UN rapporteur urged to help lay groundwork to prosecute North Korean leader at ICC

                                                                                                 Elizabeth Salmon, right, the U.N. special rapporteur for North Korean human rights, poses with Son Myung-hwa, a representative of the Korean War POW Family Association, in Seoul, Monday, as she begins her nine-day trip. Courtesy of Korean War POW Family Association
Elizabeth Salmon, right, the U.N. special rapporteur for North Korean human rights, poses with Son Myung-hwa, a representative of the Korean War POW Family Association, in Seoul, Monday, as she begins her nine-day trip. Courtesy of Korean War POW Family Association


Evidence for Kim’s crimes against humanity ‘more than sufficient,’ rights activists say

By Jung Min-ho

Evidence of atrocities committed in North Korea by the Kim Jong-un regime is abundant. Therefore, human rights activists are wondering whether the evidence collected in the South would meet the U.N.’s requirements to bring him to justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Speaking to The Korea Times on Monday, rights advocates said this is one of the main issues they are planning to raise if given the opportunity to speak with Elizabeth Salmon, the U.N. special rapporteur for North Korean human rights.

Arriving Monday in Seoul, Salmon began her nine-day trip where she will meet with government officials, members of civic groups and North Korean escapees.

“My first question to Salmon would be whether it is possible to bring the case against Kim to the table of the U.N. Security Council based on evidence collected by state prosecutors and investigators here,” an official at a rights organization, who refused to be named, said.

“That would be unprecedented and help unite international support even if the case fails to elicit action from the ICC due to objections from China and Russia.”

Despite numerous accounts from victims and other proof accumulated over many years, the ICC, the Hague-based independent judicial body for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, has not issued an arrest warrant for Kim.

The court says it has “no jurisdiction” over North Korea, which is not a party to the Rome Statute, a treaty that established the ICC. Moreover, the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to refer a situation to the ICC for investigation, has not taken such steps.

“Monitoring how human rights are respected in North Korea was one of the key reasons for setting up the Seoul branch of the OHCHR in 2015,” Lee Ji-yoon, program manager at the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, said.

“If rights are being violated and practical hurdles are preventing any meaningful ICC action, Salmon needs to check whether there are other ways to bring justice through the U.N. system.”

Compared to previous cases whereby the ICC issued an arrest warrant for a head of state ― for Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in 2009 and Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi in 2011 ― the evidence in Kim’s case seems more than sufficient, she said.

This March, the ICC surprised the world by granting an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for allegedly deporting Ukrainian children against their will after invading the country last year. This was only possible after the Ukrainian government approved the ICC to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on Ukrainian territory by Russian forces.

Given that Russia ― just like North Korea ― does not recognize the ICC, its warrant is unlikely to result in the arrest of Putin. However, experts say this carries a symbolic significance and would limit his travel to the nations that recognize the ICC’s authority, which could be a frightening message to Putin ― and Kim.

On her first day, Salmon had a meeting with families of South Korean prisoners detained by the North during the Korean War. Based on the results of her visit, Salmon will submit a report on human rights issues in North Korea to the U.N. next month.

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