Remarks by a Senior USUN Official During a Telephonic Background Briefing on the Human Rights Situation in the DPRK

Senior USUN Official
New York, NY
August 10, 2023


MODERATOR: Thanks, [Operator]. Good morning and welcome to our background briefing on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This call is embargoed until after Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s UN Security Council stakeout at approximately 10:00 A.M. this morning, which will be broadcast live via UN Web TV.

Also, what you hear on this call is attributable to a senior USUN official. For your awareness only and not for reporting, we have with us [Senior USUN Official.] With that, I will turn it over to [Senior USUN Official].

SENIOR USUN OFFICIAL: Thanks, [Moderator]. Good morning, everybody. Thanks for joining this call, really appreciate it. Look, I want to take this opportunity to focus on an open briefing of the Council on the human rights situation in the DPRK, which Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will announce later this morning. The meeting has been called for by the U.S., Albania, and Japan.

And for those of you who’ve been covering the UN for a while, you’ll know that this will be the first open meeting of the Council on this issue since 2017. As you, you know, and unfortunately, the human rights situation in the DPRK has not improved since then. And thus, it is long past due for the Security Council to raise awareness of and frankly seek accountability for one of the most repressive and totalitarian states in the world.

I’d just say the purpose of this meeting is to raise awareness of the DPRK’s human rights abuses and violations, and to discuss how the international community can hold the DPRK accountable for its actions. Look, we know that there are other venues that address the DPRK’s human rights abuses and violations, but none of them have focused on the links to the DPRK’s WMD and ballistic missile advancements, and that’s why it’s so critical for the Council to stay seized of this issue.

As you all are probably aware, this year is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And all Member States have recognized and pledged to promote the inherent dignity and equal, inalienable human rights of all individuals as a foundation for peace in the world. Human rights, as you know, has always been a core tenant of the UN Charter, and the Security Council has repeatedly affirmed that it has a role and responsibility in addressing human rights. This is why we made human rights a core theme of our presidency.

As many of you know, in 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK found that the DPRK’s human rights practices accounted to crimes against humanity and recommended that the Council take action in response to the DPRK’s human rights violations.

I think you’ll recall, too, in July of 2022, the Secretary-General issued a report on human rights in the DPRK. And it describes widespread and systematic use of torture, a lack of meaningful public participation in the political process, and severe penalties for distributing foreign media content. And the report also details the DPRK government’s absolute denial of the freedom to express views or criticism of the government, as well as its prohibition on the right to freedom of thought, conscious, and religion.

There were reports of Pyongyang engaging in acts of transnational aggression against both its own citizens and foreign nationals. There was also, in an October 2022 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Elizabeth Salmón, highlighted hundreds of unresolved cases of reported international abductions and forced disappearances perpetrated by the DPRK, including from Japan and the Republic of Korea.

So the DPRK’s activities abroad have included, as you all know, assassination, surveillance, intimidation, abduction, and forced repatriation, sometimes with the assistance of other governments. The DPRK’s recurring human rights violations and abuses demand the Council’s continued attention as they are inextricably linked with the DPRK’s WMD and ballistic missile program, health and food security risks, and regional instability. And this is a very important point.

The DPRK capitalizes on domestic and overseas forced labor to sustain the government and generate revenues for its weapons programs. Furthermore, the DPRK’s repressive political climate enables the government to divert an inordinately large share of its budget and resources to weapons development, without comment from the population, which continues – as you know – to suffer from severe economic hardship and malnutrition.

When the Security Council last met for an open briefing on the DPRK’s human rights situation in 2017, as I referred to earlier, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs stated that the international community has a collective responsibility to protect the population of the DPRK if the state does not protect its own citizens and that we must consider the wider implication of the reported grave human rights situation for the stability of the region.

So my last point here, we cannot become complacent in our responsibility to protect the DPRK people. That is why Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will announce, alongside Albania, Japan, Republic of Korea, that the UN Security Council will hold an open meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK next week.

So thank you. And with that, welcome your questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior USUN Official]. Moderator, if you’ll go ahead now and please explain the procedure for asking questions.

OPERATOR: Please press 1 then 0 for any questions – 1, 0. One moment, please. We’ll go with Michelle Nichols. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior USUN Official]. And hi, [Moderator]. Thank you so much for the briefing. What day specifically is the meeting going to be next week? And have you spoken at all with Russia and China about this yet? Are you expecting them to call a procedural vote? And you said that the U.S., Albania, and Japan will request the meeting, but do you have other countries that have signed it? Do you have nine votes? Thanks.

SENIOR USUN OFFICIAL: Well, thanks for your questions, Michelle. For one, I would tune into Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s briefing coming up shortly to get more details about that. With regard to reaching out to Russia and China, I certainly believe that they’ve become aware of our plan to do an event on this subject. We have not had – I’ll be very frank – We have not had discussions with them for obvious reasons, don’t need to go into them. What was your last point?

QUESTION: Do you have nine votes if they call a procedural vote? Have nine countries signed this request, as has happened in previous years?

SENIOR USUN OFFICIAL: Yeah. Let me just say I think we’re in a comfortable place on that.

MODERATOR: All right. Moderator, next question.

OPERATOR: If there are any additional questions, please press 1 then 0. We’ll go to the line of Edith Lederer with AP. Please, go ahead. Edith with AP, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, [Senior USUN Official.]


QUESTION: What exactly is the United States hoping to get out of an open meeting? And is it going to be open just to Council members? Are you going to be opening it to the broader UN membership?

SENIOR USUN OFFICIAL: Well, Edie, what we’re trying to achieve through this is to bring greater public attention to the human rights situation in the DPRK and frankly to try to make sure that we’re communicating the core issue here, which is the relationship between DPRK’s WMD and ballistic missile programs and the human rights situation, particularly their use of forced labor that frees up resources for them to use to fund these programs. And so that is what we’re trying to do, bring more attention to this issue, which again, we haven’t had an open briefing on this subject, as I mentioned, since 2017. And with regard – what was the last point, Edie? I apologize.

QUESTION: Whether the entire membership would be allowed to participate and speak at the meeting, or whether it’s just going to be Council members.

SENIOR USUN OFFICIAL: Well, Edie, let me just say that there will be obviously Council members will be addressing this issue. There may be some other countries that may want to address this issue under, you know, Rule 37. So it’s hard to say what indeed that’s going to look like and whether other countries want to participate. We think that those countries that are directly affected by what DPRK’s been doing with regard to the human rights situation, with regard to its WMD and ballistic missile programs, those countries obviously would be relevant to participate in a discussion like this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks, Edie. Moderator, next question? [Moderator]?

OPERATOR: Margaret Besheer with VOA, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, good morning. Thanks for doing the call. Sorry, I had trouble getting into it, so if you’ve already said this, I apologize. Did you say who the briefers will be? Are you planning to have maybe Volker Türk or some DPRK escapees or something?

SENIOR USUN OFFICIAL: I think Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will have more to say about who will be participating in the event when she makes the announcement with Albania and Japan and ROK.

MODERATOR: All right. I think we have time for one more, [Moderator], if there are any other questions.

OPERATOR: Yes. Michelle Nichols with Reuters, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, me again. A bit of a hypothetical one, but given we saw North Korea speak in the Council for the first time in quite some time recently, do you think they might put their hand up for this one as well?

SENIOR USUN OFFICIAL: Hard to say. It really is, Michelle. I can’t give you an answer on that; it will really depend. I mean, obviously they will not be happy and have not been happy when we’ve had these kinds of briefings in the past. They’re very unpredictable, as you know, so actually it’s kind of hard to say what they’re going to do. But stay tuned. We’ll all be interested to see what they decide to do, if anything.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MODERATOR: All right, folks. Thanks again, [Senior USUN Official]. And as a reminder, this call is embargoed until after Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s Security Council stakeout at approximately 10:00 A.M. this morning – again, which will be broadcast via UN Web TV. Again as a reminder, what you heard today is attributable to a senior USUN official. And I thank you all for taking the time.

SENIOR USUN OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody.