Michael Kirby, a former judge of the High Court of Australia and chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry into North Korean human rights abuses, has called on the United Nations to show the same resolve and unanimity on North Korean human rights abuses as it did on passing a resolution on downed flight MH17.
He said the last week had demonstrated the UN Security Council’s capacity for agreement and action. “The attention to MH17 was admirable … and I think we can all be proud of the way our ambassadors dealt with it. But in all truth, the case of North Korea is dealing with millions of people,” Justice Kirby told a university audience.
“The question is will the UN find a way to respond? In the last week, on a matter that had great sensitivity, through … strong political action, a consensus was found, and I’m hoping the same sort of spirit will operate in the case of North Korea when the matter comes to the Security Council.”
The Commission of Inquiry, which reported to the UN in March, detailed horrific abuses of human rights in North Korea, including starving political prisoners reduced to eating grass and rodents in secret gulags, schoolchildren made to watch firing squad executions, and women forced to drown their own babies to uphold racial purity laws.
Justice Kirby compared the actions of the North Korean regime to a modern-day Holocaust, and he warned against treating North Korea as a quirky, oddball regime. “Please do not think North Korea is a cuddly, cute sort of a case, with a leader with a bad haircut who is nonetheless loveable and is going to go in the right direction because he’s a young man. This is not a situation where a young person is going to bring a new broom, if his is a new broom it is a violent new broom. Things have not improved.”
The UN General Assembly will consider the commission’s North Korean recommendations next month and is expected to refer the case to the Security Council. The Security Council has the power to authorize the International Criminal Court to pursue a criminal case against the leaders of North Korea (a non-member state), which could see the regime’s rulers, including Kim Jong-un, tried for crimes against humanity.
Veto-wielding China and Russia, historically resistant to any action against North Korea, with whom they both share a land border, are again likely to be the stumbling blocks to any unanimous action. Justice Kirby said countries that resist taking action against North Korea would be judged harshly by the international community, and by “the bar of history”.