Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


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A/HRC/25/CRP.1







Distr.: Restricted

7 February 2014
English only
Human Rights Council
Twenty-fifth session
Agenda item 4

Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea*

Summary

The present document contains the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Commission’s principal findings and recommendations are provided in document A/HRC/25/63.






[English only]

Contents

Paragraphs Page

I. Introduction 1–5 5

II. Mandate and methodology of the commission of inquiry 6-84 5

A. Origins of the mandate 6-12 5

B. Interpretation of the mandate 13-20 6

C. Non-cooperation by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 21-27 8

D. Methods of work 28-62 10

E. Legal framework and standard of proof for reported violations 63-78 15

F. Archiving and record-keeping of testimony 79-84 18

III. Historical and political context to human rights violations in
the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 85-162 19

A. Pre-colonial history 87-89 19

B. Japanese colonial occupation (1910 to 1945) 90-94 20

C. Division of the peninsula, the Korean War and its legacy 95-109 21

D. Imposition of the Supreme Leader (suryong) system 110-128 27

E. Consolidation of power under the Kim dynasty 129-157 34

F. External dynamics and the human rights situation 158-162 43

IV. Findings of the commission 163-1021 45

A. Violations of the freedoms of thought, expression and religion 163-264 45

B. Discrimination on the basis of State-assigned social class (songbun),
gender and disability 265-354 74

C. Violations of the freedom of movement and residence, including the
freedom to leave one’s own country and the prohibition of refoulement 355-492 99

D. Violations of the right to food and related aspects of the right to life 493-692 144

E. Arbitrary detention, torture, executions, enforced disappearance
and political prison camps 693-845 208

F. Enforced disappearance of persons from other countries,
including through abduction 846-1021 270

V. Crimes against humanity 1022-1165 319

A. Definition of crimes against humanity under international law 1026-1032 320

B. Crimes against humanity in political prison camps 1033-1067 323

C. Crimes against humanity in the ordinary prison system 1068-1086 330

D. Crimes against humanity targeting religious believers and others considered
to introduce subversive influences 1087-1097 333

E. Crimes against humanity targeting persons who try to flee the country 1098-1114 335

F. Starvation 1115-1137 339

G. Crimes against humanity targeting persons from other countries,
in particular through international abductions 1138-1154 345

H. A case of political genocide? 1155-1159 350

I. Principal findings of the commission 1160-1165 351

VI. Ensuring accountability, in particular for crimes against humanity 1166-1210 352

A. Institutional accountability 1167-1194 352

B. Individual criminal accountability 1195-1203 359

C. Responsibility of the international community 1204-1210 363

VII. Conclusions and recommendations 1211-1224 365

Acronyms

ACF Action contre la Faim (Action against Hunger)

CEDAW Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

CESCR Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child

DPRK Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

HRNK Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

HRW Human Rights Watch

ICCPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

ICNK International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea

ICESCR International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross

KBA Korean Bar Association

KCNA Korean Central News Agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

KINU Korea Institute for National Unification

KPA Korean People’s Army

KWAFU Korean War Abductees’ Family Union

KWARI Korean War Abductees’ Research Institute

LFNKR Life Funds for North Korean Refugees

MPS Ministry of People’s Security

MSF Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)

NGO Non-governmental organization

NHRCK National Human Rights Commission of Korea

NKDB Database Center for North Korean Human Rights

NKHR Citizens’ Alliance for North Korea Human Rights

PDS Public Distribution System

POW Prisoner of War

ROK Republic of Korea

SSD State Security Department

UNHCR Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

USA United States of America

WFP World Food Programme

WHO World Health Organization

WGEID Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances

I. Introduction

  1. On 21 March 2013, at its 22nd session, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Human Rights Council Resolution 22/13 mandated the body to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the DPRK, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular, for violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.1

  2. Among the violations to be investigated were those pertaining to the right to food, those associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to life, freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states.

  3. On 7 May 2013, the President of the Human Rights Council announced the appointment of Michael Kirby of Australia and Sonja Biserko of Serbia, who joined Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to serve as the members of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK. Mr Kirby was designated to serve as Chair. The Commissioners, who served in a non-remunerated, independent, expert capacity, took up their work the following month. The Commission of Inquiry was supported by a Secretariat of nine experienced human rights officials provided by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Once appointed, however, the Secretariat worked independently of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

  4. This report builds upon the oral updates which the Commission of Inquiry provided in accordance with Resolution 22/13 to the Human Rights Council in September 2013 and to the United Nations General Assembly in October 2013.

  5. The Commission implemented the mandate entrusted by the Member States of the Human Rights Council bearing in mind the Council’s decision to transmit the reports of the Commission to all relevant bodies of the United Nations and to the United Nations Secretary-General for appropriate action.

II. Mandate and methodology of the commission of inquiry

A. Origins of the mandate

  1. The adoption of Resolution 22/13 marked the first time that the Human Rights Council had established a commission of inquiry without a vote. It follows resolutions adopted in 2012 without a vote by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council that expressed deep concern about the persisting deterioration in the human rights situation in the DPRK.2

  2. Leading up to the adoption of Resolution 22/13, United Nations human rights entities, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a number of Member States, and several civil society organizations, including human rights groups set up by persons who had fled the DPRK, had called for the establishment of an inquiry mechanism. The report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, in particular, identified the need for an international independent and impartial inquiry mechanism with adequate resources to investigate and more fully document the grave, systematic and widespread violations of human rights in the DPRK.

  3. In January 2013, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for a fully-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes that, she said, had been taking place in the DPRK for decades, and stressed that the concern about the DPRK’s possession of nuclear weapons should not overshadow the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea.

  4. The establishment of the Commission of Inquiry must also be seen in light of the DPRK’s limited cooperation with the existing human rights mechanisms. The DPRK is a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Since 2009, the DPRK has not submitted any state reports on the foregoing treaties, although in 2004, the DPRK did take the positive step of inviting a delegation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to visit the country.

  5. The DPRK underwent its first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2009 and will be subject to the second cycle in 2014. While stating some generic commitments to human rights obligations, the DPRK failed to accept any of the 167 recommendations made by the UPR Working Group in 2009.3

  6. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has not had access to the country since the inception of the mandate in 2004. The DPRK has rejected the mandate, deeming it as a hostile act, and refuses to cooperate with it. Since the mission of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences in 1995,4 not a single mandate holder of the Human Rights Council has been invited, or permitted, to visit the DPRK.

  7. On the basis of resolutions by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have also issued periodic reports detailing human rights violations and related impunity in the DPRK. The DPRK has not provided substantive input to these reports since it has rejected the underlying resolutions of the General Assembly and Human Rights Council. Since 2003, the DPRK Government has also rejected all offers of technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

B. Interpretation of the mandate

  1. The mandate of the Commission of Inquiry is essentially found in paragraph 5 of Resolution 22/13 that makes specific reference to paragraph 31 of the 2013 report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.5 Reading the two paragraphs together, the Commission determined that it had been mandated to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the DPRK including, in particular, the following nine specific substantive areas:

  • violations of the right to food,

  • the full range of violations associated with prison camps,

  • torture and inhuman treatment,

  • arbitrary arrest and detention,

  • discrimination, in particular in the systemic denial and violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms,

  • violations of the freedom of expression,

  • violations of the right to life,

  • violations of the freedom of individual movement, and

  • enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states.

  1. These nine areas, which are interlinking and overlap, therefore define the focus of the Commission’s inquiry. However, this list of nine is not exhaustive, and, where appropriate, the Commission has also investigated violations that are intrinsically linked to one of the nine areas.

  2. The mandate further indicates that the inquiry should pursue three inter-linked objectives: (1) further investigating and documenting human rights violations, (2) collecting and documenting victim and perpetrator accounts, and (3) ensuring accountability.

(a) Further investigation and documentation of human rights violations: Resolution 22/13 asks the Commission to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the DPRK. Likewise, paragraph 31 of the Special Rapporteur’s report mentioned above repeatedly refers to more detailed documentation of such violations. The request for more detailed investigation, with a view to ensuring accountability, suggested a stronger focus on investigating how, and by whom, any violations have been found to be planned, ordered and organized.

(b) Documentation of the accounts of victims and perpetrators: The mandate, as elaborated by paragraph 31 of the Special Rapporteur’s report, asks the Commission for “the collection and documentation of victims’ testimonies and the accounts of survivors, witnesses and perpetrators”. The Commission implemented this aspect of the mandate primarily by conducting public hearings of victims and other witnesses and making their testimonies available on its webpage. Additionally, accounts provided by victims and witnesses who could not speak publicly for protection reasons are safeguarded in a secure and confidential database.

(c) Ensuring full institutional and personal accountability: The mandate makes it clear that the investigation should be carried out “with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity”. Paragraph 31 of the Special Rapporteur’s report adds that the “inquiry should examine the issues of institutional and personal accountability for [grave, systematic and widespread violations], in particular where they amount to crimes against humanity”.

  1. Considering the extent, systematic nature and gravity of the reported violations, the Commission also considered the responsibility of the international community. It has directed recommendations towards the international community as requested by paragraph 5 of Resolution 22/13, read in conjunction with Paragraph 31 of the Special Rapporteur’s report.

  2. In accordance with paragraph 17 of Human Rights Council Resolution 23/256 and in line with best practices on the integration of gender in the exercise of mandates, the Commission has devoted specific attention to gendered issues and impacts of violations during the course of its investigations, paying particular attention to violence against women and children. Taking into account Human Rights Council Resolution 23/25, the Commission therefore paid specific attention to violence against women and girls and included the gender dimension of other violations in its report. Violence against women, in particular sexual violence, proved to be difficult to document owing to the stigma and shame that still attaches to the victims. The Commission takes the view that its inquiry may have only partially captured the extent of relevant violations.

  3. Compared to the mandates given to other commissions of inquiry,7 paragraph 5 of Resolution 22/13 does not limit the temporal scope for the Commission’s inquiry. The Commission has focused on documenting violations that are reflective of the human rights situation as it persists at present. Within the limits of time, resources and available information at its disposal, the Commission has also inquired into patterns of human rights violations that may have commenced in the more distant past, but are continuing and/or have serious repercussions to this day. Historical events that predate the establishment of the DPRK are described where they are crucial to understanding the human rights violations in the DPRK and their underlying political, cultural and economic causes.

  4. As to its geographic scope, the Commission has interpreted its mandate to include alleged violations perpetrated by the DPRK against its nationals both within and outside the DPRK as well as those violations that involve extraterritorial action originating from the DPRK, such as the abductions of non-DPRK nationals.

  5. The Commission is of the view that violations committed outside the DPRK that causally enable or facilitate subsequent human rights violations in the DPRK, or are the immediate consequence of human rights violations that take place in the DPRK, are also within its mandate. In this respect, the Commission also made findings regarding the extent to which other states carry relevant responsibility.8

C. Non-cooperation by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

  1. Resolution 22/13 urges the Government of the DPRK to cooperate fully with the Commission’s investigation, to permit the Commission’s members unrestricted access to visit the country and to provide them with all information necessary to enable them to fulfil their mandate. Immediately after its adoption, the DPRK publicly stated that it would “totally reject and disregard” the resolution, which it considered to be a “product of political confrontation and conspiracy”.9 In a letter dated 10 May 2013, the DPRK directly conveyed to the President of the Human Rights Council that it “totally and categorically rejects the Commission of Inquiry”. Regrettably, this stance has remained unchanged, despite numerous efforts by the Commission to engage the DPRK.

  2. In a letter addressed to the Permanent Mission of the DPRK in Geneva dated 18 June 2013, the Commission requested a meeting. This was followed by another letter sent on 5 July 2013, in which the Commission solicited the DPRK to extend cooperation and support by facilitating access to the country. The Permanent Mission of the DPRK in Geneva acknowledged the receipt of the two letters to the Commission’s Secretariat, but explicitly repeated the rejection of the mandate of the Commission.

  3. The Commission reiterated its request to have access to the territory of the DPRK in a letter sent on 16 July 2013 to Mr Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader and First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This letter was unanswered.

  4. The Commission also invited the authorities of the DPRK to send a representative or representatives to scrutinize the evidence and to make submissions during public hearings held by the Commission in Seoul, London and Washington D.C. There was no response to these invitations. The Commission is unaware of whether the DPRK made arrangements for the public hearings to be attended by a representative.

  5. On 17 September 2013, during the interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council, the Chair of the Commission reaffirmed that the Commission reached out in friendship to the DPRK and remained available to visit and engage in a dialogue on any terms that the authorities would consider appropriate. During the interactive dialogue at the Third Committee of the General Assembly on 29 October 2013, in the presence of the representatives of the DPRK to the United Nations in New York, the Chair again offered the opportunity of dialogue and interaction without any preconditions. These offers have not been followed up by the DPRK.

  6. As late as 7 January 2014, the Commission provided written assurances to the authorities of the DPRK of its resolve to seek the advancement of the enjoyment of human rights by all people in the DPRK through the discharge of its mandate in an independent, impartial and transparent manner. The Commission reiterated its continued commitment to ensuring that its work be fully informed by the perspectives of the Government of the DPRK. It also emphasized that getting access to the concerned country and hearing the position of the authorities of the DPRK would contribute to a better understanding of the human rights situation inside the country. On this occasion, the Commission also offered to the Permanent Mission in Geneva to discuss the progress in the preparation of the report. All the above approaches to the DPRK have been ignored.

  7. Before publication, the Commission shared the findings of this report, in their entirety, with the Government of the DPRK and invited comments and factual corrections. A summary of the most serious concerns, in particular those indicating the commission of crimes against humanity, was also included in a letter addressed to the Supreme Leader of the DPRK, Mr Kim Jong-un.10 To the date of writing of this report, there has been no response.

D. Methods of work

  1. During its first meeting in the first week of July 2013, the Commission determined its methodology and programme of work. The Commission decided to pursue the investigation with a maximum of transparency and with due process guarantees to the DPRK, while also ensuring the protection of victims and witnesses.

  2. In carrying out its work, and in assessing the testimony placed before it, the Commission was guided by the principles of independence, impartiality, objectivity, transparency, integrity and the principle of “do no harm”, including in relation to guarantees of confidentiality and the protection of victims and witnesses. Best practices were applied with regard to witness protection, outreach, rules of procedure, report writing, international investigation standards, and archiving.11

1. Public hearings

  1. In the absence of access to witnesses and sites inside the DPRK, the Commission decided to obtain first-hand testimony through public hearings that observed transparency, due process and the protection of victims and witnesses. Victims and witnesses who had departed the DPRK, as well as experts, testified in a transparent procedure that was open to the media, other observers and members of the general public. More than 80 witnesses and experts testified publicly and provided information of great specificity, detail and relevance, sometimes in ways that required a significant degree of courage.

  2. Public hearings were conducted in Seoul (20-24 August 2013), Tokyo (29-30 August 2013), London (23 October 2013) and Washington, D.C. (30-31 October 2013). The authorities of the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America provided operational and substantive support for the conduct of the public hearings, including by facilitating the identification and hiring of a venue, assisting in the provision of the services of professional interpreters and providing video-recording and transcripts of the proceedings. They also ensured the security of the hearings and facilitated contact with the national and international press corps and relevant civil society organizations and individuals.

  3. The public hearings covered all areas of the mandate. Witnesses were required to affirm that they were testifying truthfully. The Commissioners ensured that witnesses limited their testimony to issues relevant to the human rights situation in the DPRK and avoided unrelated political or derogatory statements. They also spoke about abuses that they had suffered or witnessed in other countries, to the extent that there was a direct causal link between such abuses and the human rights situation in the DPRK.

  4. The Commission invited the authorities of the DPRK to attend and, by leave, to ask questions and make representations at the public hearings in Seoul, London and Washington D.C., but received no reply. Instead, the official news agency of DPRK publicly accused the Commission of slander and claimed that witness testimony was fabricated.12 The Commission repeatedly invited the DPRK to adduce proof of its claims, but received no reply. It also put these claims to witnesses so that they could respond in their own words. Video recordings and transcripts from all public hearings are available on the Commission’s website.13 The Commission has encouraged members of the public to study the recordings and transcripts in order to form their own opinions of the reliability and consistency of the witness testimony.

2. Confidential interviews

  1. Many victims and witnesses who fled the DPRK were prepared to share relevant information, but would not do so publicly as they feared reprisals against family members who still remain in the DPRK. Persons who previously served in an official capacity in the DPRK were often particularly reluctant to be seen to cooperate publicly with the Commission. Some experts on the situation in the DPRK also preferred to be interviewed confidentially in order to preserve space for their direct engagement with the DPRK.

  2. The Commission and its Secretariat conducted over 240 confidential interviews with individual witnesses. These interviews were conducted during visits to Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, London, and Washington, D.C. and through videoconferences and telephone calls.

  3. Excerpts from these interviews are included in the report. In many instances, information on the exact place and time of violations and other details that might identify the witness has been withheld due to protection concerns.

3. Call for submissions and review of other written materials

  1. In July 2013, the Commission addressed a call for written submissions to all United Nations Member States and relevant stakeholders. All interested states, persons or organizations were invited to share relevant information and documentation, which could be of assistance to the Commission in the discharge of its mandate. As of 3 November 2013, the deadline for sharing information and material with the Commission, 80 such submissions were recorded. Exceptionally, a small number of submissions received after the deadline were admitted. Additionally, a very large volume of correspondence was received by the Commission and the Commission’s members.

  2. The Commission obtained and reviewed a wealth of other reports and written materials prepared by the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, governments, research institutes and academics. While the findings in this report rely primarily on first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses, the written record has provided invaluable context and a source of corroboration. Many reports and documents were tendered by witnesses at the public hearings. They were all recorded as exhibits and are part of the record of those hearings.

4. Engagement with other states

  1. The Commission visited the Republic of Korea from 19 to 27 August 2013. In addition to the public hearing held in Seoul, the Commission met the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, government officials from various ministries, local and international non-governmental and civil society organizations, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea and the Korea Institute for National Unification.

  2. The Commission visited Japan from 27 August to 1 September 2013. In addition to the public hearing held in Tokyo, the Commission met the Prime Minister of Japan, government officials from various ministries, and local and international non-governmental and civil society organizations.

  3. The Commission visited Thailand from 18 to 20 September 2013. During this visit, the Commission met officials of the Royal Thai Government including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, representatives of international agencies, and local and international non-governmental and civil society organizations. The Commissioners conducted a confidential interview with the family of a suspected case of international abduction by the DPRK.

  4. The Commission visited the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 23 to 25 October 2013. In addition to public hearing held in London, the Commission met the Minister of State responsible for the Far East and South East Asia of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, various government officials, non-governmental and civil society organizations.

  5. The Commission visited the United States of America from 28 October to 1 November 2013. In addition to the public hearing held in Washington D.C., the Commission met officials of the United States Department of State, the chairperson and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, various government officials, experts, and non-governmental and civil society organizations.

  6. Visits of the Commission to the respective countries were preceded by the deployment of the members of the Commission’s Secretariat to make preparations for the public hearings, meet with relevant partners and conduct confidential interviews in different locations in the country in the course of the Commission’s work. The Secretariat staff made an additional visit to Seoul at the end of October 2013 for three weeks to conduct additional confidential interviews and to carry out other follow-up action to the public hearings held in August 2013.

  7. From its first working meeting in July 2013, the Commission sought access to the territory of the People’s Republic of China to conduct relevant inquiries and to consult with the authorities about the implementation of its mandate. Specifically, the Commission asked for access to the areas of the country bordering the DPRK, in order to obtain first-hand information about the situation of persons who fled the DPRK. Additionally, the Commission asked to meet Chinese experts on the DPRK to inform its investigations. After a series of informal meetings with diplomats of the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations Office in Geneva, the Commission transmitted a formal request to the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China on 7 November 2013 for an invitation to visit China. In the letter, the Commission requested agreement to a visit to Beijing in order to meet relevant officials and experts and to the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in order to interview DPRK nationals in holding centres and other places of detention as well as representatives of churches and other organizations who are involved in caring for DPRK nationals in China. The letter highlighted the alleged trafficking of women from the DPRK to China and the status of children of North Korean mothers and Chinese fathers as issues of prime concern for the Commission in China. On 20 November 2013, the Permanent Mission informed the Secretariat that, given China’s position on country-specific mandates, especially on the Korean peninsula, it would not be possible to extend an invitation to the Commission. In a follow-up letter, the Commission requested the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China in Geneva to provide information on the status of DPRK citizens and their children in China, forced repatriations to and related cooperation with the DPRK, human trafficking, and other issues of concern to the mandate of the Commission. On 30 December 2013, the Commission received a reply to its letter. An additional letter was received on 26 January 2013. The correspondence is annexed to the report of the Commission.14

  8. Sections of the report that touch on the responsibility of other states, responsibility for their nationals and/or matters directly related to other states have been shared with the Governments concerned to permit factual corrections. Information received in response, within the stipulated deadlines, has been carefully reviewed by the Commission and integrated to the extent appropriate, in particular where facts were inaccurately expressed.

5. Cooperation of United Nations entities and other organizations

  1. Resolution 22/13 encourages the United Nations, including its specialized agencies, regional intergovernmental organizations, mandate holders, interested institutions and independent experts and non-governmental organizations, to develop regular dialogue and cooperation with the Commission in the fulfilment of its mandate.

  2. The Commission has engaged with a number of United Nations entities and humanitarian actors outside the United Nations system to obtain relevant information. A small number of United Nations entities were wary of cooperating openly with the Commission for fear of negative repercussions on their operations in the DPRK. Some provided relevant information, while others did not. This report only attributes information to specific organizations where such information is reflected in their public reports. The citation of a public report is not necessarily an indication that an organization has cooperated with the Commission.

  3. The Commission extends its gratitude to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Apart from its dedicated Secretariat, the Commission also received advice and support from OHCHR’s standing function to support commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions and other human rights investigative missions. Such support and assistance was afforded with proper respect to the independence and integrity of the Commission, its members and its Secretariat. The Commission also interacted with, and received relevant information from, a number of mandate holders under the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and human rights Treaty Bodies.

  4. The Commission benefitted from the invaluable support of a number of non-governmental organizations that thoroughly document human rights violations in the DPRK. These organizations sometimes suffer from inadequate financial resources. Nevertheless, they went to great lengths to ensure that the Commission could gain the trust of victims and witnesses who had departed the DPRK.

6. Protection of witnesses and other investigative challenges

  1. The Commission paid particular attention to the protection of victims and witnesses. The initial protection assessment carried out by the Commission indicated that the authorities of the DPRK routinely subject persons who speak out about the human rights situation in the DPRK to summary executions, enforced disappearances and other acts of violence. Grave reprisals have also been extended to the family members of such persons. The Commission took into account the policy of the People’s Republic of China to forcibly repatriate persons who depart the DPRK as well as known cases in which such persons were abducted by DPRK authorities and forced to return to the DPRK.

  2. Bearing this context in mind, the Commission sought to exercise judgement, caution and sensitivity in all interactions with victims and witnesses. Constant assessments were made about the need to establish contact with persons who may be placed at risk as a result of that contact. Contacts were not attempted if the Commission determined that it would not be able to ensure the safety of a cooperating person, if the risk of harm was assessed to be too high or if the Commission did not have sufficient information to make an informed determination on the level of risk. In particular, the Commission did not pursue offers to have direct contact through mobile telephones with witnesses still residing in the DPRK.

  3. In relation to the public hearings, protection concerns were carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant circumstances. In principle, the Commission only heard publicly from victims and witnesses who had no close family left in the DPRK or were judged not to be at risk in the People’s Republic of China. Informed consent of the witness to testify was a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement to allow for the testimony to be heard. In some cases, the Commission refused the offer of courageous witnesses who offered to testify in public, since reprisals against family were judged a real possibility. In other cases, victims and witnesses whose names and experiences were already subject to extensive media coverage were allowed to testify, unless there were reasonable grounds to believe that additional public testimony might result in further reprisals. The Commission also took care to ensure that witnesses’ testimony and questioning would not refer to the personal details of persons who had not expressed their consent to be identified in public and who could face protection concerns.

  4. The identity of all witnesses was established by the Commission prior to the hearings. Most witnesses were also prepared to reveal their identity during the public hearings. For protection reasons, however, some witnesses were permitted only to identify themselves with a pseudonym (Ms X, Mr Timothy etc.) and to take measures to conceal their faces or adopt other identifiers. A small number of witnesses wore hats, sunglasses or other clothing that covered parts of their faces, measures to prevent the discovery of their identity.

  5. Even these extensive protection measures may not prevent reprisals. The Commission requests that any information indicating that persons who cooperated with the Commission or their family members faced reprisals be brought to the immediate attention of the Secretary-General, through the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Commission recalls that primary responsibility for protecting victims, witnesses and other persons cooperating with the Commission rests with their states of residence and nationality and urges Member States to provide additional protection measures where necessary.

  6. The lack of physical access to witnesses and sites in the DPRK, coupled with the stated protection concerns, created a number of particular challenges for an effective investigation.

  7. The pool of potential first-hand witnesses is limited to no more than 30,000 citizens who have left the DPRK, the vast majority of whom reside today in the Republic of Korea. Most of these witnesses are from provinces bordering China, which means that the situation in those provinces is relatively better documented than the situation in other provinces of the DPRK. In most cases, a person who fled the DPRK requires considerable time to reach a place of safety and to develop the courage necessary to speak about his or her experience. Given that the Commission applied a rigorous standard of proof based on first-hand testimony, it was therefore not able to confirm many of the most recent instances of human rights violations alleged by non-governmental organizations and media reports.

  8. The most significant challenge faced by the Commission resulted from a fear of reprisals. The majority of potential witnesses were afraid to speak out even on a confidential basis because they feared for the safety of their families and assumed that their conduct was still being clandestinely monitored by the DPRK authorities. The Commission is therefore particularly grateful to those individuals who found the courage to break the wall of silence by testifying publicly or confidentially to the Commission.

  9. Fear of reprisals for their work and operations has also limited the willingness of many aid workers, journalists, diplomats and other foreign visitors to the DPRK to share knowledge and information with the Commission. Nevertheless, foreigners usually have limited first-hand knowledge about the human rights situation, since they are denied freedom of movement in the country and their contact with DPRK citizens is closely managed and monitored.

  10. The Commission found encouraging the amount of information that is seeping out of the DPRK with the advent and wider availability of technology. The Commission was able to rely on commercially available satellite images to confirm the existence of four political prison camps described in this report. Almost certainly, higher resolution satellite imagery produced by more technologically advanced states would have provided further information. Unfortunately, despite requests, these images were not made available to the Commission.

  11. The Commission also obtained clandestinely-recorded videos and photographs showing relevant sites, documents and correspondence that elucidated alleged violations of human rights in the DPRK. The Commission relied on such material to the extent that it could confirm its authenticity.

  12. The Commission is conscious of the fact that most victims and witnesses cooperating with the Commission had an overall unfavourable opinion of the DPRK’s authorities, though usually not of the country itself or its people. Through its refusal to cooperate with the Commission, the DPRK deprived itself of the opportunity to offer its own perspectives on the human rights situation and to provide information on any advances made in regard to the human rights of its population. The Commission has sought to account for these challenges by carefully reviewing information provided by the DPRK in publicly available documents. In particular, the Commission has reviewed the DPRK’s state reports to the Universal Periodic Review and the Treaty Bodies as well as the publicly available summaries of its responses to letters of allegations transmitted by the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Figures and other relevant claims of fact stated in these documents are reflected in this report, even if the Commission could not confirm their basis or validity.

E. Legal framework and standard of proof for reported violations

  1. In assessing the human rights situation in the DPRK, the Commission relied chiefly on the binding legal obligations that the DPRK voluntarily assumed as a State Party to the human rights treaties mentioned above. Other obligations expressed in customary international law also bind the DPRK.

  2. In relation to issues within its mandate that harken back to the period of the Korean War (1950-53), the Commission also took into account those residual obligations of international humanitarian law that continue to be applicable in the relations between the DPRK and other parties to that conflict.

  3. The possible commission of crimes against humanity are assessed on the basis of definitions set out by customary international criminal law, which to a large extent overlap with those later expressed in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

  4. Where appropriate, the Commission has also considered relevant obligations of other states, including the prohibition of
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