On the eve of international human rights day, advocacy groups urged member states of the United Nations Security Council to refer the cases of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity in North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Under Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute, the ICC may exercise its jurisdiction with respect to crimes against humanity committed by a national of a non-member state if the case is referred to it by the UN Security Council.
As many as 100,000 are currently imprisoned in North Korean concentration camps or gulags, according to HRF. Hundreds of thousands more are deprived of food and other basic needs, and continue to suffer in abhorrent conditions.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) called on the Council to discuss the issue of North Korea at its meeting on Friday, December 9th and refer the Kim regime to the ICC for investigation and prosecution. “As you know, the [Commission of Inquiry] on North Korea concluded that the Kim regime was responsible for ‘systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations’ that ‘entailed crimes against humanity based on State policies,’” says the letter signed by Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “We respectfully call upon you to heed the call of the international community and, on behalf of the people of North Korea, refer Kim Jong-un to the International Criminal Court, so that he can be held accountable for the crimes against humanity and the suffering of millions of people under his family’s dynastic rule.”
A grim array of human rights abuses, driven by “policies established at the highest level of State,” have been and continue to be committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), according to a United Nations-mandated report released in 2014 which also calls for urgent action to address the rights situation in the country, including referral to the ICC. It also recommended that the Security Council press for individual sanctions for those responsible for rights violations. These recommendations were later endorsed by resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, most recently last month when the third committee of the General Assembly adopted its resolution on North Korea with “yes” votes from 112 states.
Human Rights Watch said that United Nations Security Council members should demand justice for the countless victims of human rights violations by the North Korean government: “The Security Council’s spotlight on North Korea’s horrific rights record should spur calls for accountability for the government’s crimes against humanity,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Only intensified international pressure from UN member states has a hope of compelling North Korea to cease the severe rights violations that underpin Kim Jong-Un’s rule.”
Friday’s debate marks the third straight year that the Security Council has formally discussed North Korea’s rights violations as posing a threat to international peace and security. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will brief the council members on the rights situation in North Korea, including the work of the UN Human Rights Office in Seoul to gather evidence of the abuses for which the government and North Korean leaders are responsible. Spain, as current president of the Security Council, needed the support of at least eight other members for this discussion to take place. Nine council members, including Spain, formally requested the meeting in a December 1st letter to the Spanish presidency.
Established by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013 the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (COI) investigated for one year human rights violations in North Korea, aiming to ensure full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity. “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the Commission said in the report, which is unprecedented in scope.
In a 400-page set of linked reports and supporting documents, culled from first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses, the COI documented in great detail the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the country. It described crimes such as “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, forcible transfer of populations, enforced disappearance and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
The 2014 COI report specifically stated that they found “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” that “entailed crimes against humanity based on State policies.” The responsibility for these crimes reaches many organs of the North Korean government, and traces its way to the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. “Crimes against humanity are ongoing in the [DPRK] because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place,” the report said.
“The fact that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community,” the report stated. “The international community must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”
Halvorssen called for action: “In light of this grave situation, we believe it is no longer bearable for the Security Council to remain silent regarding the crimes against humanity of North Korea’s regime. As you are aware, in a 2014 resolution of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly Third Committee, it was recommended that the Security Council consider referring ‘the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court.’ Additionally, last month, the Third Committee unanimously passed a North Korean human rights resolution calling for referring the Kim regime to the ICC.’’
In June 2015, following a resolution of the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Zeid opened an office in Seoul to continue to gather information about North Korea’s human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. In March 2016, the Human Rights Council created a group of independent experts on accountability to more closely examine how to deliver truth and justice to victims in North Korea. The group will present its findings to the Human Rights Council in March 2017.
Last week, the Security Council expressed deep concern for the suffering of North Koreans in a resolution condemning North Korea’s September 9 nuclear test. The resolution states that the council “reiterates the deep concern at the grave hardship that the people of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] are subjected to, condemns the DPRK for pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles instead of the welfare of its people while people in the DPRK have great unmet needs, and emphasizes the necessity of the DPRK respecting and ensuring the welfare and inherent dignity of people in the DPRK.”
“The Security Council should explore ways to translate these important annual discussions on North Korean abuses into action that would lead to accountability for the appalling crimes its leadership has perpetrated,” Robertson said. “The council discussion of Pyongyang’s disastrous human rights record shows that crimes against humanity cannot be ignored, and that those responsible for atrocities in North Korea should face justice.”