Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield Chairs the United Nations Security Council meeting: The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 17, 2023


Let me start by thanking High Commissioner Türk and Special Rapporteur Salmón for your sobering briefings and your recommendations to this Council. The human rights violations and abuses you detailed are so horrific they are almost unfathomable.

But today, we heard from someone who lived these horrors – and who shared his story with the world. Mr. Kim, I am inspired by you. I am inspired by your bravery. By your speaking out, you have helped advance the dignity and the rights of people in the DPRK. And I thank you profusely for your presence today. And I hope all members of this Council heard your appeal directly to all of us.

Colleagues, this year, we mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that: “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace.” The vast majority of the world, and every Security Council member, has signed on to this foundational document. And this Council has repeatedly affirmed its responsibility to protect human rights – given its inherent connection to conflict and stability.

Now, this Council has not always lived up to that responsibility. But there have been recent flashes of progress. In April, for example, we unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the Taliban’s restrictions on women and girls. And last December, we adopted a resolution on Myanmar that called on all parties to respect human rights.

Still, this Council has been silent on a host of other human rights abuses, including abuses carried out by one of the most repressive and totalitarian states in the world: the DPRK. You all just heard, from all three of our briefers, who describe the situation that we are faced with from the DPRK.

Inaction is unacceptable, which is why the United States joined Albania and Japan in requesting this long-overdue meeting. This is an undeniable matter of international peace and security – one that demands the Council’s attention. Especially because the human rights situation in the DPRK has not improved since the UN Commission of Inquiry issued its landmark report almost a decade ago – which found the DPRK government had committed: “systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations.” And that “in many instances, the violations entailed crimes against humanity.”

Reports indicate the DPRK continues to hold more than 80,000 individuals in political prison camps – where, according to reports, they are widely subjected to arbitrary or summary executions, torture, starvation, gender-based violence, forced abortions, and forced labor.

The DPRK government has also engaged in acts of transnational repression against its own citizens and foreign nationals. The DPRK’s activities abroad have included assassination, surveillance, intimidation, abduction, and forced repatriation. Sometimes with the assistance of other governments. And sometimes without the consent of other governments, which shows the DPRK’s lack of respect for state sovereignty.

Colleagues, we cannot have peace without human rights. And the DPRK is a case in point. Kim Jong Un’s repressive, totalitarian control of society – and the systemic, widespread denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms – ensures the regime can expend inordinate public resources developing its unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs, without public objection. This war machine – which stands in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions – is powered by repression and cruelty.

But make no mistake: the regime neglects the well-being of people in the DPRK. Its food distribution policies favors the military, and lead to chronic malnourishment among its citizens. Pyongyang also relies on forced labor and the exploitation of workers – domestically and overseas – to power its unlawful weapons programs.

Security Council Resolution 2397 required all Member States to repatriate DPRK nationals earning income in their jurisdiction no later than December 2019. Unfortunately, instead of repatriating some individuals and fulfilling their Security Council obligations, some Council members have repatriated people who have fled the DPRK. People seeking a better life, people seeking freedom. People in need of protection, like Mr. Kim.

I recently met with ten young defectors from the DPRK who risked everything for freedom. And I was brought to tears as they told me about their dangerous escapes. Sometimes twice as they were returned after their first attempts. They told me about harrowing conditions from which they fled. About what it’s like to be separated from their loved ones. One defector said he wants nothing more than to see his dad again. He told me how much it pains him to not be able to wish his dad a happy birthday.

But while the defectors I met are cut off from their country, they have never – never – stopped dreaming of a brighter future for the DPRK. They have never stopped fighting for those who still live under tyranny. We must follow the example of these young activists, like Mr. Kim.

The modern world has no place for the DPRK government’s brutality. And the international community, and this Council – this Council – must continue to speak out against this injustice and its destabilizing impact on regional and international peace and security.

The United States has made human rights a key focus of our presidency of the Security Council this month. And we will continue to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms at home and around the world.

No country has a perfect human rights record. We all have our flaws. But in open societies, people can protest, they can drive progress forward. In the DPRK – a closed, hermetically sealed country – everything is shrouded in secrecy. People are under constant surveillance. And those who speak out can be thrown in prison, or worse, even executed. So we must give voice to the voiceless. And we must take up their cause.

I suspect some in this Chamber will shrug off Mr. Kim’s brave testimony or call this meeting another demonstration of U.S. hostility. That is deeply cynical and it’s absurd. This meeting has always had a singular objective: to fight for the rights of the people in the DPRK. To fight for international peace and security.

And it is unfortunate that some continue to try to protect the DPRK government from international accountability. But courageous defectors, UN experts, reporters will continue to expose further abuses. They will continue to demand accountability. And this Council – this Council – must continue to call out the DPRK regime’s human rights violations and abuses.

So Colleagues, let us work together. In the words of Mr. Kim, for world peace and for a better future for humanity.

Thank you.