SEOUL – The head of a U.N. inquiry into human rights in North Korea challenged Pyongyang on Monday to back its allegation that testimony gathered by his panel in Seoul amounted to “slander.”
The three-member Commission of Inquiry chaired by retired Australian Judge Michael Kirby wrapped up hearing five days of often harrowing testimony in the South Korean capital — mostly from North Korean defectors.
North Korea on Friday condemned the hearings as an exercise in “slander” that could set back a recent thaw in cross-border relations with the South.
The North, which strongly denies committing the widely alleged rights abuses, has refused to recognize the panel and barred its members from visiting the country — a stance Kirby suggested blunted the credibility of its criticism.
“If any of the testimony on the conditions of political prisoners, abductees, torture, starvation conditions and intergenerational punishment and so forth can be shown to be untrue, we would welcome evidence to that effect,” Kirby said in a statement.
“But so far, the evidence we have heard has largely pointed in one consistent and disturbing direction — and it is so far unanswered,” he added.
The Commission of Inquiry is the first U.N. expert panel to officially examine the North’s rights record, and it plans to collect witness testimony in Japan, Thailand, Britain and the U.S.
The other members are Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human rights expert, and Marzuki Darusman, a senior Indonesian jurist who also serves as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea.
Kirby said the panel had been “deeply moved” by testimony from the 40 witnesses who addressed the commission. “The specificity, detail and shocking character of much of the testimony, appears to call for a response from the international community,” he said. “It is not good enough to produce just another U.N. report.”