U.N. Report Finds Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea

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On Tuesday February 18 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, asked world powers to refer the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This comes not in response to their nuclear efforts, but to a recent U.N. report[1] which documents crimes against humanity that have been, and still are, occurring in the isolated, impoverished country of North Korea.

The 400 page report catalogues cases of torture, deliberate starvation, and other abuses carried out by North Korean authorities and possibly by order of leader Kim Jong Un. The abuses that the country is perpetrating against its own citizens are being compared to the horrors inflicted by some of the Axis powers during World War II.[2] Inquiry chairman Michael Kirby stated that there were “many parallels” between the types of crimes allegedly being committed in North Korea and those that were committed by the Nazis.[3] The report concludes that “hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in prison camps over the past five decades.”[4]

The report was also accompanied by a three-page letter to the leader Kim Jong Un warning that he could be held liable for these atrocities under international law.[5] The North Korean government responded saying the report “is nothing more than an instrument of political plot aimed at sabotaging the socialist system by defaming the dignified images of the DPRK and creating an atmosphere of international pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection.’”[6]

China, a staunch ally of North Korea, has already stated that it would not approve of any human rights charges against North Korea being sent to the ICC. According to a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying, “[s]ubmitting human rights issues to the International Court of Justice won’t help improve a country’s human rights condition.”[7] China would most likely veto any decision to bring charges against North Korea due to the close ties between the countries. The report makes note of this connection and criticizes the Chinese policy of sending North Korean refugees who have crossed the border back, even though they are sure to face abuse and detention upon their return.[8]

It is unclear, as of now, whether any prosecution will be pursued against North Korea by the ICC, but the report urges the international community to take action.[9] Kirby hopes that “the international community will be moved by this report” due to the gruesome information obtained from hundreds of witnesses.[10] With this sort of information now coming to light the international community must work together and decide on a plan of action before the situation gets any worse.


[1] Commission of Inquiry, Report of the Detailed Findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, A/HRC/25/CRP.1 (Feb. 7, 2014).

[2] Peter Walker, North Korea Human Rights Abuses Resemble Those of the Nazis, Says UN Inquiry, The Guardian (Feb. 17, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/17/north-korea-human-rights-abuses-united-nations.

[3] Id.

[4] Mark Memmott, U.N. Report Details North Korea’s ‘Crimes Against Humanity’, NPR (Feb. 17, 2014), http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/17/278461563/u-n-report-details-north-koreas-crimes-against-humanity.

[5] Julie Makinen and Barbara Demick, U.N. Report Catalogs North Korean ‘Crimes Against Humanity’, L.A. Times (Feb. 17, 2014 8:27 PM), http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-un-north-korea-20140218,0,1669436.story#axzz2tmhgYjzl.

[6] Pearson, Hanna, and Park, ‘Abundant Evidence’ of Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea, panel says, CNN (Feb. 18, 2017 6:50 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/17/world/asia/north-korea-un-report/.

[7] Id.

[8] Walker, supra note 2.

[9] Makinen and Demick, supra note 4.

[10] Id.


Posted by Ian A. Biggs on Wed. April 16, 2014 1:00 PM
Categories: International Criminal Court, International Law, North Korea, United Nations

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