The United Nations panel set up to investigate human rights violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) will begin a series of public hearings next week in Seoul, Republic of Korea, aimed at gathering information from various witnesses.
Michael Kirby, the chairman of the three-member Commission of Inquiry, said the panel decided to take public testimony to help raise international awareness of conditions in DPRK and because of a lack of response by Pyongyang to the requests of the UN team to be allowed entry into the country.
"We are approaching this inquiry with impartiality and with no preconceptions," he stated in a news release. "We have asked to visit the DPRK and we have also taken steps to reach out to the Government to seek their participation in the hearings, so far to no avail."
Established by the UN Human Rights Council in March for a period of one year, the commission is tasked with investigating the "systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights" in DPRK in order to ensure full accountability, in particular for violations which may amount to crimes against humanity.
In addition to Kirby, a retired judge from Australia, the commission comprises Sonja Biserko, founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, and Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney General of Indonesia and the current UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK.
The hearings will be held from 20 to 24 August on the campus of Yonsei University and are expected to involve some 30 witnesses. Members of the commission will also hold meetings with senior Government officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research institutions. A similar round of hearings is also scheduled for Tokyo later in the month.
"We are determined to shed light on the different aspects of various alleged human rights violations," Kirby said. "To the extent that we establish that such violations have occurred, we will also seek to determine whether crimes against humanity have occurred and who bears responsibility among different state institutions and officials. But it is not possible at this moment to envisage the level of detail that the commission will be able to achieve in establishing lines of responsibility, if any."
Possible violations to be investigated by the commission include those pertaining to the right to food, prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and enforced disappearances.
The commission is scheduled to present an update to the Geneva-based Council on its findings in September, and to the General Assembly in here in October. A final written report will be submitted to the Council in March 2014.
Kirby noted that at this stage, it is not possible to say what follow-up process will unfold. "It will mostly depend on the findings of our investigation, the conclusions and the recommendations that will be reached and the decision of the competent organs of the UN and other international institutions in implementing - or not - our recommendations," he said.
Next week's hearings will be accessible to the public through media reports and regular updates on the commission's website, where video will be posted following the public testimonies.