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The Peninsula

Seoul's Response to Pyongyang’s Views on Human Rights

Published April 2, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • On March 24th, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted its 19th resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses.
  • South Korea is not a co-sponsor of the resolution, though it will allow the resolution to be passed through consensus.
  • This is the third year in a row that South Korea has not co-sponsored the resolution based on a “’comprehensive consideration of various situations,’” according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Implications: South Korea’s posture on human rights in North Korea has remained largely consistent since high-level talks between Seoul and Pyongyang. For the third year in a row, South Korea has opted not to co-sign the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution on the human rights situation in North Korea after “consider[ing] situations on the peninsula.” This is the same position South Korea took in 2019, when it first decided not to co-sponsor the UNHCR resolution with the goal of making progress on nuclear talks. Despite coming under criticism for not co-signing the last two resolutions, the Moon administration is taking into consideration North Korea’s sensitivity towards criticism of its human rights abuses into its overall North Korea policy in the hopes of continuing dialogue. Although South Korea is not co-signing the bill, the government has agreed to allow the bill to pass through a consensus, just as it did for the previous two years.

Context: In 2003, the United Nations Human Rights Council began passing resolutions condemning North Korea’s human rights violations each year. Criticism of North Korea’s human rights abuses draws ire from the regime, and the Moon administration is mindful of this. South Korea has co-sponsored every UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses, with the exception of those passed in 2008, 2019, 2020, and now 2021. The 2021 resolution calls on North Korea to recognize its human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. Additionally, the 2021 resolution calls on North Korea to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by working with the international community. Notably, the United States has co-sponsored the resolution for the first time since 2018.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Melissa Cho and Alexandra Langford. Creative Commons image from Flickr account of the United States Mission Geneva

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