Nearly seven years after Jared Genser’s Failure to Protect and nearly nine years after David Hawk’s The Hidden Gulag, a senior U.N. official has gotten around to calling for “an in depth investigation” of what “may amount to crimes against humanity” in North Korea’s prison camps, and elsewhere in the larger prison sometimes called “The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea:”
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay called on Monday for an international investigation into what she said may be crimes against humanity in North Korea, including torture and executions of political prisoners held in shadowy camps.
She voiced regret that there had been no improvement since Kim Jong-un took power a year ago, succeeding his late father, and said it was time for world powers to help bring about change for the “beleaguered, subjugated population” after decades of abuse. [Reuters, Stephanie Nebahay]
No improvement? That seems a little bit unfair to a leader who has given his people a dolphinarium, dancers in Mickey Mouse costumes, an ICBM, and a state-of-the art fitness center to protect them from Asia’s growing obesity epidemic (and successfully! … with one notable exception).
“Because of the enduring gravity of the situation, I believe an in-depth inquiry into one of the worst – but least understood and reported – human rights situations in the world is not only fully justified, but long overdue,” Pillay said in a rare statement on North Korea.
Really, now — it seems like just nine short years ago that the world heard about this. In the meantime, the U.N. has been very busy not visiting North Korean refugees in China, informing us that North Korea’s health care system is the envy of third-world nations everywhere, barely monitoring the distribution of its food aid, and helping Kim Jong Il move his supernotes to a safe at U.N. Headquarters.
The reclusive country’s network of political prison camps are believed to contain 200,000 people or more and have been the scene of rampant violations including rapes, torture, executions and slave labor, according to Pillay, a former judge at the International Criminal Court.
These “may amount to crimes against humanity”, she said.
Living conditions in the camps are reported to be “atrocious” with insufficient food, little or no medical care and inadequate clothing for inmates, she said.
“The death penalty seems to be often applied for minor offences and after wholly inadequate judicial processes, or sometimes without any judicial process at all,” Pillay said.
“People who try to escape and are either caught or sent back face terrible reprisals including execution, torture and incarceration, often with their entire extended family.”
Pillai’s call coincides with the beginning of two-year non-permanent terms on the Security Council for South Korea and Australia, which, despite North Korea’s recent opening of an embassy in Canberra, had been lobbying for more pressure against the atrocities in the North. Writing at Korea Real Time, Alastair Gale contrasts that approach with South Korea’s:
For outsiders, one puzzling question is why South Korea doesn’t apply more pressure on North Korea over human rights, including those of South Korean nationals held in the North. Legislation addressing the problem occasionally gets submitted to parliament but is routinely blocked by left-of-center parties over concerns it will upset the North. There was no substantial debate over human rights in North Korea during the race for South Korea’s presidency last year.
This position is all the harder to understand — and will be all the harder for future generations to explain — in light of the fact that South Korea is pushing for strong U.N. action over North Korea’s missile test.
For the record, the reaction of North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador was to “totally reject” Pillai’s allegations, to deny that “such kind of crimes” occur in North Korea, and call for an investigation of the “king of human rights abuses, the United States.” As persuasive as that may be, it doesn’t approach the level of this KCNA classic, talking about the Saenuri Party’s effort to finally pass a North Korean human rights law:
There has never been and can never exist the enemy-touted “human rights issue” in the DPRK under popular masses-centered socialism.
All the people enjoy genuine freedom and exercise their rights as the masters of the state and society as the independent rights and creative activities of human beings are guaranteed institutionally.
South Koreans admired the true picture of the DPRK where human rights are fully respected and guaranteed.
U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, who is of unknown origin, has yet to comment on the allegations of crimes against humanity on his watch, either in his current position or as South Korean Foreign Minister at the height of the Sunshine Policy. When asked about Pillai’s statement, Ban simply looked up from Xi Jinping’s lap, smiled, and wagged his fluffy white tail.