House of Lords Debate, 13th July 2017: Human Rights Violations on the Korean Peninsula

14 July 2017

In the debate, Baroness Cox addressed the House with the following statement:

My Lords, I too congratulate very warmly my noble friend Lord Alton on his tireless work on North Korea, on securing this debate and on his characteristically comprehensive opening speech.

The tragic death of the US student Otto Warmbier is just one example of the North Korean regime’s brutality, which has incarcerated between 100,000 and 200,000 political prisoners. Hundreds of escapees testify to the horrors of slave labour, torture and prisoners forced to scavenge for rats and snakes because of the deliberate shortage of food. For Christians and other religious minorities, the situation is particularly bleak, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s 2016 report, Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea, highlights the denial of freedom of religion and belief and the fact that it is a political crime to practise Christianity:

“Christians usually practice their faith in secret. If discovered they are subject to detention and then likely taken to prison camps … crimes against them in these camps include extra-judicial killing, extermination, enslavement/forced labour … torture … and other inhumane acts”.

Four years ago, the United Nations established a commission of inquiry, to which my noble friend Lord Alton has referred, to investigate North Korea’s human rights record. They found a state where “crimes against humanity” including extermination, murder, enslavement and torture are committed with impunity. The Australian High Court judge who chaired the inquiry, Justice Michael Kirby, claimed that the abuses committed in North Korea are on a par with the Holocaust. Kim Jong-un stands accused of crimes against humanity and should be called before the International Criminal Court. Can the Minister say what action the United Kingdom is taking to ensure that ICC referral and accountability for human rights abuses is a UN Security Council priority? On 6 July the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that the US would table a new resolution against Pyongyang at the UN Security Council. Will Her Majesty’s Government use their diplomatic leverage to ensure that human rights are at the centre of this new resolution, as requested by my noble friend Lord Evans?

I raise concerns about recent proposals that North Korea be invited to co-host skiing events at the Masikryong ski resort during next year’s Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korea. My noble friend Lord Alton recently raised this issue in a Written Parliamentary Question. I was reassured by the Minister’s concerns in the Answer about the use of forced child labour at the ski resort. Will Her Majesty’s Government use their influence to ensure a rather broader response to that and that the International Olympic Committee should not allow the North Korean regime to host the event at all?

I also raise concerns about UK travel and tourism in North Korea. Otto Warmbier’s case demonstrates the dangers of western citizens travelling to North Korea, and I welcome the Foreign and Commonwealth ​Office’s warnings to all those travelling there regarding the risks involved. However, there is a related concern that UK-run tour companies may be providing considerable revenue to the regime. Given the Minister’s response to Lord Alton’s Written Question that,

“it is not possible to accurately assess the income generated for the DPRK government from tourism”,

would Her Majesty’s Government consider barring all tourism to North Korea until the human rights situation improves? I speak as someone who, with my noble friend Lord Alton, has been there three times. At that time we thought it was right to go to raise our concerns; now we feel that it would not be right to go.

May I raise the case of Mr Ham Jin-Woo? Mr Ham escaped from North Korea in 2011 and has worked for the defector-run news organisation Daily NK since January 2012. His insider knowledge and sources have allowed him to provide the world with vital information about life inside North Korea. In addition, he used to be an agent of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which was in charge of abduction of Japanese citizens, so he has testified several times about the abduction operations that the bureau carried out and the nature of the institutions of the North Korean regime. On 28 May of this year, Mr Ham took a business trip to China to contact his sources and to obtain information. Since then, the Daily NK has not had any communications from him at all, and it is feared that he has been abducted.

The work of people like Mr Ham for defector organisations is particularly important, and his possible abduction in China is also, obviously, tragic. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider making representations to China to ensure that the Chinese Government do all they can to investigate the possible abduction of Mr Ham?

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2016, before completing his term as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman said:

“The totalitarian governing structure in North Korea absolutely denies rights to its people and its unchecked power appears as strongly entrenched as ever throughout the whole country”.

I passionately hope that this debate will highlight the case for our Government and the international community to redouble efforts to call the regime in North Korea to account and to end the impunity with which it is carrying out such systematic, wide-ranging and brutal violations of human rights, which should not be allowed to persist anywhere in our world today.

To read the whole debate, please click here.

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