Atrocities committed by North Korea against its own people are "strikingly similar" to those perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II, the head of a United Nations panel said Monday after publishing an unprecedented report.
The investigators addressed a letter to Pyongyang's leader, Kim Jong Un, in which they informed him that they were advising the UN to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC), in order "to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for the crimes against humanity referred to in this letter and in the commission’s report."
However, since China is likely to veto any attempt to get the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the Hague-based court, it is possible that a special tribunal on North Korea would be set up, diplomatic and UN sources told Reuters.
Inquiry chairman Michael Kirby told a press conference in Geneva Monday that urgent action by the international community is needed to stop alleged crimes against humanity committed by Kim's regime.
"At the end of the Second World War so many people said, 'If only we had known, if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces,'"
"Well now the international community does know … there will be no excusing the failure of action because we didn't know. We do know," Kirby said, holding up a copy of the report.
The report comes a year after the U.N. Human Rights Council set up the Commission of Inquiry into the D.P.R.K. (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). It said hundreds of North Korean officials, "right up to the highest level of state," were potentially responsible for what it called "unspeakable atrocities" against their own people.
"The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," the report added.
The report also warned China that it may be "aiding and abetting crimes against humanity" with its policy of forcibly repatriating North Koreans who fled across its borders. Kirby wrote another letter to China's charge d'affaires in Geneva, Wu Haitao, saying that the people caught fleeing to China and sent back to North Korea were likely to be tortured or executed. In his reply to the missive, Haitao denied the claim.
The commission compiled the 400-page report by interviewing hundreds of victims and experts over the past year.
As many as 120,000 North Koreans are thought to be imprisoned across the country, many of them in four large camps. This number may have shrunk in recent years, according to the report, but only because many of the inmates have been murdered or starved to death.
People and their families are held for arbitrary crimes such as "gossiping" about the state.
Groups such as Amnesty International, which last year released satellite imagery and first-hand accounts from escaped prisoners, who said inmates were raped, tortured, given forced abortions and forced to dig their own graves before being murdered with hammers by guards.
The U.N. report contains more of this harrowing testimony, which it said described "extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence," and conditions comparable to those in camps run by the Nazis during World War II and gulags set up in Soviet Russia.
The report added: "The unspeakable atrocities that are being committed against inmates of the 'kwanliso' political prison camps resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian states established during the 20th century.
"The institutions and officials involved are not held accountable. Impunity reigns. The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."
In a statement to Reuters, North Korea said it "categorically and totally rejects the report," which it said was based on material faked by hostile forces backed by the United States, the European Union and Japan.