N.Korea may invite UN rights investigator after Kim Jong-un prosecution threats

N.Korea may invite UN rights investigator after Kim Jong-un prosecution threats
For the first time in a decade, North Korean diplomats met a UN human rights investigator to discuss his possible visit to the country ahead of a UN General Assembly session, that could potentially lead to a trial by the International Criminal Court.

The hour-long meeting was unexpected, Marzuki Darusman told reporters on Tuesday, as Pyongyang officials had not met UN officials charged with investigating North Korea's human rights record for the past 10 years.

Darusman said the move appears to be motivated by the talk of legal action against Korea's leader Kim Jong-un.

In addition to Darusman, the UN's newly appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, may be invited for a visit.

He said if such a visit were to materialize, he would require access to “any location, institution which would be of primary concern” to the world, particularly North Korea's prison camps. “A visit for the sake of visiting” won't do, he added.

Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry. (AFP Photo/Kazuhiro Nogi)

The UN official earlier reported to the UN General Assembly's Third Commission that there are signs of Pyongyang giving ground on the issue of human rights. One is its re-engagement with Tokyo over the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean special services. Another is its participation in the UN Human Rights Council's "universal period review" (UPR) of North Korea, with Pyongyang accepting nearly half of the 268 recommendations for changes that came up in the review.

"I firmly believe that the international community should seize this unique opportunity and momentum created by both the commission of inquiry and (North Korean) engagement with UPR to help to make a difference in the lives of the people of (North Korea), including victims, and to ensure accountability of those responsible for serious violations of human rights," he told the commission.

In February, the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea produced a damning 372-page report detailing human rights abuses in the country. The litany of atrocities committed includes operating a network of prison camps, persecution on political and religious grounds, torture, rape, forced abortion and others.

This Google Maps image published on freekorea.us claims to be showing locations and boundaries of largest North Korean labor camps, including the one known as Camp 14, or Kaechon internment camp.

Pyongyang dismissed the report at the time of its publication as enemy propaganda.

Now a draft resolution prepared for the Third Committee by the European Union and Japan urges the UN General Assembly to recommend the referral of the document to the ICC for a trial for crimes against humanity, Reuters reported this week. The 193-nation body is expected to vote on adopting the text in mid-November.

While it is likely to be adopted, this wouldn't start a prosecution straight away, as the assembly's resolutions are non-binding. The ICC would be able to act only after the alleged crimes are referred to it by the UN Security Council. China, a permanent member with a veto power, has already indicated that it would not support such a move.

A screenshot from a video by Amnesty International shows a satellite image of what the group says is the area covered by Yodok political prison camp No. 15.

"We have always supported dealing with human rights differences through dialogue and cooperation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

"We believe that for the issue of human rights, referring a case to the ICC is not helpful in improving a country's human rights situation."

But Michael Kirby, a former Australian judge who led the UN inquiry, said Beijing may chose not to use its veto to shield Pyongyang citing its past record with the privilege. China vetoed only 10 draft resolutions at the UNSC.

"I don't think a veto should be assumed," Kirby said. "China is a very great power with great responsibilities as a permanent member. Veto is not the way China does international diplomacy. China tends to find another way."