A new report, authored by three internationally renowned judges – Navanethem ‘Navi’ Pillay, Thomas Buergenthal and Mark B Harmon – under the auspices of the International Bar Association (IBA) War Crimes Committee, calls on the international community to vest in the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a special international tribunal the power to investigate crimes against humanity committed in North Korea’s political prisons, and to hold culpable parties accountable for their crimes, including ‘Supreme Leader’ Kim Jong-un, members of the Workers’ Party of Korea and its Politburo, internal security officials and prison guards. The three judges, who together have served on some of the most consequential international tribunals of the last half-century and include a child survivor of Auschwitz and a former ICC judge, also call on North Korea to dismantle its gulag system and release the estimated 80,000–130,000 political prisoners.
Under established legal doctrine, including the principle of ‘command responsibility’ – hierarchical accountability, where superiors are held responsible for the criminal acts of their subordinates – the report includes evidence that demonstrates Kim Jong-un and other regime officials should be prosecuted for ten of the 11 crimes against humanity enumerated in the Rome Statute (the treaty establishing the ICC), including crimes committed by subordinates such as prison guards. The ten crimes are: murder, extermination, enslavement, forcible transfer, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearances and other inhumane acts.
Titled, Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Political Prisons, the report focuses on evidence of crimes against humanity committed in North Korea’s political prisons, which include systematic murder (including infanticide), torture, persecution of Christians, rape, forced abortions, starvation and overwork leading to countless deaths. Referenced in the report is highly detailed satellite imagery that, alongside testimony of defectors, debunks North Korea’s denial of the existence of its political prisons, described by Amnesty International as ‘very possibly home to some of the most appalling torture in the world’.
The Inquiry is an unofficial follow-up to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (UN COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) that, in 2014, published its findings on regime-wide human rights abuses.
During a day-long hearing held in Washington, DC in 2016, Chief Judge Navi Pillay and her fellow judges heard testimony from North Korean defectors, including a North Korean political prison guard and prison camp survivors. They provided graphic testimony of atrocities they witnessed or were subjected to in the political prisons, including accounts of: