Will It Be Impossible to Hold North Korea Liable For Abuses?

Will It Be Impossible to Hold North Korea Liable For Abuses

It could be next to impossible to hold North Korean officials liable for horrific human rights abuses detailed in a United Nations report released last month, diplomats and activists concede.

Countries that have friendly relations with North Korea will likely make it impossible to reach a global consensus on how to hold officials in the socialist country accountable for documented human rights abuses, diplomats and other sources told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

One such country, China, has already dismissed the February report. Chinese diplomat Chen Chuandong told the U.N. Human Rights Commission on Monday that the report should be considered invalid because North Korea refused to cooperate with U.N. investigators.

“The inability of the commission to get support and cooperation from the country concerned makes it impossible for the commission to carry out its mandate in an impartial, objective and effective manner,” Chen said according to Reuters.

But the commission’s chairman Michael Kirby refuted any idea that the report, which drew upon the testimony of hundreds of former North Korean government officials, political prisoners, citizens and other eyewitnesses, was flawed simply because the commission could not secure the cooperation of officials in Pyongyang.

“Their testimony is not only in these documents, but also on the Internet — but these were denied to the ordinary people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It should be asked why this regime forbade such access,” Kirby said, adding that the commission “did not ask anyone to blindly believe what [the report] said.”

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The February report detailed how North Korean officials exert control over citizens by offering limited employment opportunities, restricting movement and withholding food. The most-damning portion of the report shed light on how officials enforce the country’s strict laws — citizens are routinely tortured by police in order to secure a confession, then sent to detention camps where inmates often serve a life sentence or die while incarcerated.

“The suffering and tears of the people of North Korea demand action,” Kirby said last month when the report was made public, saying human rights abuses by officials in Pyongyang were “strikingly similar” to those perpetrated by Nazi Germany.

Kirby urged then, and again on Monday, for diplomats to hold North Korea accountable for those crimes.

“Too many times, in this building, there are reports and no action,” Kirby said. “Well, this is a time for action. We can’t say we didn’t know. We now all do know.”

North Korea dismissed the report last month, saying it “aimed at sabotaging the socialist system by defaming the dignified images of [North Korea].”


Shortly after the report was released, an Australian missionary was detained in the country for allegedly possessing Christian literature — a crime under North Korean law. Police originally told John Short that he faced 15 years in prison for distributing religious pamphlets, but the country expelled him after holding him in captivity for two weeks.

North Korea’s state-owned news agency KCNA said Short confessed to his crime in a written apology, but Short denied this in reports that were published after his release.

An American citizen, Kenneth Bae, was detained by North Korean officials in 2012. Efforts to secure his release have failed so far.

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