Now we know

“At the end of the Second World War so many people said ‘if only we had known… if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces’.”

 “Well, now the international community does know… There will be no excusing of failure of action because we didn’t know. Too many times in this building there are reports and no action. Well this is a time for action.” – Michael Kirby, chairman of the independent Commission of Inquiry

Someone said recently (I can’t remember who) that the slave trade survived as long as it did because we tolerated it. On Monday, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea published its report, which concluded that the regime in North Korea is committing crimes against humanity and recommended that those responsible are held accountable, through a referral to the International Criminal Court, or a UN tribunal. 

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which has long advocated for the Commission and the investigation of crimes against humanity in North Korea, the 400-page report details crimes against humanity including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”. It concludes that such crimes against humanity are continuing “because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place”.

I was privileged to attend a hearing in parliament in October last year in which North Korean defectors told their stories. One woman in her 60s, Mrs Kim, cried during her testimony about life in Yudok prison camp.

“My heart still breaks when I think of my parents and son who died in Yudok,” she said. She described piles of dead bodies, and being so consumed by hunger that she and other prisoners would eat the grains from cow dung.

“How can such an institution exist when the world is in the post Cold War peace? If you love peace, please help North Korea. As a mother, a woman I urge you all to help North Korea.”

Despite the passage of time, her grief was still raw. We owe it to Mrs Kim and thousands of North Korean citizens like her, to keep our anger at the injustice of the regime fresh. It should spur us on to do something to help. We must not accommodate, we must not tolerate this any more.

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