Court Urged to Adopt International Standards in Cases of Enforced Disappearance

New York City  – Human Rights First submitted an amicus brief before the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit yesterday urging the Court to increase its capacity to provide redress to families of victims of enforced disappearance by adopting evidentiary standards similar to those developed by international tribunals for similar cases. The amicus brief, which is in reference to a case concerning the enforced disappearance of Reverend Kim Dong Shik by officials of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), will assist the Court in understanding the particular evidentiary complexities posed by enforced disappearances and how international evidentiary standards are compatible for U.S. jurisprudence.

“International human rights tribunals have dealt extensively with cases of enforced disappearance and have developed a number of evidentiary standards that allow them to overcome the challenges posed by these cases,” said Human Rights First’s Ignacio Mujica. “Applying these international standards would be an important step toward providing redress to the victims and families of these horrific State-sponsored crimes.”

Mr. Kim was abducted from China by agents of the DPRK in retaliation for his work in support of North Korean refugees. He was transported into North Korea and, as the complaint alleges, interned in a Kwan-li-so –the DPRK’s infamous penal colonies- where he was tortured and executed. The plaintiffs brought a civil action against the government of the DPRK under the terrorism exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, but the DPRK did not appear in the procedure.

When a person is forcibly disappeared, direct evidence of his torture and execution is, by definition, almost always unavailable. The district court recognized this problem but rejected plaintiffs’ attempt to rely on extensive circumstantial evidence of Reverend Kim’s treatment. Plaintiffs appealed the decision.

“Congress enacted terrorism exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act to provide citizens with an effective tool to seek redress against States that sponsor terrorism and engage in acts of torture and extrajudicial killing,” noted Mujica. “The District Court’s demanding approach risks thwarting the intent of Congress in adopting the FSIA terrorism exceptions. By following this decision uncooperative States that engage in enforced disappearance can effectively immunize themselves by simply refusing to appear in these procedures.”

A recent report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea showed how the DPRK has systematically abducted, tortured, and executed political opponents. Human Rights First has a longstanding commitment in the fight against torture and continues to advocate for the adoption of accountability measures including the Torture Victim Protection Act. The organization supported the issuing of Executive Order 13491, banning the use of torture on individuals in U.S. custody in the context of their interrogation, and was instrumental in advocating for the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture.


Published on June 4, 2014


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