October 2023

KIM JONG-UN SHOULD BE ARRESTED

Kim Jong-un should be arrested

Seoul insists there should be zero tolerance of the North Korean dictator’s egregious human rights record. Duncan Bartlett considers the case for an arrest and trial

South Korea says it wants the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un so that he can be held accountable for ‘heinous’ human rights abuses.

This would put Kim in a similar category as Vladimir Putin, who has been accused by the court of illegally deporting children from Ukraine. Most democratic countries are required to arrest Putin if he steps foot on their territory.

However, neither Russia nor North Korea recognises the ICC’s legitimacy.

In theory, a trial could be held at the International Criminal Court headquarters in the Hague but this would be hard to achieve, according to the court’s former president, Song Sang-hyun.

Mr Song told the Korea Herald newspaper that, although individuals have made complaints about Kim’s regime, ‘only a state party can bring a case to court’. Mr Song also noted that it was impossible for prosecutors to enter North Korea in order to conduct the necessary investigation.

In September, Kim Jong-un left North Korea to travel to Russia by armoured train. During his trip he held lengthy discussions with Putin and other senior government officials about military issues.

North Korean leader Kim Jong­un in Pyongyang, 2023. (Photo: North Korea's Korean Central News Agency KCNA).
North Korean leader Kim Jong­un in Pyongyang, 2023. (Photo: North Korea's Korean Central News Agency KCNA).

South Korea claims that the North is using forced labour to generate foreign currency to pay for its nuclear and missile programmes. There have been numerous allegations of state-sponsored cybercrime by North Korean hackers.

In August this year, the United Nations Security Council was pressed to adopt a resolution condemning human rights abuses in North Korea, but it was blocked from doing so by China and Russia, which hold vetoes on the committee.

North Korean refugees testify that when they flee across borders, they are often forced back by Chinese and Russian soldiers.

Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the US State Department, said: ‘We remain deeply concerned about the plight of North Korean asylum seekers, including some 2,000 North Koreans detained in China who are at risk of repatriation to the DPRK.’

South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, has stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation

That is a reference to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

‘North Koreans forcibly repatriated are reportedly commonly subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, forced abortion, other forms of gender-based violence, and summary execution,’ said Mr Miller.

A source within the South Korean government claimed: ‘China and Russia seemingly have little incentive to deter North Korea’s human rights abuses and provocations including ballistic missile launches, but rather demand the international community to lift sanctions against the North.’

Cho Hyun-dong, South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, has stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation.

‘If we are to hold the Pyongyang regime responsible for its actions, bring about substantive changes to its human rights practice and achieve our shared goal of complete denuclearisation of the DPRK, it is imperative that we work together with the international community,’ he said.

On the global front, the Asian rivalry will only engage the attention and resources of two influential economies

Hon. Song Sang­hyun, the former chief of the International Criminal Court, speaks to The Korea Herald at his office. (courtesy: Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
Hon. Song Sang­hyun, the former chief of the International Criminal Court, speaks to The Korea Herald at his office. (courtesy: Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

Song Sang-hyun believes there is another powerful way the UN can impose further pressure on the North Korean regime over its human rights violations and other alleged crimes.

‘That is to name Kim Jong-un in resolutions on North Korea,’ he said. ‘The UN regularly passes resolutions condemning North Korea. When they do, they should name Kim Jong-un, rather than just stopping at “DPRK” or “the supreme leadership of the DPRK”.’

A source within the South Korean government expressed support for this approach. ‘It is necessary to name Kim Jong-un in the United Nations resolutions every year. Although it may be difficult to realise this goal in the near future, strong engagement from the international community itself would apply immense pressure,’ said the source.

Duncan Bartlett is the Editor of Asian Affairs

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