A new independent legal opinion commissioned by human rights group Human Liberty (www.humanliberty.org) suggests that the current situation in North Korea may amount to genocide. The report recommends further action by the United Nations (UN) Security Council and the implementation of additional, targeted sanctions. It also explains how the International Criminal Court (ICC) might open its own investigation into human rights abuses without UN Security Council referral.
The 94-page opinion, produced by independent international law firm Hogan Lovells, otherwise validates and endorses the findings of the recent Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Specifically it corroborates the methodology used by the Commission and reinforces its conclusions that the North Korean government has committed, and continues to commit, severe human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
The report states, “The COI has brought to light in a comprehensive and transparent manner the numerous human rights concerns to the DPRK to which the international community must now react. We are in full support of a reference by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court (ICC). We also recommend that the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC (OTP) consider exercising its jurisdiction to investigate the crimes committed by the DPRK in relation to abductions and/or the treatment of DPRK citizens working abroad.”
But the opinion differs from the COI in its argument for a strong case that the crimes against humanity committed by the North Korean government are tantamount to genocide, and recommends further UN sanctions against the political leadership inPyongyang.
“We consider that there may be good arguments that the targeting by DPRK state-controlled officials of groups classified by the DPRK as being in the hostile class, Christians, and children of Chinese heritage with the intent to destroy such groups could be found to amount to genocide,” the report states. It also recommends further investigation of the possibility genocide to include, “collecting as much testimony as possible from victims, refugees and defectors and ensuring that such testimony is collected to a court evidence standard.” It may also be possible for the ICC to exercise its jurisdiction without a UN Security Council referral, according to Hogan Lovells, because the treatment of North Korean workers who are forced to work abroad in countries who are signatories to the 2002 Rome Statute of the ICC, as well as the abductions of individuals from those countries, may constitute further crimes against humanity. This would mean either the host country could request an investigation by the ICC or the OTP could initiate its own investigation.
The opinion considers the existing UN sanctions against North Korea and suggests a widening by the international community that “prohibits trade with and financial assistance to the DPRK for any purpose other than humanitarian or developmental purposes.” Such a measure could be designed to avoid unintended consequences and take account of the COI’s recommendation that sanctions not be targeted against the population or the economy as a whole.
Based on the COI and this independent legal opinion, we believe the North Korean government is guilty of widespread and horrific abuses against its own people. This cannot be allowed to stand by the international community if it is to avoid repeating the failures of history in Nazi Germany, Serbia, Rwanda and Cambodia. Isolated, unpopular and murderous regimes are susceptible to the pressures of the international community and we firmly believe that change is possible.
The full text of the independent legal opinion can be found at www.humanliberty.org/hoganlovells_COI_opinion
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