A campaign within the United Nations to haul North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before an international court for crimes against humanity has touched off a defensive fury in Pyongyang, where it’s being treated like a diplomatic declaration of war , an aggressive act aimed not only at shutting down prison camps but also at removing Kim and dismantling his family’s three-generation cult of personality.
“It would be, I think, the first order of the day to get these 80,000 to 100,000 (prisoners) immediately released and these camps disbanded,” Marzuki Darusman, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But that can only happen if this cult leadership system is completely dismantled. And the only way to do that is if the Kim family is effectively displaced, is effectively removed from the scene, and a new leadership comes into place.”
Such blunt words from a high-ranking U.N. official are unusual, although common among American officials.
Darusman said the General Assembly resolution, passed by in December, is more significant because it holds Kim responsible based on a 372-page report of findings presented last year by the U.N.-backed Commission of Inquiry that detailed arbitrary detention, torture, executions and political prison camps.
North Korea’s intense response has included threats of more nuclear tests, mass rallies across the country, a bitter smear campaign against defectors who cooperated in the U.N. report and repeated allegations that Washington orchestrated the whole thing in an attempt at speeding a regime change. Its state media last week railed yet again against the U.N. findings, saying “those who cooked up the ‘report’ are all bribed political swindlers and despicable human scum.” It called Darusman, the former attorney general of Indonesia, an “opportunist.”
In a rare flurry of talks, North Korean diplomats at the U.N. lobbied frenetically to get Kim’s culpability out of the resolution without success. The proposal is now on the agenda of the Security Council, which is expected this year to make a decision on whether the issue should be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
But here’s the reality check about the resolution: The likelihood of criminal proceedings against Kim is minuscule. It would likely be shot down by China or Russia, which have veto power on the Security Council. Also, while more than 120 countries support the International Criminal Court, the United States isn’t one of them, so it is somewhat awkward for Washington to push that option too hard.