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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

The DPRK at the UN General Assembly: Losing Friends

by | December 6th, 2012 | 07:00 am
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Every year since 2005, the European Union and Japan have taken the lead in crafting a  resolution on the human rights situation in North Korea. They secure support from a group of co-sponsors and shepherd the resolution through the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee (the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee) before it is voted by the full UNGA, typically in December.

Background for the resolutions are provided in part by the fact that North Korea is one of a handful of autocracies that fall under a Special Rapporteur mandate with respect to its human rights record. The mandate was adopted by the UN Human Rights Commission in 2004, and has been extended annually since. Each year, the Special Rapporteur submits two reports, one to the Human Rights Council and one to the General Assembly; see our analysis of the last report here.

Last week, something strange happened: the Third Committee passed the draft resolution (available here) by consensus. This being the UN, consensus is not of course consensus. Rather, it is a decision-making process in which no vote is taken, although parties may abstain from the consensus. The usual suspects did just that including in addition to North Korea, China, Cuba, and Venezuela.

This outcome led us to take a closer look at what has been happening to these resolutions since they were first introduced, and the results are interesting. In 2005, the first resolution garnered support from 88 nations, but 21 voted no outright, 60 abstained and 22 did not vote. Fast-forward to 2011: 123 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 16 voted no, 51 abstained and only 3 failed or refused to vote. In short, no votes, abstentions and the number of countries not voting have all fallen, while the number supporting the resolution is at record highs.

If only these resolutions had any concrete effect. Nonetheless, it is heartening that the number of countries willing to go on the record with respect to North Korea’s human rights has increased by about 50 percent over the last seven years, with significant increases last year and hopefully this year too.

The full voting record:

60/173 of 16 December 2005. Yes: 88, No: 21, Abstentions: 60, Non-Voting: 22, Total voting membership: 191

61/174 of 19 December 2006. Yes: 99, No: 21, Abstentions: 56, Non-Voting: 16, Total voting membership: 192

62/167 of 18 December 2007. Yes: 101, No: 22, Abstentions: 59, Non-Voting: 10, Total voting membership: 192

63/190 of 18 December 2008. Yes: 94, No: 22, Abstentions: 63, Non-Voting: 13, Total voting membership: 192

64/175 of 18 December 2009. Yes: 99, No: 20, Abstentions: 63, Non-Voting: 10, Total voting membership: 192

65/225 of 21 December 2010. Yes: 106, No: 20, Abstentions: 57, Non-Voting: 9, Total voting membership: 192

66/174 of 19 December 2011. Yes: 123, No: 16, Abstentions: 51, Non-Voting: 3, Total voting membership: 193