The United Nations Security Council will hold an informal meeting this week about the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea, one of the most significant and startling investigations into human depravation of recent times. Now that the commission has admirably shed light on the abuses, the Security Council must not be complacent and should consider referring the matter to the International Criminal Court on grounds of suspected crimes against humanity.
Michael Kirby, the former justice of the High Court of Australia who led the inquiry, prepared the report with maximum clarity. The commission found "that crimes against humanity have been committed" in North Korea based on policies set "at the highest levels of the state." The report said the crimes were: "extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation."
With this, the world is on notice. The findings were based on testimony and other information the panel collected, even though it was never permitted to enter North Korea. When the U.N. Human Rights Council voted 30 to 6 on March 28 to support referral to the "appropriate international criminal justice mechanism," and hold the perpetrators of abuse to account, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, So Se-pyong, was insultingly dismissive. "Mind your own business," he said. "No person on Earth would be so stupid as to keep the door open to a gangster who is attacking with a sword." On the contrary, it is everyone’s business.
China, neighbor and benefactor to North Korea, was singled out in the commission report for carrying out forced repatriation of refugees fleeing the North. China has its own miserable human rights record, and the calls to conscience clearly have not been heard in Beijing. China voted against the resolution in the Human Rights Council and would probably veto any action by the Security Council. We have no illusions about China, but perhaps the Security Council could make a useful point by bringing the matter to a formal vote. If China casts a veto, it would show the world once more who protects the architects of this despicable behavior.
Mr. Kirby, who was in Washington this week, said he had considered alternative means to bring those responsible to justice, such as a truth and reconciliation commission, as in South Africa; some kind of joint national-international tribunal, as in Cambodia; or an ad hoc investigation, such as with Rwanda. But they could all pose long, drawn-out problems or obstacles. The most direct and efficient way to bring North Korea’s leaders to account for crushing their own people, Mr. Kirby said, is the International Criminal Court. If that’s not possible, then some other mechanism must be found. The facts demand action.