RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene. Good morning. For years we've been hearing horror stories from North Korea about mass starvation, torture, slavery, political killings. It's a long list that is hard for many of us to imagine. Well, now a new report from the United Nations Human Rights Commission presents almost 400 pages of eyewitness testimony from victims and also at least one perpetrator.
It makes for depressing reading - forced abortions, malnourished babies fed with snakes and rats, prisoners used for martial arts practice. The report concludes that North Korea's government is guilty of crimes against humanity and it says its Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un could face trial in the International Criminal Court. We're joined this morning from Geneva by Michael Kirby, a retired judge from Australia who is chairman of the U.N. group which prepared the report. Mr. Kirby, good morning and thanks for coming on the program.
MICHAEL KIRBY: Good morning, David.
GREENE: I wanted to begin by quoting from your report, if I may. You wrote that "the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." What makes North Korea stand out?
KIRBY: That was read to me yesterday and I thought then and I think now we left out another noun - it's the duration of very grave violations of human rights, some of them rising to be crimes against humanity. So what's unique? Well, it's the fact that this has gone on for so long and the world has turned its attention to other things.
And North Korea has actually been brilliant in its supremacy of avoiding the scrutiny of humanity. We have now packed into one report a whole review of the situation brought to our table by the victims and, really, it presents the international community with the question is it serious about responding to universal human rights breaches of such gravity and duration. And I hope the answer to that will be yes and it'll act.
GREENE: Well, let me ask you about how you prepared the report. A lot of testimony, but none of it from visits to North Korea itself, because the government would not let you and your panel in. Are you confident, given that, that the report is an accurate picture of what's happening in this country?
KIRBY: Absolutely. Because though they wouldn't let us in, 26,000 citizens of North Korea have fled from that country and now are resident in South Korea. So we had witnesses who didn't know each other and from different parts of the country corroborating each other. Those details could be verified by reference to the satellite images.
North Korea says this is completely fraudulent and false but the answer to that is to let a trusted international body come in and see it with their own eyes. And that would be an answer in one blow. But they don't permit this.
GREENE: Well, let me ask you about next steps. The U.N. Security Council is really the only body that can refer any case to the International Criminal Court. But, you know, North Korea's ally, China, would probably use its veto power to block that. So what other options are there for you in terms of next steps if that's not going to happen?
KIRBY: Well, I'm not writing off the possibility which the Commission of Inquiry put forward as the first preference, and what we hope is that China, when it receives our report and considers it at length, will be persuaded that this is really a country that is dangerous to itself and to its neighbors and that China will agree to the reference.
If they don't, then there are other options explored in the report such as setting up a field office in the region, continue to gather the type of testimony which the Commission of Inquiry gathered and get the voices of the people who have suffered, get the victims to come forward. Twenty years ago I was the U.N. special representative in Cambodia and we found then that just gathering the stories, establishing the archives, that is a very important thing in itself, because future generations will look back on this time with astonishment.
GREENE: But given that this reality in the Security Council and China's position there, you so much want for the world to make a statement that, as you said, they are serious about confronting North Korea are you worried that, you know, there's little serious to-do going on from here?
KIRBY: I'm not really worried about that. I mean, the fact is that the vote setting up the Commission of Inquiry was carried without any dissenting voices in the Human Rights Council. Now, that is very unusual. But the world is basically getting to the point that it's fed up with this country, and this has been going on for 20, 30, 40 years and it's outrageous.
And it shocks humanity and that's the test for a crime against humanity. Is this a violent act against a civilian population done deliberately, and as an act of state, which shocks the conscious of humanity. And I think if people read our report, which is now available online, they will come to the conclusion that there's only one answer to that. And something has to be done.
GREENE: Mr. Kirby, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. We appreciate it.
KIRBY: It's my pleasure. Thank you, David.
GREENE: Michael Kirby is the chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry On Human Rights in North Korea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.