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Prosecuting Kim Jong Il

Posted February. 24, 2010 08:07,   


The vice president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Kwon O-gon, said yesterday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could be hauled before the International Criminal Court if South Korea and Japan can prove North Korea kidnapped their citizens in the 1970s and 80s. His comments at a human rights and environment convention hosted by the Korea Bar Association speaks volumes in that it publicly raised the possibility of prosecuting Kim for his country’s crimes against humanity.

The court was established in July 2002 to prosecute individuals who committed international crimes such as mass murder, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The abductions and oppression of human rights by North Korea is subject to the court’s jurisdiction. Kim has admitted that Pyongyang kidnapped Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

In March last year, the court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for massacres and crimes against humanity and issued a warrant for his arrest. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia also brought Radovan Karadzic to court in January 2008 on charges of orchestrating genocide in the Bosnian war after arresting him in Belgrade.

Many human rights groups are also actively campaigning for the prosecution of the North Korean leader. In December 2009, the Anti-human Crime Investigation Committee, a joint group of South Korean and overseas human rights organizations, visited the international court to ask that Kim be punished for persecution of 150 North Korean escapees.

The court, however, cannot investigate or indict North Korean criminals because North Korea is not a member. It could gain jurisdiction for a trial with help from the U.N. Security Council, but this is almost impossible because China, one of the Security Council’s permanent members, will certainly veto it. Mounting international calls for Kim’s prosecution, however, could exert significant pressure on North Korea. The American civil rights leader Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” North Korea’s human rights situation can improve only when the good people rise up and shout about it. Evidence should be gathered piece by piece to hold North Korean leaders accountable for their crimes against humanity after Korean reunification.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)