The head of a U.N. human rights probe says he can’t get answers from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un regarding harrowing testimony from victims of the enigmatic regime, including allegations of being forced to survive on vermin, drown babies and witness the execution of loved ones.
Michael Kirby, who heads the U.N. commission examining North Korea’s human rights record, said Tuesday that his July 16 letter to the leader hasn’t been answered, and the government has offered no evidence to contradict graphic testimony of human rights abuses.
Kirby, a former judge in Australia’s highest court, told the U.N. Human Rights Council that the commission it created in March nonetheless gathered testimony from dozens of victims, including defectors, and experts at public hearings in Seoul and Tokyo last month that has “given a face and voice to great human suffering.”
Overall, the testimony “points to widespread and serious violations in all areas that the Human Rights Council asked the commission to investigate. We heard from ordinary people who faced torture and imprisonment for doing nothing more than watching foreign soap operas or holding a religious belief,” said Kirby.
For example, he said, the commission heard from a young man imprisoned from birth, who said he lived on rodents, lizards and grass and saw his mother and brother executed.
It also heard from a young woman who said she saw another female prisoner forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, Kirby said, and a man who said he was forced to help collect and burn the corpses of prisoners who died of starvation.
“The commission invited the authorities of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to attend the public hearings in Seoul and make representations, but received no reply,” Kirby said.
“Instead, its official news agency attacked the testimony we heard as ‘slander’ against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, put forward by ‘human scum.’”
In a June 19 dispatch, the KCNA news agency also denounced defectors as “wild dogs in human form” who had become “the main player in the confrontation farce under the patronage of the south Korean puppet group and brigandish U.S. imperialists.”
“An ounce of evidence is worth far more than many pounds of insults and baseless attacks,” Kirby told the 47-nation Council based in Geneva which is the U.N.’s top human rights body. “So far, however, the evidence we have heard has largely pointed in one direction — and evidence to the contrary is lacking.”
Later in the day, Kirby told a news conference that the commission plans to hold more hearings in London, New York and Washington, before giving a final report to the Council next March. He said the commission “is not a judge and is not a prosecutor,” so it remains to be seen whether specific people will be named for alleged crimes against humanity and other abuses.
When the Council approved the commission in March on a resolution backed by the U.S., Japan and the European Union, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, who is now a member of the commission, reported that North Korea’s new dynastic leader had made it his top priority to strengthen the military while about 16 million of North Korea’s 25 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
The U.N.’s top rights official, Navi Pillay, reported to the Council that the U.N. had amassed evidence indicating that up to 200,000 people were being held in North Korean political prison camps rife with torture, rape and slave labor, and that some of the abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.
North Korea has maintained that U.S. hostility and the threat of American troops in South Korea were factors in the push for an international investigation. The U.S. stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
North Korea’s U.N. envoy in Geneva, Kim Yong Ho, told the Council on Tuesday that his government will not cooperate with a probe and “totally rejects” its latest report.
The report is based on information “fabricated and invented by the forces hostile to the DPRK, defectors and rebels,” Kim said.