UN report will conclude North Korea has committed crimes against humanity

By Chico Harlan

The Washington Post

SEOUL, South Korea — A year-long investigation by the United Nations is set to conclude that North Korea has committed crimes against humanity, according to a leaked outline of the report, in the most authoritative indictment to date of abuses carried out by Pyongyang’s leaders.

The U.N. panel will also recommend that the North’s crimes be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, according to the Associated Press, which obtained the outline of the findings. The report of the three-member Commission of Inquiry will be released Monday.

In establishing the panel, the U.N. has sought to address the challenge of a nation where abuses are carried out by an entrenched family-run government that faces almost no threat of international intervention.

Activists and human rights lawyers say the report, at minimum, will lead to broader global awareness of the North’s city-size gulags and systematic abductions of foreigners. But they also say that the North’s traditional ally, China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, could block any referral of findings to The Hague.

“It is exciting but also risky that the Commission appears to have requested the Security Council refer the situation in 1/8North Korea3/8 to the International Criminal Court,” Jared Genser, an international human rights lawyer and an expert on North Korean abuses, said in an email. “There is no doubt that legally such a referral would be highly justified and appropriate. But it is also bound to infuriate China.”

The ICC defines crimes against humanity as any widespread or systematic attack – using extermination, torture or rape, for instance – carried out against civilians.

Within the past century, the North’s abuses stand apart not necessarily because of their viciousness but because of their duration: North Korean founder Kim Il Sung set up the prison camps in the 1950s, and they have been in use ever since.

The North holds an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in its camps, which are sealed off in mountainous areas of the countryside and have been documented primarily through satellite imagery and testimony from survivors.

“What you have in North Korea is a stable state system where they’ve had these terrible labor camps and they’re going on for 60 years,” said David Hawk, a researcher who has been at the forefront of documenting the gulags. “Even Stalin’s camps didn’t last that long.”

North Korea denies committing human rights violations and has repeatedly failed to cooperate with the United Nations.

The commission, headed by retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, conducted interviews with more than 80 victims and other witnesses in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington. The panel members were also aided by about a dozen staffers and researchers – a major personnel shift for the United Nations, which previously had a single appointed volunteer dedicated to North Korean human rights.

One of those interviewed was Kim Hye-sook, who spent 28 years in Camp 18, which at the time was one of the North’s largest gulags.

Kim arrived there when she was 13, imprisoned because her grandfather had allegedly fled to South Korea. Kim, who has also told her story publicly, survived at the camp on wild herbs, grass and corn powder. While at the camp she went to school, married and worked in a mine. Her husband and brother died in mining accidents. Kim developed a pulmonary tumor from inhaling dust during her 16-to-18-hour work shifts.

Once a week, prisoners were forced to memorize tropes about North Korean ideology. When prisoners came to those ideology sessions, Kim said, security personnel would command the prisoners to get on their knees and open their mouths. Guards would then spit into them. If the prisoners didn’t swallow, they would be savagely beaten.

Kim calls the commission’s conclusion “very natural.”

“I agree with their findings,” Kim said, “but I don’t expect changes to come anytime soon.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

Eve Barrows (left) and the students duck and cover under desks during an Earthquake Drill at Port Susan Middle School on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 in Stanwood, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
‘Drop, cover, hold on!’ Stanwood kids hear new alarms in quake drill

The Great ShakeOut offered a dress rehearsal Thursday for a new system that aims to warn before the tremors start.

This crash in Monroe happened early Friday morning after police discontinued a high-speed chase. Both occupants were taken to a hospital. (Monroe Police Department) 20211022
2 seriously injured in Monroe crash; DUI suspected

The driver hit a center lane divider and rolled his car. Police are investigating him for vehicular assault.

Everett Farmer’s Market canceled Sunday due to weather

Organizers cited a high-wind advisory. It is to reopen Oct. 31 for the final market of the season.

Police: ‘Prolific’ Marysville thief stole from dozens of gym lockers

The suspect, 23, was arrested this week for investigation of more than 55 felonies.

Alejandro Meza watches a video of the altercation he had with Gene Peterson on Community Transit bus during opening statements of his trial on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Murder trial opens for man who shot stranger on Everett bus

Alejandro Meza got into a fight with a passenger over drug use, he claimed. His attorneys say he acted in self-defense.

Police are searching for a female suspect following a burglary at the Masjid Umar Al-Farooq Mosque in Mountlake Terrace. (City of Mountlake Terrace)
Police arrest suspect in Mountlake Terrace mosque burglary

Another person remained at large, after burglars took prayer rugs and Qurans then threw them in a dumpster.

Arlington schools briefly on lockout; students, staff safe

A Mukilteo resident reportedly intended to die by suicide in a school parking lot. They were found and referred to care.

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, center, greets a new trooper during a graduation ceremony, as Gov. Jay Inslee looks on in the Rotunda at the Capitol Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Olympia, Wash. The class of 31 troopers completed more than 1,000 hours of training and will now work for the WSP across the state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Rather than get vaccine, nearly 2,000 state workers lose jobs

Ten troopers north of Seattle, 54 Monroe prison workers and hundreds more across the state refused the governor’s mandate.

Most Read