Seoul supports UN’s North report

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Seoul supports UN’s North report

South Korea and the international community yesterday welcomed a major report by a UN panel that recommended perpetrators of “unspeakable atrocities” in North Korea be held accountable for crimes against humanity.

The 400-page report and supplementary documents revealed in Geneva Monday by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea recommended the UN Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) so that perpetrators of such atrocities “without any parallel in the contemporary world” can face justice. One of the recommended perpetrators included North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Australian Michael Kirby, the commission’s chairman, penned a letter to Kim dated Jan. 21 warning that the report would call for a referral to the ICC “to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for the crimes against humanity,” as found in the yearlong investigation. When asked how many North Korean officials may have committed the crimes against humanity, Kirby told reporters in Geneva Monday that the number “would be running into hundreds,” without naming specific names.

Starting actual criminal proceedings, however, would likely be difficult.

“The decision ultimately remains with the Security Council,” a senior Korean foreign affairs official said. “If there is one country with veto power opposed to the resolution, it cannot pass.”

But, he added, the report “sends a strong message in itself.”

He said decision makers in the Workers’ Party and government organs like the National Defense Commission, State Administration Council, Central Military Commission and military secret police all “hold responsibility,” leaving plenty of room for follow-up measures.

The three-member COI was established by the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council last March and procured testimony from witnesses in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington. It found North Korea’s crimes to include execution, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape and forced abortions.

The authoritative report further recommended that the UN Security Council adopt targeted sanctions against individuals who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity. It also suggested the establishing of an “ad hoc tribunal” established by the UN General Assembly and operated by willing countries.

It condemned China’s policy of forcibly repatriating defectors who may face torture or possibly execution upon their return to North Korea - the first major naming of China in a UN assessment report of North Korea. The report documented a letter it sent to China in December on that issue.

China, which has veto power in the Security Council, rejected referral of the report to the ICC.

Hua Chunying, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that “to submit this report to the ICC will not help resolve the human rights situation in one country,” indicating that it may use its veto power in the Security Council. She also said to reporters yesterday in regards to North Korean refugees: “We term them illegal North Korean migrants.” Pyongyang likewise denounced the report.

North Korea’s diplomatic mission in Geneva sent an English statement to Reuters that stated it “categorically and totally rejects the report.”

It further stated that human rights issues, as listed in the report, did not exist in North Korea. Then it lambasted the commission, calling it a “marionette” of the United States, Japan and the member states of the EU.

The commission estimated that up to 120,000 political prisoners are currently detained in four large political prison camps, where they face deliberate starvation, among other rights violations.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said that Seoul “has proactively supported the commission’s fair and independent activities and through the announcement of the commission’s report plans to bolster cooperation with the international community for the improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea.”

The United States, which co-sponsored a resolution with Japan, the European Union and South Korea that established the independent panel, said the report “provides compelling evidence of widespread, systematic, and grave human rights violations.”

Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, called rights violations in the North “among the world’s worst.”

The report will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on March 17.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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