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[Incumbent] Statement at High-Level Segment of 40th Session of Human Rights Council

  • Date : 2019-02-26 10:22:42
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Statement by
H.E. Kang Kyung-wha
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea

High-level Segment
40th Session of the Human Rights Council
25 February 2019

Mr. Vice President, Madam High Commissioner, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, colleagues and friends,

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to address the Human Rights Council again this year.

I would like to congratulate High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet on her new mandate, and applaud her efforts for the last 6 months.  Under her leadership, infused with wisdom and experience, passion and dedication to the universal values of human rights and dignity, I am convinced that the OHCHR will assiduously and successfully carry out the task of promoting and protecting human rights even in these difficult times around the world.

Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Seven decades after the world promised rights, freedom and dignity for all, we still have a long way to go.  There is still too much discrimination, inequality, marginalization and injustice in too many parts of the world.  Systematic and gross human rights violations, including in conflict situations, continue to be committed with impunity in many places.  Indeed, in many countries, the gains of the past are losing ground to those who would rather ignore, dismiss or discredit human rights.

But we must not give up or lose hope.  As Martin Luther King once said “we must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”  Indeed, we need to try harder.  We should pay particular attention to vulnerable groups, including women and girls, children, refugees and internally displaced people, migrants in precarious situations, and many others.  This is all the more so as their conditions are exacerbated by the sweeping effects of climate change. We must grasp every opportunity to shore up the global and regional mechanisms to protect and promote their human rights.  My government is ready to do so, wherever the chance arises, including in the lead up to the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action next year. 

Mr. Vice President,

Setting out his agenda for the new year, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres singled out new technology as one of the three key challenges of the 21st century which require dramatically accelerated efforts this year. 

New technologies that define the Fourth Industrial Revolution are ushering in sweeping changes in our lives and societies, and yet the implications for human rights remain unclear.  There is both optimism and uneasiness.  What is clear is the need for concerted efforts – in-depth studies as well as constructive and inclusive dialogue – to understand the implications and to find ways to channel their powers to advance human rights and dignity. 

After all, technology is only as good or bad as the use or abuse we put it to.  It is up to us to maximize the benefits and minimize the downsides.  My country held a side event on this issue in cooperation with the OHCHR in the margins of the 39th session of the Council last year, and we also hosted an international forum on new technology and human rights in Seoul last December.  We will continue to work with other partners to make meaningful progress on this critical issue of our times.

Mr. Vice President,

Last year, I raised the issue of sexual violence in conflicts as a particularly insidious form of violence against women and girls.  To our great dismay, sexual violence in many conflict areas continues, despite the heroic efforts of fearless advocates such as Dr. Denis Mukwege and Ms. Nadia Murad, the recipients of last year’s Nobel Prize for Peace.
By honoring them, the prize reminded the world that we are far from eliminating sexual violence as an instrument of war, that victims and survivors are in need of support and must not be forgotten.

The news of the prize would have made Grandma “Kim Bok-dong,” very happy even as she laid in her sick bed.  She was one of the two dozen surviving victims of the “comfort women” during World War II and a fierce advocate for human rights.  Sadly, she passed away in late January this year at the age of 93.  Now, only 23 registered survivors remain, all in their late 80s and early 90s.  The knowledge that they are departing from us without having their lifelong pain fully addressed is sad and deeply frustrating.

Last year, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination once again underlined the significance of a victim-centered approach with regard to the issue of “comfort women.”  My government has humbly acknowledged that previous efforts on this issue had been grossly lacking in this regard, and we committed to the victim-centered approach in support of the survivors’ aspiration for justice based on historical truth.  We are also honoring them by ensuring that their stories are not lost and current and future generations learn from their experience, and strengthening our contribution to the global women, peace and security agenda.

As a part of these efforts, my government launched a new initiative entitled “Action with Women and Peace” last year.  There are two pillars to this initiative.  One is to support projects that address the needs of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations.  Under this pillar, we are supporting Rohingya refugee women through UNFPA and UNICEF.  We hope to do more as more funding becomes available.

The second pillar is to create an international platform to discuss issues of critical importance to Women, Peace and Security agenda, including sexual violence in conflicts.  We are planning to convene the 1st gathering of this initiative later this year.  I hope this initiative will contribute to further enhancing the WPS agenda globally, in the run-up to the 20th Anniversary of the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 next year.


Mr. Vice President,

During the past year, there has been remarkable changes on the Korean Peninsula.  The momentum for inter-Korean dialogue, created at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in February last year, led to three inter-Korean summits and the first-ever US-North Korea summit, thus opening the road to complete denuclearization and establishment of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.  In just two days, the 2nd US-North Korea summit will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam with a view to taking significant strides along this road. 

Human rights cannot thrive in the absence of peace, and peace is fragile at best where human rights are ignored.  The process to build a nuclear-free, peaceful Korean Peninsula has just started.  Progress will require sustained focus and will, patience and wisdom on the part of all parties.  But the reward will be enormous: peaceful coexistence where the human rights situation in North Korea will improve and all of the Korean people will be able to seek prosperous lives without the fear of war.

Last year, in this chamber, I underlined the need to resume reunions of families separated across South and North Korea as an urgent humanitarian and human rights issue.  I am pleased to report that a reunion did take place last August.  However, this is hardly enough, given the very advanced ages of the remaining survivors.  My government is working to open a permanent facility for family reunion meetings, as well as video reunions and exchanges of video messages, as agreed at the inter-Korean summit last September.

My government notes the DPRK’s cooperation with several UN treaty bodies, including, in particular, its recent submission of the first national report on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  We encourage North Korea to further expand its cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. Furthermore, we hope the DPRK makes use of its 3rd UPR scheduled in May this year as an opportunity for dialogue and cooperation with the international community to improve its human rights situations.

Mr. Vice President,

The task of grounding human rights as everyday values to uphold and live by has no end.  It requires hard work and sustained commitment.  As the High Commissioner stated this morning, the work of human rights is not about “perfection” but “progress.”  The Republic of Korea has worked incessantly to build and improve institutions to protect and promote human rights and to nurture a culture of human rights in the everyday lives of our people.  To share our experience and contribute to advancing the global human rights agenda, my government has been constructively engaging in the Council’s work, serving as a Member four times since its creation.

My country submitted its candidature for membership in the Council for the 2020-2022 term, hoping to strengthen our contribution to the Council’s response to the increasingly complex human rights and humanitarian challenges and crises around the world and to assist in capacity-building for developing countries.  We certainly count on the support of all delegations. 

Mr. Vice President,

When the GA adopted the resolution to establish the Human Rights Council in 2006, the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who had proposed its creation, expressed his confidence that this Council would breathe new life into our work for human rights, and thereby improve the lives of millions of people throughout the world.  At the same time, he pointedly noted that the true test of the Council’s credibility would be the use that member states make of it.  We all shared in that high expectation.

Have we lived up to the commitments and the aspirations we had for the Council at its creation?  We should constantly put this question to ourselves, as we redouble our efforts to strengthen the Council’s work in the service of millions of people who are discriminated, persecuted and subject to violence around the world.  We should ask the same question in our joint efforts to strengthen the UN human rights mechanisms as a whole, including in “Review 2020” of the human rights treaty body system scheduled for next year.  My government is firmly committed to these endeavors, and looks forward to returning as a Member of the Council next year.

Thank you.  /End/