The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As I was working on some gender discrimination in NK research, I was encouraged in a small way by reading some choice words from Vitit MuntarbhornSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In his Report (A/HRC/13/47, 17 February 2010), the Special Rapporteur highlighted a couple of encouraging developments that happened in North Korea. While the rest of the document discusses the many egregious human rights issues in the country, there was a brief moment of positivity, something that I think can’t be taken for granted in the NK human rights arena.

Excerpt from Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,
 Vitit Muntarbhorn, pp. 5-6:

It is clear from six years of observing the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that the abuses against the general population for which the authorities should be responsible are both egregious and endemic. 

This is not to deny that there have been some constructive developments throughout the years in regard to the country’s development and engagement with the international community. First, as has been recognized consistently by the Special Rapporteur, the country is a party to four key human rights treaties (on civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, women’s rights and child rights) and has engaged with the monitoring bodies under those treaties. Second, a number of United Nations agencies are present in the country to render assistance, and cooperation with the authorities on some fronts has been positive, for example with regard to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) work on child immunization. Third, at the end of 2009, the country sent representatives to Geneva to participate in the universal periodic review of its human rights record and expressed its willingness to cooperate with this new United Nations procedure. It remains to be seen to what extent the authorities will accept the numerous recommendations emerging from the review and how they will substantiate follow-up measures as a consequence of the review. Fourth, interestingly, in the 2009 reform of the national Constitution, the words “human rights” were inserted into the text. Yet, it seems that this country’s notion of human rights is much related to the protection of the State- cum-elite and the rejection of external threats, rather than the human-centric notion of universal human rights. As a response to international influence, there have been some law reforms, such as periodic adjustments of the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, and new policies such as those concerning the development of children. 

However, the more constructive side of developments is undermined by the omnipotent State seeking to prop up a regime which is out of sync with the general population and which tries to perpetuate its survival at the cost of the people. The general scenario is bleak for a variety of reasons. First, the non-democratic — indeed totalitarian — nature of the power base has created a pervasive “State of fear” or “State as one big prison” for the mass base which is not part of the elite, with inordinate constraints imposed on the rights and freedoms of the people. The power base does not tolerate dissent; indeed, it suppresses it with all the might of the State. 

Second, society suffers an extensive surveillance and informant system, leading to political dystopia. Practices to instil fear among the population are rampant, including public executions, torture, collective punishments, and mistreatment of women and children. They have given rise to poignant nomenclature such as “pigeon torture” and “airplane torture”. 

Third, the national resources are distorted in favour of militarization and the ruling elite. This is most evident in regard to the expenditure on the nuclearization process, a development castigated by the international community through various United Nations resolutions. This mis-expenditure has not only depleted the national budget, which should have been spent on the welfare of the population, but it has also compromised international peace and security. As a testament to the latter, various sanctions have been imposed by the Security Council. On the home front, the mention of human rights in the Constitution is illusory, as the Constitution also now entrenches a “military first” policy. The preferred orientation, namely “people first”, is absent from both the text and reality. 

For further information on North Korean human rights, check out the publications of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). HRNK also has a list of resources on its North Korean Human Rights Resource Center page.

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Human Rights in North Korea

Holding true to its uniqueness, North Korea interprets ‘human rights’ to mean national sovereignty, and it adamantly denies any accusations of human rights violations. Despite this complete denial, North Korea is arguably the worst violator of human rights in the world. In fact, it has been called “the last worst place on earth.”[1]

North Korean Perspective of Human Rights

North Korea operates under an entirely different perspective of human rights and sovereignty than many other countries. From North Korea’s standpoint, human rights are not inherent in individuals but granted by the state. “[A]s human rights
are guaranteed by sovereign States, any attempt to interfere in others’ internal affairs, overthrow the governments and change the systems on the pretext of human rights issues constitutes violations
of human rights. In this sense, the DPRK holds that human rights immediately mean national sovereignty.[2] In fact, “[t]he North Korean 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.”[3]

In 
its 2009 report to the Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1, North Korean diplomats insisted, “[T]he DPRK holds that human rights immediately mean national sovereignty.” This is inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[4]

“Of course, the regime’s view that international human rights values are anathema—and a direct threat—to its existence as a cohesive political structure may well be true if there is little genuine support
for the regime among its people. Freeing people from oppression is a core principle of human rights.”[5]

“North Korea’s 2009 Constitution also provides an interpretation of human rights at variance with international standards. On the one hand, the Constitution requires regime institutions to protect human rights norms. On the other hand, it proclaims that all institutions and people must ‘struggle actively against class enemies and all law offenders.’”[6] Not surprisingly, the Kim regime takes a harsh outlook toward states that request it be held accountable for human rights abuses. As is characteristic of the juche philosophy and propagandist-oriented ways, the North Korean government has stated that international attention to human rights abuses in North Korea is “‘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.’”[7]

Egregious Human Rights Violations

Despite its denial, North Korea’s deplorable human rights record is systematic, pervasive, and particularly egregious in North Korea.

George Orwell wrote, ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’ The North Korean boot has been stamping on human faces since 1953, almost with impunity from the international community, craven for a deal, some deal, any deal, with the totalitarian leadership.[8]

Since North Korea’s human rights abuses are numerous, only the songbun system and political prison camps are highlighted to illustrate the atrocities committed by the Kim regime.

a. Songbun

In an effort to outdo his Maoist and Leninist forebears, the Kim dynasty created a camp system whereby the so-called offender is not the only one condemned, not even the immediate family, but often the generation above and below. It is therefore common for those labeled with that totalitarian catch-all favorite of the Soviets and the Chinese, “enemies of the state,” to be small children and elderly grandparents.[9]

According to some, “[t]he most heinous example of…abuses is the North Korean camp system…This classification of people based on ideological trustworthiness determines a person’s fate from the time they are born.”[10] Songbun has been practiced since North Korea was created and “has played a major role in determining the main victims of the human rights violations
that are of concern to the U.N. General Assembly.”[11]

Robert Collins’ definitive piece, Marked for Life: SONGBUN, North Korea’s Social Classification System, illustrates the care and attention to detail that the North Korean regime takes in ensuring all of its citizens are identified as members of three distinct social castes, all hovering around perceived levels of regime loyalty. “Songbun subdivides the population of the country into 51 categories or ranks of trustworthiness and loyalty to the Kim family and North Korean state. These many categories are grouped into three broad castes: the core, wavering, and hostile classes.”[12]

The “state-published Political Dictionary states, ‘human rights are to be enforced through dictatorship against the class enemy.’ The songbun system has made the identity of these “class enemies” clear.[13] “The discrimination created by songbun ensures politically-directed denial of the right to make many of the decisions other countries assume to be a matter of individual prerogative—one’s occupation, spouse, housing, education, and medical treatment.”[14]

In a recent ROK Ministry of Unification survey where they were asked to identify the greatest abuse of human rights In North Korean society, North Korean refugees in the ROK answered: the famine (29.6%), public executions (22.6%), torture (19.1%), discrimination based in songbun (18.3%), lack of freedom of movement (6.1%), and lack of freedom to communicate (2.1%). However, among party members from that group, 66.7% insisted songbun was the greatest tool of abuse of North Korean human rights.[15]

b. Political Prison Camps, aka Gulags

Another egregious and more visible violation of human rights and international criminal law by the Kim regime is the establishment and operation of political prison camps, also known as gulags, in which political prisoners are enslaved for any perceived threat to the Kim regime. “North Korea’s State Security Agency maintains a dozen political prisons and about 30 forced labor and labor education camps, mainly in remote areas.”[16]

Not long ago, a newspaper article told the story of former political prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk’s experience living in one of North Korea’s political prison camps. Shin said that due to the rampant starvation, fellow prisoners were ‘happy’ when one of them died because it meant more food. He recounted having to eat rats and corn kernels from animal feces as well.[17] And thanks to his incredible journey and illuminating book, Escape from Camp 14, the world knows a little more about Shin’s tragic upbringing in one of these gulags:

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a prison camp in North Korea. ‘Guilt-by-association’ (with his parents) meant that he faced a lifetime of imprisonment. He was tortured along with his father. He was forced to watch the execution of his mother and his brother. He witnessed the deaths of many children under the impossible demands of forced labor.[18]

These gulags, where political prisoners are starved, tortured, and worked to death, have accounted for over 1 million deaths.[19] This figure does not factor in recent intelligence and aerial satellite imagery that shows that the gulags in North Korea are far larger than previously known. Amnesty International estimates conservatively that Kim’s gulags now imprison at least 200,000 people for political reasons. David Hawk’s 2012 and 2003 reports call for the dismantlement of these prisons.[20]

Conclusion

The DPRK has signed onto several human rights treaties, including the ICCPR and ICESCR, but has proven through egregious human rights violations such as songbun and gulags, that its signature has no merit. The fact that the international community knows strikingly little about the North Korea’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 the violation of the right to information. In time, hopefully the regime will collapse.

It is not easy to predict when change will come. It was not foreseen that the Berlin Wall would fall when it did, that the Soviet Union would collapse, and that reforms would take place in Arab countries. But bringing down the information wall around North Korea and exposing its crimes against humanity may in time lead to change.[21]


[1] Jack Rendler, North Korea: The Last Worst Place On Earth, Amnesty International: Human Rights Now Blog, May 11, 2011, http://networkedblogs.com/hJTyR.

[2] Robert Collins, Marked for Life: SONGBUN, North Korea’s Social Classification System, 90-91 (HRNK, 2012) (hereinafter “Songbun”) (citing DPRK National Report Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 15(A) of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1, Human Rights Council, Working group on the Universal Periodic Review, Sixth Session, Geneva, 30 November-11 December 2009, A/HRC/WG.6/6/PRK/1, 27 August 2009, 4).

[3] 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).

[4] Songbun, supra note 2, at 92; see Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Sixth session, Geneva, 30 November-11 December 2009
National Report Submitted In Accordance With Paragraph 15 (A) Of The Annex To Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1,* Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (A/HRC/WG.6/6/PRK/1, 27 August 2009), Section 15. URL: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G09/151/47/PDF/G0915147.pdf?OpenElement.  

[5] Songbun, supra note 2, at 93.

[6] Id. at 88 (citing Sin, “North Korean Constitution—April 2009.”); see also p. 63 (analyzing North Korea’s criminal code).

[7] Id. at 131.

[8] Lamont Colucci, As the World Watches, North Korean Atrocities Unfold, US News World Report, April 19, 2013, http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2013/04/19/north-koreas-forgotten-story.

[9] Songbun, supra note 2, at 87.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id. at iii.

[13] Songbun, supra note 2, at 93.

[14] Id. at 87.

[15] Id. at 86-87 (citing Lee Kum-sun, Kim Su-am, “Pukhan Inkwon Chimhae Kujo mit Kaeson Chollyak (North Korean Human Rights Abuse and Strategies for Improvement), Ministry of Unification (Seoul: Research Series 09-11, 2009); see also id. at 104.

[16] Robert Windrem, Death, terror in N. Korea gulag, NBC NEWS online, January 15, 2013, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3071466/ns/us_news-only/t/death-terror-n-korea-gulag/#.UXdWaL_3DKE.

[17] Editorial, North Korean Political Prison Camps Growing – Amnesty, BBC News (Asia-Pacific), May 3, 2011,

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13272198.

[18] Rendler, supra note 1.

[19] Wikipedia, Human Rights in North Korea, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_North_Korea.

[20] David Hawk, The Hidden Gulag Second Edition, April 10, 2012, http://hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/HRNK_HiddenGulag2_Web_5-18.pdf.

[21] Roberta Cohen, North Korea Faces Heightened Human Rights Scrutiny, March 21, 2013, Brookings, http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/03/21-north-korea-cohen

Hold Kim Jong Un Accountable

Hold Kim Accountable for Crimes Against Humanity & Genocide

Under International Criminal Law

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I. Introduction

The North Korean State, under the command of Kim Jong Un, commits systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights that contravene international law, and therefore the Kim regime should be held accountable for its actions. On a daily basis, 24 million North Koreans suffer to varying degrees because of the incredibly oppressive tactics of the Kim regime, all while its leaders continue to build up North Korea’s weapons capabilities designed for regime preservation. Kim Jong Un’s government commits mass atrocities under the shield of state sovereignty and avoids any level of accountability by striking fear throughout the international community.

Mass atrocities, however, are comprised of thousands of individual stories of suffering. Joseph, a recent defector, is one victim of the Kim regime.[1] Joseph defected from North Korea in the late 2000’s. Now in his early twenties, he has also undergone more tragedy in his short lifetime than anyone should ever have to. Joseph is the youngest child and only son of a family that he will likely never see again. Joseph was a young teenager when his father passed away from starvation. Shortly thereafter, his mother was taken by North Korean officials and never heard from again. Joseph’s sister attempted to travel to China to earn money in order to provide food for her brother and her, but Joseph does not know if she was successful. At only thirteen years old, Joseph became an orphan in North Korea. He barely survived each day, constantly searching for food, until he miraculously escaped to China when he was sixteen.[2] Joseph can tell us about the extreme hardships he faced, but until we, as an international community, care enough that a young boy can lose his whole family and not remember a time he was not hungry (and this is considered a ‘success story’ for North Koreans), then there will be more people who are not even as ‘lucky’ as Joseph.

II. International Criminal Law Violations

A. Brief Overview

Over the course of the last 65 years or so, the principles of state sovereignty, sovereign equality of states, and non-intervention have slowly eroded to allow individual perpetrators to be held accountable for actions society has deemed to be the most egregious and ‘worst of the worst.’ With developments in international criminal law due to the horrific tragedy of the Holocaust, less priority has been placed on a state consent-based system. “Prior to WWII, states could do pretty much anything they wanted to internally and it would be a violation of a state’s sovereignty to try to intervene.”[3] Since then, however, there is no longer head of state immunity or substantive immunity for actions that rise to the level of crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and crimes of aggression. There are no statutes of limitation (SOL) for these crimes and states do not have to agree to the respective laws.[4]

In July 2002, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute) was created to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was designed to prosecute perpetrators of atrocities.[5] 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.” [6] The Court has temporal jurisdiction which limits it to crimes under its subject matter jurisdiction committed from July 2, 2002 and onwards.[7] As of May 2013, there were 122 states parties (either ratified or acceded) to the Rome Statute.[8] These are states that have agreed to be held to the ICC’s jurisdiction.

North Korea, however, is not a state party to this treaty. Nevertheless, “the 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.”[9]

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.”[10]

As a result, Kim Jong Un could be held accountable in the future under the Rome Statute, based on his current actions, which arguably constitute crimes against humanity and genocide.

B. Crimes Against Humanity

Although the specific legal definition of a “crime against humanity” depends on the body of law being used to prosecute, under Article 7(1) of the Rome Statute, a “‘Crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:”

(a)     Murder;

(b)     Extermination;

(c)     Enslavement;

(d)     Deportation or forcible transfer of population;

(e)     Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;

(f)     Torture;

(g)     Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;

(h)     Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

(i)     Enforced disappearance of persons;

(j)     The crime of apartheid;

(k)     Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.[11]

Based on defector testimony, there is evidence the Kim regime has committed acts that qualify as crimes against humanity. Professor Lee has asserted, “North Korea is the most systematic violator of human rights, having committed nine out of the ten crimes against humanity as specified in article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [except (j) apartheid because North Korea is intentionally homogeneous].”[12] A key element of Article 7 is that the perpetrator has to commit any one of these acts “as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”

In the case of the Kim regime, it is known that North Korea has the songbun system, which ensures that certain castes are imprisoned in gulags because of their political class; this is collective punishment. North Korea acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1981. As such:

The Covenant thus explicitly prohibits arbitrariness in the deprivation of life (art. 6), arrest and detention (art. 9), exclusion from one’s own country (art. 12) and interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence (art. 17). The Covenant further guarantees fair and lawful process for arrest and detention (art. 9), imprisonment (art. 10), deportation (art. 13) and fair trial (art. 14). Importantly, article 26 recognizes all persons as equal before the law and entitles them to equal protection of the law without discrimination.

The evidence from defectors and also satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe indicates that these gulags are growing in size and population.[13] Recently, a BBC reporter traveled to North Korea under the guise of a school-sponsored educational trip in order to obtain more information about North Korea.[14] The reporter made a short video documenting his trip and also interviewed defectors. He asked a defector, who wished to remain anonymous, about life in the gulags. “How did they bury the dead in the winter when the ground was cold?” The defector responded, “No, we don’t bury them. We leave the dead bodies in a warehouse until April. We bury them in April. When we go to bury them, they’re already rotten and totally decomposed. So, they are shoveled like rubbish and buried.”[15] The defector further recounted that there are roughly 70-80 bodies in one hole, and that the camps are getting bigger, not smaller.[16]

These gulags, where political prisoners are starved, tortured, and worked to death, have accounted for over 1 million deaths.[17] This figure does not factor in recent intelligence and aerial satellite imagery that shows that the gulags in North Korea are far larger than previously known. Amnesty International estimates conservatively that Kim’s gulags now imprison at least 200,000 people for political reasons.

This evidence allows the inference that the Kim regime is committing these acts “as part of a widespread or systematic attack” against civilians, with knowledge of the attack. Therefore, clearly the Kim regime violates international human rights law and international criminal law with the operation of its gulags. As David Hawk has advocated for in his 2012 and 2003 reports, North Korea should dismantle these prisons.[18] Those responsible must be held accountable for the tremendous suffering it has caused as a result of the songbun system and gulags.

C. Genocide

Additionally, the case for genocide has also been levied against the Kim regime and should be again. A 2006 article by Grace Kang first argued that Kim Jong Il was committing genocide.[19] Since Kim Jong Il’s 2011 death renders him untouchable for a genocide conviction, arguably Kim Jong Un can be said to be perpetuating the acts of his father and therefore committing genocide, which violates international criminal law. Under Article 6 of the Rome Statute:

“Genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a)     Killing members of the group;

(b)     Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c)     Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d)     Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e)     Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.[20]

To meet the legal definition of the crime of genocide, specific intent must be proven. Here, the key phrase in Article 6 is “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part.” The North Korean regime does not allow freedom of religion, and Christians, for example, have been publically executed without due process.[21] “Open Doors designated North Korea as the worst prosecutor of religion in World Watch List 2012…North Korea has been in first place for persecution of Christians for ten consecutive years.”[22] While these actions constitute human rights violations (right to life, right to due process (and other fair trial rights), right to religion, right to free speech, etc.), the argument should also be made that because of the targeted persecution – with intent to destroy – of anyone in North Korea who practices a religion, namely Christianity, Kim Jong Un is committing genocide.

Importantly for purposes of accountability and prosecution, Kim Jong Un does not actually have to kill members of the religious group to constitute genocide. As Article 6 above shows, Kim’s actions could rise to the level of genocide by “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” This could appear in evidence from the gulags that the regime imprisoned Christians, with the intent to destroy, and tortured them, thereby causing serious bodily harm to them.

III. Accountability

A. Brief Overview

The international community is relatively new to the concept of accountability, as it has been more widely accepted in the past to grant amnesty to perpetrators or practice non-interference in internal state affairs. However, there is an increasing trend towards accountability because crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes are viewed as unacceptable in today’s world. Although accountability is now preferred over impunity in general, it is still exceedingly difficult to hold violators of international law accountable for their actions. This is evidenced by the fact that very few have been convicted of genocide, for example, although many more have been accused of committing genocide. North Korea would be no exception, unfortunately, as it is practically impossible to hold Kim Jong Un, as the current head of state, accountable at this time. Nevertheless, it is still prudent to consider holding Kim accountable in the future for alleged atrocities because so many victims have suffered, and will continue to suffer, under the regime.

B. North Korean Leadership

While relatively little is known about North Korean leadership, it is obvious that the regime is uniquely oppressive and controlling, and almost all policies and institutions appear to originate from the Kim family, in this case Kim Jong Un. The North Korean power dynamic is one that ensures that the person in charge stays in charge, as is evidenced by Mao Zedong’s teachings that the ‘big guns’ must be controlled so that they do not overthrow the leader.[23]

There is evidence, however, that points to the leadership’s structure and organization. The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) controls the military, in terms of making decisions of personnel and promotions, and it can appoint the top brass since the military is not allowed to appoint its own leaders. The KWP is the sole, all-powerful political body. Under the KWP, there is the Political Bureau, the Party Secretariat, and the Central Military Commission.           

i. Kim Jong Un 

Kim Jong Un, although only about 29 years old, appears to be commanding the Korean leadership, military, and citizens. Kim Jong Un is the head of all three sub-organizations under the KWP. Additionally, he chairs the National Defense Commission and its subordinate Armed Forces and State entities.[24] As a result, in the event of a regime collapse and transition away from the current state of North Korea, Kim Jong Un will be the most likely, visible, and logical suspect to be tried for atrocities.

As mentioned, though, the prosecution of Kim Jong Un is currently unrealistic. Kim is North Korea’s leader, but there is currently little political will and practical means to bring him before the ICC. When the regime eventually collapses – assuming Kim Jong Un is still alive – it will, however, make sense and be far easier to try Kim Jong Un for atrocities committed. In past instances of accountability, heads of state or “senior leaders” have been charged with international crimes. The regime, of course, only releases information that it desires to have the world see, but thus far this tells us that Kim Jong Un is responsible for the actions that the State takes. Although many of the worst atrocities began prior to Kim Jong Un’s rule, as head of state he has made no effort to cease these activities (e.g. dismantle the gulag system).

ii. Jang Sung Taek

Jang Sung Taek is recognized as the second most powerful person in North Korea after Kim Jong Un.[25] He is a prominent politician, leader, and the uncle of Kim Jong Un (as the husband of Kim Jong Il’s sister). In North Korea, family members of the Kims are normally given special, privileged statuses, and Jang Sung Take is no exception to the rule.

Jang Sung Taek is a member of the KWP’s Political Bureau and Central Military Commission, and he is a Vice Chairman in the National Defense Commission.[26] As a Vice Chairman and four-star general, Jang Sung Taek is Kim Jong Il’s “key policy advisor.” When Kim Jong Il’s health was deteriorating in 2008, there was speculation that Jang Sung Taek was the de facto North Korean leader.[27] Additionally, “[s]cholars argue that Jang may be appointed president of the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium (nominal head of state) or premier, replacing the current office-holders who are in their 80s.”[28]

Currently, Jang Sung Taek’s role in alleged human rights violations and atrocities is not completely established due to the secrecy of the regime. However, when more information becomes available that confirms Jang’s role and authority in state decision-making, it may likely be evident that Jang Sung Taek is also responsible for atrocities as a ‘senior leader.’ In a similar vein, it is possible that other senior leaders, mid-level leaders, or perpetrators of atrocities may come to light. Currently, there is not enough information to determine everyone who may be responsible for atrocities (such as members of the In-min-bo-an-seong (People’s Safety Agency) and the more political Kuk-ga-bo-wi-bu (National Security Agency)).[29] The recently established UN Commission of Inquiry, though, may discover this evidence (see below).

IV. Current Investigations Into Alleged Violations Of International Law 

A. UN Sanctions

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) may impose sanctions on a state that does not comply with international laws regarding state sovereignty and then becomes out of compliance with a UNSC resolution. “Member States can sanction the DPRK by ‘complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.’”[30] North Korea has already undergone this process, however for reasons other than human rights violations. On multiple occasions, economic sanctions have been imposed upon the country as a result of North Korea’s unwillingness to disengage its nuclear armament program.[31] These sanctions reduced North Korea’s ability to receive foreign aid, such as food and oil, which drastically hurt its civilian population. While North Korea has not been persuaded by these sanctions, however, the UNSC has the authority to impose harsher penalties and even call for military intervention in North Korea.

B. Commission of Inquiry (COI)

Despite North Korea’s adamant objection to outside criticism of its human rights practices, the UN recently took an unprecedented, affirmative step toward investigating alleged human rights abuses. On March 21, 2013, the UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) voted unanimously to establish a North Korea Commission of Inquiry (COI).[32] Although the UN has looked at North Korea in the past, it has mainly focused on North Korea’s nuclear weapons proliferations. This time, however, the ‘international community’ (more specifically, the European Union and Japan, the nations who brought the resolution before the OHCHR) has clearly shown its concern for potential human rights abuses in North Korea. The resolution, A/HRC/22/L.19, also extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea for one year.[33]           

What is a commission of inquiry? The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, stated in a report to the UN Human Rights Council,

“Commissions of inquiry are strong and flexible mechanisms that can yield ample benefits for governments, victim communities and the wider public, but they do not relieve States of their legal obligations to investigate and prosecute torture, and to provide effective remedies to victims of past violations, including reparation for the harm suffered and to prevent its reoccurrence.”[34]

According to a Geneva Academy conference on commissions of inquiry, there are two different kinds, national and international.[35] A COI investigates potential violations of international human rights law and/or humanitarian law. It does not appear that there is a standard construction to COIs, but recently a COI was established for the potential atrocities in Syria. A commission is supposed to investigate alleged violations of law, gather evidence, and issue a report(s), all in a fair and unbiased manner.

In this case, the North Korea COI will be an international tool used to investigate the human rights situation in North Korea. The COI is comprised of three members (it may include up to ten), including UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, Marzuki Darusman.[36] The COI is established for one year, but there is always the possibility of extension. The North Korea COI has to provide an “oral update to the Council at its twenty-fourth session and to the General Assembly at its sixty-eight session, and a written report to the Council at its twenty-fifth session.”[37]

What will the COI look at? The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) explains that the COI’s mandate is “to ‘investigate all systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.’” The COI will investigate the “use of torture and labour camps against political prisoners and repatriated citizens,” the ‘violation of the right to food, the violations associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, violations of freedom of expression, violations of the right to life, violations of freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances.’”[38]

Predictably, the North Korean regime is hostile to the mandate of the COI. In fact, “North Korean Ambassador So Se Pyong rejected the resolution as ‘an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces in their attempt to discredit the image of the DPRK,’” and said, “‘[a]s we stated time and again, those human rights abuses mentioned in the resolution do not exist in our country.’”[39]          

How can the COI investigate since it is unlikely North Korea will cooperate? The crucial question for the COI is whether it can obtain reliable evidence of human rights abuses. The COI is established to investigate, but if North Korea obstructs the investigation (which it will) by blocking the commission’s entry into North Korea, then it is reasonable to believe the COI will not gather as much evidence about potential abuses by the Kim regime. As the Geneva Academy points out, “[a]n important task of any commission of inquiry is to analyse facts on the ground with regard to applicable law. Thus, it is crucial that a commission can independently and freely conduct investigations on the ground to establish the facts for itself.”

However, the work of the COI is not impossible if it is denied entry to North Korea. After all, as Dr. John Park pointed out recently, the roughly 24,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea are a relatively untouched information resource.[40] Ideally, the COI will have the cooperation of the South Korean government and North Korean defectors in order to search for the truth about what the Kim regime’s alleged acts of atrocities.

V. Conclusion

Although much of our world order is predicated on a common understanding of the priority of state sovereignty, a concept both necessary and disastrous at times to global functioning, we must stand in solidarity with our fellow human beings in North Korea who are the victims of deeply troubling atrocities. The Kim regime should not be allowed to continue to infringe upon the lives of the innocent in the name of sovereignty.

As discussed, the Kim regime’s systematic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights make the leaders liable for crimes against humanity and genocide. As a result and at minimum, Kim Jong Un should be held accountable by the international community for these egregious actions. While currently it is highly unlikely that Kim will be held accountable, the international community should continue to investigate Kim’s actions with a future case before the ICC in mind. When North Korea collapses and the state shifts from Kim’s control to a democracy, victims of atrocities should be able to expect that Kim will not receive impunity.

[T]he historic moment of truth, the defining moment in pan-Korean policy, will come when the Korean people are faced with the task of resolving once and for all – for the sake of the rule of law, moral values, psychological closure and posterity – the multifarious crimes against humanity committed by the Kim Jong-il regime.[41]


[1] Joseph, “My Life in North Korea:” A Testimony by Joseph, a North Korean Defector, The Fletcher School, March 28, 2013, http://fletcher.tufts.edu/Calendar/2013/03/28/My-Life-in-North-Korea-A-Testimony-by-Joseph-a-North-Korean-Defector.aspx.

[2] Id.

[3]John Cerone, Substantive Crimes, Transitional Justice class guest lecturer, The Fletcher School, 2013.

[4] See Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, G.A. res. 2391 (XXIII), annex, 23 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 18) at 40, U.N. Doc. A/7218 (1968), entered into force Nov. 11, 1970, available at http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/x4cnaslw.html; see also Rome Statute, Article 29: Non-applicability of statute of limitations.

[5] ICC, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.183/9*, http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/romefra.htm (Rome Statute).

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

[7] 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).

[8] Wikipedia, States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/States_Parties_to_the_Rome_Statute_of_the_International_Criminal_Court.

[9] Kang, supra note 7, at 63-64.

[10] Id. at 52.

[11] Rome Statute, supra note 5, at Article 7.

[12] Wikipedia, Sung-Yoon Lee, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sung-Yoon_Lee (citing Sung-Yoon Lee, Exhuming North Korea’s Crimes Against Humanity / Pyongyang shoots itself in the foot, April 5, 2008, The Korean American Press).

[13] DigitalGlobe Analytics, North Korea’s Camp No. 25, 2013,  http://hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/HRNK_Camp25_201302_Updated_LQ.pdf.

[14] John Sweeney, North Korea Undercover, BBC Panorama, April 15, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAG9kvep67E.

[15] Unidentified defector’s statement, North Korea Undercover, BBC Panorama, April 15, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAG9kvep67E.

[16] Id.

[17] Wikipedia, Human Rights in North Korea, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_North_Korea.

[18] David Hawk, The Hidden Gulag Second Edition, April 10, 2012, http://hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/HRNK_HiddenGulag2_Web_5-18.pdf.

[19] See 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, 65 (2006).

[20] Rome Statute, supra note 5, at Article 6.

[21] Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet), Desperate People’s Realm of North Korea, 16-20.

[22] Id. at 16.

[23] Sung-Yoon Lee, class discussion, 2013.

[24] HRNK, North Korean Leadership Watch, http://www.hrnk.org/about/north-korea-leaders.php.

[25] Sung-Yoon Lee, class discussion, April 16, 2013.

[26] HRNK, supra note 24.

[28] Id.

[29] David Hawk, The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps, 2003, http://hrnk.org/publications/hrnk-publications.php?page=2.

[30] Eric Yong-Joong Lee, Legal Analysis of the 2006 U.N. Security Council Resolutions Against North Korea’s WMD Development, 31 Fordham Int’l L.J. 1, 12 (2007).

[32] Chris Green, Act Now, COI Warns Both Koreas, Daily NK, March 23, 2013, http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk00300&num=10434.

[33] Human Rights Council, Council establishes Commission of Inquiry to investigate Human Rights Violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, OHCHR, March 21, 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13178&LangID=E.

[34] UN News Centre, Commissions Of Inquiry Alone Cannot Fight Impunity Against Torture – UN Expert, March 5, 2012, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41455&#.UU3Us6X3A60.

[35] Geneva Academy, Human Rights Council Inquiry Conference Brief, http://www.geneva-academy.ch/docs/news/HR-council-inquiry-conference-brief.pdf.

[36] Chris Green, supra note 31.

[37] Human Right Council, supra note 32.

[38] ICNK Welcomes The Establishment Of A UN Commission Of Inquiry, March 22, 2013, http://www.fidh.org/ICNK-welcomes-the-establishment-of-13066.

[39] Stephanie Nebehay, U.N. Starts Inquiry Into Torture, Labor Camps In North Korea, March 21, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/21/us-korea-north-un-idUSBRE92K0SZ20130321.

[40] Dr. John S. Park, How Are Financial Sanctions Boosting North Korean Procurement Capabilities? The China Factor, The Fletcher School, March 12, 2013.

[41] Sung-Yoon Lee, Pyongyang Shoots Itself in the Foot, Asia Times Online, April 5, 2008, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/JD05Dg01.html.

American sentenced to 15 years in North Korean prison.

NY Times articles:

1) North Korea Imposes Term of 15 Years on American

2) United States Calls on North Korea to Free American

Name: Kenneth Bae

Kenneth Bae (Yonhap, via Reuters)

Kenneth Bae (Yonhap, via Reuters)

Convicted of: “Hostile acts” against the North Korean government

Details: According to the NY Times, South Korean human rights advocates said that Mr. Bae “ran tours to North Korea but also was interested in helping orphans there. They said security officials in the North may have been offended by pictures of orphans that Mr. Bae had taken and stored in his computer.”

Unfortunately, North Korean prisons are not your ordinary prisons. As with many things in North Korea, prisons are uniquely horrific. Here’s a bit about these prisons (I blogged about prisons, aka “gulags,” earlier):

Recently, a BBC reporter traveled to North Korea under the guise of a school-sponsored educational trip in order to obtain more information about North Korea.[1] The reporter made a short video documenting his trip and also interviewed defectors. He asked a defector, who wished to remain anonymous, about life in the gulags. “How did they bury the dead in the winter when the ground was cold?” The defector responded, “No, we don’t bury them. We leave the dead bodies in a warehouse until April. We bury them in April. When we go to bury them, they’re already rotten and totally decomposed. So, they are shoveled like rubbish and buried.”[2] The defector further recounted that there are roughly 70-80 bodies in one hole, and that the camps are getting bigger, not smaller.[3]

These gulags, where political prisoners are starved, tortured, and worked to death, have accounted for over 1 million deaths.[4] This figure does not factor in recent intelligence and aerial satellite imagery that shows that the gulags in North Korea are far larger than previously known. Amnesty International estimates conservatively that Kim’s gulags now imprison at least 200,000 people for political reasons. David Hawk’s 2012 and 2003 reports call for the dismantlement of these prisons.[5]

Hopefully North Korea keeps with its trend of eventually releasing American prisoners, as no one should have to endure the cruel and inhumane punishment that Mr. Bae certainly faces while in a North Korean gulag.


[1] John Sweeney, North Korea Undercover, BBC Panorama, April 15, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAG9kvep67E.

[2] Unidentified defector’s statement, North Korea Undercover, BBC Panorama, April 15, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAG9kvep67E.

[3] Id.

[4] Wikipedia, Human Rights in North Korea, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_North_Korea.

[5] David Hawk, The Hidden Gulag Second Edition, April 10, 2012, http://hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/HRNK_HiddenGulag2_Web_5-18.pdf.

NK Commission of Inquiry (COI)

Progress! Two days ago – March 21, 2013 – the UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) voted unanimously (47 members) to establish a North Korea Commission of Inquiry (COI).[1] Although the UN has looked at NK in the past, it has mainly focused on NK’s nuclear weapons proliferations. This time, however, shows that the ‘international community’ (more specifically, the European Union and Japan, since they brought the resolution before the OHCHR) is concerned with human rights abuses in NK. The resolution, A/HRC/22/L.19, also extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in NK for one year.[2]

OHCHR logo

OHCHR logo

What is a commission of inquiry?

I had to take a look. So far, here’s the basic idea based on some quick research: According to a Geneva Academy conference on commissions of inquiry, there are two different kinds, national and international.[3] (In this case, the NK COI will be an international tool used to investigate human rights situations.) A COI investigates potential violations of international human rights law and/or humanitarian law. It does not appear that there’s a standard construction to COIs, but recently a COI was established for the potential atrocities being committed in Syria. A commission is supposed to investigate alleged violations of law, gather evidence, and issue a report(s), all in a fair and unbiased manner. The NK COI is comprised of three members (but may include up to ten people later on), including UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, Marzuki Darusman.[4] The COI is established for one year, but there is always the possibility of it being extended. The NK COI has to provide an “oral update to the Council at its twenty-fourth session and to the General Assembly at its sixty-eight session, and a written report to the Council at its twenty-fifth session.”[5]

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, shed some more light on COIs. He stated in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, “‘Commissions of inquiry are strong and flexible mechanisms that can yield ample benefits for governments, victim communities and the wider public, but they do not relieve States of their legal obligations to investigate and prosecute torture, and to provide effective remedies to victims of past violations, including reparation for the harm suffered and to prevent its reoccurrence.'”[6]

Certainly, a COI is not meant to replace NK’s duty to not violate the rights of its own people. But this assumes NK actually believes its people are being denied rights, which it clearly does not. In fact, “North Korean Ambassador So Se Pyong rejected the resolution as ‘an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces in their attempt to discredit the image of the DPRK,’ and said, “‘[a]s we stated time and again, those human rights abuses mentioned in the resolution do not exist in our country.’”[7]

What will the COI look at specifically?

Luckily for me, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) already explained this quite nicely:

“As defined by the resolution on North Korea, the Commission of Inquiry will have a mandate to “investigate all systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.’ The resolution made particular note of ‘the use of torture and labour camps against political prisoners and repatriated citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” and ‘the unresolved questions of international concern relating to abductions of nationals of other states.’ The resolution empowers the commission to undertake a one-year investigation into the ‘violation of the right to food, the violations associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, violations of freedom of expression, violations of the right to life, violations of freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.’”[8]

I need to dive into the specifics of the resolution still, but I believe some of this language is from the Rome Statute, which is the international treaty that established the International Criminal Court. Under Article 7(1) of the Rome Statute, “‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

(a)     Murder;

(b)     Extermination;

(c)     Enslavement;

(d)     Deportation or forcible transfer of population;

(e)     Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;

(f)     Torture;

(g)     Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; 
(h)     Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

(i)     Enforced disappearance of persons;

(j)     The crime of apartheid;

(k)     Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.[9]

And just for good measure, and because the argument has been made that the Kim regime has committed genocide, here’s Article 6 of the Rome Statute:

For the purpose of this Statute, “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a)     Killing members of the group;

(b)     Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c)     Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d)     Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e)     Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

How can the COI investigate since it is unlikely NK will cooperate?

I think this is the crucial question right now. The COI is established to investigate, but if NK stands in the way (which it will) and does not let the commission into NK, then it stands to reason that the COI will not gather as much evidence about potential abuses by the Kim regime. As the Geneva Academy points out, “[a]n important task of any commission of inquiry is to analyse facts on the ground with regard to applicable law. Thus, it is crucial that a commission can independently and freely conduct investigations on the ground to establish the facts for itself.”

I hope that this will not inhibit the work of the COI too drastically though. After all, as Dr. John Park pointed out recently, the roughly 24,000 NK defectors in South Korea are a relatively untouched information resource. My hope is that the COI will have the cooperation of the South Korean government and the NK defectors in order to search for the truth about what the Kim regime is doing to the people unlucky enough to live north of the 38th Parallel.

A Brief Look at North Korea’s Gulags

I wrote this piece about gulags when Kim Jong Il was still alive and in power. Today, the international community knows more about political camps, or gulags, in North Korea, and the information is appalling. Over the last couple of years, we now have access to satellite imagery that shows that perimeters of the political prison camps have expanded. For very current information, please look at a report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and David Hawk, “The Hidden Gulag, Second Edition: The Lives and Voices of Those Who are Sent to the Mountains” and a report by DigitalGlobe Analytics and HRNK, “North Korea’s Camp No. 25.”

I recently spoke to a South Korean who said that gulags are likely considered the best example of crimes (against humanity) by the North Korean State from the perspective of South Koreans. This is because gulags are the most visible showing of atrocities against North Korea’s own people. I think this is understandable, don’t you? It seems that throughout history people need to see abuses before they can really start to understand them. North Korea’s tight control on information and limited foreign access makes it very difficult for the majority of the world to see, and therefore understand and care about, the incredibly egregious human rights violations and, arguably, crimes against humanity being committed by the Kim Regime.

North Korea: “The Last Worst Place On Earth”[1]

North Korean Defector Draws Gruesome Pictures Of Life In The GulagRead more: http://www.businessinsider.com/north-korean-gulag-concentration-camp-pictures-2012-6?op=1#ixzz2NKnVXrZ5

North Korean Defector Draws Gruesome Pictures Of Life In The Gulag
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/north-korean-gulag-concentration-camp-pictures-2012-6?op=1#ixzz2NKnVXrZ5

Although Kim Jong Il’s regime is marked by serious and prolific human rights abuses, it has not attracted the attention of the international community as much as other parts of the world. Kim’s regime is surrounded by a state-sponsored veil of secrecy which makes it harder for the international community to document and respond to his abhorrent behavior. Recently, that veil has been slightly lifted by intrepid journalists and defectors allowing brief glimpses into the lives of North Koreans suffering under Kim’s vast oppression. The evidence indicates Kim Jong Il’s policies have caused the death of millions of his own people through deplorable human rights violations.

One of the most egregious violations of the Kim Jong Il regime has been the establishment of gulags, in which political prisoners are enslaved for any perceived threat against Kim’s regime. Defectors have told their stories and political prisons have appeared on satellite imagery – this evidence tells awful stories. For instance, the gulags, where political prisoners are starved, tortured, and worked to death, have accounted for over 1 million deaths.[2] This figure does not factor in recent intelligence and aerial satellite imagery that shows that the gulags in the DPRK are far larger than previously known. Amnesty International estimates conservatively that Kim’s gulags now imprison at least 200,000 people.[3] Recently, a newspaper article retold the account of a former political prisoner in DPRK’s increasingly-populated gulags. The prisoner said that due to the rampant starvation, prisoners were happy when one of them died because it meant more food for the others. He recounted having to eat rats and corn kernels from animal feces as well.[4] Another newspaper article tells of a prisoner’s tragic upbringing in a gulag:

“Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a prison camp in North Korea. ‘Guilt-by-association’ (with his parents) meant that he faced a lifetime of imprisonment. He was tortured along with his father. He was forced to watch the execution of his mother and his brother. He witnessed the deaths of many children under the impossible demands of forced labor.”[5]

Shin’s story is, unfortunately, just one person’s account of life under Kim. There are so many more examples in spite of Kim’s control.

Additionally, reports tie the population growth in the political gulags with the possibility that Kim Jong Il may be turning over the regime to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific director, stated, “‘As North Korea seems to be moving towards a new leader in Kim Jong-un and a period of political instability, the big worry is that the prison camps appear to be growing in size.’”[6]

The gulags are not the only place where human rights violations take place. Kim is accused of starving his own people and using international food donations to bolster the strength of his army. He restricts travel, denies free speech, the right to practice religion. Recently, Amnesty International reported Kim is responsible for the criminal abduction of 180,000 people.[7]


[1] Jack Rendler, North Korea: The Last Worst Place On Earth, Amnesty International: Human Rights Now Blog, May 11, 2011, http://networkedblogs.com/hJTyR.

[2] 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, 65 (2006).

[3] Rendler, supra note 1.

[4] Editorial, North Korean Political Prison Camps Growing – Amnesty, BBC News (Asia-Pacific), May 3, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13272198.

[5] Rendler, supra note 1.

[6] Editorial, North Korean Political Prison Camps Growing – Amnesty, BBC News (Asia-Pacific), May 3, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13272198.

[7] Id.