A portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is burned by protesters during an anti-North Korea rally. Dec. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
NORTH KOREA’S REGIME has committed crimes as chilling as those of the Nazis, South Africa’s apartheid regime or Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and must be stopped, the head of a UN inquiry said on Monday.
“Contending with the great scourges of Nazism, apartheid, the Khmer Rouge and other affronts required courage by great nations and ordinary human beings alike,” Michael Kirby told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“It is now your solemn duty to address the scourge of human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” he said.
His comments followed a searing 400-page report, released last month, that documented a range of gross human rights abuses in the country, including extermination, enslavement and sexual violence.
“The gravity, scale, duration and nature of the unspeakable atrocities committed in the country reveal a totalitarian state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” said Kirby, a retired Australian judge.
The report insisted North Korea’s leaders should answer for a litany of crimes against humanity before an international court.
“The world has ignored the evidence for too long,” Kirby insisted, adding: “There is no excuse, because now we know.”
North Korean soldiers march during a mass military parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate 100 years since the birth of North Korean founder, Kim Il Sung, April 2012. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
North Korea, which refused to cooperate with the commission, has “categorically” rejected the report.
Its representative to the UN, So Se Pyong, slammed the findings as “shameless fabrications” by “the United States and other hostile forces”.
The commission, created in March 2013 by the Human Rights Council, was denied access to North Korea and relied on hearings in South Korea and Japan with 320 North Korean exiles.
The report condemned a widespread system of throwing generations of the same family into prison camps under guilt-by-association rules.
On Monday, Kirby showed footage from the hearings, including of survivor Shin Dong-hyuk who was born into a prison camp and spent his first 23 years there.
The 31-year-old says he was tortured, subjected to forced labour and compelled to witness the execution of his mother and brother at the age of 13.
Former prisoner Jee Heon-a can also be seen in the footage describing how she had witnessed a security guard beat a mother until she agreed to drown her newborn baby.
“The baby stopped crying (and) we saw bubbles rising up,” she recalled.
North Korea is estimated to have 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, while hundreds of thousands more are believed to have perished in the camps over the past half century, “through deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture,” the report said.
“If this report does not give rise to action, it is difficult to imagine what will,” Kirby insisted.
Retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, chairperson of the commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, shows the commission’s report, Monday, Feb 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Around 100 Japanese abducted
The report also estimated 200,000 people from other countries had been abducted — mostly South Koreans left stranded after the 1950-1953 Korean War, but also hundreds from around the world since then.
North Korean representative So marched out of the Human Rights Council in protest when Japan allowed Shigeo Iizuka, the chairman of the Japanese Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, to take the floor.
Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that it had abducted 13 Japanese nationals over two decades. It said eight had died, including Iizuka’s sister Yaeko Taguchi, who was taken in 1978. Tokyo rejects the claims.
Kirby said his commission estimates around 100 Japanese have been abducted by North Korea.
Outside the council chambers, relatives of abductees brandished black-and-white photographs of their long-lost loved ones, demanding that Pyongyang finally come clean.
Many country representatives supported the call to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.
“The EU believes that it is imperative that there be no impunity for those responsible for human rights violations,” EU representative to the UN in Geneva, Mariangela Zappia, told the council.
Along with Japan, the European Union is drafting a resolution on North Korea to be voted on by the council next week.
However, North Korea’s key ally China, which has a veto at the UN Security Council, would likely reject any referral of North Korean rights abuse cases to the ICC.
On Monday, Chinese representative Chen Chuandong lamented to the council that many of the report’s recommendations were “divorced from the realities on the peninsula and are highly politicised.”
People attending a mass rally chant slogans to show their support for the leadership in Pyongyang, North Korea Monday, Jan 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)