International pressure grows on North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and the DPRK’s highest officials as they must be held accountable for crimes against humanity demands a recent UN report.

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea finds that crimes against humanity have taken place and continue to take place in North Korea, directly targeting the leadership and Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un with a scathing account of systematic human rights abuses. Later this month recommendations will be made as to how to operationalise that accountability, which may include efforts to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

The Commission of Inquiry involved public interviews of 80 people as well as private testimony of another 240 individuals gathered over the course of more than a year. It detailed the institutional human rights abuses of a system of prison camps that jail tens of thousands of people. The testimony, in particular regarding the existence and function of the prison camps, has been corroborated with objective research including satellite imagery, and places responsibility with North Korea’s leadership.

“…  the commission finds that the body of testimony and other information it received establishes that crimes against humanity have been committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State,reads the inquiry’s summary.

While there have been many various reports about the human rights situation in North Korea, the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations represent the most authoritative account of the level of human rights abuses taking place.

“These crimes against humanity entail 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,” says the report.

Michael Kirby recently presented the report publicly, and demanded the international community take notice of behavior he compared to that of Nazi Germany.

“It’s too long now, 60 years, and ten years since the special rapporteur, and no action,” says the lead investigator. “The suffering and and the tears of the people of North Korea demand action and that is the proposal of the Commission of Inquiry.”

Commission of inquiry on North Korea human rights from Korea News Online.

Although the retired Australian judge and lead investigator seeks to galvanise international public opinion into action, the efforts may prove to complicate attempts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear programs and bring Pyongyang into the international community.

In addition, the report is viewed as perhaps overstepping its reach, and must be reconciled with political goals that might better be served by other means.

“If the larger strategy is to achieve regime change, if the larger strategy is Korean unification, or just increase of the security in North East Asia, then maybe the strategy could backfire,” says Yonsei University’s Matthias Maass.  “Instead of deterring the leadership from doing these things, it might harden their resistance to any type of compromise, with the logic that the only chance for me (Kim) to survive is to stay in power.”

Matthias Maass of Yonsei University on North Korea from Korea News Online.

The issuing of warrants for Kim Jong Un and his leadership to appear before the International Criminal Court remains unlikely, due to the veto such a move would trigger from China. At the same time, as the United Nations criminal justice system continues to pursue the issue of human rights in North Korea, painting leaders in Pyongyang as criminals, the regime may feel greater isolation, and the pressure to change grow as soirees with Dennis Rodman or any other potential guests, draw increasing scorn.