Geneva, Feb. 17: A UN panel has served notice to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that he may be personally held liable in court for crimes against humanity committed by state institutions and officials under his direct control.
A letter conveying this notice forms part of a report by the panel to the UN Human Rights Council, released today after a year-long investigation.
The report is viewed by rights activists not only as the most detailed and authoritative body of data on the state of human rights in North Korea, but also as a milestone in the international debate on that country, one of the world’s most reclusive and isolated.
In the letter, dated January 20, the panel chairman, the retired Australian judge Michael Donald Kirby, summarised the investigation’s findings of crimes against humanity committed by officials that could be inferred to be acting under Kim’s personal control.
Addressing Kim, 31, Judge Kirby wrote in the letter that his panel would recommend that the UN Security Council refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court, to make all those responsible for crimes accountable, “including possibly yourself”.
“I hope that the international community will be moved by the detail, the amount, the long duration, the great suffering and the many tears that have existed in North Korea to act on the crimes against humanity,” Judge Kirby said today, speaking to reporters in the Geneva offices of the UN.
“Too many times in this building there are reports and no action,” Judge Kirby said. “Well, now is a time for action. We can’t say we didn’t know.”
North Korea denounced the report, and the entire process leading up to it, as a fabricated concoction of lies and deceits by North Korea’s enemies, including South Korea and the US.
A statement from the North Korean Mission in Geneva, quoted by Reuters, said that such rights violations “do not exist in our country”, and that the findings were “an instrument of a political plot aimed at sabotaging the socialist system”.
The North Korean authorities repeatedly denied the panel’s request for permission to visit the country to investigate abuses. The report relied heavily on testimony from North Korean refugees, escapees and asylum seekers.
The panel’s 36-page summary report and a 372-page annex details what the report describes as a wide range of crimes against humanity. The report also criticises the political and security apparatus of the North Korean state, asserting that it used surveillance, fear, public executions and enforced disappearances “to terrorize the population into submission.”
“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials,” the report asserted, referring to North Korea by its official name. The report stopped short of alleging genocide but specified among others the crimes of “extermination,” murder, enslavement, torture, rape and persecution on grounds of race, religion and gender.