Long road to hold Kim liable for crimes
This is the first real test of the world community to show it is serious about acting on the Commission of Inquiry’s chilling findings. There needs to be concerted efforts to ratchet pressure on North Korea, says Stephanie Nebehay
WESTERN and Asian powers will begin pressing this week for North Korea to be held liable for crimes against humanity documented in a United Nations report, but concede that their chances of influencing the isolated country are slim. North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings, UN investigators said last month.
Their findings, based on testimony from hundreds of victims, defectors and witnesses, were unequivocal. They demanded closure of political prison camps believed to hold up to 120,000 people and action by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Michael Kirby, a former Australian judge who led the independent inquiry, officially presented the report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday. The forum, which commissioned the unprecedented investigation a year ago, will decide on how to handle North Korea at a session lasting until March 28.
Campaigners want action. “The fact that these violations are now deemed to be crimes against humanity triggers the responsibility of the international community to respond,” Julie de Rivero of Human Rights Watch said. “It might be a long route but steps need to be taken.”
Roseann Rife of Amnesty International said in a statement: “This is the first real test of the international community to show it is serious about acting on the Commission of Inquiry’s chilling findings. There needs to a concerted effort to ratchet up the pressure on the North Korean government to address these systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations.”
The country is already on the agenda of the UN General Assembly, but the Security Council has so far focused only on its nuclear weapons and proliferation threat, De Rivero said. “We are advocating that the Security Council needs to deal with crimes in North Korea.”
But winning international consensus to bring Kim to book will probably remain elusive for now, according to diplomats, UN sources and activists. This is particularly because Pyongyang’s ally China has veto powers at the Security Council which would have to refer crimes in North Korea to the ICC. China came under fire in the report for forcing North Korean refugees to return to home where they face possible persecution. Beijing denies the charge, saying it favours “constructive dialogue” and has a longstanding position against what it regards as interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations.
“To bring human rights issues to the International Criminal Court does not help improve a country’s human rights conditions,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on February 17, the day the report was released. Pyongyang has rejected the report’s findings and the mandate of the investigators, whom it refused to meet or allow into North Korea, whose official name if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The team held public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington.
“The commission of inquiry on the DPRK is none other than a marionette representing the ill-minded purpose of its string pullers including the United States and its followers who are endeavouring to eliminate the socialist system on the pretext of human rights,” North Korea’s ambassador So Se Pyong told the UN rights forum this month.
Ahn Myong Chul, a former North Korean guard at four prison camps, is a defector who testified and wants to see Kim and his loyal elite held accountable for gross abuses that began under the leader’s father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung.
“Over 60 years North Koreans have suffered severe oppression under three generations of the regime. These are basic human rights, their voices should be heard. The government must be punished,” Ahn said in an interview.
Inquiry leader Kirby said it is time to act rather than talk. “What is unique has been the capacity of North Korea to avoid international scrutiny, to avoid examination of its record over such a long time, effectively 60 years of very great wrongs against its population,” he said.