The late journalist Christopher Hitchens once suggested that it was as if Kim Il Sung -- the founder and “Eternal President” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) -- had read George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel “1984,” and then tried to bring it to life. That was one of his first thoughts, he said, after visiting the country.
North Korea, as most people know, is probably the most impoverished and terrorized police state on the face of the earth. Unspeakable atrocities happen there every single day. And now, in a new report, the UN is using its perch to say its leaders must be held accountable, and brought to justice:
A United Nations report being released in Geneva today has, for the first time, condemned North Korea for systematic rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity, according to leaked information by the Associated Press. Rights activists welcomed the commission's findings but acknowledge prosecution of North Korean leaders is not likely any time soon.
A U.N. Commission of Inquiry said rights abuses in North Korea are widespread, systematic, and designed to maintain political power.
It declared the leadership in North Korea guilty of Crimes Against Humanity and urges prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
Even before details were released Monday on the three-man panel's historic one-year investigation, leaks to the media showed it found gross violations.
The revelations in this report are hair-raising but not all that surprising. The Kim family’s crimes (most recently, perhaps, the murder of Kim Jong Un’s own uncle) are widely reported in the media and documented by escapees and survivors alike. But the UN’s decision to shine a brighter light on the regime’s evil crimes is not insignificant; if anything, this report will only raise more questions about Kim & Co.'s ruthlessness, and their wanton disregard for human rights:
They include summary executions, rape, torture, forced abortions and enslavement.
The U.N. report said religious minorities and political dissidents suffer the most, with up to 120,000 living in town-sized prison camps.
Lee Jung-hoon, South Korea's Ambassador for Human Rights, said the U.N. report is the first reliable and legal evidence of atrocities in North Korea. He said the report also specifies that North Korea’s crimes can be labeled as genocide, which means the crime can be applied to the leadership of North Korea, including Kim Jong Un. There are no exemptions to this crime, Lee said. So, even if the two Koreas are reunified within 5, 10 or 50 years, the leaders of North Korea can still be punished.
The U.N. commission's findings were based on satellite imagery and interviews with more than 80 witnesses. Many of them were defectors who survived prison camps and escaped across the border and through China.
But that’s unlikely to happen:
Despite the call for prosecution, there is little chance North Korean leaders will face justice.
A U.N. Security Council decision would be needed to send the case to the International Criminal Court, and North Korea's main backer, China, has veto power.
During the investigation, Beijing ignored the U.N. panel's request to visit its border area with North Korea.
Regime change is another option, of course, but I suspect the public wouldn't entertain that course of action. So while this report is certainly a positive step forward, what -- if any -- meaningful changes will come of it remain to be seen.