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World must act on North Korea: Kirby

27 June 2014

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Advance is Crawford School’s magazine, showcasing the best in public policy ideas, opinions and essays.

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Former Australian High Court Justice the Hon Michael Kirby says that the world faces “a moment of truth” when it comes to North Korea and must act now on the evidence of mass human rights abuses.

Writing about his experiences chairing the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea in in the latest edition of Advance magazine, Kirby claims that recommendations that Kim Jong-un be made liable for crimes against humanity are not an exercise in futility and must be followed through.

“[Critics] suggested that I was “whistling in the wind” when I proposed that the Supreme Leader of North Korea would possibly be rendered liable for crimes against humanity committed during his watch as ruler of the reclusive nation,” he writes.

“Better…. to try to accommodate him in some way, so that he would not feel threatened by the human rights guardians at the United Nations.

“But, North Korea is not a land of glorious mass games and oddball leaders. The rigid military and student choreography is symbolic of totalitarian rule. It is not a land of humorous encounters between Denis Rodman and Kim Jong-un. It is a land of gross human rights abuses that must be acknowledged, terminated and redressed.

“A moment of truth has arrived for our world. The Commission of Inquiry on North Korea has answered its mandate. This is not ‘whistling in the wind’. This is a demand for human dignity and justice.”

Kirby led the commission from May 2013 to March 2014. During that time it was inundated with testimony from victims of the country’s authoritarian regime.

“Journalists asked us how we could be sure we were getting the truth. And would our sample not be biased because it was substantially made up of refugees who had fled North Korea?” writes Kirby.

“Our answer was provided by an innovation we introduced on top of the public hearings. We recorded the testimony in digital format. We uploaded it to the COI website. We took necessary steps to exclude witnesses from the public hearings who had families surviving in North Korea. We saw them in private.

“That left plenty of witnesses, with evidence specific to our mandate who could tell us, in direct language, what they had been through. It built up a powerful reservoir of believable testimony.

“The result is, I believe, a powerful and convincing document which speaks directly to the reader. It is a potent story of great and continuing wrongs, of a type, variety, intensity and duration that have no parallels since Hitler’s Nazi terrors and the Soviet gulags of Stalin.”

Advance is the quarterly magazine of ANU Crawford School of Public Policy. In addition to Michael Kirby’s cover essay, this edition features John Hewson on the sorry state of Australian politics, and former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser on why Australia should abandon the US alliance.

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