Let’s not lose sight of North Korea’s human rights record

Rarely does a United Nations investigation produce such clarity and impact as did the Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations in North Korea. The report, issued a year ago, documented the existence of political concentration camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and a regime that has treated its people with sickening brutality.

But now what? What can be done to get concrete help for the victims? There is a danger that as other pressing concerns about North Korea accumulate — nuclear weapons, missiles, cyberattacks — the world will lose interest in the human rights disaster.

One of the most prominent witnesses to the depravity of the North, Shin Dong-hyuk, recently changed some elements in his account. The changes do not undermine the larger conclusions of the U.N. commission, which received public testimony from some 80 witnesses.

The U.N. commission, chaired by Michael Kirby, a former justice of the High Court of Australia, found that North Korea’s leaders should be held accountable for the abuses and recommended referral to the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes against humanity. However, veto threats by Russia or China are real, and a referral is not going to happen, at least not now.

Much work remains to be done. A key step is to provide adequate financial resources for the U.N. office of the special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, Indonesian lawyer Marzuki Darusman. A related and significant initiative, just starting, is the establishment of an office by the United Nations in South Korea that will continue to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea, with an eye toward identifying who in the regime’s leadership is responsible for the horrors so that they can eventually be held to account — and so that current officials may think twice before becoming complicit in an ongoing crime against humanity.

[From a Washington Post editorial]

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