North Korea Headed to the ICC?


The United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committees has presented a groundbreaking draft resolution recommending the U.N. Security Council inquire into North Korea’s human rights and refer the country to the International Criminal Court. The draft resolution has been championed by the European Union and Japan and has been circulated to a small group of like-minded countries. Since North Korea is not among the 122 signatories to the Rome Statute, only the Security Council could refer it to the International Criminal Court.

The draft resolution, and call for punitive action, stems from a 372-page U.N. Commission of Inquiry report, published in February, which detailed wide-ranging abuses in North Korea. These abuses in clued the use of prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities. The International Criminal Court, under the Rome Statute, has jurisdiction over war crimes like genocide and other crimes against humanity; the crimes purported to be occurring in North Korea.

However, referral to the International Criminal Court for punitive action is not without major obstacle. China, North Korea’s most powerful ally, would likely use its veto power as a permanent Security Council member to oppose recommendation.

Despite the protection of China’s veto, North Korea has acknowledged that the focus on their human rights issues and purported crimes against humanity will not subside. North Korea has gone on the offensive, attempting to charm their way out of the human rights limelight. In recent weeks, North Korea has offered a string of surprises, including the release of U.S. detainee Jeffrey Fowle, who was taken into custody have allegedly leaving a bible in a night club. Likewise, North Korea recently provided U.N. Diplomats with a draft resolution, saying that they are being targeted unfairly and that the U.N. should perform and unbiased reassessment of the situation in their nation.

It certainly is a good thing that the United Nations, and potentially the International Criminal Court, are noting the human rights crises in North Korea. However, it seems the international legal system faces an uphill battle to hold North Korea responsible for their actions. Do you think there should be a way for the International Criminal Court to hear the case aside from Security Council recommendation? What about sanctions directly responding to the human rights violations, as opposed to simply targeting the nuclear programs?


Sources: ICC Report; U.N. Report; Reuters; Japan Times


  1. It is about time the international community steps in and holds North Korea responsible for their actions. North Korea should no longer be considered off-limits from international human rights standards. In my opinion, at least, states with alleged and substantiated human rights violations should not be immune from international courts and administrative bodies. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any alternative measures available to allow the International Criminal Court to hear this case; however, the UN Security Council has a very strong interest in recommending this case to the ICC. For one, the international community is, hopefully, now monitoring this issue. Although China is North Korea’s biggest ally, it would be ill-advised for China to veto a proposal the EU strongly supports.
    Such procedural obstacles are understood, however, it seems illogical and frankly absurd to allow North Korea to perpetually evade contemporary human rights standards. It is uniformly recognized that these issues will not subside without affirmative measures by the ICC. With that, it is clear that the ICC, EU, and the UN Security Council should not allow the opportunity to expose North Korea escape.

  2. As much as North Korea should be held accountable for its mass violations of international law, this is extremely unrealistic. The United States, a leader and abider of international law, hasn’t even joined the ICC, yet alone allowed the ICC to have jurisdiction over them. Moreover, every member on the Security Council always has someone it wants to protect for moral, political, economic or social reasons. In this particular case, there is a high possibility that China will use its veto power to bring North Korea before the ICC. On the other hand, China could use its relationship with North Korea to discuss and begin negotiations regarding such egregious human rights violations.

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