The head of the UN commission that produced a damning report on North Korean rights abuses has dismissed Pyongyang’s claim that doubts about the credibility of a prominent witness made the panel’s findings “invalid”.
“The partial retraction of Shin Dong-hyuk of the testimony he gave to the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea is not significant for the report, conclusions or recommendations of the commission,” said retired Australian judge Michael Kirby.
Mr Shin, a well-known defector and Pyongyang critic, admitted this week that elements of his best-selling gulag survivor book Escape from Camp 14 were inaccurate, although he stressed that the crucial details of his suffering and torture still stood.
For his part, Mr Kirby noted that Mr Shin was only one of 300 witnesses interviewed by his commission, whose overall findings were based on a mass of “overwhelming” corroborative evidence.
The commission’s conclusion that North Korea was committing human rights violations “without parallel in the contemporary world” was the basis of a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly last month. It urged the Security Council to consider referring Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court.
For activists within the North Korean defector community, Mr Shin’s admissions of inaccuracies in his survivor story are a genuine blow, given his high profile.
In his statement, Mr Kirby was protective of the 32-year-old defector. “Mr Shin bears, on his body, the evidence of torture and suffering. At this stage he needs help and support, not hounding,” he said.