Group documents crimes of North

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Group documents crimes of North

For years, activists and the international community have condemned the human rights abuses prevalent in North Korea, but according to Lee Jung-hoon, an international studies professor at Yonsei University and Korea’s human rights ambassador for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these actions have never yet been clearly defined as crimes against humanity.

“So far, there has been a clear red line in defining North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program, even though North Korea has frequently crossed it over. But in terms of the human rights of the North Korean people, there has been no red line to define it,” Lee told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“It is natural for a criminal to be punished,” he said. “And there is no exception for North Korea in terms of its crimes against humanity.”

In an effort to shed light on human rights violations in the world’s most reclusive state, Lee and other high-profile international specialists officially launched the Human Liberty Center, a nonprofit civic group, yesterday in an opening ceremony at Yonsei University.

Lee and the members of the center are working toward wrapping up their one-year investigation into the human rights situation in North Korea, an ambitious project that was carried out with the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (COI) under the United Nations.

They plan to submit their report on the investigation in March.

The report will clearly define the human rights violations in North Korea as inhumane crimes, Lee said.

Though they are not sure how they can positively identify these abuses as “crimes” per international law, but Lee said it may be possible to record names and testimonies against certain individuals in the regime.

“Michael Kirby, chairman of the COI, visited South Korea last year and collected testimonies from North Korean defectors,” Lee said.

“At the time, he asked victims for the names and the titles of their attackers and to describe their appearance in detail.

“Punishing crimes against humanity is to designate the perpetrator,” he continued. “Although we can obtain the names of low-ranking soldiers or patrollers now, we could probably collect more evidence to figure out who ordered these crimes.”

To prove instances of these crimes, the center is also preparing an independent report, Lee said, and is seeking legal guidance from Hogan Lovells, a renowned international law firm, about how it could hold listed criminals in North Korea accountable for their crimes.

The center intends to file a suit against the criminals with the International Criminal Court, he said, while pushing the Communist regime to cooperate.

Lee said prosecuting criminals in North Korea could also have repercussions for China, North Korea’s closest ally.

“Although China [has not actively pushed] North Korea about its human rights abuses, the unstable situation in North Korea, at the same time, is a great threat to China,” Lee said. “If the international community provides clear guidance on these human rights issues, China would have reason to turn its back on Pyongyang, because it is also looking to promote itself as a global leader.”


BY YOO JEE-HYE, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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