UNITED NATIONS – The head of the commission of inquiry that accused North Korea of crimes against humanity told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that it must take action against “a totalitarian state without parallel in the contemporary world,” and he told reporters that most council members “expressly said” the matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
It was the first time the council had met to discuss the unprecedented U.N. report that contains graphic details and an urgent call to action. The informal meeting comes as members of the commission push for its findings to be formally referred to the council and the ICC.
The reclusive communist regime’s top ally, China, did not attend. Neither did Russia. Both hold veto power as permanent Security Council members, making any council action against North Korea highly unlikely.
“We dare say that the case of human rights in the DPRK exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror,” commission head Michael Kirby told the meeting, according to a copy of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. He was referring to initials of the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kirby said the commission wants the Security Council to adopt targeted sanctions “against those individuals most responsible” and stressed that only the council can launch “immediate, impartial and just action to secure accountability.” Economic sanctions or a halt to humanitarian aid would harm ordinary citizens, he said.
The United States, France and Australia called the council meeting, which was open to all U.N. member states and selected nongovernmental organizations. It was closed to the media.
In his speech, Kirby told the meeting that up to 120,000 people are imprisoned in North Korea and most “will never leave the camps alive.”
“The gravity, scale, duration and nature of human rights violations that we found reveal a totalitarian state without parallel in the contemporary world,” Kirby, a retired Australian judge, said. He added, “Accountability is not optional. It is obligatory.”
North Korea has called the report an “extremely dangerous” political provocation.
Kirby called the absence of Russia and China from the meeting unfortunate and said the commission had reached out to both countries as late as Wednesday for China and Thursday for Russia, to no avail.
Of the 13 other Security Council members who attended the meeting, “nine expressly said the matter should be referred to the ICC,” Kirby said, and the other four were not opposed to it. He called the feeling in the council “very strong.”
The deputy British ambassador to the U.N., Peter Wilson, told the meeting that his country supports the call for the council to “consider appropriate action including referral of situation in #DPRK to #ICC,” his mission tweeted.
The U.S. ambassador, Samantha Power, said in a statement, “The commission’s findings and recommendations are extraordinarily compelling and deserve the full attention — and action — of the Security Council and of all members of the U.N.”
Kirby accused representatives of North Korea of urging member states not to attend the meeting and called the regime “a country that seeks to protect itself from scrutiny by closing itself off from the world. Well, that game is up.”
When asked later for comment, a diplomat at the North Korea’s U.N. mission, who refused to identify himself, said, “No comment at all.”
Kirby’s speech described a North Korean man whose family was “executed in front of his own eyes but he was permitted no tears” and a woman “who was forced to watch another woman drown her newborn baby.”
He also pointed out the execution last year of the uncle of young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying: “If one of the most powerful people in the state can so quickly fall from grace and be killed, imagine the fate of lesser people.”
In a statement, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth repeated the call for a council referral to the International Criminal Court. “Given this extraordinarily severe repression, it would be unconscionable for the Council to continue limiting its work on North Korea to the nuclear issue,” he said.
Speaking at a separate event Wednesday on the report, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said: “The international community is rarely presented with a challenge of this magnitude and importance. There is a window of opportunity to make a difference. Let us seize it.”