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China faults UN report on abuse in North Korea

UN letter says Kim may be held liable for atrocities

Michael Kirby showed his report on human rights in North Korea at the UN headquarters in Geneva.

Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA

Michael Kirby showed his report on human rights in North Korea at the UN headquarters in Geneva.

HONG KONG — Chinese officials on Tuesday criticized a United Nations report that served notice to Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, that he may be personally held liable in court for crimes against humanity committed by state institutions and officials under his direct control.

Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, called the report “unreasonable criticism,” raising questions as to whether Beijing will use its UN Security Council veto power to block any action on the matter.

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“We believe that politicizing human rights issues is not conducive toward improving a country’s human rights,” Hua said. “We believe that taking human rights issues to the International Criminal Court is not helpful to improving a country’s human rights situation.”

The report to the UN human rights panel is viewed by rights activists not only as the most detailed and authoritative body of data on the state of human rights in North Korea, but also as a milestone in the international debate on one of the world’s most reclusive and isolated countries.

In the letter, dated Jan. 20, the panel chairman, the retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, summarized the investigation’s findings of crimes against humanity committed by officials that could be inferred to be acting under Kim’s personal control. Addressing Kim, 31, Kirby wrote that his panel would recommend that the UN Security Council refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court, to make all those responsible for crimes accountable, “including possibly yourself.”

“I hope that the international community will be moved by the detail, the amount, the long duration, the great suffering, and the many tears that have existed in North Korea to act on the crimes against humanity,” Kirby said Monday to reporters in the UN’s Geneva offices.

“Too many times in this building there are reports and no action,” Kirby said. “Well, now is a time for action. We can’t say we didn’t know.”

North Korea denounced the report, and the process leading up to it, as a concoction of lies and deceit by North Korea’s enemies, including South Korea and the United States.

The North Korean authorities repeatedly denied the panel’s requests for permission to visit the country to investigate. The report relied heavily on testimony from North Korean refugees, escapees, and asylum seekers. The panel’s 36-page summary report and a 372-page annex detail what the report calls a wide range of crimes against humanity. The report also criticizes the political and security apparatus of the North Korean state, saying that it uses surveillance, fear, public executions, and forced disappearances “to terrorize the population into submission.”

“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials,” the report asserted, referring to North Korea by its official name. The report stopped short of alleging genocide but specified among others the crimes of “extermination,” murder, enslavement, torture, rape, and persecution on grounds of race, religion, and gender.

Human rights activists had pushed for the creation of the panel in a bid to broaden what had been the international community’s focus on the North’s nuclear program and bellicose security policies to the near exclusion of its human rights record.

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