When a United Nations report on human rights in North Korea was released early this year — including hundreds of interviews with victims of and witnesses to killings, torture, starvation, enslavement and sexual violence — the panel that produced it urged the international community to take quick and forceful action. Among those interviewed was Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person known to have been born in a North Korean prison camp and to have escaped, which he did eight years ago.
For years, human rights groups and defectors had told stories of unimaginable conditions in those prisons: inmates forced into hard labor, starved so badly that they would catch snakes and mice to eat, tortured, sometimes for no reason at all. But the report put the imprimatur of the United Nations on the subject. If North Korea — which refused to cooperate with the panel or let its members into the country — won't accept its responsibility to protect its people, then the rest of the world must do so, the commissioners wrote.
On Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly will vote on a resolution citing the report and calling on the government to end the atrocities that have made North Korea "a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." Of course, condemnation alone won't make the notoriously hermetic government end its abuses or dismantle a network of prison camps housing an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people. But the more global support for the resolution, the less North Korea can dismiss the criticism as the work of its enemies. (At the moment, North Korea denies that the camps even exist.)
The resolution also calls for action by the Security Council, including, possibly, a referral to the International Criminal Court.
Why should we expect Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un's response to be anything more than "you and what army"? Because the resolution keeps up the drumbeat — and puts pressure on China, North Korea's main defender on the world stage, to reconsider its unsavory alliance. Interestingly, North Korea's release of two American political prisoners last weekend is widely viewed as a response to pressure from the U.N. report.
An amendment has been put on the table by Cuba that would remove two key paragraphs from the resolution, including the reference to the International Criminal Court. This amendment should be voted down.