News / Asia

UN Investigators Seek China Access for North Korea Rights Probe

Retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N.-mandated Commission of Inquiry, Oct 31, 2013.
Retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N.-mandated Commission of Inquiry, Oct 31, 2013.
A U.N. investigator says he has asked China to grant access to his team as it conducts an inquiry into suspected human rights abuses in neighboring North Korea.

In an interview with VOA in Washington Thursday, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby said he hopes his U.N.-mandated Commission of Inquiry will be able to visit China within the next two months.

The team has to finish writing its report on North Korea's human rights record by the beginning of February, so that it can be edited and translated ahead of its presentation to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

Commission chairman Kirby said that if China grants access to the commission, it is unlikely that any evidence will be provided to the investigators in public. He was speaking at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, on the sidelines of a public hearing about alleged North Korean human rights abuses.

Examining food insecurity

The two-day hearing concluded Thursday, with testimony from American analysts who accused North Korea's authoritarian leadership of deliberately hindering efforts by foreign aid groups to deliver food to malnourished and starving North Koreans.

Kirby asked the analysts who they think should be held accountable in North Korea for its famine of the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of people died.

The analysts said North Korea's system of government was highly centralized, with then-North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Il making decisions that obstructed foreign aid and undermined domestic food production.

North Korea has denied any rights abuses and refused to cooperate with the U.N. investigation, calling it a hostile political act.

Defectors' disturbing stories

Kirby heard testimony from North Korean defectors living in the United States on Wednesday. He described his reaction to the tearful account of 26-year-old Jin Hye Jo, who moved to the United States in 2008.

"We had a sad and indeed gruesome story of the suffering of a young woman - really just a girl at the time - of most of her suffering as she lost, in succession, her brother, her grandmother, her father and another sibling, and saw all around her, people starving to death and otherwise dying," he said. "So this is not an inquiry for the faint-hearted."

The U.N. investigators already have interviewed more than 200 victims, witnesses and analysts in a series of hearings in South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Britain this year.

Kirby said the often-harrowing testimony has affected him deeply.

"I was a judge in my own country, Australia, for 34 years, and I've seen a lot of disturbing testimony over my time. But even for me, I found the tears are often not far. And that's unusual, because you get a certain coldness of heart over years of performing the judicial function. Here, I'm not a judge and I'm not a prosecutor, but I'm conducting an inquiry into really tragic circumstances of very great suffering and great deprivation of human rights, and it can sometimes be very upsetting."

Keeping investigation credible

He said there are several ways to determine whether the people testifying are being honest.

"Their testimony is consistent, one with the other. They don't know each other, and their testimony is also available to be measured against objective material that is available to the Commission of Inquiry. And essentially, people can judge from the appearance of the witnesses as to whether they are telling the truth. And their testimony is now online and available. And I think it is on the whole extremely convincing."

Kirby said the commission has tried to be fair to North Korea by asking those testifying to respond to North Korean statements made to the United Nations about human rights.

He also predicted that North Korea will not be able to avoid scrutiny for long, saying that ultimately, "answers will be demanded" by the international community on the basis of his team's report and recommendations.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid counter-terror intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid