The North Korean Regime Continues To Get Away With Some Of The Worst Atrocities Of The 21st Century

In 2014, as the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Commission of Inquiry) published its findings, its lead, Justice Kirby, said that North Korea was a state without parallel in the contemporary world.

The report presented findings of violations of the rights to freedom of thought, expression and religion; discrimination on the basis of State-assigned social class, gender and disability; violations of the freedom of movement and residence, including the freedom to leave one’s own country; violations of the right to food and related aspects of the right to life; arbitrary detention, torture, executions, enforced disappearance and political prison camps; and enforced disappearance of persons from other countries, including through abduction. The Commission of Inquiry classified the atrocities as crimes against humanity and even considered the suitability of some of the crimes against the legal definition of genocide, although without making such a finding at the time. The Commission of Inquiry made several recommendations aimed at addressing the atrocities, and considering their nature, severity and scale. Nonetheless, seven years later, the majority of these recommendations have not been implemented and the violations continue to this day. 

Because of this stagnation, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea (APPG on North Korea), a caucus of British parliamentarians focused on the human rights situation in North Korea, conducted an inquiry into human rights in North Korea between 2014 and 2020/1. The findings of the inquiry suggest that, despite the Commission of Inquiry’s 2014 report shedding light on the nature and severity of the atrocities, and its several recommendations for the U.N. and Member States, the situation of human rights in North Korea has not improved. The inquiry members have seen evidence of North Korea officials being involved in killings, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; sexual and gender-based violence, including rape and sexual violence, sex trafficking, forced abortions and infanticide; modern day slavery; persecution based on religion or belief; and much more. The report re-states that the atrocities amount to crimes against humanity. The inquiry members further indicate that there are reasons to believe that some of the atrocities reach the threshold of genocide, particularly in relation to three groups: Christians; half-Chinese children; and the so-called “hostile” group, namely, a group of people considered to be at the lowest level of the North Korean socio-economic caste system. 

Writing in the foreword to the report, Justice Kirby, praised the report as an important contribution towards keeping the North Korea issues alive and on the agenda of the international community, the United Nations, and others. He further identified some of the failures of the international community that need to be addressed, including, the failure of the U.N. Security Council to refer the case of North Korea and its crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. This stagnation on the situation in North Korea is not out of lack of evidence. The issue is the lack of political will. Indeed, as the report states on the issue of accountability: “There was no appetite to set up a large-scale independent mechanism.” Instead, the U.N. established an accountability team, a small team, primarily based within the field-based structure located in Seoul, collecting and analyzing information received from recent arrivals in South Korea from North Korea. While doing important work, the team does not have the capacity and resources to address the nature, severity and scale of human rights violations in North Korea, a state without parallel.

Other recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry also await to be implemented. The APPG on North Korea wants to trigger action to help the people of North Korea. However, the lack of political will globally may stand in the way.


North Korean people deserve more international focus and action. Just because they are stuck behind an information blackout, it does not mean that their suffering should be neglected too. The international community has led on some important initiatives to help those persecuted globally, even if such responses are fragmented. Now it is time to help North Korean people, who do not know a better life, but deserve it by virtue of their humanity, human dignity and inalienable human rights.  The North Korean regime cannot continue to get away with some of the worst atrocities of the 21st Century.

The Tycoon Herald