Last December, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favour of referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity. The March issue of International Affairs leads with Alex Bellamy’s exploration of how the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect relates to the situation in North Korea.
The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) is arguably the world’s
most chronic abuser of human rights. In an unprecedented move, a Commission
of Inquiry established by the UN’s Human Rights Council accused the DPRK
government of systematic violations of human rights amounting to crimes against
humanity. In so doing, the Commission succeeded in putting human rights in
the DPRK on the global agenda. Within months the UN’s General Assembly
and Security Council had joined the human rights body in examining the issue.
This article explains the emergence of this new engagement with human rights
in the DPRK, showing its relation to the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ principle.
It charts the growing sense of frustration felt at the lack of progress on human
rights in DPRK and shows how this was manifested in the General Assembly’s
decision to pursue the Commission’s recommendations and call on the Security
Council to take concrete steps. Despite this, however, the article shows that there
are powerful obstacles in the way of a more robust international approach to
human rights in the DPRK and counsels a less confrontational approach focused
on engaging China and building trust within the Security Council.