Recently, there is a growing movement that calls for referring North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In South Korea, the National Student's Council of North Korean Human Rights launched a campaign against crimes committed by Kim against humanity, under the title of 'The 7th North Korean Human Rights Week of University Students -- Calling for Referring Kim Jong-Un to the ICC' at 30 universities nationwide. No Chain, a North Korean human rights group, has been encouraging people to sign an online White House petition (wh.gov/iMGf1) on referring Kim to the ICC over human rights abuses since October 21. UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, has been urging people to support an online petition (www.change.org/search?q=kim jong un ICC) for the same purpose since October 16.
As is well known, North Korea is the world's worst human rights abuser. There have been and still are grave human rights violations systematically perpetrated by the regime. Public executions became less frequent with the strengthened international pressure over the human rights issue, but executions have been on the rise again since Kim took power. The main targets are senior officials Kim considers as obstacles to maintaining his grip on power. Under Kim's regime, several high-profile officials were executed, including Jang Sung-Taek, former vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission, and Hyon Yong-Chol, former defense minister. This year alone, as many as 64 have been executed, which is more than previous years. There are political prisoner camps that are likened to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp. About 100,000-200,000 people are arbitrarily imprisoned in the camps without trial and treated as subhuman.
Things are no better for people outside the camps. They are even deprived of food, the most basic need for human beings. Although reported violations of the basic right have been reduced to about one-fifth of its number in the 2000s thanks to the development of spontaneous markets in the country after North Koreans suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s, food problems are still severe and pervasive. People are lacking essential nutrients, and illnesses commonly found in underdeveloped countries, such as tuberculosis and hepatitis, are on the rise. The right to food of the most vulnerable groups, including children, the disabled and the elderly, are at particular risk.
Furthermore, North Koreans do not have the freedom of movement, religion or speech. Travel is allowed only for those who have a travel pass. Moving from one place to another requires a lengthy approval process with 5-6 steps. There is no freedom of religious belief. If people are caught practicing their religion, they are detained and engaged in light labor or, in the worst case, are sent to political prisoner camps, the harshest punishment for the crime. And, there is no freedom of the press. All reporting is subject to restrictions. Media outlets in the country only serve as mouthpieces for the regime, producing propaganda to promote loyalty to 'Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un',
The international community has made a great deal of effort to address the human rights issue of North Korea. The United Nations has passed resolutions condemning the state-sponsored human rights violations every year since 2004. In 2013, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established, which submitted a special report on the issue. As results of the investigations on the human rights situation of North Koreans, the report concluded that the regime systematically violated human rights and suggested measures, such as referring those responsible to the ICC and establishing a UN office for North Korean human rights to keep monitoring the issue. Recently, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly passed a North Korean human rights resolution calling for referring the situation to the ICC and expressing concern at the exploitation of workers sent abroad.
And, instead of accepting resolutions, the defiant regime in North Korea is denouncing them as 'attempts to overthrow the regime' and telling the world to 'stop interfering in its internal affairs'. Human rights abuses in the country are simply getting worse under Kim's regime. Kim has also stepped up crackdowns on defections that are considered as a crime against the state. Consequently, the annual number of defectors has significantly dropped from 3,000 to 1,300. When devastating floods ravaged areas, including those near the borders, leaving more than 100,000 people homeless, the first thing the regime did was to prevent defections. The regime brought in advanced equipment, such as radio monitoring devices and infrared cameras, from overseas to prevent defections and keep residents under control, while asking for international assistance by saying that it had no money for flood recovery.
Among various international activities for human rights in North Korea, the greatest threat to the regime is arguably those calling for sending Kim Jong-Un to the ICC. In the autocratic state, the authority and dignity of the leader is directly associated with the fate of the regime. The history shows that one of the most effective means of having autocrats, like Kim, face legal punishment is to refer them to the ICC. In the 2000s, politicians in eight countries, including Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Libya and Cote d'Ivoire, were sent to the ICC on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some of them are currently at trial and others are at large. Calls for the ICC referral of Kim are important in itself, aside from its feasibility, in that it directly puts psychological pressure on him.
The ICC referral of the North Korean leader would be, of course, an effective means to end human rights violations and improve lives of the people in the country. With regard to this, the UN Security Council held two sessions of discussion in 2014 and 2015. It is not easy, in fact, to refer Kim to the ICC when considering the current referral procedures of the ICC and the dynamics of global politics. Still, if we continue to call public attention to this issue, it will all be of great help in preventing human rights violations perpetrated in North Korea. It is necessary, therefore, to let people around the world understand that Kim Jong-Un and those who have connived and joined with him in wrongdoings should be held accountable, tracked down and brought to justice. Now is the time for the international community and global citizens to do whatever they can, such as participating in online petitions, to save the North Korean people from the 'swamp of human rights abuses' before it is too late.