The former High Court judge, Michael Kirby, says nothing prepared him for the horrific testimony he’s heard as chairman of a United Nations panel convened to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea. The panel’s year-long investigation outlines a litany of crimes against humanity committed by Pyongyang, from torture to slavery to mass murder. Michael Kirby speaks to The World Today from Geneva, where he handed down the UN report.
Source: The World Today | Duration: 4min 29sec
ELEANOR HALL: The former High Court judge, Michael Kirby, says nothing prepared him for the horrific testimony he heard as chairman of a UN panel that has just released its report into human rights abuses in North Korea.
The panel’s year-long investigation has produced a detailed report that outlines a litany of crimes against humanity committed by the North Korean regime, from torture to slavery to mass murder.
Michael Kirby spoke to our reporter David Mack in Geneva, where he handed down the UN report.
DAVID MACK: Michael Kirby, what impact do you hope this report will have on the lives of ordinary North Koreans?
MICHAEL KIRBY: Action. Action to remove the terrible wrongs that continue to be done there and the object of the exercise is not just to produce a beautiful report that gathers in the Palais Wilson but really does change the lives of people in North Korea because they came before us as refugees from North Korea, they told us the pains they go through in North Korea and that is what we’ve recorded in our report and that is what should be addressed by the United Nation to make sure that wrongs are righted.
DAVID MACK: You and the panel heard some incredibly emotional testimony. Was there one story in particular that stuck out?
MICHAEL KIRBY: Well, there were many. I mean the stories of the famine, the stories of the abduction of children, the stories of abduction of soldiers back in the Korean War, the terrible conditions in prison camps.
I think one story that was told by one of the witnesses who was a young man in a prison camp of how he had been given the duty of burying the bodies of those who died of starvation and he described 300 such events where he had to burn the bodies.
He didn’t succeed in burning the bodies entirely and he had to bury the body parts and the ashes in the nearby field as fertilizer and we thought in the world we’d got through that and we got away from that after the Second World War but unfortunately the conditions in the prison camps and the terrible problem of hunger in North Korea is still a reality and it needs to be addressed.
DAVID MACK: How have you coped personally hearing such extreme testimony?
MICHAEL KIRBY: Well, I’m a pretty tough old nut. I mean I’ve been around for a long while and I was a judge for 34 years and I, hearing testimony or reading of it, saw some pretty horrible cases of murder and rape and violence and fraud and so on but nothing quite like the enormity, the enormity of 80,000 to 120,000 still in the prison camps in North Korea and the enormity of the babies that are being born 26, 28 per cent of new born babies, even today after the end of the great famine in North Korea, are stunted, severely stunted because their mothers are malnourished.
So plenty of very sad stories in very large numbers over a very long period of time and frankly its time that the international community did what it asked us to help it do, that is address the issue of whether there were crimes against humanity and then address the issue of how it renders accountable those who are responsible for those crimes.
DAVID MACK: What would you say to those who would say that North Korea is a problem that’s just simply too hard to solve?
MICHAEL KIRBY: Nothing is too hard to solve. In the end humanity solves all problems, time solves all problems. Time carries away the good and the evil. If it can be solved with good steps to bring that country into conformity with United Nations human rights principles, well and good.
If it can’t, then all the talk about human rights and all the talk about the duty to protect and of putting right first, has to find expression in reality and this is the challenge now that we will face and the report is the first step in facing up to that challenge.
ELEANOR HALL: That’s Justice Michael Kirby, speaking in Geneva to our reporter David Mack.