During the six-decade rule of the despotic Kim family, North Korea has violated international norms in the treatment of its citizens. Consequently, no one is shocked by scattered reports about how the regime uses incarceration, starvation and execution to maintain its grip on power.
As a Stalinist state incapable of feeding itself without foreign aid, North Korea tries to exercise control over every aspect of the lives of its citizens. Every sign of defiance or deviation is dealt with swiftly before it can flower into mass dissent that could topple the regime.
The report released last week by U.N. investigators into the crimes of Kim Jong Un’s regime is a reminder that no matter how bad one believes a despot is, the reality is often worse. The Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea collected the testimonies of defectors, eyewitnesses, prison camp escapees, refugees and others who know about the regime’s abuses firsthand.
An estimated 120,000 prisoners sit in North Korean gulags and prison camps, but not much was known about the torture and abuse that many of them undergo daily. The world now has a better idea to what extent the regime uses rape, starvation and other crimes against humanity to stay in control.
Kim Jong Un is on notice that he could be held responsible by an international criminal court for the excesses of his regime, although China has indicated it won’t go along with it. China is North Korea’s most important neighbor and ally and a guaranteed veto against collective U.N. action to punish Pyongyang.
Still, it is better to have a record of North Korea’s atrocities so that future deniability by the international community isn’t possible. The world is approaching the point where allowing North Korea to continue down its murderous path with foreign aid will be an indictment of other nations as well.