Michael Kirby, an outspoken former justice of Australia’s top court, was named this week as head of a three-member team that will look into allegations of torture, food deprivation and labor camps in North Korea that are believed to hold at least 200,000 people. Kirby previously investigated human rights abuses in Cambodia.
The U.N. Human Rights Council launched the one-year inquiry on March 21, hoping to gather enough information from camp survivors and other exiles to document violations that it says may amount to crimes against humanity. The commission is expected to be up and running by early July. The U.N. team would speak to North Koreans living in South Korea, Japan and Thailand, Kirby said.
Kirby said in an interview he had received hundreds of emails from human rights groups and representatives of those alleging abuse by North Korea in the day since his appointment.
Contacting North Korean authorities would be “top of the list” of priorities, he said, adding he was hopeful of a response from the government and its strongest supporters in neighboring China and Russia but that a lack of engagement would not stop the panel from completing its task.
Kirby said it was too early to discuss possible outcomes of the inquiry, such as whether it could lead to charges in the International Criminal Courts against any individuals. “In the end, it will be the political branches of the United Nations that will be making the decisions on the report of the commission of inquiry,” he said.
The inquiry is due to file an interim report by September, with a final report due by March next year.