The United Nations’ report on human rights violations in North Korea is not pleasant reading. In fact, it’s horrible. But people the world over — and particularly the leaders of the world’s countries — should read it anyway. And then, somehow, act on it.
The report, by a panel of the U.N. Human Rights Council, included a litany of inhumane activities with which North Korea’s leaders keep their 25 million subjects in a perpetual state of fear. Those practices with which “the state operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine” include “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape.”
As many as 120,000 people are held in brutal camps. Among their offenses were not competing intensely enough in mass games held to honor the Dear Leader; watching a foreign soap opera; inadequately dusting portraits of the present dictator, Kim Jong Un, his father or grandfather; and just being related to or an associate of someone who crossed the regime.
In the countryside, the starving eat grass and soil. In the camps, escapees told panel members, the starving sometimes choose between eating rats and the flesh of dead prisoners to stay alive. Prisoners also are beaten regularly and forced to watch frequent executions.
The U.N.’s investigators weren’t allowed into North Korea. Instead, they held more than 300 interviews with people, including prison escapees, who have fled the country. The panel, chaired by Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge, will make its report to the full Human Rights Council in March. In announcing its findings this week, it strongly recommended that the U.N. Security Council refer Kim and others in his regime to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
Unfortunately, that’s unlikely in the extreme because China, which protects North Korea as Russia has protected Syria, would almost certainly veto such an action.
To its credit, the panel also took China to task for refusing to allow investigators to speak with North Korean refugees who live in China near the Korean border. The report is all the more remarkable because China, hardly a human rights protector, is one of the Human Rights Council’s members. China’s goals with regard to North Korea begin and end with ensuring its stability.
Speaking at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Judge Kirby said, “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.
“Too many times in this building there are reports and no action,” he added. “Well, now is a time for action. We can’t say we didn’t know.”
Whether that will persuade China to set aside its veto is another matter.