The International Criminal Court & NK (circa 2011)

About two years ago I began thinking of responses to the human rights abuses in North Korea. It turns out, two years later, I’m still thinking and trying to channel my thoughts into a space for others to contribute and discuss. Here’s what I thought about Kim Jong Il and the International Criminal Court (ICC) back then. Now, I’m looking at other transitional justice mechanisms in the event of a NK regime shift. If you have thoughts, please let me know.

The entrance of the ICC at The Hague. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

The entrance of the ICC at The Hague. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

Is There A Court With Jurisdiction to Prosecute Kim?

In 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in accordance with the “Rome Statute.”[1] The ICC prosecutes “people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It offers the hope that some of the perpetrators of the worst crimes committed in armed conflicts will be brought to justice.” [2] The Court would be limited to prosecuting KJI for crimes from July 2, 2002 and onwards.[3]

A primary requirement for determining whether a Prosecutor should initiate an investigation under Article 53 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is to evaluate whether there is “a reasonable basis to believe that a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court has been or is being committed.” [4]

Arguing in 2006 that such a reasonable basis exists, former Visiting Professor at Renmin University of China and current U.S. State Department employee, Grace M. Kang, discusses the potential ways the ICC could have jurisdiction over Kim even though the DPRK is not a party to the Rome Statute. She states:

[T]he ICC may have jurisdiction over crimes committed by D.P.R.K. citizens if: (1)  the UN Security Council refers a case to it, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter; (2) a State Party refers the situation to the ICC; or (3) the prosecutor initiates an investigation proprio motu, pursuant to Article 13 of the Rome Statute.[5]

Kang additionally suggests, as an alternative to utilizing the ICC, that a special tribunal be established to prosecute Kim for crimes.[6]

Kang is certainly not alone in her research or conviction that the legal basis exists to hold Kim Jong Il accountable for international crimes. Other individuals and organizations also believe in Kim’s criminal liability. For example, the Vice President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Kwon O-gon, said Kim “could be hauled before the International Criminal Court if South Korea and Japan can prove North Korea kidnapped their citizens in the 1970s and 80s.”[7] Similarly, the Investigative Commission on Crimes against Humanity recently stated that because of the “unacceptable scale of the atrocities committed by the North Korean regime,” it vowed to “‘take specific steps towards prosecuting Kim Jong Il in the International Criminal Court’ according to Doh Hee Yun, the commission’s administrator.”[8]

Perhaps the international community is more aware and outraged by Kim than ever before, as it should be. In December 2010, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s office said it had received complaints about North Korea due to the sinking of the Cheonan and bombings of Yeonpyeong Island and would launch a preliminary examination, which is not to be confused with an investigation.[9] The Court, under the Rome Statute, must determine that there is enough credible evidence against Kim for these potential war crimes and that the DPRK lacks the court system to prosecute Kim. Even though the DPRK does have criminal courts, it would be impossible to believe that it would try its own leader for these crimes. It is established that Kim’s judicial system is yet another puppet under his control.


[1] UN Codification Division – Office of Legal Affairs, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Dec. 19, 2003, http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/index.html.

[2] Amnesty International, Armed Conflict , May 7, 2011,  http://www.amnesty.org/en/armed-conflict.

[3] Grace M. Kang, A Case for the Prosecution of Kim Jong Il for Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and War Crimes, 38 Colum. Human Rights L. Rev. 51, 64 (2006). 

[4] Id. at 52.

[5] Id. at 63-64.

[6] Id. at 53.

[7]Editorial, Prosecuting Kim Jong Il, UNDP Watch, Mar. 1, 2010, http://undpwatch.blogspot.com/2010/03/prosecuting-kim-jong-il.html.

[8] Daein Kang, Kim Jong Il to the ICC!, DailyNK, July 24, 2009, http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=5215.

[9] Margaret Basheer, ICC Prosecutor to Conduct Preliminary Examination into Possible N. Korean War Crimes, Voice of America, Dec. 6, 2010, http://www.voanews.com/english/news/asia/ICC-Prosecutor-to-Conduct-Preliminary-Examination-into-Possible-N-Korean-War-Crimes-111403179.html; See Ha Tae-gyeong, Bars for Kim Jong-il and His Son, Korea JoongAng Daily, Dec. 21, 2010, http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2929901.

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Information Suppression: A Violation of the Right to Information

Kim Violates North Koreans’ Fundamental Right To Information Through Information Suppression

North Korea in the dark

North Korea in the dark

This blog delves into the “fundamental human right” to information because North Korea denies this right so severely by suppressing information in and out of North Korea.[1] The right to information is a right dating back to the early days of the United Nations (UN), which was founded in 1945 as a solution to the atrocities committed in World War II.[2] “From the beginning of its establishment, the United Nations had proposals put forth to adopt measures to ensure freedom of expression and information and to control propaganda.”[3] In fact, “before any human rights declarations had been adopted, the General Assembly passed Resolution 59(I), which stated ‘[f]reedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.’”[4]

Additionally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed in 1948,[5] at Article 19 states, “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”[6] The ICCPR, to which the DPRK is a signatory, also states at Article 19 that there is “the right to ‘freedom of expression. . . includ[ing] freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.’”[7]

The DPRK has signed onto several human rights treaties, as mentioned above, but has proven through egregious human rights violations that its signature has no merit. The fact that the international community knows strikingly little about the DPRK’s human rights abuses –because it intentionally keeps its borders closed off to the world – is in itself evidence that there are potential human rights violations, if none other than violation of the right to information. Kim’s acts of information suppression are abusive and these are, in turn, grave violations of the right to information. According to a 2008 published report by the UN High Commission for Refugees:

North Korea remained the most repressive media environment in the world in 2007. The one-party regime of top leader Kim Jong-il places severe restrictions on media freedom, attempts to regulate all communication, and rigorously limits the ability of North Koreans to access information. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of speech, in practice constitutional provisions for obeying a “collective spirit” restrict all reporting not sanctioned by the government.[8]

What Information Do North Koreans Receive?

North Koreans are cut off from the rest of the world almost entirely, but the Kims – from previous leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to current leader Kim Jong Un – provide them with their own version of the truth through the use of propaganda. This propaganda, however, does not compensate for the information that North Koreans are denied; they still do not have the right to information in the DPRK, and that is why Kim violates this human right. In the DPRK, there is a Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers Party of Korea. Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, ran this Department while Kim Il Sung was still alive and in power. Today, the Propaganda and Agitation Department continues to serve openly as the organization responsible for shaping information and distributing and disseminating propaganda in the DPRK.

Propaganda has been a constant in the lives of North Koreans for over six decades now. In fact, all North Koreans under the age of 55 have been subjected to intense indoctrination since primary school.[9] As a result, two or three generations have already grown up under the tyrannical influence of the Kim regime. The North Korean State pushes propaganda in school, at work, on the radio, in posters, in movies, and any other medium it can. The basic principles of North Korean propaganda – the greatness of Kim Il Sung and his family, juche nationalism, virulent attacks on the US and South Korea – have remained unchanged.

From a young age, North Koreans are told to believe that Americans are terrible, monstrous people who kill Korean babies and want nothing more than to wage a war of aggression against the DPRK. North Korean children sing a song in music class called “Shoot the Yankee Bastards”:

Our enemies are the American bastards

Who are trying to take over our beautiful fatherland.

With guns that I make with my own hands

I will shoot them. BANG, BANG, BANG.[10]

North Koreans have special education classes where the juche/self-reliance ideology is reinforced by recitation of the Kims’ speeches which proclaim their greatness:

‘Establishing juche means, in a nutshell, being the master of revolution and reconstruction in one’s own country. This means holding fast to an independent position, rejecting dependence on others, using one’s own brains, believing in one’s own strength, displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance,’ Kim Il Sung proclaimed.[11]

The propaganda techniques of Kim Jong Il spread far and wide; every household is required to have two photos hanging up – one of Kim Il Sung and one of Kim Jong Il (note: now, likely one of Kim Jong Un as well). It is a punishable offense, up to execution, for not having these photos fully displayed and polished.

Furthermore, the radio and television stations only show North Korean programs that are modified and controlled by government propaganda employees. Before Kim Jong Il’s death, these propagandists ensured that all scripts sent the message that Kim Jong Il was a generous leader and did good things for his people. A North Korean caught listening to a foreign radio station or receiving a foreign television station reception can expect to be taken to a work camp/prison where he will probably die from starvation, disease, or exhaustion. He can also expect that his family will face a similar fate, and it would not be uncommon to be beaten and tortured, if not executed eventually.[12]

The Kim regime also strictly enforces adherence to the juche ideology through the use of local informers who are deemed the most loyal to the regime. Typically, there is one informer/head of the community, who is responsible for reporting any disloyalty to the Korean Workers Party.[13] This reporting technique makes it extremely difficult for people to speak out against the regime, lest they become victims of interrogation, torture, reeducation work camps, or have their families suffer.


[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights art. 19, Dec. 10, 1948; See Ban Ki-Moon, Freedom of Expression…A Fundamental Human Right: Message on World Press Freedom Day, UN Chronicle, May 3, 2010, http://www.un.org/wcm/content/site/chronicle/cache/bypass/home/archive/webarticles2010/world_press_freedom_2010?ctnscroll_articleContainerList=1_0&ctnlistpagination_articleContainerList=true.

[2] United Nations, UN at a Glance, http://www.un.org/en/aboutun/index.shtml.

[3] Sarabeth A. Smith, Note, What’s Old is New Again: Terrorism and the Growing Need to Revisit the Prohibition on Propaganda, 37 Syracuse J. Int’l. L. & Com. 299, 314 (2010).

[4] Id.

[5] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, supra note 1.

[6] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, supra note 1.

[7] Sarabeth A. Smith, Note, What’s Old is New Again: Terrorism and the Growing Need to Revisit the Prohibition on Propaganda, 37 Syracuse J. Int’l. L. & Com. 299, 326 (2010).

[8] Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 – North Korea, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4871f623c.html %5Baccessed 4 April 2011].

[9] Andrei Lankov, The Official Propaganda in the DPRK: Ideas And Methods, http://www.fortunecity.com/meltingpot/champion/65/propaganda_lankov.htm.

[10] BARBARA DEMICK, NOTHING TO ENVY: ORDINARY LIVES IN NORTH KOREA 121 (Spiegel & Grau 2009).

[11] Id. at 44.

[12] Id. at 67.

[13] See U.S. Library of Congress, The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP), http://countrystudies.us/north-korea/57.htm.

The Kim Regime {pre-Kim Jong Un}

Introduction 

Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung

Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung

North Korea’s previous leader, Kim Il Sung, was heavily influenced and trained by his neighbor state, the former Soviet Union. As is indicative of a totalitarian regime, Kim Il-sung molded the North into a country that depended on him for everything. He came to be revered by his people as a god, incapable of death and intolerant of criticism. He emphasized Communist principles and ideology and “dreamed of making his country a nuclear power.”[1] Kim Il Sung was “The Great Leader” of North Korea and “The Great Successor,” his son Kim Jong Il, boosted the nuclear and weapons programs to deter a perceived American “aggression.” When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, the reign of Kim Jong Il began and continued until his death in December 2011.

Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un, the country’s current dictator, spent a significant amount of North Korea’s treasure on these nuclear programs. Eventually, when North Korea showed no sign of paying its debt, its communist allies and lenders stopped their ‘friendship prices.’[2] “Without cheap fuel oil and raw material, NK couldn’t keep the factories running, which meant it had nothing to export. With no exports, there was no hard currency, and without hard currency, fuel imports fell even further and the electricity stopped.”[3]

And so the cycle of poverty began. “North Korea started running out of food, and as people went hungry, they didn’t have the energy to work and so output plunged even further.”[4] North Korea’s economy spiraled downward and caused much suffering for its people. For the North Korean population taught to rely on their leaders in the Workers’ Party, they were at the mercy of their communist dictator every second of every day.

NK is a Communist regime that values its state sovereignty above all else, including the welfare of its own people. Because of Kim Jong Il’s obsession to dictate over a self-reliant country that takes no abuse from outside “aggressors,” such as the United States (US) and Japan, millions of North Koreans have suffered a fate that is unable to be persuaded by Kim Jong Il’s propaganda and juche[5] ideals: a complete break-down of human rights.

Commonly referred to as one of the most oppressive states on Earth, NK regularly defies the international community’s call to respect human rights. NK is a party to four international human rights treaties,[6] including the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but has a human rights record that remains “deplorable.”[7] A US State Department 2009 country report on human rights practices stated that citizens had no right to change their government, and the “government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives. … Citizens were denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and the government attempted to control all information.”[8]

Despite this behavior, NK operates under an entirely different perspective than the US, for example, and many other countries that practice some degree of democracy. In fact, “[t]he NK Government has stressed that human rights should be primarily based on the protection of national sovereignty and collective rights, and that the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the State should be likewise emphasized.[9] Not surprisingly, Kim Jong Il’s Communist regime has taken a harsh outlook toward states that request it be held accountable for violations of human rights. As is characteristic of the juche philosophy and propagandist-oriented ways, the NK Government has gone so far as to state that “there was ‘a plot of propaganda fabricated and persistently pursued by hostile forces’ as part of their psychological warfare to ‘overthrow the State system of the country.’”[10] NK persistently communicates to the world its priority of state sovereignty over anything else.


[1] BARBARA DEMICK, NOTHING TO ENVY: ORDINARY LIVES IN NORTH KOREA 66 (Spiegel & Grau 2009).

[2] Id. at 67

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] “Juche (or ‘self-reliance’) was formulated to justify Kim Il Sung’s dictatorship and succession of power to his son, Kim Jong Il, emphasizing peculiar aspects of the North Korean environment. … the ideology also serves as a tool that justifies the leader’s demand for the populace’s unquestionable loyalty. … juche ideology is the ultimate paradigm that guides State activities.” Dae-Kyu Yoon, The Constitution of North Korea: Its Changes and Implications, 27 Fordham Int’l L.J. 1289, 1291 (2004).

[6] See Morse H. Tan, A State of Rightlessness: The Egregious Case of North Korea, 80 Miss. L.J. 681 (2010). (stating that NK is a party to the following treaties: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESC), Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), and Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)).

[7] DOS, 2009 Human Rights Report: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/eap/135995.htm.

[8] Id.

[9] In Sup Han, The 2004 Revision of Criminal Law in North Korea: A Take-Off?, 5 Santa Clara J. Int’l L. 122, 130-31 (2006).

[10] In Sup Han at 131.

Korean Creation Myth: The Legend of Tangun

Brief Notes on The Legend of Tangun 

Welcome to my blog! I chose the name ‘the bear and the tiger’ because if refers to the creation myth of Korea – one Korea – before the Peninsula was divided into two sovereign states, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Here are some quick notes about Korea’s creation myth to help shape the rest of Korean history and subsequent conflict!

The Legend of Tangun from http://legend-of-tangun.tumblr.com

The Legend of Tangun from http://legend-of-tangun.tumblr.com

  • Female bear + male tiger wanted to become human
  • Went to a cave, could only eat garlic and mugworts
  • Female bear endured and married son of the god and had a boy named Tangun
  • Bear is a symbol of courage, patience, and wisdom
  • Tangun chose Pyongyang as his residence, which is very important to North Korea
  • Tomb of Tangun was “discovered” in NK
  • NK emphasizes the myth because it legitimizes the State as the more representative state of the entire Korean people
  • Each side claims it’s the sole, legitimate government
  • Koryo = North Korea
  • Silla = South Korea
  • Koreans go back in history and try to find any credence to their claim that they are the rightful leader of the whole population
  • NK emphasizes the history of Koryo and South emphasizes Silla
  • Koreans tend to be obsessed with history and hierarchy

More info: http://koreanhistoryproject.org/Ket/TOC1.htm

Note: Any mistakes, omissions, or inaccuracies are my own and are unintended. Opinions are my own.