North Korean Rights Abuses May Be Crimes Against Humanity

Human-rights abuses by North Korea may constitute crimes against humanity, said Marzuki Darusman, the United Nations investigator who uncovered violations in the totalitarian state ranging from torture to arbitrary detention.

“Grave human-rights violations in the prison camps or the mere existence of slave camps may amount to crimes against humanity,” Darusman, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, told reporters in Geneva today. “Many if not all of these nine patterns may constitute crimes against humanity.”

Darusman told the Human Rights Council yesterday that his eight-year probe had uncovered nine systematic patterns of abuses including mass starvation, prison camps and no recourse or judicial system for people accused of crimes. He urged the UN to create an independent commission to investigate institutional and personal accountability for human-rights violations and to make recommendations to North Korean officials and the international community for further action.

North Korea may be holding as many as 200,000 political prisoners in camps with enforced labor where conditions are “dire” and “horrid,” Darusman said. “These camps have the purpose of driving the people detained there toward a slow death,” he said.

Little Impact

Gerard Corr, Ireland’s permanent representative to the UN who addressed the council yesterday on behalf of the European Union, said the EU and Japan plan to present a resolution to establish a commission of inquiry “to investigate the grave and persistent violations of human rights” in North Korea.

Such a move is unlikely to bring about any change, according to Richard Gowan, associate director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.

“The UN General Assembly has passed annual resolutions censuring North Korea for its human-rights situation for a decade, but it has made little or no difference on the ground,” he said today in an e-mailed reply to questions. “Even if the Human Rights Council tries to ratchet up the pressure, it’s unlikely to make much of an impact -- although it may still be the morally right thing to do.”

The North Korean representative to the 47-member council, Kim Song, called the resolution “nothing more than an instrument, a political plot” that is designed to create “an atmosphere of international pressure under the pretext of human-rights protection.”

‘No Cooperation’

It would be the first resolution for a commission of inquiry to probe human rights in North Korea. While Darusman’s predecessor brought the idea up, there was never a resolution because it was seen as being “incredibly divisive,” he said.

North Korea refused to give Darusman access during his investigation and “there is a given assumption that there will be no cooperation with the North Korean government,” the special rapporteur said. “That much we can be sure of.”

Darusman said North Korea’s repression of its citizens has been overshadowed by concerns about the country’s atomic program. The government of Kim Jong Un has said it possesses ballistic nuclear missiles that can target the U.S. and South Korea, and the North Korean leader told soldiers yesterday that “every day is a state of war,” official media reported.

The rights situation under Kim, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011, has worsened in some respects, Darusman said. The number of North Koreans fleeing their country has “trickled down” as border controls have been tightened and new laws have been passed to crack down further on citizens.

“The regime is becoming more and more rigid and harsh,” Darusman said. “It’s a much more entrenched system.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.