By Eric Ryu, MJIL Staff Member

Even though the documented human rights abuses in North Korea is extensive, they are a party to four major international human rights treaties: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[1], International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights[2], Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)[3], and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).[4] As a party to a treaty, they have an obligation to send reports periodically to the respective committees of each signed treaty.[5] North Korea has not fulfilled their obligation and has not sent recent reports to most of the treaty committees.

In 2005, the Committee summarized in its report that North Korea has not implemented the provisions of the treaty.[6] Since then, North Korea has not submitted their periodic report until recently. In April 2016, North Korea submitted their periodic report to the CEDAW committee.[7] The periodic report goes into great detail of the adopted legislative and administrative measures and how it complies with each provision of the CEDAW.[8] The committee is set to have a session in 2017 to review the report.

Because North Korea is a highly patriarchal society, women face discrimination in all aspects of their lives. Violence against women is a significant problem both inside and outside the home.[9] Many women are victims of sexual abuse in labor camps and prisons and are frequently trafficked into forced marriages with Chinese men or the sex trade when they flee North Korea.[10] Although the North Korean constitution states that women hold equal social status and rights with men, women still face discrimination in the workforce when it comes to pay and promotion.[11]

Even if North Korea claims to have adopted measures to improve women’s rights, it is challenging to document the events that are occurring in North Korea. The lack of responsiveness from the North Korean government and their denial of allowing rapporteurs and experts to investigate the country have made the process of understanding the overall human rights situation in North Korea an even bigger challenge.[12] Also, the North Korean government still denies the existence of the human rights abuses.[13] What makes this situation intriguing is that North Korea is complying with CEDAW by sending in their periodic report, even though they were supposed to send in the report a long time ago, and they consistently deny the human rights abuses. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what the CEDAW committee has to say about North Korea’s report and if North Korea will actually comply with the committee’s concluding comments and suggestions.

[1] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force Dec. 14, 1981).

[2] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights art. 11, opened for signature Dec. 16, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (ratified Sept. 14, 1981).

[3] Convention on the Rights of the Child, Aug 23, 1990, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3.

[4] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, opened for signature Dec. 18, 1979, 1249 U.N.T.S. 13 (ratified Feb. 27, 2001).

[5] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Monitoring the Core International Human Rights,

[6] Comm. on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Rep. of the Comm. on Its Thirty-Second Session, U.N. Doc. A/60/38 (2005).

[7] Comm. on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Consideration of reports submitted by State parties under article 18 of the Convention, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/PRK/2-4 (2016).

[8] Id.

[9] U.S. Department of State, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2015 Human Rights Report 4 (2015).

[10] Human Rights Watch (2016),

[11] U.S. Department of State, supra note 9, at 19.

[12] See Richard Kagan et al., Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) 1–11 (1988).

[13] Roberta Cohen, Human Rights and Humanitarian Planning for Crisis in North Korea, 19 Int’l J. Korean Unification Studies 1, 3 (2015).