Geneva, AP—A UN panel warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Monday that he may be held accountable for orchestrating widespread crimes against civilians in the secretive Asian nation, ranging from executing and torturing prisoners to systematic abductions and starving mass populations.
It is unusual for a UN report to directly implicate a nation’s leader. But in a letter accompanying a yearlong investigative report, the chairman of a three-member UN commission of inquiry, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, directly warned Kim that that international prosecution is needed “to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity.”
“Even without being directly involved in crimes against humanity, a military commander may be held responsible for crimes against humanity committed by forces under the commander’s effective command and control,” Kirby wrote.
“The commission urges you to take all necessary and reasonable measures within your power to prevent or repress the commission of further such crimes and to ensure that the crimes against humanity that have been committed are properly investigated and prosecuted,” he wrote.
“To this point, the commission has found no indication that the institutions and officials of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are willing and able to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of the foregoing crimes against humanity.”
The investigative commission’s 372-page report is a wide-ranging indictment of North Korea for policies including political prison camps with 80,000 to 120,000 people, state-sponsored abductions of North Korean, Japanese and other nationals, and lifelong indoctrination. Details of the findings were reported Friday by The Associated Press.
The report also explains the panel’s reason for the letter to Kim.
“In the letter, the commission drew attention to the principle of command and superior responsibility under international law,” the report says. “It urged the Supreme Leader to prevent and suppress crimes against humanity, and to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and brought to justice.”
Speaking to reporters after the release of the report, Kirby said that “the letter to the Supreme Leader was respectful” but that it was impossible not to include his name in the list of suspects because of what he described as the government’s totalitarian nature.
North Korean officials did not cooperate with the panel’s investigation, saying in correspondence last year that the country “totally and categorically rejects” the probe ordered by the UN’s 47-nation Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.
Its three members—which also 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 also wrote to China’s UN ambassador in Geneva saying there’s evidence that Chinese officials have in some cases shared with North Korean officials “information about the contacts and conduct” of North Korean nationals subject to repatriation.
The ambassador, Wu Haitao, replied to the panel and denied that repatriated North Korean citizens from China face torture in North Korea. He added that China “will continue to prudently and properly handle” North Korean citizens who enter China illegally.