It can be easy to laugh at the sometimes ridiculous, almost always bombastic, antics of the North Korean government and its leader, Kim Jong-un. Remember when they called the West’s withholding of ski lifts a “human rights abuse?” The irony! But as a recent report by a U.N. panel to that organization’s Human Rights Council points out, the actual human-rights abuses going on in North Korea are so atrocious, they constitute crimes against humanity. After a yearlong investigation, the panel wrote in a letter to Kim that it was asking the United Nations to refer the culprits to the International Criminal Court, “including possibly yourself.”
“These are not the occasional wrongs that can be done by officials everywhere in the world, they are wrongs against humanity, they are wrongs that shock the consciousness of humanity,” panel leader Michael Kirby, a former Australian chief justice, told journalists, according to Reuters. He said he hoped the report, arguably the most thorough account of North Korea’s many human-rights abuses, would “galvanize action on the part of the international community.” Though as the New York Times notes, its unlikely the ICC will prosecute immediately because to do so, it must gain the approval of the Security Council’s permanent members, which include North Korea’s ally, China.
The report used satellite images of prison camps, testimony from defectors including former guards, and illustrations by former prisoners to detail a litany of abuses that Kirby said were “strikingly similar” to those committed by the Nazis during World War II. “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,” the Times notes.
Kirby said the regime used surveillance to stem dissent and starvation as a means of control, both of the general population and those in the country’s notorious prisons. He told Reuters:
Testimony was given … in relation to the political prison camps of large numbers of people who were malnourished, who were effectively starved to death and then had to be disposed of in pots, burned and then buried … It was the duty of other prisoners in the camps to dispose of them.
North Korea, for its part, categorically denied the panel’s findings, saying the report was an “instrument of a political plot aimed at sabotaging the socialist system” and that such human-rights violations “do not exist in our country.”