*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)
Launch of U.N. Inquiry Commission on Rights Abuses in North Korea Imminent
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is poised to adopt a resolution soon to establish its first commission of inquiry (COI) into widespread human rights violations in North Korea, a diplomatic source in Seoul said on March 19.
The U.N. council is expected to vote on the resolution on March 21 (Geneva time) during its ongoing 22nd session, which will last until March 22, and the planned commission is expected to start its activities from June, the source said on the condition of anonymity.
The inquiry mechanism resolution would be adopted if half of the 47-member council approves it. Only a few members, including Venezuela, have explicitly opposed it, according to the source. China and Cuba that have been opposing the human rights investigations in North Korea are currently not members of the council.
If the resolution is passed, three personnel, including Marzuki Darusman, the U.N. investigator for human rights in North Korea, will be assigned to the COI along with 20 to 30 assistants, according to a news report.
The resolution calls for the COI to be launched to conduct in-depth investigations into human rights abuses in North Korea and report its findings at the next sessions of the U.N. General Assembly and the UNHRC.
Human rights advocacy groups have long called for international efforts to stop genocide and crimes against humanity which they claim are being systematically carried out by North Korean authorities.
The socialist country has been accused of human rights abuses for decades, ranging from holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners to torture and public executions. Pyongyang has flatly denied the accusations, calling them a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.
International demand for the United Nations to establish a commission to investigate human rights crimes in North Korea has been rising and the voices calling for the organization of the U.N. commission have grown after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12. The test is viewed as the country sacrificing the needs of the people for its 'military-first' politics.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an international investigation of North Korea on Jan. 14, 2013 and requested the creation of the investigation commission.
In a formal report, Pillay described the country's human rights violations as "deplorable" and showing no signs of improving under new leadership.
She took issue particularly with the reports of torture and execution of political prisoners in concentration camps.
"Because of the enduring gravity of the situation, I believe an in-depth inquiry into one of the worst -- but least understood and reported -- human rights situations in the world is not only fully justified, but long overdue," she said.
Citing testimony by North Korean defectors, she added, the prison camp system "involves rampant violations, including torture and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment, summary executions, rape, slave labor and forms of collective punishment that may amount to crimes against humanity."
Multiple groups say as many as 200,000 people are held in political prison camps in North Korea.
Pillay said the initial hope that some change could come under leader Kim Jong-un, who took power just over a year ago, has faded.
"It is time the international community took a much firmer step towards finding the truth and applying serious pressure to bring about change for this beleaguered, subjugated population of 20 million people," she said.
She insisted the world should pay as much attention to Pyongyang's human rights violations as its nuclear and missile programs.
Darusman, the U.N. investigator, also urged in a number of occasions that the world body to open an inquiry into the secretive Communist nation for possible crimes against humanity.
In his latest report submitted to the 22nd session of the U.N. Council on March 11, Darusman said that the U.N. council should create an international commission of inquiry to probe abuses recorded in North Korea since 2004.
The Indonesian investigator said he documented nine "widespread and systematic" patterns of violations of human rights by the North Korean government, including violations of the right to food, torture, arbitrary detention, and extensive violations of freedom of expression.
In an earlier report to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in February, Darusman recommended that it authorize an investigation of North Korea's "grave, widespread and systematic violations of human rights."
North Korea's human rights violations should be laid bare before the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly, it said.
"The inquiry should examine the issues of institutional and personal accountability for such violations, in particular where they amount to crimes against humanity and make appropriate recommendations to the authorities of North Korea and international community for further action," Darusman said in the report.
The report to the U.N.'s top human rights body cited violations such as having prison camps, enforcing disappearances and using food to control people. North Korea's U.N. Ambassador in Geneva denounced the report as "politically biased."
Last year, Darusman told the New York-based General Assembly's human rights committee that he saw no improvement in human rights under Kim Jong-un and urged the country's new leader to divert money from his "military first" policy to help more than 60 percent of the population suffering from a lack of food.
Darusman said Kim, who succeeded his father more than a year ago, had made it his top priority to strengthen the military while about 16 million of North Korea's 25 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
In a related move, Rep. Hwang Woo-yea, chairman of the International Parliamentarians' Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights (IPCNKR), sent a letter to the 47 member nations of the U.N. Human Rights Council to urge the establishment of an investigation committee of North Korea's inhumane crimes.
Hwang, concurrently head of South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party, said in the Feb. 1 letter that the human rights conditions in North Korea have not improved at all despite the change in the leadership in the country. The letter was signed by Hwang, co-chairman Ed Royce of the United States and other lawmakers.
North Korea on March 18 bristled at South Korea's official support for a move by the United Nations' top human rights body to set up its first in-depth probe into human rights violations in the country.
On Feb. 27, Kim Bong-hyun, Seoul's deputy foreign minister for global affairs, told the 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that South Korea will "actively" support a resolution by the European Union that calls for the U.N. council to begin an in-depth investigation of human rights violations in North Korea.
In a white paper issued by the North's Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, Pyongyang criticized Seoul for "clinging to a long-drawn plot of undermining its rights status" in the face of its successful rocket launch and nuclear test.
The Seoul government is "nagging to create a body to investigate into our human rights conditions and making ludicrous statements by arguing that the international community should lay a foundation for armed intervention for rights abuses cases," the white paper said according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
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