North Korea has been accused of genocide by the human rights group Human Liberty based in Yonsei University, South Korea. The conservative South Korean group recently spoke to the UN Commission of Inquiry in New York which investigated reports of human rights violations in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK). Human Liberty believes the findings of the Commission, which were published earlier this year, amount to acts of genocide by North Korea.
In March of 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the widespread and systematic violations of human rights in North Korea. The Commission is headed by Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia. After an eleven month investigation, which included testimony from hundreds of prisoners who escaped North Korea’s notorious prison camps, the Commission pronounced the DPRK guilty of “unspeakable atrocities” of such gravity, duration and scale that they had no parallel in the modern world. Among the violations of human rights found by the Commission were arbitrary detention, torture and execution, forced labor, abduction of foreign nationals, abusive mistreatment of political prisoners, targeting of religious believers and starvation as a political weapon.
When the Commission’s findings were published earlier this year, North Korea blasted back. The regime argued that the mandate of the Commission was not impartial and that the UN had set out to find evidence of human rights abuses which it already thought existed. In response to North Korea’s allegations, Human Liberty hired the international law firm Hogan Lovells to conduct an independent investigation into the Commissions findings, which they confirmed in an 85-page report published in May.
Now that the litany of human rights abuses by North Korea have been entered into the UN record, international pressure is cautiously mounting to do something concrete about the situation. Human rights groups like Human Liberty are trying to find ways to solidify international resolve for action. The South Korean human rights group believes the systematic starvation of citizens in North Korea, the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities and the widespread practice of forced abortions of mixed-race children in North Korea, a group which qualifies for protected status under United Nations charters, qualifies their accusations of genocide.
In 2002, reports surfaced among defectors that women in North Korean forced labor camps were being forcibly treated with abortifacient drugs. The report of the UN Commission paints an even uglier picture of a systematic “cleansing” of North Korean ethnicity: forced removals of handicapped children and infanticide of children born of mixed-race parents. Human Liberty also pointed out the systematic discrimination by North Korea in the distribution of food under the songbun system which allocates resources to the upper classes of society and discriminates against those with “tainted blood,” a condition which the North Korean government believes lasts for three generations.
Despite appeals by Human Liberty to consider North Korea’s human rights violations to be genocide, the Commission argued that Crimes against Humanity was a sufficient categorization. Genocide was too narrow a definition for the wide variety of human rights abuses of the regime, and might serve to obscure the multi-faceted findings of the Commission, which also highlight the severe mistreatment of prisoners, forced labor, and torture of political dissidents, among other violations of international law.
But action was clearly on the mind of Human Liberty in their appeal to the Commission, and the hope for a global campaign like the anti-apartheid movement to solidify international resolve to do something concrete about North Korea. The conservative South Korean human rights group hopes that accusations of genocide might stir the international community to take greater measures to hold North Korea accountable. However, until North Korea agrees to accept international law, accountability will be a difficult prospect.
By Steve Killings