THE UNITED Nations, so often inclined toward rhetoric instead of action, seems to be drawing closer to action to deal with the human rights disaster in North Korea. The latest welcome step was a report to a General Assembly committee Oct. 28 from Marzuki Darusman, the special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea. Mr. Darusman, an Indonesian jurist, called on the United Nations to ask the International Criminal Court to take up the matter on grounds that crimes against humanity have been committed. We agree.
Mr. Darusman’s report builds on the stark conclusions of a United Nations commission of inquiry, which reported in February that North Korea has carried out the most grotesque and debilitating treatment of its own people, including the revelation that four large camps hold some 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners. The commission of inquiry, chaired by Michael Kirby, delivered a fierce indictment of the North Korean state, reporting evidence of: “extermination, 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.”
Mr. Darusman, who was a member of the commission of inquiry, emphasizes the need to establish responsibility for these atrocities. He notes that the “principle of command and superior responsibility under international criminal law” means that both military and civilian leaders “can incur personal criminal responsibility for failing to prevent and repress crimes against humanity committed by persons under their effective control.” The gravity of the crimes listed “clearly merits a criminal investigation,” he added. Mr. Darusman concludes that the law could be used to prosecute a number of high-ranking officials in North Korea, including its leader, Kim Jong Un.
It has long been assumed that China, the North’s patron, would veto any move in the Security Council to refer the human rights violations to the International Criminal Court. A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry affirmed recently that China’s view is that a referral “won’t help improve the human rights condition in a country.”
Quite to the contrary, recent maneuverings suggest that Pyongyang views the latest debate with alarm. North Korean diplomats have been attempting to head off any action that would lead to a referral to the ICC. The latest gambit was to invite Mr. Darusman to visit North Korea for the first time, a cynical gesture after the country refused to allow a visit by the commission of inquiry.
No amount of damage control by North Korea should get in the way now. The Security Council ought to vote on a referral, and if China decides to veto it, then the entire world will see who supports the thugs who have built a superstructure of brutality in North Korea. As Mr. Darusman states in his report, there is no justification for inaction, given the horrifying facts that have now been brought to light. The United States should give his recommendation full support.
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