Posted February 17, 2014 04:51 pm - Updated February 17, 2014 04:58 pm

The N. Korea report: As bad as we could have guessed

I’ve just finished skimming the “Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” that came out today and didn’t really learn anything that I wouldn’t have already imagined the N. Korean judicial and military/correction systems were getting up to, because there’s really only one recipe for a society that can’t foster free thought and belief.

Here are the high points:


• Unfair trials to enforce vague crimes of disloyalty followed by either:

(a)   confession through torture,

(b)  imprisonment for an indefinite term with systematic starvation and sadistic abuse,

(c)   or summary public execution with compulsory public attendance;

• Abductions and “disappearances” without trial;

• Government control of food leading to state-created famine as a means of political control and, most importantly,

• Total state control of all forms of media.


The report released on Monday is an ugly, ugly thing to read, but it contains no big surprises. Nothing new.

But, importantly, the report leaves nothing to the imagination and it “shows its math” on the allegations of crimes against humanity. Arguably, this report helps the cause by turning what had been widely believed anecdotes of human rights abuses into a guidebook for International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors who have to prove a reasonable suspicion of illegality just like local prosecutors — if, that is, the United Nations Security Council refers the matter to the ICC (without which the ICC lacks jurisdiction to prosecute alleged crimes in this case) and also if the ICC even wants to prosecute a case where the court’s ruling would probably only be enforceable through one form of warfare or another. 

Probably the UNSC won’t do anything. So far the ICC hasn't exercised jurisdiction outside of Africa. Probably this is just another step in the free world's long and maybe pointless process of bringing North Korea and its people out of their brutal and insane hermitage without what would almost necessarily be regional war.

But here’s the main “takeaway,” summed up as good as it can be by a retired Australian judge who had chaired the U.N. commission of inquiry on Human Rights, Michael Kirby, who also wrote the letter to Kim Jong-Un letting him know that he may be subject to personal prosecution for crimes against humanity:

"At the end of the Second World War so many people said 'if only we had known... if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces'," Kirby said at a news conference at UN headquarters in Geneva. "Well, now the international community does know... There will be no excusing of failure of action because we didn't know.”

Below is an excerpt from the report. The image on this post is a drawing made for the Commission of Inquiry by an interviewee:


“In order to make him confess, Mr Jeong was beaten with clubs, while hanging upside down. Like numerous other witnesses interviewed by the Commission, Mr Jeong was also subjected to the so-called ‘pigeon torture’. “[Y]our hands are handcuffed behind your back. And then they hang you so you would not be able to stand or sit” Mr Jeong described. On repeated occasion, Mr Jeong had to spend a full three days at a time in the pigeon torture stress position, enduring excruciating pain:

“There are no people watching you. There is nobody. And you can’t stand, you can’t sleep. If you are hung like that for three days, four days, you urinate, you defecate, you are totally dehydrated. … [the pigeon torture] was the most painful of all tortures… [it] was so painful that I felt it was better to die.” Mr Jeong informed a SSD prosecution bureau official that he had been tortured until he provided a false confession, but this was to no avail:

“I thought the prosecutor was going to help me, but the prosecutor left and then the investigator came back in and started hitting me, started assaulting me and hanging me upside down. The next day, the prosecutor came back and said, ‘Can you talk honestly?’ And I said, ‘Yes, yes, I’m a spy’ – I confessed.”