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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1267


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (10:49): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes:

(a) the United Nations Human Rights Council's Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) released on 17 February 2014;

(b) the gravity, scale and nature of human rights violations and crimes against humanity which have been and are being committed systematically by the DPRK, including murder, enslavement, starvation, torture, rape and persecution on the grounds of race, religion and gender, and other inhumane acts;

(c) first hand testimony from DPRK refugees, escapees and asylum seekers;

(d) the political and security apparatus of the DPRK and the use of tactics including surveillance, selective distribution of food, fear, public executions and forced disappearances; and

(e) the crimes against humanity against non-DPRK citizens through international abduction and forced repatriation;

(2) recognises the significance of the public hearings held by the commission of inquiry, in informing the report;

(3) acknowledges the work of the Chair of the commission of inquiry, the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG, and his important contribution to improved international understanding and capacity to respond to the state of human rights in the DPRK; and

(4) calls on the Government to take all available steps to:

(a) support the recommendations of the report;

(b) urge United Nations action on the findings of the report; and

(c) support efforts to hold those responsible for crimes accountable through the International Criminal Court.

I rise today to draw attention to the United Nations Human Rights Council's Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The report is the outcome of 12 months' work since the UN's Human Rights Council established a commission to investigate the systematic and widespread violations of human rights in North Korea. While no-one with any interest in world affairs would be shocked to hear that the North Korean regime engages in systematic human rights abuses, this report was drafted with a view to ensuring that those responsible for these abuses will be held accountable. The report also provides a great degree of authority, through extensive evidence of crimes and through a greater level of detailed research and reporting than previous reports. As the commission's statement said on the report's release:

The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.

That a rigorous inquiry, with firsthand testimony, was carried out in a transparent way following due process, is a very important first step to ensure that the world is aware of what is taking place inside North Korea.

The extensive public hearings were a vital feature of the inquiry. The Commission of Inquiry conducted public hearings—in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington—during which almost 80 victims and witnesses of human rights violations, as well as experts, provided testimony on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. An additional 240 victims and witnesses who feared reprisals for their testimony against family members who remain in North Korea were able to give evidence confidentially to the commission and its secretariat. Through these public hearings and interviews, the commission found that systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights have been and are being committed in North Korea, based on state policies—that is, the policies of the government.

The report breaks down the human rights violations into a number of discrete categories, finding: widespread violations of the freedoms of thought, expression and religion; discrimination; violations of the freedom of movement and residence; violations of the right to food and the right to life; arbitrary detention, torture, executions and prison camps; and abductions and enforced disappearances, including even from other countries. The report focuses on the consideration of crimes against humanity committed against six groups of victims: inmates of political prison camps; inmates of the ordinary prison system, in particular, political prisoners among them; religious believers and others considered to introduce a subversive influence; persons who try to leave the country; starving populations; and people from other countries who became victims of international abductions and enforced disappearances.

The report finds that the political and security apparatus of the single-party DPRK regime is directly responsible for these crimes. The state bears responsibility for carrying out systematic and widespread attacks against anyone who is considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership. It bears responsibility for leading a systematic and widespread attack against the general population by knowingly aggravating its starvation; sacrificing the lives of large numbers of innocent citizens in order to preserve the political system and its leadership; and for abducting and forcibly disappearing a large number of persons from other countries in a systematic and widespread manner in order to gain labour and skills. Recent reporting from North Korea serves as a sobering reminder of the priorities of the current regime. While a basketball celebrity is hosted by the government, 120,000 citizens are detained in labour camps as political prisoners by their own government. This represents approximately one in every 200 citizens of the DPRK. It is almost impossible to imagine numbers on that scale.

Based on the body of testimony and information received, the commission found that the DPRK authorities have committed and are committing crimes against humanity in the political prison camps, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape and other grave sexual violence and persecution on political, religious and gender grounds. Guards and security agents serving in the political prison camps are taught to consider inmates to be subhuman enemies, who no longer enjoy citizens' rights. Accordingly, they are instructed to treat inmates without pity.

According to the commission's findings, hundreds of thousands of inmates have been exterminated in political prison camps and other places over a span of more than five decades. In order to eliminate perceived political enemies over the course of three generations, entire groups of people, including families with their children, have perished in the prison camps because of who they were and not what they had personally done. Some of the most disturbing interviews I think have come from one member of a family, who has explained that it was the action of that one member of the family that was responsible for the whole family being taken into custody and taken to a prison camp. Sometimes that member of the family, or the family as a whole, was not even told what they had been accused of doing. The imprisonment of entire families on the principle of guilt by association has been a defining feature of the DPRK's political prison camps. There are many instances where whole families, including children, have been sent to prison camps for the wrongs committed by a family member, and the interviews with parents in particular explaining their feelings on being responsible for their children being taken into these camps are truly harrowing.

Even where families are spared prison camps they often remain subject to harsh official reprisals, including being removed from their jobs through associative guilt. Families of prisoners are also subject to heightened persecution and surveillance, as are families with members who are missing or who have defected. There are also cases of families being forcibly relocated due to a family member having been charged as a political dissident and sentenced to a political prison camp. These relocations are often to remote or isolated areas where mass starvation is common.

Another assault on whole families is dealt to those persons with disabilities. These families are simply 'not allowed to live in Pyongyang' and are regularly relocated out of the capital. Immense hardship is also faced by families who have been separated between the north and the south before and during the Korean War. These families had little or no opportunity to see each other, exchange letters or speak over the telephone for more than six decades. At the end of 2013, the Unified Information Center for Separated Families had on its register of 'separated families', 129,264 persons, about 71½ thousand alive and close to 60,000 deceased.

I think that it is appropriate that the House acknowledge the work of the commission's chair, former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. Justice Kirby has long been a tireless advocate for human rights both here in Australia and abroad, and the United Nations could not have found a more qualified individual for this role. Justice Kirby was joined by Sonja Biserko from Serbia and Marzuki Darusman from Indonesia, and I would like to acknowledge their contributions to this important work also.

Also and most particularly, I acknowledge the bravery of witnesses, those who have been closest to the atrocities and hurt most by the crimes in question. Their brief contribution in coming forward and speaking out took phenomenal courage and strength, and without their will the investigation which made the report possible would not have occurred. For their sake and for the sake of all North Koreans, the international community must take action. Noting the report's finding that 'systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea', no-one can claim ignorance of the atrocities committed by the North Korean regime any longer. I call on the government to support the report's recommendations.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Craig Kelly ): Is the motion seconded?

Ms Brodtmann: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.