The Worst Human Rights Offender In The 21st Century? – OpEd


The past 22nd September marked the one-year anniversary of the conclusion of the trial for the Khmer Rouge, the worst dictatorship in Southeast Asia led by the dictator Pol Pot. The radical left-wing armed group perpetrated mass killings of millions of their citizens, establishing concentration camps where various forms of torture and inhumane experiments were carried out, among other heinous crimes. The atrocities committed by Pol Pot and the Khmer rouge ultimately led to the deterioration of Cambodia’s relations with other countries in the region. The regime only maintained some diplomatic relations with a few communist countries including North Korea. Even though the Khmer Rouge is gone, murderous regime still exists in today’s world. The supreme leader of North Korea shared many characteristics of the Khmer Rouge regime. 

Just like Pol Pot, who had built concentration camps, purged and killed his own citizens and his comrade, which led to the decimation of around 1.5 to 3 million Cambodian people. Kim has also built numerous prisons camps where not only dissents, but also innocent civilians are incarnated as political offenders and subjected to human unimaginable various techniques of torture and execution. The representative of the United Nations revealed that by 2023 there were around 80,000 North Korean people who were put into political prison camps. The concentration camps are akin to a well-known Khmer Rouge S-21 (known as Tuol Sleng), where Cambodian people were falsely accused of being against the regime. In June 2022, War Crimes Committee of the International Bar Association (IBA) and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report saying that the North Korean regime has established concentration camps where prisoner “systematically uses tortured, sexual violence, force labor, inhuman detention conditions, and deliberate starvation as means of interrogation, control, and punishment,” the actions regarded by the international community as “crimes against humanity.”

As such, Kim Jong-un’s brutal human rights oppression is not just an internal affair of North Korea, but a global issue as the world is trying to prevent mass murder, human rights violations, and improving people’s welfare. Human rights is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human rights, adopted in 1948, which the individual rights is protected by the international law. The international community has long recognized the indispensable relationship between North Korea’s human rights and global peace that the UN General Assembly (UNGA), UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and UN Security Council (UNSC) have had rounds of discussions on the human rights situation in North Korea. 

August 17th, UNSC held an open session on human rights abuses in North Korea in six years but failed to adopt a resolution due to a lack of support from China and Russia. China and Russia seemingly have little incentive to deter North Korea’s human rights abuses and provocations including ballistic missile launches, but rather demand the international community to lift sanctions against the North. This is not a responsible attitude as a permanent member of the UNSC, but it would rather severely deteriorate human rights conditions in North Korea and take a toll on global peace and security in the long term. 

In addition, in a country where power is consolidated to only a single person or few individuals, the country can easily be involved in armed conflict with other countries. This can be exemplified by the case of Russia, in which it is believed that Vladimir Putin was the person who play an important role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. North Korea can be an even more dangerous as the country has trying to strengthen its nuclear capabilities and frequently threaten other countries in the region. 

The international community should no longer overlook Kim Jong-un’s atrocities but utilize UN’s human rights and law enforcement mechanisms to bring the perpetrator of heinous crimes to justice. The UNSC should also provide more opportunities to discuss and publicize North Korea’s military provocations and human rights abuses as well as to pursue measures including the adoption of an additional resolution against North Korea. Based on that, it is important to build a condition to indict Kim Jong-un to the international Criminal Court (ICC), or to issue an arrest warrant for him like the case of Putin in Russia. 

Aside from UNSC’s measure, UNGA should make efforts to adopt a resolution to open a special court to convict Kim Jong-Un and North Korean Leadership. While such a step is not practical in dealing with North Korea’s human rights issue, it can discourage other countries from following the step of North Korean leaders. What’s more, it is necessary to name Kim Kong-un in North Korea Human Rights Resolution, pursued by the UNGA and UNHRC every year.

Though it may be difficult to realize this goal in a short period of time, strong engagement from the international community itself will put immense pressure on Kim Jong-un. Just as the international community held the Khmer Rouge fully accountable for the regime’s heinous crimes.

James Walt

James Walt is a consultant for a private company based in Cambodia.

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