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U.N. Takes Step Toward Future Prosecutions Against North Korea

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Friday that authorizes the use of criminal justice experts to devise legal strategies for eventual prosecutions of violations by North Korea.

Approved on the final day of the 47-member council’s four-week session in Geneva, the resolution also authorizes the creation of a central repository for evidence to be used in such prosecutions.

The resolution amounted to what human rights experts called a significant warning to North Korea, one of the world’s most repressive and isolated countries. They called it a step toward a judicial reckoning for North Korean officials and institutions implicated in human rights crimes.

A 2014 report by a United Nations panel of inquiry on North Korea described “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” that included a vast network of prison camps and punishments like starvation that it said constituted crimes against humanity.

A letter by the panel sent to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, warned him that he could face prosecution some day and said that the panel was recommending a referral of its findings to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

It remains unclear what court would undertake such a prosecution, should it ever proceed. While the International Criminal Court was partly created for this reason, approval for a case against North Korea would be necessary from the United Nations Security Council’s permanent members. They include China, which has long signaled its opposition to such a move.

Other possibilities for prosecution have been raised, however, including the formation of an ad hoc tribunal like those that investigated crimes in the Balkans and Rwanda.

Under the resolution adopted on Friday, the Seoul office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights will be expanded to include criminal justice experts who can develop plans for eventual prosecution. The resolution also would establish a structure to collect evidence “with a view to developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process.”

John Fisher, the Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the resolution in a statement, saying the “Human Rights Council spoke with one voice today by condemning North Korea’s horrific rights abuses and supporting efforts to bring leading officials in Pyongyang to account,” referring to North Korea’s capital.

He said support for the resolution “shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.”

North Korea has denounced all accusations of rights abuses as fabrications concocted by the country’s enemies, led by the United States, and says North Korean people are happy and free.

The North Korean delegation to the Human Rights Council boycotted the debate on the country and said in a statement quoted by Reuters that it “categorically and totally rejects” the resolution.

(C) 2017 The New York Times

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