Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 17, 2023
Thank you, Mr. Turpin and Ms. Salmon, for your insightful briefings. And thank you, Mr. Kim and Ms. Lee, for speaking out and giving voice to the voiceless. I also want to extend my deep appreciation to Albania, Japan, and the Republic of Korea for their close partnership on this important Arria.
Yesterday, I met with three defectors from North Korea, each of whom shared with me their stories.
One of them told me that until she left North Korea, she had no idea what freedom was. She could not even conceptualize the idea that she had human rights.
Another told me about how she tried to escape North Korea three separate times. Twice she was captured, and tortured, denied food, denied even the right to use the bathroom. But what was extraordinary – she decided to flee a third time, in order to save her sons. But she carried a poison pill with her. Because if she failed, she would rather die than be imprisoned and tortured again.
The third woman I spoke to left North Korea when she was just seventeen years old. She had only one year of elementary school education.
She told me about how she was forced to watch public executions. How she watched a woman, hung across a cross, shot and killed by the regime. The woman’s husband, and four-year-old child, were forced to stand there and watch their mother be killed. When the shots rang out, and her body crumpled, her family could not even let out a single sound, unless they wanted to be killed themselves.
I told all three of the women I spoke to that they should be proud. And I say the same thing to Mr. Kim and Ms. Lee – that their persistence, and their courage, was remarkable – and that I would share their stories to shine a spotlight for the world to see.
Because for every horrifying story we hear, there are countless stories that we will never hear – that will never see the light of day.
This, of course, is by design.
The regime in Pyongyang does everything in its power to hide its atrocities from the outside world.
But, time and time again, they have failed.
We have all seen the evidence – including the UN Commission of Inquiry report and many since – of the DPRK’s systemic, widespread, and gross human rights abuses.
At this very moment, the DPRK has more than 80,000 individuals in prison camps – where political prisoners are subject to torture, starvation, forced labor, arbitrary or summary executions, and gender-based violence – including forced abortions.
And let’s be clear: the DPRK’s horrific actions do not stop at its borders.
Reports indicate the regime has carried out acts of transnational repression, including intimidation, surveillance, forced repatriations, and assassinations – which are sometimes carried out with the assistance from other governments, and are sometimes carried out without consent from other governments, an indication of the DPRK’s utter lack of respect for state sovereignty.
There are still hundreds of unresolved cases of reported international abductions and enforced disappearances by the DPRK government from outside its territory, including from Japan and the Republic of Korea, as well as prisoners of war and detainees.
But even in the face of these grave human rights violations, some Security Council members argue that this issue is not within the Council’s purview – it’s not our mandate – we’re told. They argue that, somehow, this is not a matter of international peace and security.
But the connection between the regime’s widespread human rights abuses and its threats to our collective security could not be clearer.
Pyongyang’s WMD and ballistic missile programs, as confirmed by multiple Security Council resolutions, pose an undeniable threat to international peace and security, and they are inextricably linked to the regime’s human rights abuses.
In the DPRK, the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction always – always trumps human rights and humanitarian needs of its people.
The regime’s use of forced labor drives their unlawful weapons program forward.
Food distribution policies favor the military at the expense of more than 10 million North Koreans who are food insecure.
And totalitarian control of society ensures the regime can spend inordinate resources on weapons development without public objection.
Kim Jong Un has chosen ammunition instead of nutrition, missiles over humankind.
And in so doing, he has threatened the global proliferation regime.
Every single Security Council member has an obligation to prevent the DPRK from further developing its unlawful WMD and missile program and an obligation to address the gross human rights abuses that, in addition to violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, put our collective peace and security at risk.
But the last time this issue was on the Council’s formal agenda was way back in 2017.
You might ask, why? Because some Council members are all too willing to shield the regime from accountability.
Even for today, a Permanent Member blocked this meeting from being publicly broadcast through UN Web TV – breaking what has always been, an agreement between Council Members. It was yet another attempt to hide the DPRK’s atrocities from the world.
But let me say, it was in vain. Because as you can see, we were not deterred – and we never will be. This meeting will be public, and available for the world to see.
We will continue to speak out against the DPRK’s human rights abuses and threats to international peace.
They may be able to shut down the voices of the people in DPRK, but they cannot shut our voices down.
For there is power in truth, and truth is justice.