Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day, commemorating the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights organizations the world over are using the occasion to mobilize the international community to stop crimes against humanity in North Korea. Three months ago saw the launch of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), whose goal is working toward the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to address these issues.
According to Human Rights Watch, the North Korean dictatorship is guilty of “the widespread and systematic use of torture, arbitrary detention, abduction and public executions.” And in the last 16 years, more than four million North Koreans have died of starvation. Though the country has received billions of dollars in humanitarian aid, money and food alike are diverted to the military and the party elite. Political prison camps abound, in which, according to current Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea Marzuki Darusman, “as many as 250,000 political prisoners, one-third of whom are children, are at present being forced to perform slave labor on starvation rations and are subject to brutal beatings, systematic rape and torture, and execution at the whim of prison guards.”
Robert Park, writing in the Harvard International Review (HIR), believes the time has come, or is overdue, for the international community to invoke the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. Park also argues for increased financial support for North Korean refugees, many of whom send money to family and friends remaining in the country through illicit channels. In addition, he says South Korea must take decisive action, given that the South Korean constitution extends citizenship to all North Koreans, giving it leverage to exercise its right of diplomatic protection over defectors in China. To this end, Park calls on “the highest branches of South Korea’s government . . . to vouch more persistently and forcefully for the North Korean defectors on the grounds that these refugees are their nationals by law.” If these steps are not taken, says Park, North Korea will continue to bear witness to one of the most horrific genocides in modernity.