Seeking to push the issue of human rights abuses in North Korea up the diplomatic agenda, Secretary of State John Kerry made a passionate appeal to world leaders to seek accountability for perpetrators of torture, rape and other atrocities.
“We simply cannot be blind to egregious affronts to human nature,” Mr. Kerry said at a meeting Tuesday in New York with the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea and the top United Nations official for human rights. “We cannot accept it. Silence would be greatest abuse of all.”
It was the first time the top diplomats from the three countries had publicly spoken about human rights in North Korea, though none of them spelled out exactly how to seek redress.
Any referral to the International Criminal Court would have to be authorized by the United Nations Security Council, a measure that, at the moment at least, is unlikely considering that Pyongyang’s staunch ally, China, wields veto power.
The new United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan, cited a landmark report published by a United Nations commission of inquiry earlier this year documenting grave rights abuses and calling for a referral to the Hague-based tribunal.
Prince Zeid said North Korean officials had signaled the country “was prepared to some degree to open to greater engagement with international human rights mechanisms.” But, he said, his office would continue to document rights abuses there, including the establishment of a field office soon, based in South Korea.
Kerry said that abuses detailed in the UN commission’s 400-page report “have no place in the 21st century.” The commission estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are currently detained in four large camps, where deliberate starvation has been used as a means of control and punishment.
Rights activists say they are hopeful a resolution could be introduced in the General Assembly next month.