North Koreans gather in front of bronze statues of North
Korea's founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il
at Mansudae in Pyongyang. REUTERS/Kyodo
North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme
Leader Kim Jong-un himself should face international justice
for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings
comparable to Nazi-era atrocities, UN investigators say.
The investigators told Kim in a letter they were advising the
United Nations to refer North Korea to the International
Criminal Court (ICC), to make sure any culprits "including
possibly yourself" were held accountable.
The unprecedented public rebuke and warning to a head of
state by a UN inquiry is likely to further antagonise Kim and
complicate efforts to persuade him to rein in his isolated
country's nuclear weapons programme and belligerent
confrontations with South Korea and the West.
North Korea "categorically and totally" rejected the
accusations set out in a 372-page report, saying they were
based on material faked by hostile forces backed by the
United States, the European Union and Japan.
Michael Kirby, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry, said
he expected his group's findings to "galvanise action on the
part of the international community".
"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," Kirby, a former chief justice of Australia, told
Referral to the Hague-based International Criminal Court is
seen as unlikely given China's probable veto of any such move
in the UN Security Council, diplomats told Reuters.
"Another possibility is establishment of an ad hoc tribunal
like the tribunal on the former Yugoslavia," Kirby said.
The UN investigators also told Kim's main ally China that it
might be "aiding and abetting crimes against humanity" by
sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea to face
torture or execution, a charge that Chinese officials
"STRIKINGLY SIMILAR" TO NAZI ERA
The findings came out of a year-long investigation involving
public testimony by defectors, including former prison camp
guards, at hearings in South Korea, Japan, Britain and the
Defectors included Shin Dong-hyuk, who gave harrowing
accounts of his life and escape from a prison camp. As a
13-year-old, he informed a prison guard of a plot by his
mother and brother to escape and both were executed,
according to a book on his life called "Escape from Camp 14".
Kirby said that the crimes the team had catalogued were
reminiscent of those committed by Nazis during World War Two.
"Some of them are strikingly similar," 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," he said.
The number of North Korean officials potentially guilty of
the worst crimes, would be "running into the hundreds", he
The independent investigators' report cited crimes including
murder, torture, rape, abductions, starvation and executions.
"The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a
state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary
world," it said.
North Korea's diplomatic mission in Geneva dismissed the
findings. "We will continue to strongly respond to the end to
any attempt of regime-change and pressure under the pretext
of 'human rights protection'," it said.
The two-page North Korean statement, in English, said the
report was an "instrument of a political plot aimed at
sabotaging the socialist system" and defaming the country.
Violations listed in the document and forwarded to Pyongyang
for comment several weeks ago, "do not exist in our country".
The investigators said abuses were mainly perpetrated by
officials in structures that ultimately reported to Kim -
state security, the Ministry of People's Security, the army,
the judiciary and Workers' Party of Korea.
"It is open to inference that the officials are, in some
instances, acting under your personal control," Kirby wrote
in the three-page letter to Kim published as part of the
The team recommended targeted UN sanctions against civil
officials and military commanders suspected of the worst
crimes. It did not reveal any names, but said it had compiled
a database of suspects from evidence and testimony.
Pyongyang has used food as "a means of control over the
population" and "deliberate starvation" to punish political
and ordinary prisoners, according to the team of 12
Pervasive state surveillance quashed all dissent, it said.
North Korea's extermination of political prisoners over the
past five decades might amount to genocide, the report added,
although the legal definition of genocide normally refers to
the killing of large parts of a national, ethnic or religious
Kirby warned China's charge d'affaires in Geneva, Wu Haitao,
in a Dec 16 letter that the forced repatriations of North
Korean migrants and defectors might amount to "the aiding and
abetting (of) crimes against humanity", the said.
Wu, in a reply also published in the report, said the fact
that some of the North Korean migrants regularly managed to
get back into China after their return showed that the
allegations of torture were not true.
Human Rights Watch said it hoped the report would open the UN
Security Council's eyes to the scale of atrocities.
"By focusing only on the nuclear threat in North Korea, the
Security Council is overlooking the crimes of North Korean
leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public
executions, disappearances, and mass starvation," said
executive director Kenneth Roth.