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Unspeakable atrocities taking place in North Korea

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17 February 2014 - “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” says a new UN report that is unprecedented in scope.

A wide array of crimes against humanity, arising from “policies established at the highest level of State,” have been committed and continue to take place in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, according toa new UN report.

The report calls for urgent action by the international community to address the human rights situation in the country, including referral to the International Criminal Court.

In a 400-page set of linked reports and supporting documents, based on first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses, the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK has documented in great detail the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the country.

“These crimes against humanity entail 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,” the report says, adding 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.”

The second more detailed section of the report cites evidence provided by individual victims and witnesses, including the harrowing treatment meted out to political prisoners, some of whom said they would catch snakes and mice to feed malnourished babies. Others told of watching family members being murdered in prison camps, and of defenceless inmates being used for martial arts practice.

“The fact that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community,” the report stated.

“The international community must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”

“There is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association,” the report says, adding that propaganda is used by the State to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader and to incite nationalistic hatred towards some other States and their nationals.

State surveillance permeates private lives and virtually no expression critical of the political system goes undetected – or unpunished.

It is estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are currently detained in four large political prison camps, where deliberate starvation has been used as a means of control and punishment. Gross violations are also being committed in the ordinary prison system, according to the Commission’s findings.

Military spending – predominantly on hardware and the development of weapons systems and the nuclear programme – has always been prioritised, even during periods of mass starvation, the report says.  The State also maintains a system of inefficient economic production and discriminatory resource allocation that inevitably produces more avoidable starvation among its citizens.

Violations of the rights to food and to freedom of movement have resulted in women and girls becoming vulnerable to trafficking and forced sex work outside the DPRK. Many take the risk of fleeing, mainly to China, despite the high chance that they will be apprehended and forcibly repatriated, then subjected to persecution, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention and, in some cases sexual violence. “Repatriated women who are pregnant are regularly subjected to forced abortions, and babies born to repatriated women are often killed,” the report states.

In the letter to Kim Jong-un, the Commissioners stated that it would recommend referral of the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court “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.”

Among wide-ranging recommendations to the DPRK, to China and other States, and to the international community, the Commission calls on the Security Council to adopt targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity, stressing that sanctions should not be targeted against the population or the economy as a whole.

Read the full report here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/ReportoftheCommissionofInquiryDPRK.aspx
The full video recording of the public hearings can be found at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/PublicHearings.aspx

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