North Korean security chiefs and possibly even supreme leader Kim Jong-un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and mass killings bordering on genocide, UN investigators said.
Investigators told Kim in a letter they were advising the United Nations to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court to ensure any culprits “including possibly yourself”, were held accountable.
The independent investigators’ report, the size of a telephone directory, lists atrocities including murder, torture, rape, abductions, enslavement, starvation and executions.
North Korea said it “categorically and totally” rejected the report, which it called “a product of politicisation of human rights on the part of EU and Japan in alliance with the US hostile policy.”
The unprecedented public warning and rebuke to a ruling head of state by a UN commission of inquiry is likely to complicate efforts to persuade the country to rein in its nuclear weapons programme and belligerent confrontations with South Korea and the West.
The investigators also told Kim’s main ally China that it might be “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity” by sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea, where they faced torture and execution — a charge Chinese officials had rebutted.
As referral to the ICC is seen as a dim hope, given China’s likely veto of any such move in the UN Security Council, thoughts are also turning to setting up some form of special tribunal on North Korea, sources said. “We’ve collected all the testimony and can’t just stop and wait 10 years. The idea is to sustain work,” said one.
Michael Kirby, chairman of the commission, said the crimes the team had catalogued in a 372-page report were reminiscent of those committed by Nazis during the Second World War.
“Some of them are strikingly similar,” he said. “Testimony was given . . . in relation to the political prison camps of large numbers of people who were malnourished, who were effectively starved to death and then had to be disposed of in pots burned and then buried . . . It was the duty of other prisoners in the camps to dispose of them.
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”
The findings came out of a year-long investigation involving public testimony by defectors, including former prison camp guards, at hearings in South Korea, Japan, Britain and the US.
The abuses were mainly perpetrated by officials in structures that ultimately reported to Kim — state security, the Ministry of People’s Security, the army, the judiciary, and the Workers’ Party of Korea.
“It is open to inference that the officials are, in some instances, acting under your personal control,” Kirby, a retired Australian chief justice, wrote in the letter.
The team recommended UN sanctions against civic officials and military commanders suspected of the worst crimes. It said it had compiled a database of suspects.
Pyongyang has used food as “a means of control over the population” and “deliberate starvation” to punish political and ordinary prisoners, according to the team of 12 investigators.
Pervasive state surveillance quashed all dissent.
Christians were persecuted and women faced blatant discrimination. People were sent to prison camps without hope of release.
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