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North Korea: Kim Jong Un accused of some of worst rights abuses since World War II

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Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un

Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits participants of a national agriculture competition in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits participants of a national agriculture competition in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Reuters

Reuters

North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Dennis Rodman watching a game

North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Dennis Rodman watching a game

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Reuters/KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Reuters/KCNA

Reuters

A live TV news programme showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Song Thaek, second from right, escorted by military officers during a trial in Pyongyang, North Korea

A live TV news programme showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Song Thaek, second from right, escorted by military officers during a trial in Pyongyang, North Korea

A man watches live news showing Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Song Thaek being removed by military officers

A man watches live news showing Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Song Thaek being removed by military officers

Helter Skelter: Kim Jong-un smiles while enjoying a ride at the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang. The North Korean leader, along with his wife Ri Sol-ju, was attending a ceremony to mark the completion of the amusement park.

Helter Skelter: Kim Jong-un smiles while enjoying a ride at the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang. The North Korean leader, along with his wife Ri Sol-ju, was attending a ceremony to mark the completion of the amusement park.

EPA

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Kim Jong Un

North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, has been warned that he could face prosecution for crimes against humanity after a United Nations inquiry accused him of some of the worst human rights abuses since World War II.

In some of the harshest criticism ever unleashed by the international community against the Pyongyang regime, a UN panel branded it "a shock to the conscience of humanity".

Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge who has spent nearly a year taking testimony from victims of the regime, said its behaviour was akin to some of the atrocities carried by the Nazi regime and of Pol Pot's in Cambodia.

In a bid to put pressure on Kim Jong Un, he has now written to the North Korean leader to warn him that he could face prosecution for the activities of his henchmen, whom the inquiry accused of killing, imprisoning and torturing with impunity.

Mr Kirby told a press conference in Geneva: "We told him that we would find evidence of crimes against huminity on the part of officals in North Korea....We indicated that he should be aware of this, and of the crime of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity even if he is not himself involved, and that he himself may be responsibile and face prosecution."

The commission of inquiry was set up last March by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to “investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea".

It came after a decade of near fruitless efforts by UN human rights workers to establish a dialogue with Pyongyang. It has outraged the authorities in Pyongyang, who turned down an invite to give evidence. Instead, the official North Korean news agency described the testimony as "slander" and the inquiry panel members as "human scum".

Also sitting on the pane are Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human rights expert, and Marzuki Darusman, a senior Indonesian jurist who has also served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK since 2010.

The panel has provided a 372-page report that creates a grim picture of the regime's "crimes against humanity", including arbitrary torture, starvation, imprisonment and "inhuman treatment".

Many North Koreans are also deemed culpable for "offences" of disloyalty allegedly committed by their parents or grandparents, meaning they face no escape from punishment and harassment by the authorities.

It was based on the testimony given to a UN panel from more than 80 former North Koreans now living abroad, who give evidence in public hearings in London, Tokyo, Washington and Seoul. Some 240 others also gave evidence in secret.

Mr Kirby acknowledged the practical and diplomatic difficulties of a prosecution against Kim Jong Un, whose regime has nuclear weapons and who also enjoys political backing from China. But he said his intentions were partly to "galvanise" the outside world and make sure it could not claim ignorance of the extent of the regime's crimes, as some did after the discovery of Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II.

"At the end of WWII, so many people said if only we had know the wrongs that were done," he said. "Now the international community does know. "here will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn't know. We do know."

Mr Kirby also said that Kim Jong Un, who was partly educated in Switzerland and appeared more Westernised than his father, Kim Jong Il, had dashed all hopes that he might steer North Korea towards reform.

"There was a lot of hope that things would change. He was educated in the West, he loved his I-phonea and sports and modern entertainment. There was a lot of hope things would change. That is ashes in our mouth now."

While Kim Jong Un was not necessarily aware of all the crimes committed by Pyongyang officials, the absolute power that he wielded meant he bore culpability nonetheless, Mr Kirby added.

"If you have the power to stop it happening, you have to bear a degree of responsiblity," he said, adding that "hundreds" of other senior officials were probably also culpable.

The report said options included the UN Security Council referring the country to the International Criminal Court or setting up an ad hoc tribunal.

The United States welcomed the report, saying it "clearly and unequivocally documents the brutal reality" of North Korea's abuses.

But Pyongyang's key ally China strongly opposed such a move, saying it would "not help resolve the human rights situation" and that "constructive dialogue" was the answer.

Reuters