[Viewepoint] Bars for Kim Jong-il and his sonNorth Korea’s Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un are about to become wanted war criminals. The International Criminal Court made an official announcement on Dec. 7 that it would investigate alleged war crimes in North Korea.
While most international organizations merely have the power to express an opinion, the ICC has full powers to enforce its actions. If the investigation concludes that a crime has been committed, the court will issue an arrest warrant. The court also has a detention facility.
An arrest warrant was issued for Omar al-Bashir, the current president of Sudan, for crimes against humanity and war crimes in March 2009. His overseas travel, therefore, is now extremely limited.
The detention facility located in the Netherlands houses Jean Pierre Bemba, the former vice president of Congo, and former Congo rebel leader Thomas Lubanga. Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia, widely known as “the butcher of the Balkans,” died in the prison while on trial in March 2006.
The International Criminal Court is launching an investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan and the bombing of Yeonpyeong Island. Experts say the attack on the Cheonan is a violation of the truce agreement of 1953 - which defines the cessation of hostility between the two Koreas - and that the nation’s “treacherous killings” are a violation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The air strike on Yeonpyeong Island is a clear violation of the Rome Statute, which specifically bans intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, civilian objects and the natural environment.
However, there are obstacles to overcome before the ICC issues arrest warrants for North Korean war criminals, including Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.
First of all, specific evidence and proof are necessary. While it is obvious that North Korea is responsible for the acts, the ICC punishes individuals, not states, so it has to be proven that a specific individual is directly involved in the attacks.
Of course, arrest warrants can be issued for Kim Jong-il and other North Korean leaders, as the Rome Statute says that a military commander or person effectively acting as a military commander shall be criminally responsible for crimes, citing failure to exercise control properly over his forces.
The clause on the responsibility of superiors may apply to three North Korean commanders.
Kim Jong-il is the commander in chief of the North Korean forces and is responsible for commanding and controlling the military.
Gen. Kim Gyeok-sik is the field supervisor of the coastal artillery unit that fired on Yeonpyeong Island, so he is sure to be indicted.
Moreover, Kim Yeong-cheol of the patrol division is likely to be a main target of the investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan because he is in charge of secret operations.
More specific evidence is needed for an indictment of Kim Jong-un, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party.
However, there are internal testimonies from North Korea that the heir was involved in the air strike on Yeonpyeong Island. If someone with solid information defects from North Korea, a warrant for Kim Jong-un may be issued.
It will take several years for indictments and arrest warrants to be issued. Yet what makes the ICC investigation so serious is the psychological pressure on the North Korean leadership. Since there is no statute of limitation on war crimes, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un and others responsible will have to live the rest of their lives fearing that they may be arrested at any time. Moreover, the investigation will influence sentiment among North Korean residents greatly. If the ICC rules Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un are criminals, the news will spread in North Korea, and people will perceive the Kim family not just as dictators but also as outlaws.
A dictator and a criminal are fundamentally different. A dictator may be respected for his accomplishments, as Park Chung Hee of Korea, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Deng Xiaoping are often considered great leaders. But there is no such thing as a great and respectable criminal. Once Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un are branded as criminals, the anti-government movement will expand among North Korean residents and the country’s elite. And such negative public sentiment will advance the end of autocratic rule.
The ICC investigation will have a bigger effect on Kim Jong-un than on Kim Jong-il. The ailing leader may die while the ICC is investigating the case. However, Kim Jong-un may be a wanted criminal before he becomes leader of the nation.
In November and December of last year, I visited the International Criminal Court in The Hague to urge a preliminary investigation on North Korea’s crimes against humanity. While there, I also toured the detention facility and the prison. In a few years, we might see Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un behind its bars.
*The writer is the president of Open Radio for North Korea.
By Ha Tae-gyeong