At a press conference held in Geneva yesterday, members of the
UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) into human rights abuses in North Korea presented
their official findings.
Their report comes at the end of a year spent compiling evidence
of human rights abuses by the North Korean authorities against their own people
and those of other countries. Led by former Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby, UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman and veteran human rights activist Sonja Biserko, it finds concrete evidence of a “wide array of crimes against
humanity” arising from “policies established at the highest level of State.”
Crimes, it goes on to say, which require “urgent action.”
“I have no animosity against North Korea,” Justice Kirby, who
led the press conference, told reporters. “But the truth must be told.” That truth has now been told in Technicolor.
80 testimonies delivered via public hearings, 240 confidential interviews, and
80 submissions from NGOs worldwide.
Such statistics are hard to ignore, and, as such, bring much-needed
clarity to the issue of North Korean human rights whilst allowing us to benchmark our
understanding of North Korean state abuses of power. Moreover, they provide fresh reserves of
credibility to a simple truth that readers of Daily NK have long known: an immense number of North Korean citizens have long suffered some of the most egregious human
rights abuses known to modern history.
A simple list of the report’s major findings does not do its 372 pages any justice, but serves as a reminder: murder, enslavement, torture,
imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on
political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of
populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly
causing prolonged starvation.
Pyongyang rejects the report, as it tends to do where any
dealings with UN or other human rights mechanisms are concerned. It goes
without saying that the report won’t be front page news in the Workers’ Party organ
Rodong Sinmun, either; the regime certainly wouldn’t dream of allowing the North Korean people to discuss it amongst themselves.
There will be those who dismiss the UN, and thus the
report, as a Western or imperial construct designed to perpetuate global hegemony, as if such
an accusation were somehow sufficient to grant Pyongyang immunity from censure. Others will
say that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is purely an outcome of its
history and external task environment; suggesting, without reference to the
fundamental nature of Suryeongism,
that if the task environment changed then North Korea would also change. Some may even attempt to deny the veracity of the report completely, an outcome of North Korea’s geographical location, deliberate denial of access and pool of talented propagandists.
these views are on the margins, and no longer resonate. China may still be willing to
veto UN action against North Korea, and has said that it does not intend to
stop repatriating those North Koreans it catches seeking to escape. However, even Beijing is not ready
to seriously defend Pyongyang’s human rights record in its entirety.
As Kirby stated yesterday, despite its damning verdict, the report is not a call to contain, constrict or
eliminate North Korea. Rather, it is a textbook. It explains very clearly that when one enters into dealings with
Pyongyang one must do so with eyes open. It reinforces the point that everything must be done to try and engage the people of North Korea, not their regime. It points out that a young, cosmopolitan, Western-educated man whose
sole motivation is to bring peace and prosperity to all does not lead North
Korea. Rather, North Korea is a state structure; an absolutist dynasty led by a ruthless clique that will
stop at nothing to maintain the power and access to resources to which it has long been accustomed.
This is the message of the COI report. “Crimes against humanity are
ongoing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because the policies,
institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place,” it notes. In the words of Justice Kirby, “Now we all know.”