In their 372-page report, published on Monday, the UN investigators said that North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Leader Kim Jong-un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings.
The investigators were advising the United Nations to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court and compare the crimes against humanity in North Korea to Nazi-era atrocities.
North Korea, however, rejected the accusations and claimed that they were based on material faked by hostile forces, which are supported by the United States, the European Union and Japan.
According to Michael Kirby, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, "These are not the occasional wrongs that can be done by officials everywhere in the world, they are wrongs against humanity, they are wrongs that shock the consciousness of humanity".
Referral to the International Criminal Court, however, seems unlikely since China’s veto of such move in the U.N. Security Council is probable, as diplomats told Reuters. China is North Korea’s main ally. The investigators therefore also told China that it might be "aiding and abetting crimes against humanity" by sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea to face torture or execution, a charge that Chinese officials dismissed.
Kirby also compared the crimes in North Korea to crimes committed by Nazi-Germany in World War II. He said “Some of them are strikingly similar”.
“Testimony [by defectors] was given ... in relation to the political prison camps of large numbers of people who were malnourished, who were effectively starved to death and then had to be disposed of in pots, burned and then buried ... It was the duty of other prisoners in the camps to dispose of them.”
Further, the report says that “If [detainees] are not executed immediately, persons held accountable for major political wrongs are forcibly disappeared to political prison camps that officially do not exist. Most victims are incarcerated for life... The limited information that seeps out from the secret camps also creates a spectre of fear among the general population ... creating a powerful deterrent against any future challenges to the political system.”
In the four known prisons, North Korea holds an estimated number of 130,000 people according to human rights organisations.
Shortly before their release, the North Korean diplomatic mission in Geneva dismissed the report’s results. According to the government “[They] will continue to strongly respond, to the end, to any attempt of regime-change and pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection’”.