Detailing a raft of “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) “without parallel in the modern world,” the head of a United Nations-mandated probe into the human rights situation there called today on the international community to hold the country to account, including through referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The Commission of Inquiry found systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations occurring in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It also found a disturbing array of crimes against humanity,” said Chairman Michael Kirby in Geneva during a dialogue with members of the UN Human Rights Council.
The Council set up the Commission of Inquiry in March 2013 with a one-year mandate to investigate several alleged human rights violations, including those concerning the right to food and those associated with prison camps; torture and inhuman treatment; arbitrary detention; discrimination; freedom of expression, movement and religion; the right to life; and enforced disappearances, including abductions of nationals to other countries.
The result was an unprecedented 400-page set of linked reports and supporting documents – initially released on 17 February – culled from first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses, revealing, according to the Commission, crimes that “arose from policies established at the highest level of the State.”
In the today’s discussion with the Council, Mr. Kirby said the scale, duration and nature of the atrocities committed in the DPRK revealed a totalitarian State carrying out crimes that were being ignored by the rest of the world. “What is important now is how the international community will act on the report.”
“A compelling report and wide media coverage are good, but woefully insufficient,” he said, urging UN Member States and the wider international community, to accept their responsibility to protect and implement all the recommendations contained in the report, especially those related to accountability, including referral of the situation of the DPRK to the ICC.
As for the country in question, Mr. Kirby and the Commission challenged the DPRK to respect the human rights of its citizens. The country was also urged to immediately and unconditionally implement all of the recommendations of the report. “The Commission also urges all countries, including China, to respect the principle of non-refoulement,” he added, referring to protecting refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened.
Mr. Kirby said that the Commission’s findings had been characterized by Pyongyang as “sheer lies and fabrications” deliberately cooked up, and that the three-member body itself had been accused of politicizing human rights.
“The Commission did not ask anyone to blindly believe what it said,” he declared, underscoring that testimonies from hundreds of witnesses who spoke to the Commission of extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion and other sexual violence could be read in the report.
“Their testimony is not only in these documents, but also on the internet ¬– but these were denied to the ordinary people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It should be asked why this regime forbade such access,” said Mr. Kirby, who asked: “If letting victims raise their voices was politicizing human rights, how could these victims then be helped?”
All efforts to initiate dialogue and offer cooperation had been spurned by the DPRK, he said. However, the Commission obtained first-hand testimony through public hearings with about 80 witnesses in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington D.C., and more than 240 confidential interviews with victims and other witnesses, including in Bangkok. Eighty formal submissions were also received from different entities.
Along with its chairman, Mr. Kirby, a retired judge from Australia, the Commission comprises Sonja Biserko, founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, and Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney General of Indonesia and the current UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK.