Will Kim Jong-un Ever Be Held Accountable for Abuses?

      November 20, 2014 13:03

      A UN committee on Wednesday passed a resolution calling for the referral of North Korea's human rights violators to the International Criminal Court. The committee also recommended targeted sanctions against them. The resolution will be put to a vote by the UN General Assembly next month.

      The UN has adopted resolutions condemning North Korea's human rights abuses every year since 2005, but this is the first time a legal basis has been prepared to have North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong-un, stand trial before the ICC. The resolution signals that the international community will use actions instead of words to pressure the North to improve its human rights record.

      But the resolution must then go to the UN Security Council, and the chances of that actually happening are vanishingly slim since Pyongyang's long-time allies China and Russia are expected to exercise their veto. Still, the resolution has no time limit, which means the UN can continue to increase pressure on North Korea if it does not clean up its act. And China and Russia will not be able to defend the North forever.

      North Korea engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity recently to stop the UN committee from adopting the resolution. Pyongyang suddenly produced its own quixotic human rights report when the UN began reviewing the resolution and even held a session at the global body to publicize its claim of innocence. The North soon afterwards released three U.S. citizens who had been held in the isolated country.

      That response shows that the North got fairly scared when the UN started moving toward indicting Kim. It was an interesting reminder of North Korea's weak spots.

      But in South Korea, lawmakers have been sitting on a bill seeking to hold North Korea responsible for human rights violations for 10 years. Opposition parties, including the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, fear the passage of the bill would "upset" the North, as if the crackpot country was ever in anything but a state of high dudgeon. If the National Assembly continues to twiddle its thumbs, it will have to face its share of international criticism. The National Assembly would do well to finally pass the bill before the UN General Assembly votes on its own resolution next month.

      North Korea's diplomatic mission at the UN threatened that the passage of the human rights resolution by the General Assembly would lead to a "serious consequences," and North Korea's National Defense Commission threatened "radical steps."

      What that will mean is unclear. The North could conduct a fourth nuclear test, fire another long-range missile or trigger a military provocation with South Korea. The government and military here need to increase their vigilance so that North Korea at last realizes that it too may find itself at the receiving end of "serious consequences."

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