the situation. The resolutions reflect a wide range of concerns raised by the Commission of Inquiry and subsequent investigations by UN bodies and civil society organisation.

In December 2020, the EU adopted a global human rights sanctions regime. This new tool enables us to target individuals, entities and bodies responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses, no matter where they occurred. Two individuals and one entity are currently listed under this sanctions regime for serious human rights violations and abuses in the DPRK. These listings complement the existing robust sanctions on KIM Jong Un’s regime for developing missiles and nuclear weapons.

We need a new impetus to sustain the momentum created by the Commission of Inquiry report almost 10 years ago. It is crucial that the human rights crisis in the DPRK is systematically linked to the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons. It is encouraging that the Security Council has recently organized an open briefing to address the dire human rights situation in the DPRK. At last, there seems to be a clear understanding that militarization is closely linked to human rights violations, such as forced labour.

All Koreans, in the north and in the south alike, deserve peace and human rights. And I wish to underline that the Korean people can count on the European Union to stand by their side while claiming those rights and striving for lasting peace.

I wish you a fruitful discussion and I am looking forward to studying your recommendations.

Thank you.