A U.N. investigation panel has released the most comprehensive, scathing report yet on human rights violations in North Korea. What is laid bare by the report might not shock many of us in South Korea, who know better than most about how horrible the situation in the totalitarian state has been.
Yet it is sad to read the report, which even compares what has been taking place in the northern part of the peninsula with atrocities committed by the Nazis. It is shameful that we have done little for our brethren suffering from such hardships.
The report, commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council, says that North Korea has been committing “systemic, widespread and gross” human rights violations, whose gravity, scale and nature reveal “a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”
It gives a long list of North Korea’s crimes against humanity: “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual 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.”
The report, written by the Commission of Inquiry that was established last March under a UNHRC resolution, contains testimonies from victims of North Korean atrocities, including former North Korean political prisoners who defected to South Korea. The 372-page report also lists problems such as the operation of political prison camps, state-sponsored abductions of South Korean, Japanese and other nationals, lifelong indoctrination, and the system of throwing entire families into prison camps under a “guilt-by-association” rule.
Judging from its scope and detailed findings, the report should be hailed as the most wide-ranging, comprehensive report on the human rights reality in North Korea. But of far more significance is that the U.N. report calls for stronger action than ever before.
The U.N. panel’s report includes a recommendation to the U.N. Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court, which could set the stage for the indictment of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for crimes against humanity.
In fact, the chair of the panel sent a letter to Kim last January to directly warn that international prosecution is needed “to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity.”
That demonstrates the panel’s conviction that Kim holds the key to improvement of the situation and that the international community should work hard to put greater pressure on him.
Kim should not miss this part of the U.N. report: “Even without being directly involved in crimes against humanity, a military commander may be held responsible for crimes against humanity committed by forces under the commander’s effective command and control.” One of the most revered titles for Kim and his father and grandfather, who have been ruling North Korea in dynastic succession for more than six decades, has been commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army.
This time, Kim should recognize the gravity of the issue and determination of the international community and take immediate action to improve human rights in his country. The U.N. report is the clearest proof that the patience of the international community has run out.