2024 Thematic Report to the 79th Session of the UN General Assembly

Presented by Olimpia Guidi and Sarah Kuipers

Human rights organisations and NGOs play a crucial role in monitoring the impact of sanctions on human rights and providing support to affected parties. 12

In addressing the impact of sanctions on rights, Russia has recourse to various international mechanisms. These include the United Nations (UN), which it can engage through the UN Security Council, leveraging its position as a permanent member to voice concerns and negotiate resolutions. 15 Additionally, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Russia can challenge trade-related sanctions that contravene WTO agreements through dispute settlement mechanisms. 16

Furthermore, Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe subjects it to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). 17 Individuals or entities affected by sanctions can bring cases before the ECHR alleging violations of human rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. 18 Moreover, Russia could potentially utilise the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to challenge sanctions it believes violate international law or treaties. 19

However, ICJ jurisdiction requires the consent of all parties involved, posing limitations on its effectiveness. 20

Despite these avenues, the effectiveness of international mechanisms in safeguarding rights impacted by sanctions is subject to various limitations. Political considerations often hinder progress, with powerful actors reluctant to challenge one another’s actions. 21 Legal processes within these international bodies are typically time-consuming, offering delayed relief. 22 Enforcement of decisions and compliance by sanction-imposing countries can also be challenging. Furthermore, the scope of these mechanisms may not fully address the extraterritorial application of sanctions or their broader economic ramifications.

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12 Goncharenko, G., & Khadaroo, I. (2020). Disciplining human rights organisations through an accounting regulation: A case of the ‘foreign agents’ law in Russia. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 72, 102129. Available at:https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S104523541930108X

15 Gifkins, J. (2021). Beyond the veto: Roles in UN Security Council decision-making. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 27(1), 1-24.
16 Gantvarg, I. (2023). Categorisation and Legality of Trade Sanctions Imposed on Russia: Examining Compatibility with WTO and UN Legislation.
17 Nelaeva, G. A., Khabarova, E. A., & Sidorova, N. V. (2020). Russia’s Relations with the European Court of Human Rights in the Aftermath of the Markin Decision: Debating the “Backlash”. Human Rights Review, 21, 93-112
18 Ibid.
19 Sarkin, J. J., & Sarkin, E. (2022). Reforming the International Court of Justice to Deal with State Responsibility for Conflict and Human Rights Violations. International Human Rights Law Review, 11(1), 1-35. Available at:https://brill.com/view/journals/hrlr/11/1/article-p1_001.xml
20 Wulandari, R. (2022). Jurisdiction Issues of the International Court and the effectiveness of ICJ’s Decision in the Russia-Ukraine Dispute Resolution. Nurani: Jurnal Kajian Syari’ah dan Masyarakat, 22(2), 343-350.
21 Frye, T. (2022). Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia. Princeton University Press.
22 Ibid.

Towards Global Justice: Advocating for a Moratorium on the Death Penalty

Presented by Sarah Kuipers, María Núnez Fontán and Ariel Ozdemir

In 2020, 37 states voted against at the UNGA res 75/183 on the use of the death penalty, one of which was North Korea (DPRK). i However, the DPRK has not yet abolished the death penalty and therefore remains a retentionist state. Due to its political nature and isolationist policies, the subsequent lack of access to the DPRK continues to prove a barrier to data collection on the implementation of the resolution and the abolition of the death penalty for NGOs and international bodies alike. However, eyewitness accounts of North Korean defectors provide vital information into the inner workings of the DPRK and the ongoing use of the death penalty. This report will outline relevant updates on the situation in the DPRK regarding the use of the death penalty, the implementation of resolution 75/183, and the impacts on human rights in the country.

According to some NGOs, there are not many reliable sources from the DPRK, which would provide transparent data on the death penalty. As mentioned by Amnesty International, the issue lies within the dependent media sources and lack of transparency in verification. v

While the DPRK maintains that they do not carry out public executions, credible information from defectors gathered by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International contradicts these statements. xii As of recent reports, the DPRK has continued to employ the death penalty as a means of enforcing its authoritarian rule. The death penalty is codified into North Korean law for various lethal and non-lethal crimes. For example, the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act (enacted in January 2023) bans any language deemed to have foreign influence or exhibit linguistic similarities to South Korean language. xiii During and following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea has also enforced a ‘Shoot on Sight’ order at the border for anyone attempting to enter or leave the country. xiv While limitations on freedom of movement have been somewhat eased for select people within and outside North Korea, the majority of the country’s citizens continue to be banned from leaving, punishable by death as “treachery against the nation”. xv

In another case last year, 20 young athletes were reportedly sentenced to 3-5 years hard labour for using South Korean language and slang (while execution was also a possible legal punishment for their actions under the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act) xxi . Executions have also been reportedly carried out for religious and superstitious activities, drugs, and the breaking of covid regulations. xxii Moreover, reports indicate that infanticide and forced abortion have been used, especially in cases of mothers who were political prisoners, people with disabilities, victims of sexual violence by government officials and prison guards, and defectors forcibly repatriated from the PRC.

However, the utilisation of the death penalty in North Korea represents a gross violation of fundamental human rights including the right to life. The process lacks the most basic standards of due process and fairness, violating the fundamental right to a fair trial. Trials are often conducted behind closed doors, with defendants denied access to legal representation and facing pressure to provide forced confessions. xxiii Furthermore, the arbitrary nature of the accusations and lack of transparency surrounding these executions raise serious concerns about the legitimacy of the judicial system in North Korea.

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i UN RESOLUTION FOR A UNIVERSAL MORATORIUM ON THE USE OF THE DEATH PENALTY ANALYSIS OF THE 2020 VOTE. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2024, from https://old.ecpm.org/wp-content/uploads/flyer-moratoire-GB-2020-211220.pdf

v DEATH SENTENCES AND EXECUTIONS 2022 AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL GLOBAL REPORT (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2024, from https://www.amnesty.ch/de/themen/todesstrafe/dok/2023/todesstrafen-bericht-2022-hoechststand-seit-5-jahren/amnesty-report-death-sentences-and-executions-2022.pdf

xii Amnesty International (2021) Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea): Public Executions: Converging Testimonies. https://www.amnesty.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/asa240011997en.pdf

xiii Hassan, T. (2023) North Korea: Events of 2023. Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2024/country-chapters/north-korea

xiv Sifton, J. (2020) North Korea’s Unlawful ‘Shoot on Sight’ Orders: Lethal Force at Border Needs to Comply with Human Rights Law. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/28/north-koreas-unlawful-shoot-sight-orders
xv Hassan, T. (2023) North Korea: Events of 2023. Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2024/country-chapters/north-korea; Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (2009) The Criminal Law of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. https://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/The%20Criminal%20Law%20of%20the%20Democratic%20Republic%20of%20Korea_2009_%20(1).pdf

xxi Kim, J. (2023) North Korea Sentences 20 Young Athletes for ‘Speaking Like South Koreans’. Radio Free Asia. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/korea/athletes-04132023094854.html
xxii Reuters (2023) North Korea Executes People for Sharing S Korean Media: Report. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/31/north-korea-executes-people-for-sharing-s-korean-media-report; Bremer, I. (2024) North Korea Has Executed Citizens for Violating COVID Rules: Report. NK News. https://www.nknews.org/2024/01/north-korea-has-executed-citizens-for-violating-covid-rules-report/

xxiii Amnesty International (2021) Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea): Public Executions: Converging Testimonies. https://www.amnesty.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/asa240011997en.pdf