U.N. investigator: North Korea should be charged with human rights violations

Story highlights

  • North Korean officials should be brought before international court, U.N. investigator says
  • North Koreans challenge report of multiple human rights violations
  • United Nations faces moment of truth, investigator says
The United Nations chairman investigating human rights in North Korea said the leaders in the country, including Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, must be held accountable for crimes against humanity and urged the Security Council to bring perpetrators to the International Criminal Court.
Michael Kirby, who led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, held a meeting in New York on Wednesday and engaged in a fiery debate with envoys from North Korea. Two North Koreans who had escaped the country also spoke.
The meeting came just hours after American Jeffrey Fowle landed in Ohio after being freed from the hermit kingdom.
"The question that is before the United Nations now is when we face such a moment of truth, will the United Nations back away because of the steps belatedly taken by North Korea in recent weeks? And my hope is the answer to that question will be no. We don't back away," Kirby said. "We stand for the principles of the United Nations and we expect accountability for great crimes before justice. And that is the right of the people of North Korea."
The meeting was called by Kirby just weeks after the European Union and Japan presented a draft resolution with strong language against North Korea, encouraging others to push the country toward the International Criminal Court.
The meeting was also to draw attention to the nation's human rights violations, because Kirby said there has been an effort in recent weeks for North Korea to appear as if its record has changed.
The meeting included multiple rounds of questions and answers between U.N. and North Korean officials.
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"I want to scrutinize what they have done," Kirby said.
He then cited his report on human rights in the country, originally issued in March 2014 to the United Nations, that chronicled crimes against humanity in prison camps and ordinary prisons, crimes that targeted religious believers and starvation of citizens, among other crimes.
North Korea issued its own human rights report in response, which it called "rosy."
Kim Song, adviser for political affairs at the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's mission to the United Nations, denounced the U.N. report as "groundless," saying investigators only talked with defectors of a "negative disposition." He called those who escaped "human scum."
Before introducing two witnesses from North Korea, Kirby told the audience to judge for themselves if they are "human scum" or witnesses trying to share their story.
The witnesses recounted their lives in prison camp and under the control of the government.
Kim asked Kirby if he had ever read the North Korean constitution, which, Kim said does not allow for human rights violations.
"I did not read the constitution before I prepared this report cover to cover," Kirby said. "But common experience teaches in some countries where great crimes are done against the people, a constitution and the words of a constitution are not as important as the actions of officials who defied the constitution."
Kirby, a retired Australian judge, said he has read through North Korea's report on human rights and said some statements could be viewed as "fair comment," such as criticism of the United States and other countries for their own human rights records. He urged officials to allow citizens to read his report, translated to Korean.
Escaped North Korean Kim Hye Sook rebutted some of the North Koreans' comments at the meeting, after they suggested witnesses were paid to lie.
"I heard from North Korea about the reality that should be reflected in the report. I was a person who lived there for 28 years and I drew a map based on memory of 28 years. I compared that with a satellite image and that was 100% accurate," Kim said. "We don't need to say anything more. I think this really in itself testifies."