Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea
H.E. CHOI Jongmoon
46th Session of the Human Rights Council
22-24 February 2021
Madam High Commissioner,
It is my honor and pleasure to address the 46th session of the Human Rights Council. Taking this opportunity, I would like to pay tribute to the High Commissioner, OHCHR staff, and the Council Bureau members for their unwavering dedication during this challenging time.
But we are still under the shadow of the pandemic, and the Council must continue to address the somber reality of COVID-19. The virus has been leaving deep wounds and scars around the world, including the loss of numerous lives, growing economic and social inequalities, hatred and discrimination. With the Council’s guidance, we should ensure that human rights and democratic principles inform and shape our COVID-19 responses.
The Council must also offer rights-based guidance on the post-COVID-19 world. There is concern that recovery from the pandemic might be uneven and fragmented. Without inclusive recovery based on accessible vaccines and treatments, all of us will remain vulnerable.
My delegation reiterates its support for fair and equitable access to vaccines and treatments, and a multilateral approach in fighting against this pandemic. In this regard, we hope that all the related countries will join the Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health – launched last December following President Moon Jae-in’s proposal at the UN General Assembly.
COVID-19 has been shedding light on the pros and cons of new and emerging technologies. Harnessing digital technology has indeed enabled a more effective delivery of public health services, while its misuse and resulting human rights violations.
In this context, my government seeks to bring the Council’s attention to new and emerging technologies and their human rights implications. We are particularly keen to approach the issue comprehensively, neither downplaying the benefits nor disregarding the downsides. I look forward to your support and participation in the second Human Rights Council resolution on this issue, to be tabled at the 47th session this year.
Now is the time to reaffirm the universal nature of human rights. I am sure we all agree that human rights must be upheld for every individual, in every country, and in every situation even in the face of the pandemic. We should remain vigilant in protecting and promoting human rights, however turbulent the world may be.
An urgent issue we must deal with is sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings. The grim reality is that sexual violence continues to be used as a war tactic and a means of torture and terror.
It is crucial that we do not forget the victims and survivors of such violence. Current and future generations should learn valuable lessons from the painful experience of the so-called “comfort women” victims from World War II. The tragedy of the “comfort women” must be addressed as a universal human rights issue, and the recurrence of such grave violations of human rights in conflict must be prevented. The Korean government will keep endeavoring to restore the dignity and honor of the “comfort women” victims - a dwindling number of elderly women in their 90s - with a survivor-centered approach at the core.
Korea will also continue to reach out to the victims and survivors around the world through assistance programs and international platforms. The Korean government has been working with UN agencies to support refugee women and victims of gender-based violence in conflict-affected communities. We have convened two international conferences to discuss a survivor-centered approach in tackling conflict-related sexual violence. A third international gathering will follow, as we continue to galvanize public awareness and political will on this pressing issue.
The promotion and protection of human rights has been one of the top priorities of the Moon Jae-in Government. We must all the more value the universality of human rights. Making no exception in this approach, our government has had profound interest in and concerns over the human rights situation in North Korea. We have been endeavoring to substantively improve the human rights of the North Korean people in cooperation with the international community.
The Korean government notes with concern the UN reports that more than 10 million people are estimated to be undernourished in North Korea. And this humanitarian situation could further deteriorate due to a combination of factors including economic sanctions, COVID-19 and natural disasters. Concerns over the human rights situation should not hinder us from paying attention to the humanitarian situation in North Korea.
In this vein, the Republic of Korea will continue to cooperate closely with the UN human rights mechanisms and humanitarian organizations. We also hope that North Korea will respond to our repeated calls for a lasting resolution to the tragedy of separated families, which remains one of the most urgent humanitarian and human rights matters.
Korea is also closely watching the recent developments in Myanmar. We express deep concern over the current situation in Myanmar after the removal of the government elected by the people of Myanmar. The Korean government reaffirms its utmost respect for the Myanmar people’s aspiration for democracy that was demonstrated in the general election last November. We hope that the issue will be resolved peacefully, in adherence with a lawful and democratic process.
As a member of the Human Rights Council, my government is ready to work for a more effective, efficient, and relevant Human Rights Council in close cooperation with member states. In this regard, we welcome the recent announcement of the United States’ re-engagement with the Council, and look forward to working together for our common cause.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Korea’s membership in the United Nations, which presents a great opportunity to renew and reinforce our commitment to the UN’s founding visions. Our government is ready to protect and promote universal human rights, as well as to take an active part in implementing the Council’s noble mandate. Thank you. /End/