Press Availability in Geneva, Switzerland

Robert R. King
   Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues 
Paula Schriefer
   Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Geneva, Switzerland
March 17, 2014

MODERATOR: It’s after 12, so I can say good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s my pleasure to introduce to you Paula Schriefer who is the Head of Delegation of the United States government here at the March Human Rights Council session. Back in Washington she’s the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organizations. Paula?

DAS SCHRIEFER: Thank you so much.

The Commission of Inquiry into the human rights situation in the People’s Republic of North Korea has done an absolutely outstanding job of documenting the brutality of human rights violations and abuses that we’ve seen in that country, and really it has exposed a situation that is unlike any other on this planet, particularly given that it is a non-conflict situation.

I also believe that the process that it has used conducting numerous interviews with refugees and defectors convening these public hearings has really set a high bar and a standard for this Human Rights Council.

Our goal as the United States at this session is to support the creation of a mechanism that would continue to document abuses in that country and in that vein it is my very very great pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague Ambassador Robert King who is the United States Special Envoy on the Human Rights Situation in North Korea. So I will turn it over to Ambassador King.

AMBASSADOR KING: Thank you very much, Paula.

It’s a pleasure to be here. The event today was a major occasion for the Human Rights Council. It was particularly significant because of the nature of the report that was given on conditions in DPRK human rights. This is a unique report in that it was done in a very public, open, transparent process with hearings that were held in a number of cities, in Seoul, in Tokyo, in London, in Washington, with witnesses that were testifying in public, video of the sessions, transcripts of the sessions have been made available. It’s been a very open and a very transparent process.

The Commission has done an outstanding job in terms of encouraging and making public what they’ve done. I want to pay tribute to the members of the Commission. They’re an outstanding group. Michael Kirby, Marzuki Darusman, Sonja Biserko. They deserve a great deal of thanks from the international community for the effort that they’ve made.

We have given careful attention to the recommendations of the report. We think the report is excellent. We think the recommendations deserve to be given very serious consideration.

We’re supportive of an ongoing field presence to continue the work that the Commission has undertaken and we’re concerned to make sure that there is some system for making accountable those who are responsible for the human rights violations that have been identified and discussed.

I want to thank you for your interest because it’s through the press that this documentation, this information gets out, and we appreciate your continued interest.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to take them.

QUESTION: It’s not entirely clear to me what the Human Rights Council can actually do with this report, apart from express horror.

AMBASSADOR KING: I think that’s one of the things that we’re trying to look at is how we can continue. I think part of the effort to continue documentation is an effort to point fingers, to identify those who are responsible, and to hold them publicly accountable. We need to look at how we treat these issues in terms of coming up with ways to do that. I think that’s our intention.

QUESTION: I had a similar question. Tom Miles from Reuters.

I wanted to ask, haven’t the Chinese just killed it stone dead? You might as well be using the past tense for this was a lovely report, but the road to justice won’t go any further. Also partly because the U.S. doesn’t embrace the ICC.

What is the possible route to justice for the crimes that are laid out in this report?

AMBASSADOR KING: The fact that there may not be a resolution coming out of the Security Council does not mean the Security Council may not consider, and we’re hopeful that the Security Council in fact will have an opportunity to talk about the results of the report and discuss them further.

Furthermore, this is not a one time, we’ve had a report, we’ve got to do something and it’s over. This is the beginning of a process, the continuation of a process of calling attention to these kinds of horrendous human rights violations. The fact that right now we may not be able to move forward as far as we’d like to go does not mean that we’re going to stop and say we can’t do anything more, we’re not going to do it.

We will continue to carry on the struggle. We will continue to call attention to the abuses. We will continue to use the resources that are available to us. Human rights is not a quick and an easy fix, and we’re not going to stop.

QUESTION: John Halpern, Associated Press.

You just said a moment ago that you wanted to continue the work of the COI. How exactly would that work? Because as far as I know, the work is over, the mandate is not going to be renewed.

AMBASSADOR KING: The Commission is not continuing, but there is a recommendation that will be considered in a resolution that will be adopted by the Commission sometime later that will address the question of some kind of ongoing effort to document and continue documenting human rights abuses so that accountability will be able to be applied at some point.

QUESTION: My name’s Hiro Migo. I’m a Japanese journalist person in Geneva working for the Asahi Shimbun Japanese paper.

I have a question on your state about the so-called field presence, the ongoing discussion. Can you elaborate how can this field presence could contribute to the better human rights situation in North Korea, even though all the Commission of Inquiry has never accessed the country? How does it make a difference from Commission of Inquiry?

AMBASSADOR KING: The Commission has been very creative in terms of inviting many individuals who have lived in North Korea, who have endured the human rights abuses and conditions there, and they’ve testified. They’ve spoken about them. There were a handful of them that spoke today during the course of the session.

Shin Dong-hyuk who is the author of Escape from Camp 14, former political prisoner who had committed no crime other than having parents who also committed no crime but nonetheless were serving in a political prison.

So the fact that the Commission is not able to get into North Korea or that individuals who are attempting to document human rights concerns are not able to get into North Korea does not mean that we are not able to find out what’s going on, that we’re not able to document and provide information. And we’ll continue that process.

QUESTION: Jonathan Fowler from AFP.

Some critics of this kind of process talk about the need for dialogue, notably North Korea and its allies say dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, but is it possible to have any kind of dialogue when you’ve got Pyongyang calling the witnesses human scum, for example, and using that kind of rhetoric.

AMBASSADOR KING: We’d like to engage in dialogue. We’ve engaged in dialogue with a number of countries. We hope that at some point there will be an opportunity to do that with North Korea as well, on human rights as well as other issues. We intend to continue the effort, yes.

Thank you very much. I appreciate your interest.

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