Michael Kirby wants action on North Korea human rights abuses

It’s one thing to bring down a comprehensive and definitive UN report on vile human rights abuses in North Korea. It’s quite another, especially in the fast-moving 24-hour news cycle, to keep the horrors of it in the public eye.

But the former High Court judge Michael Kirby, who chaired the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into North Korea, is determined that the report of the UN Human Rights Council will not be forgotten, and he wants action.

This was Michael Kirby’s response when I asked him to compare North Korea’s prisons to World War II concentration camps:

MICHAEL KIRBY: There are many similarities. I remember one witness who came before us who told of his job, which was to pick up the bodies every day because people just died of hunger and starvation and to put them into wheelbarrows and wheel them to a vat and put them in the vat and turn the vat on and reduce them to ashes and liquid and then to pick up the remains, including legs and arms that hadn’t quite incinerated, and then put all of this into the nearby fields where some food was grown, mainly for the guards, as fertilizer.

The prisoners themselves lived on grass, leaves and items that they could gather and rodents that were in abundance over the fields. And it’s a really horrible story. As you say, no gas ovens, that type of thing, but still people and their families…

MARK COLVIN: So back to the UN. A lot of people are cynical about what the UN can and will do. Do you think that in this case, in the case of North Korea, there’s a prospect of action?

MICHAEL KIRBY: I believe there is. Some people say that’s a na├»ve belief but I believe that in the end the power of the report which has been produced, the testimony, the findings that these are cases of crimes against humanity which activates the so-called principle of the responsibility to protect: that was what happened with Gaddafi in Libya. That did ultimately secure the support of the permanent five: those who have the veto under the charter.

The Chinese government must be aware of the dangers to them of a country so unstable that it could remove the second or third most powerful man in the land – Jang Song-Thaek, the uncle of the supreme leader – drag him out of the politburo under the television cameras, put him before judges who screamed and shouted at him according to the North Korean reports, calling him a traitor and a dog, and then executed him by firing squad within a matter of three or four days.

I mean, that way of resolving a political dispute essentially, as one understands it, Jang saying, “We should go down the China model and we should engage with the world and we should get a market system,” and the way that was resolved was by simply killing him, and it’s a sign of the instability of the politics of that country.

MARK COLVIN: I was just wondering if you think, maybe, that people – the media – tend to concentrate on the almost comic opera aspects of the Kim dynasty?

MICHAEL KIRBY: Well, they certainly do.

[Excerpt of ABC interview]

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