A human rights catastropheThe United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea issues its final report today in Geneva. The 21-page document with a 321-page appendix carries great significance as it presents legal grounds for the international community’s intervention in North Korea’s human rights situation. According to the report, the UN commission defines the North’s human rights violations as crimes against humanity and “political genocide,” recommending that those responsible be brought to justice.
Since it was launched in March 2013 after a UN resolution on the North’s miserable human rights situation, the UN commission on North Korea has pursued a comprehensive and systematic investigation of the country’s violations. Led by Chairman Michael Kirby, a former justice of the High Court of Australia, and other two members, the commission - along with 20 multinational investigators - has collected evidence of torture, arbitrary detention, imprisonment and other violations in nine categories. The report is expected to serve as the international community’s license to deal with the North’s human rights abuses.
What attracts our attention most is the report’s article on the international society’s “responsibility to people.” The R2P principle, which empowers the UN to intervene in many cases where a state can’t protect its own people from crimes against humanity, genocide or ethnic cleansing, was established as an international norm through a UN summit in 2005. The UN Security Council applied it to the Libyan crisis in 2011 to protect the local population from massacre by Muammar Gaddafi. The UN commission’s recommendation of judicial measures, including bringing a case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), symbolically shows the seriousness of the North’s disregard for human rights.
The report should serve to increase pressure on North Korea. The international community’s denunciation will be too strong for the regime to dismiss under the banner of “no external meddling in domestic politics.”
Pyongyang must work on some concrete measures to mend its human rights record now. The report urged China to stop the repatriation of North Korean defectors, as it constitutes a brazen connivance with human rights violators. If China, a permanent member of the Security Council, vetoes it, however, the UN commission can hardly bring the North’s case to the ICJ. We urge China to accept universal standards now that its neighbor’s human rights abuse has become a major concern in the UN.