The Commission of Inquiry (COI)

“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been, and are being, committed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials." 


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The Commission of Inquiry (COI)

In March 2013, a resolution on the implementation of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) was adopted by a unanimous vote from the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council. For the first time as a United Nations body, the COI conducted a one-year investigation on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.


Resolution on the 
Implementation of the COI
Main Sponsors
    European Union (EU), Japan 
COI Commissioners
    Michael Kirby (Chief Commissioner, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia)
    Sonja Biserko (Expert Commissioner, Serbia)
    Marzuki Darusman (Investigation Commissioner, Special Rapporteur for North Korean Human Rights,     Indonesia)

9 Areas of Interpretation of the Mandate and Findings of the Commission 

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Substantive Areas of the Interpretation of the Mandates
Major COI Investigation Findings
Violations of the right to food, the full range of violations associated with prison camps, torture and inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, discrimination, in particular in 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 individual movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states.


Violations of freedom of thought and expression, religion
Discrimination on the basis of State-assigned social class, gender, and disability (3 Major groups, 51 sub-groups)
Violations of the freedom of movement and residence
Violations of the right to food and other violations of the right to life
Arbitrary detention, torture, capital punishment, and political prison camps
Foreign abductions and enforced disappearances

COI Investigation Conclusions and Recommendations

 "Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been, and are being, committed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials."


"In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the Commission constitute crimes against humanity."

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

"This type of political organization does not content itself with ensuring the authoritarian rule of a small group of people, but seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens' lives and terrorizes them from within."

COI Investigation Conclusions and Recommendations


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Relevant Party
   Major Recommendations
Implementation Status
North Korea
Undertake profound political and institutional reforms, introduce an independent and impartial judiciary, dismantle all political prison camps, reform of Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, Abolition of the death penalty both in law and practice
Unacknowledged, Rejected
UN/International Community
Refer the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court for action, extend the country-specific human rights monitoring and reporting mechanisms, establish a structure to ensure accountability
Establishment of the UN OHCHR Seoul Office, etc.
China
Respect the principle of Non-refoulement, extend asylum and other means of durable protection to persons fleeing the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Unacknowledged, Rejected
Republic of Korea
Foster Inter-Korean dialogue in a phased approach leading up to an Agenda for Reconciliation
Not Implemented

The Establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights 

in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

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Civil Society
Established in 2011, the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), involving over 40 organizations such as Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), had been urging the United Nations for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate on the crimes against humanity in North Korea. In Resolution A/HRC/RES/22/13, it is highlighted that along with continuous urging from the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioners, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and human rights experts, the establishment of the COI is the result of discussion and awareness from the international community and civil society organizations to address human rights issues in North Korea.
Resolution on North Korean Human Rights
Since the 1990s, the food crisis in North Korea and exponential growth of North Korean escapees, with continuous testimonies from civil society, raised the awareness of the international community towards the human rights situation in North Korea. Specifically in the early 2000s, the United Nations increased its pressure to address the human rights situation in North Korea. From 2003, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (replaced by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2006) adopted the Resolution on North Korean Human Rights. Since 2005, the resolution has been adopted annually in General Assembly meetings. On March 23rd, 2021, in the 48th meeting of the General Assembly, the Resolution on North Korean Human Rights was adopted without a vote at the Human Rights Council. This year, the United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted the resolution for the 19th consecutive year condemning North Korea's human rights violations.
Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

The Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2004 with the appointment of the Special Rapporteur Vitit Muntarbhorn and has been renewed on an annual basis by the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur submits reports on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly annually.


List of Special Rapporteurs: Vitit Muntarbhorn (former), Marzuki Darusman (former), Tomás Ojea Quinana (current) 

References: Understanding the Establishment of Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Its Prospects (Buhm-Suk Baek, Yuri Kim, 2013, The Asan Institute for Policy Studies), Ministry of Unification North Korea Database, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Historical and Political Background of the Human Rights Violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea through the COI

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