North Korea’s Kim Should Face Human Rights Trial, UN SaysRobert Hutton and Sangwon Yoon
North Korea has committed the worst crimes against humanity in modern history and leader Kim Jong Un should be tried by the International Criminal Court and held accountable, a United Nations commission said.
The country’s crimes include “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence,” the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry into North Korea concluded in its final report published yesterday in Geneva. They found evidence that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners remain in internment camps, a number that has fallen “owing to deaths.”
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the report said.
The report by a team of 12 investigators paints a picture at odds with that presented domestically by Kim’s regime, offering an image of socialist prosperity. The Security Council will have to unanimously approve the request for any action at the International Criminal Court. That may be unlikely as China and Russia, two of five veto-wielding members, have consistently blocked punitive moves against North Korea’s human rights record.
Similar to Nazis
“At the end of the Second World War so many people said, ‘If only we had known, if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces,’ ” commission chairman Michael Kirby said at a press conference yesterday.
The atrocities that continue under Kim are “strikingly similar” to those perpetrated by the Nazis. “There will be no excusing the failure of action because we didn’t know -- we do know.”
North Korea barred the independent panel from entering the country to conduct its investigation. The panel instead took testimony from refugees and defectors at hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington.
Jo Jin Hye, 26, cried during her testimony in Washington on Oct. 31 when she talked about her father’s death en route to a gulag, a sister abducted while searching for food and forced into sex slavery in China and a newborn brother who died for lack of milk.
North Korea leaders regularly denounce those speaking out as fabricators and call them “human scum,” the report said.
‘Reduced to Nothing’
“Nobody in their right mind chooses to publicly shame themselves with lies about being sexually trafficked, tortured and reduced to nothing,” said Jo, who successfully sought asylum in the U.S. in 2008 after four failed attempts to escape the North.
The few North Koreans who do manage to get out to tell their stories generally travel through neighboring China, where they also face brutality and abuse.
The commission found that China forcibly repatriates many North Koreans who manage to flee and that North Korean “brokers” in China routinely traffic women from the North into forced marriages and other forms of sexual slavery in China. Women who may eventually be discovered by the Chinese and repatriated often have their babies killed by authorities in North Korea to prevent mixed-race children, the report said.
“We cannot accept this unreasonable accusation” that the repatriations contribute to rights abuses, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said today in Beijing. “We feel politicizing the human rights problem does not help in improving human rights situation in a country”
North Koreans who enter China do so for economic reasons, the Chinese government said in a letter to the commission in response to a request for information and a chance to visit China. “We do not refer to refugees but illegal border crossers,” Hua said today.
Kim took over as North Korean leader after his father, Kim Jong Il, died at the end of 2011, and he continues to perpetuate the repression begun by his grandfather Kim Il Sung after the end of the Korean War in 1953 that sealed the division of the two Koreas.
Under the younger Kim the government still spends “large amounts” on “luxury goods and the advancement of his personality cult instead of providing food to the starving general population,” the report said. Military spending in the country has taken priority over feeding the hungry, “even during periods of mass starvation.”
Human Rights Watch welcomed the report, saying the the UN and international community often focus too much on the threat of the North’s nuclear weapons program and not enough on its treatment of its own people.
“This shocking report should open the eyes of the UN Security Council to the atrocities that plague the people of North Korea and threaten stability in the region,” Kenneth Roth, executive director at New York-based Human Rights Watch said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “By focusing only on the nuclear threat in North Korea, the Security Council is overlooking the crimes of North Korean leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public executions, disappearances, and mass starvation.”
The South Korean government “welcomed” the report and the U.S. said the report provides “compelling evidence of widespread, systematic, and grave human rights violations,” which reflect “the international community’s consensus view” that the human rights situation in the North is among the world’s worst, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.