U.N. Panel Accuses North Korea of Crimes Against Humanity

BEIJING (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -
A United Nations Human Rights staff points to the title of a drawing describing North Korean labour camp no 18, a gift made in December 2012 by survivor Kim Hye Sook, in Geneva Monday. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
A United Nations Human Rights staff points to the title of a drawing describing North Korean labour camp no 18, a gift made in December 2012 by survivor Kim Hye Sook, in Geneva Monday. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

Torture, deliberate starvation and other abuses carried out by North Korean authorities — possibly on the orders of supreme leader Kim Jong Un himself — constitute crimes against humanity and should be referred to an international court or tribunal for prosecution, United Nations investigators said Monday.

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, and other violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” said a 400-page report unveiled in Geneva by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.

It added that the “gravity, scale and nature of the violations” in the totalitarian state over several decades do not have “any parallel in the contemporary world.”

The panel established by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March 2013, is chaired by retired Australian chief justice Michael Kirby. “I hope the international community will be moved by the detail” in this report, which included information from hundreds of witnesses, Kirby said. “Too many times in this building, there are reports and no action.”

Although the report catalogs systematic abuses that have long been reported by human rights activists, defectors, foreign media outlets and foreign governments, the comprehensive nature of the report by a U.N.-appointed panel itself was unprecedented.

The document called for urgent action by the international community, including referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Alternatively, it noted that the U.N. Security Council has the power to set up a special tribunal for North Korea.

However, many observers believe any attempt to take such action would be blocked by China, North Korea’s neighbor and closest ally and a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council. The report chastised China for forcibly repatriating some North Korean refugees and for denying some 20,000 children born to North Korean women in China the ability to register for health and educational services.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is to consider the panel’s recommendations at a meeting next month.

North Korea, in a statement provided to news agencies in Geneva, rejected the panel’s findings. “We will continue to strongly respond to the end to any attempt of regime-change and pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection,’” it said, Reuters reported.

Kenneth Roth, executive director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said he hoped the report would “open the eyes of the U.N. Security Council,” which he said had focused only on the nuclear threat posed by Pyongyang and overlooked “the crimes of North Korean leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public executions, disappearances and mass starvation.”

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, welcomed the report, saying that it “clearly and unequivocally documents the brutal reality of [North Korea’s] human rights abuses.”

“We continue to work actively with our partners and with international organizations to raise awareness of and address the deplorable human rights conditions” in North Korea, she added.