Thursday, December 10, 2009

North Korean refugees plead case against Kim Jong-il

Refugees from North Korea are in The Hague in an attempt to convince the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Kim Jong-il for crimes against humanity.

From NRC Handelsblad, 10 December 2009 17:31:
North Korean refugees plead case against Kim Jong-il
By Harry Meijer
Park Hye-ri (43) cried softly as she removed her artificial limbs in a hotel conference room in The Hague on Wednesday, her black lacquered shoes dangling pointlessly from the flesh-coloured prostheses. The limbs are evidence in a case Park Hye-ri and one of her compatriots came to make on behalf of 150 refugees from North Korea.

Hye-ri reached South Korea, where she now lives with her 19-year-old son, in 2006 at the end of her second escape attempt from North Korea. The first failed when she was intercepted by Chinese police in the border area between Mongolia and China, in 40 degrees Celsius below zero temperatures, and repatriated to North Korea, where she was detained and beaten for months.

"The Chinese sent me back with frozen feet. The North Korean secret police beat me on my feet, and drove a steel pin through them. My legs started rotting away. They only wanted one thing: to hear me confess that I had wanted to escape to South Korea," Hye-Ri told the court.

If al-Bashir, why not Kim Jong-il?

Hye-ri and the other refugees want the ICC's main prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, to investigate the possibility of indicting the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for crimes against humanity. The charges include torture, deportation, sexual slavery, rape, starvation and summary executions.

The refugees are supported by a group of South Korean intellectuals and activists. They take courage from the ICC's earlier indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur.

If the ICC can issue an arrest warrant for Bashir, then surely it must do the same for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean activist who is the driving force behind Open Radio for North Korea, a Seoul-based radio station that broadcasts daily to listeners in North Korea. "The crimes against humanity committed by North Korea are at least as grave as those of Sudan," said Ha.

Stalinist North Korea is one of the most reclusive and repressive regimes in the world. According to human rights organisations, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people are detained in political prisoners camps. Prisoners are subjected to forced labour, torture and public executions, claims the file of the refugees before the ICC.

Slim chance

The international community is at a loss what to do with the North Korean leader. US envoy Stephen Bosworth paid a three-day visit to Pyongyang this week in an attempt to persuade North Korea to re-enter talks about nuclear disarmament.

Activist Ha sees a trial in The Hague as another way to put pressure on the regime. "Kim Jong-il will never give up his atom bomb," he said, "but with enough international pressure he might be persuaded to do something about the human rights situation."

Chances that the ICC will prosecute Kim Jong-il personally are slim as North Korea does not recognise the court. The UN Security Council could refer Kim Jong-il to the ICC, but such a move would be almost certainly vetoed by China, an ally of North Korea.

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