UN Debate Reveals Latin States Fear Review of Human Rights Violations

Cuba along with Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia actively opposed the adoption of a targeted United Nations resolution on North Korea which would offer further mechanisms for holding the government responsible for crimes against humanity, illustrating these governments’ own fears and unwillingness to be targeted for review.

On 18 November, the United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee held a vote on a draft resolution on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran and Syria. The majority voted in favor of such targeted country reviews yet intense debates resulted from those who actively opposed them. Cuba along with Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia where active in the intense debate and opposed such reviews. While the debate that took place also concerned country-specific reviews of Iran and Syria, the Cuban led opposition mainly targeted the draft resolution on the DPRK. The representative of the North Korea delegation threatened that the approval of the resolution would put an end to the ongoing human rights dialogue with the European Union.

‘’A grim array of human rights abuses have been and continue to be committed in DPRK and urgent action is needed to address the rights situation in the country. The fact that four Latin American countries actively oppose such additional mechanisms to promote human rights is worrisome and should be seen as a sign of fear of being targeted for reviews of human rights violations in their own countries’’ said Erik Jennische, Programme Director for Latin America at Civil Rights Defenders.

The resolution on the DPRK is based on the findings published in an October report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in DPRK, Marzuki Darusman and the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea which found that ‘’crimes against humanity are ongoing in the [DPRK] because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place”.

Cuba, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, led the opposition by proposing an amendment to the resolution, which would remove the two operative paragraphs and replace them with a text that would grant the General Assembly the mandate to vote for a new cooperative approach on human rights.

Cuba’s concerns centered on the operative paragraphs 7 and 8 of the resolution, which would make possible the use of the evidence gathered by the Commission as grounds for determining that crimes against humanity have been committed. They would also make possible the submission of these reports to the Security Council and the International Criminal Court.

Among the 19 countries that voted against the draft resolution, four Latin American countries actively opposed the resolution including Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Three Latin American countries abstained: the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Brazil voted in favor of the resolution stating that although DPRK had made progress in engaging with the United Nations’ human rights system, there was still “room for more improvement”.

The main arguments put forward by the opposition led by Cuba centered on the right to national sovereignty and the principles of non-selectivity and objectivity as established by the United Nations Charter. Cuba argued that resolutions should not target or single out specific countries but should instead build on dialogue and a more “cooperative approach”. Cuba also pointed out that the three countries proposed for the targeted country reviews are all part of the Non-Aligned Movement, thus illustrating the bias and double standard of the resolution.

Venezuela’s argument was similar in stating that it could not support country-specific and politically motivated resolutions. Ecuador’s delegation stated that it rejected human rights violations regardless of where they occur, but that the operative paragraphs included in the draft would undermine the principle of cooperation on human rights. Bolivia voted against the resolution but did not make a statement during the debate. According to this line of reasoning, the singling out of specific countries, as the proposed resolutions would do, would be counterproductive for promoting human rights. The opposition also argued that the proposed resolutions would undermine the Universal Periodic Reviews, which should serve as the main mechanism for promoting human rights.

The arguments put forward by the opposing countries fall short of offering any reason for why country targeted reviews would not provide a tool for promoting human rights. Considering the endless opportunities for dialogue and cooperation already extended to North Korea, it is unlikely that such efforts would prove successful. The proposed resolutions would provide tools for acting upon the findings of the Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council and determine whether crimes against humanity have been committed. The two operative paragraphs (7 and 8) would improve the possibilities of acting upon findings and hold states responsible.

Established by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was charged with investigating the systematic, widespread and grave reports of violations of human rights in DPRK, with a view to ensuring full accountability.

After an 11 month investigation, the Commission documented in great detail the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the country and described crimes such as “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, forcible transfer of populations, enforced disappearance and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”. This included a 400-page set of linked reports and supporting documents, culled from first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses.

Read more:
Resolution on North Korea
Meeting coverage of the debate
Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Voting results

Categories: News.
Regions: Latin America.