Shortly after reports suggested that North Korea could cooperate with the international community on human rights, all returned to normal when earlier this week a senior North Korean diplomat warned the International Criminal Court about taking any action against the country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. Earlier this year, a UN-mandated three member commission (specifically, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) urged the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to refer Kim Jong-un to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation regarding crimes against humanity in North Korea.
North Korea’s UN envoy Jang Il-hun said that North Korea would take “countermeasures” should any international legal action be taken against Kim Jong-un. According to the New York Times, Jang made the statements “during a rare and sometimes heated hourlong discussion of the country’s reaction to a United Nations report.” The report in question, using satellite imagery, presented evidence of prison camps in North Korea. It also included interviews with dissidents and defectors who had escaped from North Korea. Jang was adamant about North Korea’s innocence: “In my country we don’t even know the term ‘political prisoners,’” he stated emphatically. He insisted that the forced labor camps were just normal prisons.
The HRC commission’s findings found that the crimes against humanity in North Korea included “extermination; murder; enslavement; torture; imprisonment; rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence; persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds; the forcible transfer of populations; the enforced disappearance of persons; and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” Accordingly, the report concluded that “crimes against humanity are ongoing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place.”
Interestingly, during the same tirade against the possibility of an ICC indictment against Kim, the NYT‘s David Sanger reports that Jang was asked what led to the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle and regime number two Jang Song-thaek late last year. In responding, Jang stated that Jang Song-thaek was guilty of a “treason crime” and “illegally amassed foreign currency and broke the law by having dirty and illegal relations with so many women.”
Jang’s tirade at the UN came on the heels of a report that the North Korean regime released in Chinese as part of a broader effort by the reclusive state to influence the debate about the state of human rights within its borders. The report was released by the North Korean embassy in Beijing and aims to counter “wrong views and widespread misunderstanding” on human rights in North Korea and to “elaborate its human rights mechanism.”