The new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea, Elizabeth Salmon, told North Korea News that the international community “cannot abandon” the North Korean people, simply because efforts so far have failed to improve the human rights situation in the country.
In an exclusive interview, Salmon said she hopes to use her years of human rights work experience and legal knowledge to bring “fresh air” to the role. She also expressed her determination not to allow North Korea’s enemies to deviate her from her mandate, and that she intends to highlight the rights of women and girls in this country. The following are excerpts from the interview:
■ There seems to be a lack of friendliness between you and the North Korean government. In October, Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry referred to you as “a miserable political servant who will not succeed in her mission.” How do you deal with such hostile language?
■■ The former Special Rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, told me all of these things he heard from the North Korean government, so I wasn’t surprised by the government’s policy on this issue. My job is to try to find reliable and credible information from various actors in accordance with the UN resolution, to try to establish direct contact with the North Korean government, and also with the North Korean people, to investigate and report any violations, and to try to get people around the table to talk about it. This is my job, nothing else, and I will not deviate from my mission to defend human rights there.
■ North Korea does not have representative offices in New York and Geneva. Would you just knock on their door and say, “Can we talk?”
■■ I was just in New York, and I will be in Geneva next March for my second report. And I’m trying to do it in a separate way through channels. And I try to find some advice from the actors, from the countries that have contact with these missions, and from the North Korean government itself, so I will follow their advice, but I like to work in a secret way.
■ So far, you have issued several statements about the human rights situation in North Korea, but you have not published reports containing new findings. When can we expect your first original research?
■■ I kept thinking a lot about how this started, trying to inject some fresh air into these issues. I am fully convinced of the importance of gender equality, so I decided to focus on this aspect. I am now doing research on the strong legal foundations that women and girls in international law already have, but also on the legal framework that North Korea has accepted. In fact, Korea is a part of many human rights treaties, one of which is the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It sent out a call for submissions on research into the situation of women and girls, and formulated questions related to the violation of women’s right of movement, women who are detained, who face discrimination, etc.
■ North Korea vigorously defends its own version of human rights, which is less focused on individual rights than the concept of universal human rights. How would you address a country that takes a fundamentally different view of what human rights are?
■■ North Korea is a state party to five core international human rights treaties. Since 1984, North Korea has sent 11 state reports to various mechanisms that monitor these treaties. And I think it’s not entirely true that they don’t believe in the universality of human rights. Is it possible to say that a country with such a history of human rights, and its acceptance of human rights, at least formally, really challenges the idea of human rights? For me, this belief is hard to accept.
North Korea is a state party to five major international human rights treaties.
“It is not entirely true that Pyongyang does not believe in the universality of human rights.”