North Korea in the docket after UN report

A UN inquiry provides evidence of 'crimes against humanity' in North Korea. By exposing the truth of a dictatorship that tries hard to suppress the truth, the report can help bring down the Kim regime.

AP Photo
A North Korean woman looks out from a bus window in Pyongyang, North Korea, Feb. 16.

On Monday, the United Nations released its first official inquiry into the history of atrocities committed inside North Korea. The 372-page report shines a bright light on one of humanity’s darkest corners, revealing the “unspeakable” brutality of a regime against its own people.

This high-level exposure by the UN lines up the hard evidence needed for the eventual prosecution of North Korean leaders after the regime collapses. If fact, the report may hasten that collapse by making it difficult for North Korea’s only ally, China, to keep supplying aid to its isolated neighbor. Beijing leaders, knowing how damaging this UN inquiry might be to their reputation, refused a request for the three-man UN investigation team to interview exiled North Koreans near the border.

The UN findings help lay bare the evil acts of North Korea’s dictatorship, thus eroding its capacity to enslave an entire people. The documented truths show the ruling Kim family has resorted to systematic use of rape, murder, and torture, mainly because it could not rely on popular support. An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people still remain in political prisons, many of them  put there simply after a close relative showed weak loyalty to the Kim dynasty.

The list of atrocities over decades, states the report, amount to crimes against humanity. The “gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

The next step is for the UN Human Rights Council to endorse the report and ask the UN Security Council to refer the evidence to the International Criminal Court. If China vetoes that request, then the 48-member Council must push for an independent judicial panel to be set up, similar to those created for prosecuting human-rights violations in Rwanda, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone.

As much as North Korea plays the bully in Northeast Asia, it does sometimes show a sensitivity to international opinion. The regime recently decided to allow family reunions of divided families on each side of the border, perhaps as a way to soften its image against the blow of this report. It may also fear that news of the report could create enough moral outrage among lower-levels officials to stir a revolt. 

Regimes that try to brainwash and suppress their people often fail in the sunshine of reports such as this one. As a vestige of the cold war, North Korea has all the same internal contradictions as the Soviet Union did. The international community can help facilitate the North’s collapse simply by telling the truth about its crimes.

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