Time for criminal charges against North Korea leadership: UN

Mr Marzuki Darusman speaks to the press in Tokyo on Jan 22, 2016.
Mr Marzuki Darusman speaks to the press in Tokyo on Jan 22, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (Reuters) - The world must back a criminal prosecution of North Korea's leaders, with no improvement in human rights there in the two years since a major UN report detailed Nazi-style atrocities, a UN investigator said on Friday (Jan 22).

The 2014 UN report concluded that North Korean security chiefs and possibly leader Kim Jong Un should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings.

"In addition to continuing political pressure to exhort the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) to improve human rights, it is also now imperative to pursue criminal responsibility of the DPRK leadership," said Marzuki Darusman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, in a statement on Friday.

His comments came as the isolated state said it had detained a US university student for committing a “hostile act” and wanting to “destroy the country’s unity”.

The 2014 report prompted the UN General Assembly to urge the UN Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Only the 15-member Security Council can refer the situation in North Korea to the ICC, but diplomats say China, North Korea’s main benefactor, would likely veto such a move.

In February last year, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN said his country was not concerned about the threat because it was not guilty of any crime.

Darusman, a co-author of the 2014 report, was speaking at the end of a trip to Tokyo, having been repeatedly refused access to North Korea. During his five days in Japan, he met family members of people allegedly abducted by North Korea. Pyongyang admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens to help train spies. Five abductees and their families later returned to Japan.

But Darusman has said North Korean agents abducted hundreds more foreign nationals between the 1960s and 1990s and Japan’s national police agency is looking into 881 possible abduction cases blamed on North Korea over the years.

“I am disappointed that there has been no concrete progress since Japan and the DPRK signed a bilateral agreement almost two years ago to work towards a resolution of this issue,” Darusman said, adding progress would help to build trust and goodwill.

“Resolving the abduction issue is a matter of urgency. The families of victims are advancing in age.”