North Korea to Head UN Disarmament Forum, 30 NGOs Urge Walk-out

UN Watch

– The United Nations has announced that North Korea will chair the world disarmament forum which negotiated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, sparking calls by an independent monitoring group for the U.S., the EU, and UN chief Antonio Guterres to strongly protest, and for their ambassadors to walk out of the conference during the four weeks of the North Korean presidency, starting on May 30, 2022. 

The 65-nation Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, is considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament efforts. The UN-backed body calls itself “the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community.”

“Having the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un preside over global nuclear weapons disarmament will be like putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization that monitors the United Nations.

“This is a country that threatens to attack other UN member states with missiles, and that commits atrocities against its own people. Torture and starvation are routine in North Korean political prison camps where an estimated 100,000 people are held in what is one of the world’s most dire human-rights situations,” said Neuer.

The activist group announced that it intends to hold protest events outside the UN hall featuring victims of North Korean abuses.

Under UN rules, the North Korean ambassador to the forum, Mr. Han Tae Song, will help organize the work of the conference and assist in setting the agenda. He will exercise all functions of a presiding officer, and represent the body in its relations with states, the General Assembly and other organs of the United Nations, and with other international organizations.

While the post is largely formal, “North Korea holding the president’s gavel is liable to seriously undermine the  image and credibility of the United Nations, and will send absolutely the worst message,” said Neuer.

“At a time when China, Russia, Libya, Kazakhstan and Venezuela are sitting on the UN’s human rights council, this won’t help.”

North Korea is world’s foremost weapons proliferator

A photo provided by the North Korean government showing what it said was a test-fire of a tactical guided missile on Jan. 17.

“North Korea is the world’s foremost weapons proliferator. The regime builds its own nuclear weapons in contravention of its treaty commitments. Pyongyang sells missile and atomic know-how to other rogue regimes in blatant violation of U.N. sanctions.”

Kim Jong-un launched six ballistic missiles in four weapons tests since Jan. 5, almost as many missiles​ in one month​ as North Korea launched in all of last year. On Tuesday, the South Korean military confirmed that the North had fired two cruise missiles in its fifth test of 2022.

“If the U.N. seeks to be an institution with a moral compass, it cannot allow the likes of North Korea to direct arms control agencies, and to  keep electing the world’s worst abusers on its top human rights body,” said Neuer.

“United Nations Watch urges the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and all other member and observer states to refuse to send ambassadors to any meeting of this UN forum that is being chaired by North Korea. The U.S. and Canada pulled out while Iran was chair in 2013, and should do so again,” said Neuer.

What UN Chief Guterres Should Do

The UN secretary-general is likely to say the post is merely the result of an automatic rotation, and that the matter can only be addressed by member states.

Yet actions taken by other high UN officials prove he can speak out. When Syria was elected to a UNESCO human rights committee in 2013, the head of that UN body went on record to say that the election was wrong. “Given the developments in Syria, the director-general does not see how this country can contribute to the work of the committees.”

According to Neuer, “past precedent shows that UN officials can act as the world’s moral voice when a UN committee makes obscene decisions which only cast a shadow on the reputation of the UN as a whole.”

He predicted attempts by UN officials to downplay what he described as “a fundamental conflict of interests” to have North Korea as president of a disarmament forum, “an act liable to be exploited by North Korean propaganda, to legitimize Kim Jong-un’s cruel regime.”

“A country that flagrantly violates UN Security Council resolutions explicitly prohibiting its ballistic missile launches should be barred from any formal positions in UN bodies dealing with the such vital matters as nuclear weapons disarmament,” said Neuer.

North Korea has continued developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in 2021 in violation of UN sanctions and despite the country’s worsening economic situation, UN sanctions monitors reported in August.

“The North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un simply cannot be a credible chair of this or any other United Nations body. North Korea’s illegal development of nuclear weapons, in breach of its disarmament obligations, run counter to the objectives and principles of the Conference on Disarmament itself. North Korea’s chairmanship will only undermine the integrity of both the disarmament framework and of the United Nations, and no country should support that.”

North Korea will assume the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament on May 30 and hold it over four weeks, until June 24.

About the Conference of Disarmament

The Conference of Disarmament (CD) reports to the UN General Assembly and is billed by the UN as “the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community.”

Established in 1979 after a special UN General Assembly session, the CD is made up of 65 countries who have been divided in recent years on key issues.

The conference and its predecessors have negotiated such major multilateral arms limitation and disarmament agreements as:

• Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

• Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction

• Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction

• Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques

• Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

UN Sanctions on North Korea for Illicit Nuclear and Missile Activities

The United Nations Security Council has adopted at least nine major sanctions resolutions on North Korea in response to the country’s illicit nuclear and missile activities since 2006.

Each resolution condemns North Korea’s latest nuclear and ballistic missile activity and calls on North Korea to cease its illicit activity, which violates previous UN Security Council resolutions.

In addition to imposing sanctions, the resolutions give UN member states the authority to interdict and inspect North Korean cargo within their territory, and subsequently seize and dispose of illicit shipments.

UN Disarmament Gender Policy

In other news, the UN disarmament office (UNODA) recently announced a new Gender Policy, which provides “an overarching framework for the Office to facilitate progress on gender-responsive disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation.”

The policy outlines office goals as well as “roles and responsibilities for achieving gender parity, inclusion, gender mainstreaming, and other strategic gender dimensions across UNODA policies, programs, projects, and structure.”

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