SEOUL - South Korea is using the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam to call again for the United Nations to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.
Speaking to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se condemned what his country’s intelligence service has called the North Korean “state orchestrated” killing of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, two weeks ago in Malaysia by agents using deadly VX nerve agent.
Yun urged the international body to link this case to ongoing efforts to prosecute the North Korean leadership for widespread North Korean human rights violations.
“Now the international community should hold those violators accountable by bringing the North Korean case to the ICC,” said Foreign Minister Yun.
In 2014 the United Nations General Assembly voted to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, after a Commission of Inquiry report documented ongoing atrocities in North Korea that include incarcerating over 120,000 people in political prisons, as well as systematic abuses that included torture, enslavement, rape and murder.
The measure has since stalled in the U.N. Security Council, where the Pyongyang’s allies, China and Russia, are believed to be preventing it from coming to a vote.
Yun told the 47-member forum in Geneva that North Korea has “openly or extra judicially” executed several hundred high-level officials, and that a rising number of North Koreans have defected to escape the increasingly volatile rule of Kim Jong Un.
The South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) told lawmakers in Seoul this week that North Korea's ministries of foreign affairs and state security were directly involved in the alleged assassination of the North Korean leader’s older half brother.
Representative Lee Cheol-woo, who heads the National Assembly's Intelligence Committee and is a member of the Liberty Korea Party, spoke to the media after being briefed by NIS Director Lee Byung-ho on Monday.
The NIS chief reportedly identified four of the eight North Korean persons of interest named by the Malaysian police as being part of Pyongyang’s secret police agency, the Ministry of State Security.
He also told lawmakers that five senior North Korean ministry officials were recently executed, supposedly by an antiaircraft machine gun, and that Kim Won-hong, former head of the North Korean State Security Ministry, was removed from his job and is now being detained for giving false reports to leader Kim Jong-un.
A senior North Korean envoy arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday and is expected to meet with Malaysian officials about the alleged killing of the North Korean leader’s brother. North Korea has not acknowledged the victim was Kim Jong Nam, but last week blamed Malaysia for the death of one of its citizens there, accusing it of an "unfriendly attitude" and of colluding with South Korea.
The two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese, who were arrested for allegedly smearing the VX nerve on Kim Jong Nam at the Kula Lumpur airport, will be charged with murder on Wednesday, according to Malaysia's attorney general.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry confirmed reports on Tuesday that a senior North Korean diplomat arrived in Beijing for talks.
“Our government has been paying attention to the visit of North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song to China,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck.
North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song is expected to meet with Chinese officials for the first high level bilateral talks since June of 2016.
Following the killing of Kim Jong Nam and a recent North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile test earlier this month, China halted coal imports from its economically dependent ally.
KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, voiced a rare criticism of China for issuing the coal ban, saying it was "dancing to the tune" of the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called upon Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang to halt its nuclear program.
THAAD missile system
South Korea is also moving forward to deploy the U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD.
On Tuesday the South Korean Defense Ministry said it formally signed a land-swap deal with Lotte Group to locate the anti-missile battery on part of the conglomerate owned golf course in the Seongju region, southeast of Seoul.
While Washington and Seoul maintain the THAAD missile defense system is needed to counter North Korea’s advancing ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities, Beijing has objected to it, saying it will further aggravate tensions with North Korea and that THAAD’s advanced radar and other capabilities present a threat to China and other countries in the region.
WATCH: THAAD protest in South Korea
The South Korean military hopes to handle their differences with China over THAAD through consultations and dialogue.
"Related to this, we have been persuading (the Chinese authorities) and we will continue this effort in the future," said Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun.
Beijing has reportedly already taken economic retaliatory measures against South Korea that include temporarily banning some South Korean charter airline flights, limiting the number of tourists into South Korea, restricting import of some South Korean cosmetics, and barring some K-pop Korean music groups from entering China.
Youmi Kim contributed to this report