A new report released by the International Bar Association (IBA) War Crimes Committee and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) has concluded that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that Kim Jong-un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but also other North Korean officials, should be investigated for crimes against humanity committed on a large scale in detention centers in Korea North. The report, launched in late June 2022, is the culmination of more than two years of work by the Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Detention Centers Investigation (the Inquiry) conducted by the two organizations, with the support of volunteer lawyers. The survey aimed to raise awareness about the situation in North Korea, exploring practical and legal options for justice and accountability, among others. The launch of the report follows several hearings that heard testimony from North Korean escapees and experts.
The report concluded that ten of the eleven crimes against humanity listed in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court have been and continue to be committed, including murder, extermination, enslavement, forced transfer, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearance, apartheid and other inhumane acts.
The inquiry cited evidence of arbitrary killings, infanticide and forced abortions being commonplace in detention centers and testimonies of “repeated cases of infanticide and forced abortions in detention centers, targeting especially “unclean” half-Chinese babies.
The inquest presented evidence that inmates were intentionally deprived of food as a “weapon of punishment and control” resulting in severe illness, malnutrition and often death from starvation. A witness testified that he was fed “mainly corn skin or potatoes mixed with rocks and charcoal”. Other witnesses said they ate rodents, frogs or snakes to survive.
The investigation found evidence of detainees being subjected to beatings and other forms of torture. A witness described being “beaten so badly in an underground detention center that all of his lower teeth were knocked out. He was also the victim of waterboarding and electric shocks.
The investigation shed light on the issue of sexual violence against detainees. According to the findings, it was very common for inmates to be sexually assaulted. Such abuse is said to occur “virtually every day”. A witness testified to being “brutally beaten and raped by the deputy director of a detention center, who also raped most of the young women detained in the center”.
The investigation found evidence of serious human rights violations, in particular the right to freedom of religion or belief. As the report states, Christians, in particular, have been targeted for detention and subjected to severe treatment in detention, including, “periods of detention have been documented to be longer for Christians than for other groups “, and “Christians are interrogated for longer periods of time, usually under torture and subjected to some of the worst forms of torture to force them to incriminate others during interrogations.
Finally, the survey reported detainees subjected to grueling forced labor and abhorrent living conditions in detention centres. Witnesses testified to being treated like “animals” and subjected to extreme working conditions. Children as young as seven years old were forced to do heavy labor, including chopping down tall trees in the mountains.
The report names high-level officials and lower-level Kim Jong-un guards as responsible for the crimes, including members of the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), State Affairs Commission (SAC), the Ministry of Social Security (MPS) and members of the Ministry of State Security (MSS).
The report called for urgent action, including launching an investigation by the International Criminal Court or a special international tribunal; the exercise of universal jurisdiction by national courts; and targeted sanctions against those responsible for the crimes. Many of these recommendations were identified by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, headed by Judge Michael Kirby, in its report released in 2014. Unfortunately, eight years more late, many of the recommendations have not been implemented. implemented. The dire situation in North Korea continues to be met with very little action. Clear leadership in response to the serious human rights violations in North Korea is urgently needed.