UN Report on Human Rights in North Korea

I spoke today on the new UN Report into Human Rights in North Korea, chaired by Michael Kirby.
Human Rights Abuses in North Korea, 3 March 2014

Three stories from North Korea's prison camps.

First, a story told by camp survivor Ms Jee Heon A:

‘... there was this pregnant woman ... The babies who were born were usually dead, but in this case the baby was born alive. The baby was crying as it was born, so we were curious, this was the first time we saw a baby being born. So we were watching this baby and we were so happy. But suddenly we heard the footsteps. The security agent ... told us to put the baby in the water upside down. So the mother was begging. 'I was told that I would not be able to have the baby, but I actually got lucky and got pregnant so please let me keep the baby, please forgive me.' But the agent kept beating this woman, the mother who just gave birth. And the baby, since it was just born, it was just crying. And the mother, with her shaking hands she picked up the baby and she put the baby face down in the water. The baby stopped crying and we saw this water bubble coming out of the mouth of the baby.’

Second, an account told by Mr Jeong Kwang-il:

‘A man left his work unit to take some potatoes because he was extremely hungry. Fearing that the guards would try to consider this an attempted escape, he tried to hide. The guards chased tracker dogs after him. The dogs found and mauled the man until he was half dead. Then the guards shot the victim dead on the spot.’

Third, an event recounted by Mr Shin Dong-hyuk. Mr Shin was 13 years old when he reported a conversation he overheard between his mother and brother in which they talked about escaping from the camp. As a result, his mother and brother were both executed. Along with all other inmates, Mr Shin had to watch the public execution of his mother and his brother.

I have only five minutes to speak about the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. But even if I had five hours, I could not do justice to the depravity outlined in the pages the Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. People were sent to prison camps for watching a foreign movie, for accidentally using a mobile phone, for accidentally spilling food on a picture of Kim Jong-il or for owning a Bible.

A third of the North Korean population malnourished. At least a third of children stunted. A million or more starved to death. Mass rape. Beatings. Public executions. Forced abortions of people who return from China, a practice that is driven by racist attitudes in North Korea towards Chinese. The collective punishment of families. Trafficking of women and girls. All while the leadership build statues of themselves and import Mercedes and fine cognac.

This report will give you nightmares. It is the closest thing I have read to pure evil, yet it is the truth. The commission of inquiry has carried out its work with impeccable thoroughness. It has conducted extensive public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington. Regrettably, the Chinese government did not cooperate with the inquiry. It is a pity as China has much to gain from ending the abuses on its doorstep.

The inquiry was chaired by Michael Kirby, for whom I had the privilege to work as a judge's associate. Australia has no more powerful advocate of human rights than Michael Kirby. He has done our nation proud in this work—a report underpinned by the fundamental belief that all of us are of equal worth.

The North Korean prison camps have survived twice as long as Stalin's Soviet gulags and much longer than the Nazi concentration camps. The policies of North Korea are responsible for perhaps millions of deaths. The report demands action, yet too many seem to be looking away.

I urge the government to take strong action on this report. That includes arguing in the Security Council for targeted sanctions, using our seat on the Security Council as an opportunity; arguing in the General Assembly for better human rights monitoring of North Korea; supporting referral of the report to the International Criminal Court; and working with our friends in the Chinese government to see them take action that will benefit China. These acts will demand courage by Australia but to do them we must only believe one thing: that the newborn baby I described at the start of my speech was the moral equal of any of us. If we believe that, we cannot stay silent.

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