After years of apathy that not even accomplished appeaser Ban Ki-Moon could enforce, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry has released a devastating report accusing Kim Jong Un and his late father, Kim Jong Il, of crimes against humanity. You can download a summary report, or the long version, here.
I will probably have more to say about the report in the coming days as I read it, but it’s clearly having an immediate and profound impact on the public discourse. Here’s how CNN ran it:
A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state “that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” a United Nations panel reported Monday.
North Korean leaders employ murder, torture, slavery, sexual violence, mass starvation and other abuses as tools to prop up the state and terrorize “the population into submission,” the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said in its report.
The New York Times summarizes it this way:
“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials,” the report asserted, referring to North Korea by its official name. The report stopped short of alleging genocide but specified among others the crimes of “extermination,” murder, enslavement, torture, rape and persecution on grounds of race, religion and gender.
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, U.N. investigators said on Monday.
The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, AFP, and yes, even the AP also ran stories. The dominant focus of the reporting is that Kim Jong Un could face trial for crimes against humanity, which as most of you already know, he won’t (but more on that in a moment). And on what do they base that?
In the letter, dated Jan. 20, the panel chairman, the retired Australian judge Michael Donald Kirby, summarized the investigation’s findings of crimes against humanity committed by officials that could be inferred to be acting under Mr. Kim’s personal control.
Addressing Mr. Kim, 31, Judge Kirby wrote in the letter that his panel would recommend that the United Nations Security Council refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court, to make all those responsible for crimes accountable, “including possibly yourself.” [N.Y. Times]
No, that’s not going to happen, but it has to be the ballsiest thing ever written on U.N. letterhead. Congratulations to Judge Kirby for delivering things we so seldom see coming out of the U.N. — truth and relevance.
“Too many times in this building there are reports and no action,” Judge Kirby said. “Well, now is a time for action. We can’t say we didn’t know.”
If you read nothing else in this report, read Michael Kirby’s remarkable letter to Kim Jong Un — maybe the word I’m searching for here is “surreal” — starting at page 23 of the summarized report.
Also, North Korea says all 372 pages are based on faked evidence. Duly noted.
In South Korea, the report received prominent coverage in Yonhap and the Joongang Ilbo, but not the left-wing Hankyoreh or the right-wing Chosun Ilbo, at least as of the time of this writing (early morning in Korea, with a lot of other big news stories happening there today). The reports will probably budge opinions in the South, which are both complicated and ambivalent, but only slightly. The South Korean government welcomed the report, and it bears repeating that prior South Koreans governments — including the one that General Secretary Ban used to serve — wouldn’t have.
As you would expect, the report has a lot to say about North Korea’s prison camps, starting at Paragraph 729. But for all the horrors of the camps, North Korea’s greatest weapon of mass destruction has always been starvation. The report lays out the evidence for North Korea’s culpable starvation of its people in meticulous detail, beginning at Paragraph 500. Starting at paragraph 1115 of the long-version report, the COI methodically lays out the legal standard for “extermination” by starvation as a crime against humanity, and explains how a series of deliberate policy decisions by North Korea’s leaders starved perhaps several million people to death, and physically or emotionally scarred millions more.
The principal impact of the report, if there is one, will be to galvanize a consensus, both nationally and (to a lesser extent) internationally, to do something effective for once. The U.N. isn’t going to be the vehicle for that, however. China, which is criticized heavily and by name for its illegal repatriation of North Korean refugees, wasted no time in announcing that it would block any referral to the International Criminal Court, which just reinforces the hard truth that our North Korea problem is, at its root, a China problem. It can only be solved by making it prohibitively expensive for China to go on supporting a puppet that, of late, has failed to kowtow when called. China’s statement pours cold water on irrational exuberance that, last week, boosted an obscure academic paper into evidence of a major policy shift in which China would abandoning Kim Jong Un. No, not yet, anyway.
Or, we can let this report be a 208,000-word monument to the impotence of civilization, go back to treating North Korea like a tasteless joke, and beseech Zeus that the psychopaths who rule it will remain content to only kill North Koreans until some miracle elixir saves us from the next stage of the cancer’s metastasis. That is the stage when regimes that make war on their own people inevitably turn outward in search of more victims.
Update: Jonathan Cheng at Korea Real Time has done a good job of summarizing and citing the report’s key findings, and some of its more dramatic evidence. Chris Green and Stephan Haggard both comment on the report, and both pieces are well worth reading.
The conservative Chosun Ilbo’s story is harsh in tone but relatively brief. The left-wing Hankyoreh doesn’t attempt minimize the report’s charges or evidence, but buries and dulls its discussion of Kim Jong Un’s potential individual responsibility, and generally dismisses the report’s practical significance.
So, far, no reaction from KCNA or the Rodong Sinmun, but I’m willing to bet it will use any of the following words: “brigandish,” “madcap,” or “flunkeyist.”