A Commission of Inquiry for North Korea: How and Why
David Hawk, Visiting Scholar, Columbia University, Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Let me take the “why” first. There are two reasons: moral and political.
1. The victims of severe DPRK violations want justice and accountability for the crimes and terrible wrongs that have been done to them. In this, the North Korean victims are no different from Jewish victims and survivors of the Nazi Holocaust; Cambodian victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide; mothers, grandmothers, and sisters of the desaperasidos (forcibly disappeared persons) in the 1970s ‘dirty wars’ in Chile and Argentina; or the Tutsi victims and survivors of the Rwandan genocide. This is why more than 100 survivors of the North Korean kwanliso, kyohwaso, kyoyangso, jipkyulso, rodongdanryeondae and kurujangs have written to the International Criminal Court prosecutor asking for an investigation and prosecution for the crimes committed against them.
For human rights NGOs and advocates, the claim and demand for justice and accountability is more than sufficient. For we know that only by ending the global culture of impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity can the ongoing perpetration of those crimes be circumscribed, curbed and prevented.
2. That said, the claims of the victims and survivors are likely to be insufficient to move the UN Members States that need to be motivated. States, even the most concerned states, will operate on a political calculus. Here is how I see the basic political equation:
2.1 -- North Korea continues to deny even the existence of its political prison/slave labor camps. At the December, 2009 UN Human Rights Council session on the Universal Periodic Review, the DPRK representative declared: “Political prison is not in the DPRK vocabulary… the political prison camps do not exist”. This is in line with the North Korean claim that human rights problems cannot exist in their people-centered socialism. Furthermore, the North Koreans claim that what we call evidence and documentation is, rather, the lies told by traitors to their country.
2.2 – In the face of these absolute denials, we need to make the point that only formal, official international recognition of the fact that the consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights in North Korea constitute, in fact and in law, ongoing crimes against humanity will, in the long run, encourage the North Koreans to see that they cannot dodge the issue, sweep it under the rug, deny the undeniable and fail to tackle and resolve the grave concerns of the international community.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is a North Korea policy that other Member States will not “let slide” to use some American slang. Only an investigation leading to international recognition will prevent North Korea’s clear and massive crimes against humanity in the kwanliso system and serial atrocities committed against North Koreans forcibly repatriated from China in the kyohwasos, jipkyulso, rodongdanreondae mobile work brigades and the buwibu and anjeonbu kurujangs from being “let slide” in the face of North Korea’s alternating provocations and charm offenses. That is why we need a Commission of Inquiry.
3. How to get one? The only way is very direct: persuade key UN Member States, who are the primary sponsors of the DPRK human rights resolutions at the Human Rights Council and in the General Assembly, to request that the High Commissioner for Human Rights or the Secretary General undertake a prima facie investigation and report the findings.
In making our case, we will have to thread our way through two countervailing and opposing points of view: that responses to North Korean “provocations” (nuke and missile tests, attacks on South Korea, displays of modern uranium enrichment facilities) should not be undermined or diluted by human rights concerns; but conversely, that human rights concerns should not be raised now (maybe later but not now) because it might upset the North Koreans so they won’t negotiate, thus slowing down their pursuit of nuclear weapons.
4. How can we best make our case? I suggest a two-fold approach joining forces between the appeals of the victims and survivors, that is, the former prisoners whom the South Koreans call defectors, and the advocacy of national and international human rights NGOs. In the face of DPRK denials that the prison camps exist, let’s use our resources to introduce the victims to the diplomats and foreign policy officials of the key UN Member States. I can guarantee you that the diplomats will not think the former prisoners I have interviewed are “liars and traitors.” The former prisoners have the moral stature to ask the UN Member States to take the action – the best action they or we can think of -- to encourage the North Koreans to end the prison camp system and end the suffering of those who remained locked in arbitrary and incommunicado detention, deported into slave labor and induced malnutrition, disease and death. We NGOs and international human right advocates have the experience, skills at documentation, analysis, and advocacy. And we have many of the connections to the necessary offices in the various governments that need to be persuaded to support a Commission of Inquiry on North Korea