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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1273


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (11:14): I rise today to speak on this motion and to remind the House that Australia applauds the commission of inquiry's efforts to expose the deplorable human rights record of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea government. A United Nations panel led by retired High Court Judge Michael Kirby says that crimes against humanity have been committed in the DPRK. This report is the most authoritative account yet of human rights violations by North Korean authorities.

In UN resolution 22/13, adopted on 21 March 2013, the Human Rights Council established a commission of inquiry on human rights in the DPRK. The council mandated the commission to investigate the systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights including in particular the following nine specific substantive areas: violations of the right to food; the full range of violations associated with prison camps; torture and inhumane treatment; discrimination, in particular the systemic denial and violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms; violations of the freedom of expression; violations of the right to life; violations of the freedom of movement; enforced disappearances; and arbitrary arrest and detention including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states. This is a non-exhaustive list.

Following the announcement of the commission's investigation, the Human Rights Council urged the North Korean government to cooperate fully with the investigation, to permit the commission's members unrestricted access to visit the country and to provide them with all information necessary to enable them to fulfil their mandate. Immediately after the adoption of resolution 22/13, the DPRK publically stated that it would 'totally reject and disregard' the inquiry. In a letter dated 10 May 2013, the DPRK government informed the president of the Human Rights Council that it 'totally and categorically rejects the commission of inquiry'.

Due to this unchanged lack of access to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the commission obtained firsthand testimony through hearings that were transparent, observed due process and protected victims and witnesses. More than 80 witnesses and experts testified publically and provided information of great specificity, detail and relevance, in ways that often required a significant degree of courage.

The commission found that in many instances the violations found crimes against humanity based on state policies. The commission found that there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.

The state manufactures absolute obedience to the supreme leader, effectively to the exclusion of any thought independent of official ideology and state propaganda. Propaganda is further used by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to incite nationalistic hatred towards official enemies of the state including Japan, the United States of America, the Republic of Korea, and their nationals. Citizens are denied the right to access to information from independent sources. Discrimination is rooted in the Songbun system, which classifies people on the basis of state assigned social class and birth, and also included consideration of political opinions and religion.

In North Korea, the state imposes on citizens where they must live and work, violating their freedom of choice. Moreover, the forced assignment to a state designated place of residence and employment is heavily driven by discrimination based on Songbun. This has created a socioeconomically and physically segregated society where people considered politically loyal to the leadership can live and work in favourable locations whereas families of persons who are considered politically suspect are relegated to marginalised areas.

Unfortunately, justice for the crimes is a distant prospect—not least as North Korea's ally, China, is likely to block any referral to the International Criminal Court. However, Australia will continue to urge China to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to independently assess North Korean border crossers.

The report recommends steps towards accountability as well as building international pressure on North Korea, whose parlous human rights record has drawn less censure at the UN than its nuclear and missile programs. Australia urges North Korea to implement the commission's recommendations. Australia will do its part to ensure this report resonates beyond Geneva. The Australian government regularly raises its concerns about human rights in the DPRK both bilaterally and in multilateral settings.

It is a long road to obtaining a positive outcome. However, it is important that Australia continues to add its voice to the international community to stop these human rights violations, and I commend this motion to the House.

Debate adjourned.