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Opinion

North Korea threatens US – what about its own people?

As North Korea threatens the US, South Korea, and world peace with hints of a third nuclear test, what about its threat to its own people? It has one of the worst human rights records in the world. The UN must open a 'commission of inquiry' into crimes against humanity.

By Benedict Rogers and Jack Rendler / January 25, 2013

North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifts off in Tongchang-ri, North Korea, in this Dec. 12, 2012 image made from video. Op-ed contributors Benedict Rogers and Jack Rendler write: 'This is a carpe diem moment.' A government or group of governments, 'most likely from Europe but with strong backing from Japan, South Korea, and the US,' needs to propose a UN 'commission of inquiry' to examine crimes against humanity in North Korea.

KRT via AP Video/AP/file

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London and Washington

North Korea is threatening the United States, South Korea, and the world with hints of a third nuclear test and with continued development of ballistic missiles and rockets. The US and the United Nations have justifiably condemned the moves and tightened sanctions.

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But let’s remember that the globe’s most closed nation also directly threatens its own people – depriving them of food and freedom, torturing and imprisoning them. This tightly controlled country has one of the worst human rights records in the world. The UN must act against this threat, too.

At its meeting in March, the UN Human Rights Council has a perfect opportunity to approve a “commission of inquiry” to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea – but such a proposal must be put forth by a government or group of governments. The idea, first proposed more than five years ago, has gained momentum since 2011, when more than 40 human rights organizations from around the world met in Tokyo and formed the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea.

What would such a UN inquiry achieve?

It is likely that North Korea would not cooperate with it, but investigators could interview thousands of victims of the regime who now live outside the country. It could assemble a body of evidence and provide an assessment that would carry the full weight, authority, and independence of the UN. It would shine a light on North Korea’s crimes, potentially causing the regime to at least temper its abusive behavior. It could lead to the perpetrators of these crimes finally being held to account.

Previous commissions of inquiry include that for the killings in the Darfur region of Sudan, which led to a recommendation to the UN Security Council that the case be referred to the International Criminal Court. That resulted in a warrant for the arrest of Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir. Other examples include Syria, where it was concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity are taking place, and Burundi, Rwanda, and Libya.

A commission of inquiry does not necessarily stop the violations or lead to the perpetrators being brought to justice, but it does at the very least focus the glaring light of the UN on a situation, something long overdue in North Korea.

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