The only real surprise about the recent UN Commission of Inquiry’s report on North Korea is that it took the world body as long as it did to take a close look at the atrocities of that brutal regime.
The carefully-documented abuses perpetrated by North Korea’s government are comparable in scale to those of the Nazis. Little in the report was really new; we have known these facts, through eyewitness reports trickling out of the Hermit Kingdom, for decades. But the graphic and scrupulously-researched revelations of persistent executions, torture, rape, abductions, forced killings of newborn children and mass starvation are still appalling and bone-chilling. And there is no question that these acts were directed from the top — Kim Jong-un is personally to blame for terrible crimes against humanity.
Full credit for this report must go to former Australian chief justice Michael Kirby for his courage and tenacity in concluding the 372-page indictment. One doubts that the UN Rights Council would have had similar fortitude on its own. As Human Rights Watch notes in its recent report, Keeping the Momentum: One Year in the Life of the UN Human Rights Council, “China, Cuba, and Russia in particular (have) systematically voted to reject any action of the Council that they deemed too critical of a state, or that was not supported by the state in question.”
Don’t be too surprised if that happens again with this report. While Justice Kirby’s work certainly suggests that the evidence warrants action by the International
If action by the International Court is stymied, Kirby recommends that consideration be given to the establishment of an “ad hoc” tribunal as in the case of Yugoslavia. Canada should examine this option as well as any others that can keep the pressure on the most loathsome regime on Earth.
Canada also should be in the vanguard of those supporting the concept of a peaceful reunification of the two Koreas, as unimaginable as that prospect may seem right now. Reunification is the only long-term solution that makes sense — not only for Koreans, but also for those intent on eradicating the threat from one of the world’s most dangerous purveyors of nuclear weapons technology.
China would be certain to oppose reunification as it would remove what it sees as a useful buffer again the West and nefarious Western values. But that Cold War worry clashes with China’s 21st-century economic interests; China is now South Korea’s most important trading partner.
The real irritant for China, however, is the presence of 20,000-plus U.S. troops in the South. Redeployment of this force could form part of a negotiating position that ensures that America’s security guarantee to South Korea is modified but not withdrawn.
South Koreans themselves are wary of inheriting the huge economic and social burden that would flow from the integration of 25 million or more North Koreans — many of whom have been virtually lobotomized by decades of oppressive, totalitarian rule by the Kim dynasty.
By re-opening an informal dialogue with the South earlier this month, Pyongyang obviously hoped to deflect attention away from the pending report and its appalling record of human rights abuses — which Kirby somberly described as “wrongs that shock the consciousness of humanity”.
This report should be a vital political tool for anyone who really cares about the most basic of human rights. The litany of crimes it catalogues cannot be ignored. It demands retribution against North Korea in a manner that will send a clear message to other torturers and tyrants: We’re watching.
This is an important moment for the United Nations — a chance for it to honour the principles enshrined in its Charter and the Declaration on Human Rights. North Korea’s brutalized citizens deserve nothing less. Criminal Court, North Korea’s lone ally, China, will surely block any such move. It already has challenged the report as “unreasonable” — a mild rebuke but not surprising, since the report found that China itself, by forcing the repatriation of North Koreans, may be guilty of “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity”.