It's one thing to know that third-generation strongman Kim Jong Un maintains an iron grip on North Korea's 25 million people. It's another thing to read the horrifying particulars of how his regime wields its control — through starvation, torture, rape, summary executions and the disappearance of tens of thousands of citizens into an extralegal prison labor-camp system.
The details are contained in a report compiled by an international team of investigators led by respected Australian jurist Michael Kirby and released this week by the United Nations' Human Rights Council. The report, based on more than 300 interviews with people who have left the country, accuses the regime of a wide range of crimes against humanity and recommends that the U.N. Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
The report paints a picture of a society characterized by "almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought," in which the state "operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine." The state determines where people may live and what work they may do, severely restricts access to TV and radio, and monitors the phone calls of its citizens. Police routinely use violence "to create a climate of fear that preempts any challenge to the current system of government." For those who don't get the message, the state uses torture, execution and the allocation of food to control people.
This page has been skeptical of the Human Rights Council in the past. Among the issues: Some of the very nations whose human rights records should be investigated are members of the council. At this moment, that includes China, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan. But Kirby's report is clear-eyed in its assessment and principled in its recommendations. Significantly, the report castigates China for denying investigators access to North Korean refugees in its border region, and accuses it of complicity in the atrocities by returning some refugees to North Korea.
The question is, what will the rest of the world do about it? It's doubtful that even a scathing U.N. report will persuade China to change its policies, or that Kim and his cadre will ultimately be called to account before the International Criminal Court. Much as Russia has shielded the Syrian government from Security Council actions, so too has China protected North Korea. It has the power to block a prosecution with its veto.
That doesn't absolve the international community of its responsibility to try to bring North Korea's oppressive leaders to justice. In fact, those efforts are overdue. The extent of the regime's repression is well known; many of these abuses have been detailed over the years by The Times' Beijing bureau chief, Barbara Demick.
The Security Council should send this case to the International Criminal Court. China should stand on the side of morality and pocket its veto.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times