North Korea: Hearing to determine if Kim Jong-un should be investigated by the ICC for crimes against humanity

Friday 4 March 2022

The International Bar Association (IBA) War Crimes Committee and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) are to hold a live hearing – on Friday 4 March 2022 in Washington DC, United States – to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the International Criminal Court (ICC), or a special international tribunal, to open an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed in North Korea by ‘Supreme Leader’ Kim Jong-un, high level government officials, internal security officials and low-level prison guards.

Presiding over the Hearing, in connection with an Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Detention Centers, will be four internationally renowned judges: Navanethem ‘Navi’ Pillay (South Africa), Dame Silvia Cartwright (New Zealand), Silvia Fernandez (Argentina), and Wolfgang Schomburg (Germany). It is the first time during the Kim dynasty’s 74-year reign that judges of this stature have assembled to assess the potential culpability of North Korean state actors for crimes against humanity.

The judges will hear testimony from experts on North Korea’s political system and six North Korean defectors, four of whom will testify in person giving accounts of the crimes they assert they were subjected to while held in North Korean detention centres. Reported crimes include rape, forced abortions (some without anaesthesia), infanticide, starvation, torture, violent persecution of Christians, and vicious beatings that resulted in the death of detainees. Reports reveal many detainees regularly attempted suicide, including by swallowing nails, safety pins and needles.

One witness who will testify on 4 March stated: ‘The only reason I was able to endure all the humiliation and shame and torture I was subjected to there was because I told myself, moment by moment, that I am not a human being, but I am a beast. The moment I considered myself human, I would not have been able to endure all the mental and physical pain.’

IBA War Crimes Committee lawyers and pro bono lawyers from the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton will present evidence of the commission of ten crimes against humanity under the ICC’s Rome Statute – the treaty that established the Court – including murder, extermination, enslavement, forcible transfer, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearances, and a catch-all category referred to as ‘other inhumane acts'.

Greg Kehoe, past Co-Chair of the IBA War Crimes Committee and the senior lawyer presenting  evidence of North Korea’s alleged crimes against humanity at the Hearing, commented: ‘North Korea’s network of detention centres has largely eluded the scrutiny of the international community over the decades but, as the number of North Korean defectors increases and accounts of brutal treatment carried out against detainees multiply, it has become indefensible for the international community to continue sitting on its hands.’ He added: ‘We expect to demonstrate at the March 4 Hearing that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that scores of North Korean state actors, from Kim Jong-un to low-level guards, should be investigated and prosecuted for committing some of the most heinous crimes against humanity ever documented in modern times.’

The Hearing will also draw on evidence from:

  • Sworn testimony by Cindy Warmbier, the mother of American college student, Otto Warmbier, who was returned to the USA in a vegetative state and died shortly thereafter from injuries sustained during his detention in North Korea; and
  • A renowned satellite imagery expert who will provide live testimony about, among other things, the most detailed satellite images of North Korea’s network of detention centres ever to have been made public.

The Hearing in connection with an Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Detention Centers will be held on Friday 4 March 2022 from 0900 - 1730 (EST). For further information about the event contact Ashna Basnet at or Michael Maya at

Register online here:


Notes to the Editor

  1. The Hearing in connection with an Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Detention Centers will be held on Friday 4 March 2022 from 0900-1730 (EST). It will be conducted in-person at the DACOR Bacon House, 1801 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, USA and virtually via Zoom. Register here:
  2. Judges Navanethem ‘Navi’ Pillay, Silvia Cartwright, Silvia Fernandez and Wolfgang Schomburg, collectively, have served at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).  Judge Fernandez formerly served as President of the ICC, while Judge Pillay formerly served as President of the ICTR and also served on the ICC.
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies, it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington, DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  4. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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