N Korea should face criminal court, UN report says
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North Korea’s officials and military leaders should face the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a litany of crimes against humanity that include exterminating, starving, torturing and enslaving their people, a UN team said on Monday.
The investigators told North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in a letter they were advising the United Nations to refer his regime to the ICC to ensure any culprits, “including possibly you”, were held accountable.
The report lists atrocities including murder, torture, rape, abduction, enslavement, starvation, forced abortion and executions, as well as “the inhuman act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”.
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” it said.
The report on the totalitarian state also revealed that commission chair Michael Kirby, formerly an Australian High Court justice, had written to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un warning him he could face justice personally for the crimes committed by the system he runs.
“Any official of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who commits, orders, solicits or aids and abets crimes against humanity incurs criminal responsibility by international law and must be held accountable under that law,” Kirby wrote.
It was “open to inference” that the officials “are, in some instances, acting under your personal control”, he wrote.
The Commission of Inquiry on North Korea was set up in March 2013 by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council and heard unprecedented public testimony by defectors at hearings held in South Korea, Japan, Britain and the United States.
Reminiscent of the Nazis
Separately, Kirby told Reuters the crimes his team had catalogued in a 372-page report were reminiscent of those committed by the Nazis in World War Two. “Some of them are strikingly similar,” he said.
“Testimony [by defectors] was given ... in relation to the political prison camps of large numbers of people who were malnourished, who were effectively starved to death and then had to be disposed of in pots, burned and then buried ... It was the duty of other prisoners in the camps to dispose of them.”
Human rights organisations estimate that up to 130,000 people are held in North Korea’s four known prison camps.
The ICC report said that “If [detainees] are not executed immediately, persons held accountable for major political wrongs are forcibly disappeared to political prison camps that officially do not exist. Most victims are incarcerated for life... The limited information that seeps out from the secret camps also creates a spectre of fear among the general population ... creating a powerful deterrent against any future challenges to the political system.”
The North Korean state had used food as a means of control and military spending, including the country’s controversial nuclear program, had been prioritised even during famine, the report continued.
“The commission finds that decisions, actions and omissions by the state and its leadership caused the death of at least hundreds of thousands of people and inflicted permanent physical and psychological injuries on those who survived. Hunger and malnutrition continue to be widespread. Deaths from starvation continue to be reported.”
Investigators were not able to confirm reported allegations of “gruesome medical testing of biological and chemical weapons” on disabled people and political prisoners but said they wanted to investigate further.
North Korea’s diplomatic mission in Geneva dismissed the findings shortly before they were released. “We will continue to strongly respond, to the end, to any attempt of regime-change and pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection’,” the government said.
The ‘politicisation’ of human rights
North Korea had refused to cooperate with the inquiry, saying its evidence was fabricated by forces hostile to the country. After the release, it said the report was “a product of the politicisation of human rights on the part of EU and Japan in alliance with the US hostile policy”.
The United States strongly welcomed the report, which it said clearly documented “the brutal reality” of North Korea’s “widespread, systematic and grave human rights violations”.
The UN investigators said they had also told Kim’s main ally, China, that it might be aiding and abetting crimes against humanity by sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea, where they faced torture and execution. Chinese officials said allegations that North Korean citizens repatriated from China were tortured were "untrue".
The unprecedented public warning and rebuke to a ruling head of state by a UN commission of inquiry is likely to complicate efforts to persuade the isolated country to rein in its nuclear weapons program and belligerent confrontations with South Korea and the West.
Referral of the North Korean case to the ICC is seen as unlikely, given the likelihood that China would veto any such move in the UN Security Council. Diplomatic sources told Reuters a special tribunal on North Korea was possible.
Kirby said the world could no longer plead ignorance as an excuse for failing to stop rights abuses in North Korea.
“At the end of the Second World War, so many people said; ‘If only we had known...' Now the international community does know.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)