Statement delivered by Carolyn Schwalger, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 10 December 2015.

New Zealand believes that it is right for the Council to meet today to discuss the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The situation there demands our continuing attention because it remains a threat to regional peace and security.

Two years ago, the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic Republic of Korea, established by the Human Rights Council, brought the gravity of the violations in that country to the attention of the global community. Violations were described as gross, systematic and widespread. The commission found that, in many cases, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had committed crimes against humanity based on State policies. We see little evidence that the country’s regime shows respect for international law, including international human rights law. Respect for the rule of law is intimately linked with international peace and security.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has engaged in an exercise of extreme militarization under its Songbun — “military first” — policy. That policy is predicated on the repression of North Korean citizens. The commission of inquiry estimated that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea devoted up to 25 per cent of its gross national product to defence spending. Even a minor redistribution of that amount would significantly alleviate suffering in the country.

This time last year, the Security Council added the question of the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to its agenda. With no discernible improvement in the country over the year, it is appropriate for the Council to discuss the situation again.

I thank High Commissioner for Human Rights Al Hussein and Under-Secretary-General Feltman for their briefings. New Zealand is deeply concerned about the situation they have outlined.

According to the Special Rapporteur’s report issued earlier this year (see A/70/362), 1,382 people were publicly executed between 2010 and 2014. Some of those victims were alleged to have done nothing more than challenge State policies or have their loyalty to the regime questioned. As we have heard today, the commission of inquiry estimated that prison camps hold up to 120,000 political prisoners. There are violations of freedoms of thought, expression and movement.

New Zealand concurs that North Korea’s threats of merciless punishment for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul are completely unacceptable. The safety and security of United Nations staff must be respected. New Zealand shares the concerns of other Council members on reports of abductions, forced labour, refoulement, human trafficking and much more. New Zealand acknowledges certain positive developments over the past two years. Pyongyang has invited High Commissioner Al Hussein to visit and to follow up on his Office’s interest in technical cooperation. There have been positive signs of improvement for persons with disabilities, including free medical care and specialized education.

Over 200 recommendations were made during the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s second Universal Periodic Review, with Pyongyang accepting close to half of them. We were pleased that the country accepted New Zealand’s recommendation to work closely with humanitarian agencies to ensure their free and unimpeded access to all populations in need. Humanitarian assistance must be distributed transparently and reach the most vulnerable citizens.

We require a collective effort to ensure that the human rights situation genuinely improves. New Zealand makes the following three calls for action.                 First, we call on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to put an immediate end to human rights violations, deliver on the promises made in the Universal Periodic Review, sign, ratify and implement key human rights instruments, open the door for discussions on human rights and unconditional visits by the Special Rapporteur and the United Nations leadership, engage in the newly established contact group on human rights, in which the country is a welcome member, and resume the discussions with OHCHR on technical cooperation.

Secondly, we call on Member States to continue to engage the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on human rights, where possible. We need to do what we can at the human level to bring North Koreans out of their enforced isolation. At the same time, Member States should continue discussions on accountability.

Finally, we call on the Security Council to remain seized of the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We should be ready to explore options to ensure that we are getting accurate information. The frequency of our meetings should correlate with the country’s progress in addressing the situation.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the centrality of the Korean peninsula to the security of the Asia-Pacific region, of which New Zealand is a part. Addressing the militarization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as it manifests itself in Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and the treatment of its citizens, is a task to which the Security Council and the wider international community must remain committed. To that end, we welcome the inter-Korean dialogue scheduled for 11 December in Kaesong.