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U.N. panel details North Korea wrongs

| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A United Nations panel warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday he could be charged by the International Criminal Court with systematic executions, torture, rape and mass starvation.

Such a case for crimes against humanity would require at least acquiescence from North Korea ally China, one of five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council that generally opposes such referrals to the ICC.

Yet the panel's recommendation alone infuriated North Korea, accused in a wide-ranging indictment of holding up to 120,000 people in camps for political crimes, and state-sponsored abductions of North Korean, Japanese and other nationals.

North Korea, which refused to participate in the investigation or allow the commission to visit, called the findings “a product of politicization of human rights on the part of EU and Japan in alliance with the U.S. hostile policy.”

The probe had been ordered by the U.N.'s 47-nation Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.

In a letter accompanying a yearlong investigative report, the chairman of a three-member U.N. commission of inquiry, retired Australian Judge Michael Kirby, warned Kim that international prosecution is needed “to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity.”

The commission's three members — which 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.

Kirby referred to satellite imagery of prison camps, which North Korea says do not exist, and testimony from North Korean defectors who told of starvation and stunted growth in babies.

“I hope the international community will be moved by the detail” in this report, which included information from hundreds of witnesses, Kirby said. “Too many times in this building, there are reports and no action. Well, this is a time for action.”

According to the report:

• Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have been killed through forced starvation.

• More than 200,000 adults and children brought to North Korea from other countries might have become victims of enforced disappearance.

• Defector Shin Dong-hyuk said that at age 13 he told a prison guard a plot by his mother and brother to escape, and both were executed.

• A witness described seeing a North Korean prison camp guard beat a woman who had recently given birth and force her to drown her baby.

North Korea's only real ally is China, and some experts hoped the report would put pressure on China to demand the North alter its treatment of its people.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China opposes taking the case to the ICC.

“We think we should establish a constructive dialogue to solve the disputes over the human rights issues based on equal footing and mutual respect,” Hua told reporters in Beijing. “It will not help the situation to bring the issue to an international court.”

Barry Pavel, vice president of the Atlantic Council and a former defense policy adviser to President Obama and former President George W. Bush, said the U.N. panel's warning “is not enforceable unless the international community decides to go after” Kim as it did former Serbia President Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic died in custody while being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

China has been engaged in a human rights crackdown within its borders, however, and does not want to bring attention to itself, Pavel said.

Bruce Klingner, who headed the CIA's Koreas branch in the 1990s and early 2000s and is now at the Heritage Foundation said not to expect much help from China.

China prevented international sanctions against North Korea after its unprovoked killing of dozens of South Koreans in 2010 in the sinking of the South Korean destroyer Cheonan and shelling of South Korean Yeonpyeong islands.

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