GENEVA — A UN panel warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday that he may be held accountable for orchestrating widespread crimes against civilians in the secretive Asian nation, ranging from systematic executions to torture, rape and mass starvation.
It is unusual for a UN report to directly implicate a nation’s leader. But in a letter accompanying a yearlong investigative report, the chairman of a three-member UN commission of inquiry, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, directly warned Kim that international prosecution is needed “to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity.”
“Even without being directly involved in crimes against humanity, a military commander may be held responsible for crimes against humanity committed by forces under the commander’s effective command and control,” Kirby wrote.
He urged Kim to take “all necessary and reasonable measures” to stop crimes against humanity and insure that they are properly investigated and prosecuted. Kirby added, however, there was no indication the North Korea would do so.
The investigative commission’s 372-page report is a wide-ranging indictment of North Korea for policies including political prison camps with 80,000 to 120,000 people, state-sponsored abductions of North Korean, Japanese and other nationals, and lifelong indoctrination.
“They are wrongs that shock the conscience of humanity,” Kirby said, comparing them with Nazi atrocities.
Details of the findings were reported Friday by The Associated Press.
Speaking to reporters after the release of the report, Kirby said it was impossible not to include Kim’s name in the list of suspects because of what he described as the government’s totalitarian nature.
Kirby referred to prison camps, which North Korea says do not exist. “However, the satellite images show the prison camps and we had testimony, which is quoted in the report, which tells the stories of the prison camps” that include starvation and stunted growth in babies, he said.
North Korean officials did not co-operate with the panel’s investigation, saying in correspondence last year that the country “totally and categorically rejects” the probe ordered by the UN’s 47-nation Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.
The commission’s three members — which also include Sonja Biserko of Serbia and Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia — said the findings are based on testimony from 80 witnesses at four public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington last year plus more than 240 confidential interviews with victims and others.
North Korea is unlikely to face prosecution because China, one of five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, generally opposes such referrals to the International Criminal Court.