International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: North Korea

China officially rejects U.N. report on crimes in North Korea

Unsurprisingly, Chinese officials have denounced the report alleging crimes against humanity in North Korea at the U.N. Human Rights Council monday morning, says an article from the New York Post. The report, published in February, recommended that the case in North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court, and that the culpability of the crimes could reach as high as the supreme leader himself, Kim Jong-un. Counselor to the Chinese mission in Geneva, Chen Chuandong, rejected the report based on it’s lacking of substantial evidence for its claim, stating, “the inability of the commission to get support and cooperation from the country concerned makes it impossible for the commission to carry out its mandate in an impartial, objective and effective manner”. However, Chen fails to mention any attempt from China to persuade North Korea to be more cooperative with investigators, who have had to rely solely on testimony from victims that had escaped the regime. The great irony of Chen’s statement is that China is most likely the key opponent to a referral from the security council to the ICC and will likely veto any attempt to pass the case of North Korea along to the ICC for formal investigation. Simultaneously, the U.N., the United States, and the international community as a whole have seemingly exhausted all possible means of coercing North Korea to cooperate and address the crimes that have been alleged against them, and substantial pressure from China, North Korea’s closest ally, has perhaps the only chance of producing any visible behavior changes. Thus, China has the international community in a bind. In cases like this, however, where the country in question is so adamantly uncooperative that even preliminary investigation is impossible, must there be a separate standard of credibility for evidence of crimes against humanity that would warrant investigation, and what should the course of action for institutions like the U.N. and other organizations or governments concerned with human rights be?


The article from the New York Post can be found here:

The ICC in North Korea

Refer N Korea to the Int’l Criminal court: UNHRC

A UN commission of inquiry into human rights abuses has just released a report detailing the horrific atrocities committed in North Korea. The report, which will be officially presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, documents crimes ranging from murder, torture, and enslavement to rape, forced abortions, and starvation. The report also implicates China as possibly complicit in these crimes, due to its support for the regime and its policy of returning North Korean refugees and escaped prisoners back to the regime. The report calls for international action, and asks that the UN Security Council refer the case to the ICC.

Though China’s veto power on the Security Council makes it appear unlikely that such a referral would occur, there are reasons to hope. China has rarely vetoed a resolution on its own, and would likely want Russia’s backing if it were to do so here. In 2012, China did not veto a UN resolution condemning human rights violations in North Korea. While China would not want to be implicated in the case, it would likely appreciate the opportunity for leverage over a North Korean leader who recently purged his uncle, an important interlocutor with China.  An ICC trial for Kim Jung Un is far from likely, but this report certainly places his ally China in an interesting position.

China officially declares that it will fight UN efforts to refer North Korea Case to ICC

The Chinese Government announced Monday that it would oppose any UN effort to bring the case against North Korea in front of the ICC. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying that China opposed the potential referral because “issues concerning human rights should be solved through constructive dialogue on an equal footing”. It was widely expected that China, as a strong ally of North Korea and a member of the security council, would stand against any UN action regarding North Korea.


China’s support of North Korea in this regard is yet another example of the complicated role that politics plays in the realm of international justice. China is North Korea’s key ally, and provides much of the and and trade that is currently propping up a country already experiencing widespread famine. According to a Channel NewsAsia report, China’s support of North Korea is in part due to fears that if the North Korean state collapses, the chaos could spill southward across their own border, and that instability in the Asian continent could allow for the US to bolster its presence.


An ICC investigation and potential conviction of North Korean Officials is sure to generate the instability that China fears. Jared Genser, an international human rights lawyer and North Korea expert, was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying that “There is no doubt that legally such a referral would be highly justified and appropriate. But it is also bound to infuriate China.” 


The potential of China’s opposition to prevent the referral from reaching the ICC is the latest proof of one of the biggest flaws in the setup of the ICC–its politicisim.  The influence of powerful states–particularly Security Council members and economic powerhouses like China–can still be used to shield injustices from legal accountability.

North Korea: UN report concludes crimes against humanity were committed

A report leaked last week, indicating that after a year of investigations, the UN is set to come to the conclusion that North Korea has committed crimes against humanity.  The report also stated that the UN panel in charge of the investigation will recommend the referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

North Korea, however, is not a cut and dry case and will likely by one of the biggest challenges for the UN:  “a nation whose abuses are carried out by an entrenched family-run government that faces almost no threat of international intervention.”

One of the biggest obstacles a referral of North Korea to the ICC will face is China, one of the North’s “traditional allies” who could block any attempt of action by the Security Council.

It is no secret that North Korea has committed crimes against humanity; it has been documented that the country currently holds anywhere from 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in its labor camps which are hidden in mountainous areas and documented only by satellites and survivor accounts.  A panel was created a year ago to raise awareness internationally, and has been used for investigative purposes.  The panel draws on testimony from camp survivors and witnesses for descriptions of the conditions in camps and prisons.  Prisoners were subjected to deliberate starvation, forced labor, and public executions were frequently witnessed.

Find an account by Kim Hye-Sook here.

Due to the relationship between China and North Korea, should the UN pursue a Security Council referral?  The request for a referral would definitely raise global awareness to the crimes committed in the country, but would you expect to see action taken here?

The country has undoubtedly committed crimes in the past decade that are applicable for a trial, but could it be a problem if they are using the testimony of survivors from before the ICC was created?

ICC Preliminary Examination of North Korea

On December 6, 2010 the ICC initiated a “preliminary examination” to determine whether the North Korean military committed war crimes. The Court is focusing on two incidents: the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on November 23, 2010, and the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean Coast Guard corvette, on March 26, 2010. According to a “Report on Preliminary Examination Activities” put out by the Prosecutor’s office in December 2011, the attack on Yeonpyeong Island resulted in 4 deaths (2 military, 2 civilian), 66 injuries (50 civilians, 16 military) and “the destruction of military and civilian facilities on a large scale.” The sinking of the Cheonan killed 46 South Korean sailors. The ICC has jurisdiction to initiate an investigation because South Korea is a party to the ICC.

The case is significant for a number of reasons. This is the first conflict between two state militaries that the Court has investigated. As a result, if the Office of the Prosecutor chooses to proceed, it would be under its mandate to prosecute perpetrators of “aggressive war.” (For this reason, the Court would not be able to proceed until 2017.) Also, much has been made of the Court’s decision to publically announce its preliminary investigation, even though it is under no obligation to do so. This has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Some argue that the ICC is trying to prod North and South Korea to resolve the issue themselves. (The situation has been compared to Colombia, where the Prosecutor used the threat of ICC intervention to spur the Colombian government to act.) If this is the driving force behind the Court’s actions, it reveals a serious lack of understanding about the issues dividing the Korean Peninsula: there is simply no way that North and South would agree to undertake any kind of investigation. Others have argued—more convincingly, in my view—that the ICC is sending a message that it will vigorously defend all its member states, and that non-member states should ratify the Rome Statute because the ICC can serve as an additional line of defense against foreign aggression.

This case exemplifies the problems that can arise when the Court wades into complex political conflicts, including the possible tradeoff between peace and justice. If the ICC were to issue an arrest warrant against a North Korean official, there is no telling how the North would respond. It would almost certainly break off any negotiations or dialogue that happened to be taking place at that moment. It could launch a retaliatory attack on South Korea. It could test a nuclear device. However the North responds, an ICC arrest warrant would give the Kim regime yet another bargaining chip that it would use to gain the upper hand in negotiations with the west on issues ranging from its nuclear program to food aid and disaster relief. 

One could argue that the ICC should not be concerned with geopolitics: in the long-run, international justice would best be served by investigating and prosecuting war crimes, irrespective of the political climate in which they take place. I would propose another way of looking at this particular situation. Anywhere between 200,000 and 400,000 North Koreans are currently serving in prison and forced labor camps, where they are subjected to torture and living conditions bad enough to constitute torture themselves. Some of these people are guilty of no crime; North Korean policy is to imprison three generations of the family of anyone convicted of a serious crime. There is, of course, no judicial process. The government has also used starvation and malnutrition as tools to keep segments of the population deemed disloyal in check. The list of abuses continues.

An arrest warrant from the ICC would ultimately empower a regime that commits crimes against humanity against its own population on a massive scale, and would further convince its leadership that it cannot normalize relations with the west. Finally, there is not even a remote possibility that a North Korean will appear in The Hague. An arrest warrant would therefore do infinitely more harm than good. Hopefully there will come a day when leaders of the Kim regime stand accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in an ICC courtroom. Unfortunately, the world may have to wait a little bit longer.

North Korea to Stop Nuclear Testing in Exchange for US Food Aid

This article, highlighting the first talks between North Korea and the United States since the death of former leader Kim Jong-il, is mainly focused on how North Korea has now agreed to stop testing and allow the IAEA to conduct investigations within its borders. This agreement comes with an exchange from the US for a roughly 240,000 metric ton food aid package. Although we cannot for sure  say that the US is playing a role in intervening we have known for many years the reclusive nature of North Korea has left us slightly unknowing on the status of the people. The Human Rights watch has called for the new leader to focus on human rights and the stopping of forced labor camps. We have seen in past examples that atrocious conditions for the people can lead to the international stage putting pressure on governments to implement change. Where this new agreement has yet to come to fruition, it could potentially lead to international actors playing more of a role in North Korean domestic policy, hopefully bringing relief to those who have suffered within its borders.