Kim Jong-un could face prosecution for ‘crimes against humanity’

18 02 2014

NK prison drawing(Peggy Giakoumelos, SBS Radio, World News Australia, 18 February 2014)

A United Nations report says senior North Korean officials should be brought before an international court for crimes against humanity that include exterminating, starving and enslaving its population.

The report also accuses the North Korean government of denial of basic freedoms of thought, expression and religion, and abduction of citizens of neighbouring South Korea and Japan. The 400-page report was prepared by a Commission of Inquiry on North Korea set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

It comes after a year-long investigation included hearing public testimony by defectors, including former prison camp guards, at hearings in South Korea, Japan, Britain and the United States.

Chairman of the inquiry, former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby, says North Korean security chiefs and possibly even leader Kim Jong-un should face international justice for crimes against humanity.

“We indicated that he should be aware of this, he should be aware of the international crime of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, even if not himself involved in the actual perpetration of those crimes and we informed him that he himself may be responsible in any subsequent prosecution that occurs.

“And all of this is contained in the letter that is being sent with the authority of the Commission of Inquiry to Kim Jong-un informing him that that is a possibility that he must consider and that the international community must consider.”

The North Korean government refused to co-operate in the investigation, and did not allow the inquiry team to visit. Instead, the report is based on testimony from 320 North Korean exiles. The report says political prison camps in the country are widespread and believed to hold up to 120,000 people.

The North Korean government denies the existence of the camps, but the report says this claim was disproved by testimony from former prisoners, guards, neighbours and satellite imagery.

Generations of whole families are believed to be held in the camps, and hundreds of thousands of people have reportedly died as a result of starvation, torture, forced labour, forced medical experiments and widespread executions.

Michael Kirby says the world can longer feign ignorance about what is happening in North Korea.

“At the end of the Second World War, so many people said ‘If only we had known, if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces. If only we had known that.’ Well now, the international community does know, the international community will know. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn’t know. We do know.”

The report adds that for those outside the camps, public executions and the fear of imprisonment are a constant part of life. It says daily life is marked by constant surveillance, coercion, fear and punishment, to suppress expression of any dissent.

Dr Leonid Petrov is an expert in Asian and African studies at the Australian National University. He says after decades of secretive rule, the population of North Korea isn’t sure what to believe any more.

“The country is traumatised. The population live on the verge of a state of mind where the population simply cannot distinguish reality from an imaginary state of things which the country and leadership tries to impose on people. And basically that’s what the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic is trying to achieve to detach the population from reality and force them to live in an artificial world where the survival of the regime is the main purpose of the existence of North Korea.”

Felix Patrikeeff is Associate Professor of International Politics at the University of Adelaide. He says what to do next is a difficult proposition but he believes helping South Korea is important.

“One of the things that we can focus on more is to offer South Korea greater support in its initiative in actually negotiating and dealing with North Korea. We can encourage it to open up a broader conversation with that state, because clearly international voices don’t count that much.”

Dr Leonid Petrov from the ANU says North Korea is likely to ignore the UN report, a move that should prompt the international community to take a different approach.

“The issue of North Korean human rights has to be resolved in a holistic way, where an understanding of the context of the reasons of human right abuses is extremely important.

“We can’t expect that North Korea unilaterally disarms. Equally we can’t expect North Korea would improve human rights records without changing the atmosphere in the whole of North-East Asia. Inter-Korean relations are extremely important and at the moment there is simply no communication between Pyongyang and Seoul. Relations in North East Asia in general must be improved first before we expect that the North Koreans will humanely treat their people.”

Korea was split in two at the end of the Second World War, and remained split after the Korean War in the early 1950s. Since 1948 North Korea has been under the control of the communist Korean Workers Party, ruled by three generations of the same family.

Transcripts of all witnesses’ testimonies (in Korean and English) see here……/CoIDPRK/Pages/PublicHearings.aspx

What action will the world take on North Korea?

18 02 2014

Image(ABC Radio’s Eleanor Hall reported this story for “The World Today” program on February 18, 2014)

ELEANOR HALL: As he released this report accusing the North Korean regime of horrific crimes against its own people, Michael Kirby called on the international community to act, saying, “We can’t say we didn’t know.”

So what action can the international community take?

Dr Leonid Petrov is a Korean specialist at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and he says Justice Kirby’s recommendation that the North Korean leaders be tried before the International Criminal Court is likely to be far less effective than using the report as a bargaining chip with the regime.

LEONID PETROV: Even if Moscow and Beijing decided to go ahead and join the international community, I very much doubt that Kim Jong-un himself is going to react to one more resolution.

So human rights is a minor issue for Pyongyang leadership but I believe that the report which has been produced by International Commission of Inquiry is actually a perfect bargaining chip in grand bargaining, grand discussion with Pyongyang.

ELEANOR HALL: It sounds like you don’t agree with Justice Kirby that the UN should launch a crimes against humanity trials.

LEONID PETROV: You know I’m not a lawyer, I’m a historian, unlike Justice Kirby, and I propose to look at the history of North Korean history of region.

Actually I met with Justice Kirby just last week who, before he left for Geneva, and I proposed to him that we have to look at the issue of North Korean human rights as a by-product of colonialism, a by-product of world war, cold war, the result of the ongoing conflict, and the Korean War has never ended and in order to stop this violation of human rights, we have to stop the war.

North Korean regime is also expecting the diplomatic recognition, the lifting of sanctions, more engagement in economic reparation but there is simply no interest in seeing North Korea reformed.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, the North Korean leadership refused to participate in this UN inquiry and has now announced that it categorically and totally rejects the findings so if there’s no cooperation, what can world leaders do short of regime change? Is regime change the only answer?

LEONID PETROV: I don’t think so, that’s the only answer, but everything is being done to see the regime collapses is the only solution to this problem. I’m originally from Russia so I grew up in the Soviet Union behind the iron curtain and I remember that in 1970s things were changing – political prisoners were permitted to leave the country, soviet leadership was convinced and persuaded to engage with the West in exchange for certain actions in improving its human rights records, Soviet Union was permitted to deal more actively on the economic front.

I believe that the same grand bargain can be achieved in relations with North Korea.

ELEANOR HALL: You mentioned sanctions, are Western sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear actions contributing to some of the problems that are raised in this report like hunger? I mean how does the international community balance ensuring that the people of North Korea get food with applying sanctions to try to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions?

LEONID PETROV: Absolutely, I believe that sanctions involve both multilateral, bilateral sanctions against North Korea. They contributed to the aggravation of situation of human rights. Sanctions never work and sanctions hit only the population. They never make life of the cruel regime harder.

By continuing sanctions, by not diplomatically recognising the regime, by isolating them, we continue, we preserve the regime, we help the regime to keep the situation in North Korea and unchanged and justice Kirby just very graphically showed the world that the situation in North Korea is intolerable. People suffer from all possible violations of human rights.

The report which the Commission of Inquiry has produced is basically an encyclopaedia of human rights abuse so what can be done in relation to like improving it from our perspective? I think it’s more preparation, engagement and understanding as well.

So North Korea simply shouldn’t be blamed unilaterally for what is happening. I believe that inter-Korean relations must be improved first of all before we summon Kim Jong-un to the International Court of Justice.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, China’s government’s reaction to this report is of course critical. China’s leaders are not making particularly helpful noises at this stage about the referral to the International Criminal Court but what sort of role could the Chinese government play in addressing some of these human rights problems and the problems of starvation.

LEONID PETROV: China has very limited influence over North Korea and recently we just saw that North Korea’s resentment of Chinese influence, both economic and political, and the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle was the most telling example that North Korea is actually rejecting Chinese interference in domestic economic political matters. I don’t think that China, that the key to the issues of Pyongyang really lies in China.

ELEANOR HALL: You say that China has limited influence over North Korea but the economic links between the two surely give the Chinese leadership more leverage than many other international leaders?

LEONID PETROV: Yes but China is not interested in the collapse of the regime. China is still captivated by this Cold War mentality where they look at North Korea as a buffer state. They will implement certain resolutions of United Nations Security Council; they do so but in a very limited way. They understand that the disadvantages of North Korea’s collapse is going to hit Chinese national interest.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s Korea specialists, Dr Leonid Petrov from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Transcripts of all witnesses’ testimonies (in Korean and English) see here……/CoIDPRK/Pages/PublicHearings.aspx

A Friendly Advice to U.N. Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea

17 02 2014

ImageOn the 7th February, I met with Hon. Justice Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court judge and current chair of UN Commission of Inquiry in Human Rights in North Korea.

Answering Justice Kirby’s question regarding the best way to reach out to the DPRK’s leadership, Christopher Richardson and I recommended preambling the COI’s report with allusions to the deep historical and political roots of North Korean behaviour: i.e. the legacy of colonialism, wartime brutality, a Cold War mentality, and mistrust of the international community. These problems are characteristic of all Northeast Asia, but Korea, at its pivotal point, has harboured the most extreme human rights violations as a result. This problem cannot be resolved unilaterally, nor swiftly, without transforming the political climate of the whole region: that is to say, ending the Korean War, diplomatically recognising the DPRK, lifting economic sanctions against it, and improving all forms of exchange with the North. In a perpetual and assiduously cultivated ‘state of emergency,’ the North believes regime survival justifies any means, even at the expense of human rights.

Whether this can be changed, or not, depends on politicians in Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington, Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo. Without the goodwill of regional policy makers to address the problem of the Korean War especially, the issue of Human Rights in Korea is unlikely to be resolved. We noticed that the DPRK had withdrawn its invitation to US Special Envoy for Human Rights, Robert King, who had been seeking to negotiate the release of Rev. Kenneth Bae. Neither the DPRK government is willing to invite UN Committee of Inquiry lead by Justice Kirby. Clearly, such dialogue has a long way to go.

Invoking contextual issues does not absolve North Korea’s leadership of responsibility, yet acknowledging them may encourage a greater degree of openness towards dialogue. The DPRK must see that its future development depends upon evolving beyond the legacies and pathologies of history, of Japanese colonialism, the Korean War and Cold War.

Nachtmerries uit Noord-Korea

30 08 2013

Kim Hyuk(by Bas Verbeek − 25/08/13 Trouw) Voor het eerst onderzoekt een commissie van de VN de mensenrechtenschendingen in Noord-Korea. Omdat dit ter plekke niet mag, spreken vluchtelingen deze week op hoorzittingen in Seoul. Korea-onderzoeker Leonid Petrov denkt dat het officiële VN-eindrapport best verschil kan maken.

“Ik werd in dat kamp gemarteld op manieren die uw inbeeldingsvermogen te boven gaan”, vertelt een anonieme vluchteling aan onderzoeksleider Michael Kirby, een Australische oud-rechter. Vijf dagen op rij horen hij en twee collega’s van negen tot zes de horrorverhalen aan van gevluchte Noord-Koreanen van divers pluimage. Opgejaagde christenen, werknemers bij media die een minuscule maar fatale fout begingen, gediscrimineerde gehandicapten en mensen die uit pure honger hun land zijn ontvlucht. Ieder verhaal tijdens de publieke hoorzittingen in een collegezaal van de Yonsei universiteit in Seoul is intens.

In maart besliste de mensenrechtenraad van de VN dat er een onderzoekscommissie moest worden ingesteld. De verhalen van de getuigen zijn dan al wel lang en breed uitgemeten in media en boeken, Kirby onderstreept dat het belangrijk is dat een onafhankelijke groep de zaak onderzoekt, volgens juridische richtlijnen. “Wij overstijgen de politieke situatie op het Koreaanse schiereiland. Wij voeren onze missie uit namens de mensheid over de hele wereld.” Kirby vertelt dat het onderzoek van de commissie in Zuid-Korea gevoelig ligt, omdat de angst bestaat dat de met kernwapens experimenterende noorderbuur zich erdoor geprovoceerd zal voelen.

Politieke truc

Ook een plan voor invoering van een wet voor mensenrechten in Noord-Korea is een heet hangijzer in de Zuid-Koreaanse politiek. Conservatieven pleiten er al jarenlang voor, maar de linkse oppositie vreest dat het de relatie met Noord-Korea verder verstoort. Bijvoorbeeld omdat de wet conservatieve groepen die agressief tegen Noord-Korea protesteren steunt met subsidies en meer protestvrijheden.

Met het VN-rapport, dat in maart 2014 af moet zijn, is er voldoende basis voor de VN-lidstaten om actie te ondernemen, stelt Kirby. “Ik hoop dat het rapport – waarin we alle partijen kansen bieden – overtuigend zal zijn voor de wereld.”

Bij de oprichting van de commissie reageerde Noord-Korea boos. Het zou een politieke truc zijn om de internationale gemeenschap op te warmen voor actie tegen de Volksrepubliek. De commissie hoopt inderdaad op een verandering van de situatie door actie van de VN. Kirby: “De VN is niet tandenloos. Binnen het handvest zijn er wel degelijk middelen tot actie beschikbaar.”


Volgens Korea-onderzoeker aan de Nationale Universiteit van Australië Leonid Petrov moeten we dan niet aan militaire actie denken, maar aan een diplomatieke deal: “In de jaren zeventig kreeg de Sovjet-Unie aangeboden dat sancties zouden worden opgeheven in ruil voor het garanderen van bepaalde mensenrechten. Omdat de economie leed onder het extreme isolement, accepteerden ze dat. Hetzelfde is nu denkbaar met Noord-Korea.”

Volgens Petrov versterkt het rapport de onderhandelingspositie en kan het een win-winsituatie opleveren. “Noord-Korea kan in ruil voor het stopzetten van wapenprogramma’s en het verbeteren van mensenrechten de broodnodige diplomatieke erkenning, voedselhulp en veiligheidsgaranties krijgen.”

Voor het verbeteren van de mensenrechten kijkt Petrov ook naar het Sovjet-scenario. “In de SovjetUnie lieten ze tegenstanders van het regime toen van de goelags naar het buitenland gaan. Een moeilijke, maar eerste stap voor Noord-Korea zou zijn om iedereen die geen voorstander is van het regime te laten gaan.”

Een ander scenario is dat Noord-Korea de deur volledig dichthoudt en de onderhandelingen niet aangaat. “Dat kan. De kans is fifty-fifty. Maar als de prijs voor de deal aantrekkelijk genoeg is, zou dit wel eens goed kunnen uitpakken.”

Cheat sheet for Michael Kirby on abuses in North Korea

20 08 2013


Michael Kirby UNCIHR DPRK(By AMBER JAMIESON, The Crikey, 08 MAY 2013) Former High Court judge Michael Kirby will lead a UN inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea. He says he has no preconceptions, but the evidence is already damning.

“I have no preconceptions about the government of North Korea and I’ll proceed as one should: with impartiality and just giving them the opportunity to have their say and to respond to testimony,” Michael Kirby said this morning after being tasked by the United Nations to examine human rights in the secretive dictatorship.

That may be so, but there’s plenty we already know about what the UN calls ”systematic, widespread and grave” abuses in the Hermit Kingdom

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is currently refusing to work with UN; it’s believed the inquiry will rely mainly on the testimony of dissidents. There’s plenty of that. The Human Rights Watch report for North Korea for 2013 offers a damning assessment of the current regime:

“The government has ratified four key international human rights treaties and includes rights protections in its constitution, but does not allow organised political opposition, free media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain serious and pervasive problems. North Korea also practices collective punishment for various anti-state offenses, for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children. The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other ‘anti-socialist’ crimes, and maintains policies that have continually subjected North Koreans to food shortages and famine.”

The report matches up closely to the terms of the UN inquiry, which states it will investigate:

“1) violations of the right to food; 2) violations associated with prison camps; 3) torture and inhuman treatment; 4) arbitrary detention; 5) discrimination; 6) violations of freedom of expression; 7) violations of the right to life; 8) violations of the right to movement; and 9) enforced disappearances, including the abductions of nationals of other states.”


Between 1 and 3 million North Koreans died from starvation or starvation-related illnesses during the “silent famine” of the 1990s. ”We believe it was engineered by the irresponsible actions of the government,” Leonid Petrov, a researcher at Australian National University’s School of International, Political and Strategic Studies, told Crikey. He notes former leader Kim Jong-il allowed no access to information, kept borders shut and refused to seek foreign aid until a year after the famine had begun.

Although not currently in famine (the latest was in 2011), food insecurity remains an issue.

Prison camps:

Earlier this year North Korea’s infamous remote prison camps were spotted on Google Earth, despite Pyongang always dismissing their existence. According to activists, 40% of inmates die from malnutrition, while others survive by eating rats and scraps from animal faeces. Several generations of families — men, women and children — are often kept inside the camp and are expected to work 16-hour days of manual labour.

One prisoner who escaped overseas after spending 23 years inside Camp 14, a slave labour camp which supposedly houses up to 200,000 people, told reporters: “People think the Holocaust is in the past, but it is still very much a reality. It is still going on in North Korea”.

The account of one North Korean defector, who was tortured by authorities for eight months before being placed in a prison camp, outlines the grim conditions:

“They performed meaningless and arduous labor tasks from sunrise to sundown, and suffered from not only physical torture, but also excruciating mental pain. People whispered to him that they did not know what crimes they were being sentenced for, yet they did not have the strength to complain. One day, he was sent to the prison ‘hospital’, where people laid on wooden boards shoulder to shoulder… After a bedmate would pass, Paul would not report his/her death because he would be able to eat the corpse’s food ration. He would continue to sleep next to corpses and eat their food until nurses noticed the rotting bodies, after which patients would be tasked with carrying the stiff corpses out into a mass open grave.”

Right to movement:

North Korean citizens have very limited access to wider information and are rarely allowed to leave the country. “You’re not free to move around the country or go outside the country because freedom of movement is also not respected,” said Petrov. “Freedom of information is not respected: if you’re starving in North Korea you cannot just pick up the phone and call your relatives in the south of the demilitarised zone, because the telephone lines don’t allow you to make calls. You cannot write a letter to anyone outside of your country. Until recently people could not travel around the country without permission from the domestic security police.”

Freedom of expression:

In 2010 dissidents from North Korea released a video to The Telegraph in Britain, showing a young emaciated sick woman working in a field and another man talking about how someone was arrested for distributing anti-government material. The footage is not dated.

And it may not be the most grievous of human rights abuses, but it’s certainly a crime against fashion: North Koreans can pick from just 28 government-approved hairstyles, with this poster apparently found in hair salons across the country …

But relying on dissidents for evidence has its own issues. “Refugees tend to be excessively critical of North Korea,” said Petrov. “They try to represent the situation in much grimmer tones than it is.”

The Commission of Inquiry — chaired by Kirby and including Marzuki Darusman, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea and Serbian human rights campaigner Sonja Biserko — will report findings in September.

UN panel set to begin hearings into human rights in DPRK

(UN Information Centre, Canberra, 19 August 2013)

A United Nations-mandated commission looking into the human rights situation in North Korea will begin a series of public hearings in Seoul next week aimed at gathering information from a variety of witnesses, including those who recently fled the Asian nation.

The public will be able to follow the hearings through media reports and regular updates on the commission’s website at The website will include video which will be posted following the public testimonies. Anyone wishing to provide information to the commission of inquiry can do so by email to the following address:

The Seoul hearings will be held from August 20 to 24 on the campus of Yonsei University and are expected to involve some 30 witnesses. The members will also hold meetings with senior government officials, non-governmental organizations and research institutions. A similar round of hearings is also scheduled for Tokyo later in the month.

The commission of inquiry was established by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March in Geneva. It was given a one-year mandate to investigate alleged systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In May, the council announced the three members of the commission, with Mr. Kirby as chair and joined by Ms. Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human rights campaigner, and Mr. Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia. In addition to his appointment to the inquiry, Mr. Darusman is also the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a post he has held since 2010.

The creation of the commission followed important advocacy work in recent years by the Special Rapporteur and by South Korean and international non-governmental organizations. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has also been a strong supporter of the inquiry.

Possible violations to be investigated by the group include those pertaining to the right to food and those associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to life, freedom of movement and enforced disappearances, including abductions of nationals of other states.

Under its mandate, the commission will also investigate to what extent any violations may amount to crimes against humanity. Mr. Kirby said the inquiry will pay special attention to the issue of accountability.

“We are determined to shed light on the different aspects of various alleged human rights violations,” he said. “To the extent that we establish that such violations have occurred, we will also seek to determine whether crimes against humanity have occurred and who bears responsibility among different state institutions and officials. But it is not possible at this moment to envisage the level of detail that the commission will be able to achieve in establishing lines of responsibility, if any.”

The commission is scheduled to present an oral update to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September in Geneva, and to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in October. A final written report will be submitted to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. The council has already committed itself to refer the final document to appropriate United Nations bodies for follow-up. Mr. Kirby said it is impossible to say at this stage how any follow-up process will unfold.

“It will mostly depend on the findings of our investigation, the conclusions and the recommendations that will be reached and the decision of the competent organs of the United Nations and other international institutions in implementing — or not — our recommendations,” he said.