North Korea is no garden-variety horror story. The world is all too full of those.
What’s happening in the Hermit Kingdom, according to United Nations investigators, are systematic, government-enforced crimes against humanity that cry out for international condemnation. These crimes, reminiscent of those committed by Nazi Germany, include torture, enslavement, starvation, internment in prison camps, rape and executions of people — including children — whose only offense is being related to someone found guilty of political crimes.
The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights found that the gravity, scale and nature of the crimes in North Korea over the past several decades have no parallel in the contemporary world — damning words indeed, given the horrors that have occurred in the world in recent decades.
The investigators hope their report leads to action in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The U.N. Security Council also could set up a special tribunal, but that is less likely because China would be expected to veto any action against its bordering client state. China also came under fire by the commission for forcing refugees to return to North Korea.
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If any headway is to be made against North Korea’s atrocities, it likely won’t come by exerting pressure on Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship. North Korea has made it clear through nuclear saber-rattling, its abuse of its own citizens and unjustified imprisonment of foreign nationals like American missionary Kenneth Bae that no amount of opprobium will make any difference in how it conducts itself.
That leaves China, which does care — at least some — about how it’s viewed in the rest of the world. If North Korea didn’t enjoy a measure of protection from China, it’s possible that international sanctions would have had some tempering effect by now. China has to recognize that it’s in its own best interest for conditions to improve for North Korea’s people.
Civilized nations must impress on China’s leaders that they have a responsibility to do more to hold North Korea accountable for its actions. Human decency and the harsh judgment of history demand it.