“Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are; their seed must be eliminated through three generations.” – Kim Il-sung (1972)
While it is certain that North Korea has committed a political and ideological genocide, which has claimed millions of innocent lives, it is often overlooked that the North Korean regime has also in every aspect violated the UN Genocide Convention, to which it is a state party.
Raphael Lemkin’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was enacted in the wake of the Holocaust and the unprecedented devastation of World War-II. This was the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations, and was intended to serve as a legal infrastructure which, if followed faithfully, would not only assist in preventing genocide from happening again, but also facilitate intervention in the event of a genocide which is underway.
Article 2 of the 1948 Convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Genocide on national, ethnical and racial grounds
Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have fled to China to survive. The majority are women, 80 percent of whom are sex-trafficked or sold into forced marriages. Yet even if the North Korean woman is married to a Chinese national the Chinese authorities will still repatriate every North Korean refugee they can find per a 1986 agreement with the DPRK, in contravention of its obligations under the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The DPRK continues to systematically and brutally exterminate every child believed to be fathered by non-North Koreans (usually Chinese or Chinese-Koreans) through infanticide and forced abortions. According to the U.S. State Department, “The reason given for this policy was to prevent the birth of half-Chinese children.” Thousands of babies have been killed on national, ethnical, and/or racial grounds; not one has been spared. This unwavering policy of elimination corresponds with the regime’s obsession with racial purity, and the intent to destroy half-Chinese babies is clear and incontestable. Ethnic infanticide and forced abortions qualify as two of the acts which constitute genocide: killing members of a group and attempting to prevent group births.
Genocide on religious grounds
Before the division of Korea, the north was considered to be the center of Christianity in East Asia with millions of believers; 25 to 30 percent of the population in Pyongyang was Christian. Today, North Korea is internationally recognized as the worst violator of religious freedom in the world and true religious belief is not tolerated. Christians are either publicly executed or forcibly transferred to concentration camps where they are systematically starved, tortured and worked to death along with their entire families to three generations, including non-religious relatives and children. The cruelty and barbarity occurring in these camps has no parallel in the world today. In 2002, the National Association of Evangelicals stated that North Korea is “more brutal, more deliberate, more implacable, and more purely genocidal” than any other nation in the world. Every method which constitutes genocide as outlined in the Convention is being utilized by the regime to destroy its indigenous religious population through the widespread practice of public executions, systematic use of torture, deliberate deprivation of food and medicine in concentration camps, persecution of the children of religious believers, and the forcible transfer and imprisonment of children.
Inhumanity which has no precedent
In May of this year, Amnesty International released a report and satellite images, which indicate that the “mass political prison camps” in North Korea have grown dramatically over the last ten years. Most of the prisoners are held in areas known as “Total Control Zones” from which they will never be permitted to come out. All of the prisoners in these areas are being exterminated for perceived political offenses; in other words they have committed no crime whatsoever. Ahn Myong Chol is a former guard and one of the first witnesses to focus international attention on the mass atrocities taking place in the camps. He told MSNBC in 2003, “They trained me not to treat the prisoners as human beings. If someone is against socialism, if someone tries to escape from prison, then kill him. If there’s a record of killing any escapee, then the guard will be entitled to study in the college… Beating and killing is an everyday affair.” Kwon Hyok is the former head of security at North Korea’s Prison Camp 22. He was the first to disclose to the world about the extensive use of gas chambers and the conducting of medical experiments on prisoners, including children in the “Total Control Zone”. Hyok told BBC in 2004, “It would be a total lie to say I felt sympathy for the children dying such a painful death… In the society and the regime I was under, I just felt they were enemies; so I felt no sympathy or pity for them at all.” About one-third of the over 200,000 innocent human beings in North Korea’s camps today are children condemned as guilty-by-association according to Kim Il-sung’s 1972 proclamation. In reference to the atrocities being committed against North Korean children, N.C. Heiken, director of the film “Kimjongilia”, who is of Jewish background, said to the Daily NK in June, “The most shocking thing is that there is such a thing as a totally closed prison camp, and that a child could be born in this camp with no hope to ever leave it. Essentially, that child is being raised as a slave or an animal, and I think that is the most debased thing I have ever heard of in the history of humanity.”
The international response
During talks in July between the United States and the DPRK, as expected, there was no allusion to the “issue” of arbitrary killings, mass starvation, the enslavement of children, or heinous and systematic torture happening every day in North Korea’s prison camps. Likewise the six-party talks since its inception in 2003 has not included even the mere mention of the term “human rights” in any one of its sporadic meetings, while innumerable North Koreans have been exterminated in absolute silence.
The utter failure of the international community in North Korea is at least on par, if not more egregious than its failure to act during the Rwandan genocide (1994), the Srebrenica massacre (1995), or in Darfur (since 2003). Yet the horrific and tragic reality remains that the world’s superpowers have become complicit through essentially making genocide and mass atrocities in North Korea out to be a non-issue in all critical international discussions.
Pursuant to Article 8 of Lemkin’s Convention, member states have not only the moral responsibility but also the legal obligation to undertake all measures necessary in order to end the genocide taking place in North Korea today.