The international community has focused on the Kim Jong Il regime in North Korea primarily for two reasons: its development of nuclear weapons and its support for international terrorism. But should those threats define the regime’s character and how major powers deal with P’yŏngyang? Perhaps not. There are the occasional well-scripted diplomatic remarks and nongovernmental missives about the human rights situation within North Korea. But rarely has an expert and independent investigator of David Hawk’s caliber journeyed deep into the cauldron of human misery and death consuming that forsaken country. It is even more extraordinary that Hawk has chosen as his vehicle of analysis the fast-developing field of international criminal law known as crimes against humanity. The Kim Jong Il regime’s systematic and widespread attack on hundreds of thousands of its own civilians, particularly within the confines of nightmarish kwan-li-so political penal labor camps, is not generally known or understood. To fill that vacuum of information and bring the culture of the North Korean government’s criminality into the daylight, Hawk conducted extensive interviews of survivors of the labor camps who had fled the country. He then tested his research against the rigorous standards for crimes against humanity set forth in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In that exercise Hawk has accurately understood the requirements for the various categories of crimes against humanity, including extermination, enslavement, the forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, persecution, and other inhumane acts.
The fundamental premise for each crime against humanity, as set forth in Article 7 of the Rome Statute and in its Elements of Crimes, is that it must constitute acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack, and that the course of conduct involves the multiple commission of illegal acts against any civilian population pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack. That policy requires that the State or organization actively promote or encourage such an attack against a civilian population. Hawk remains faithful to these over-arching standards of analysis. He necessarily can reveal only snapshots of the closed North Korean system through his interviews and other investigations. But his effort is path-breaking and should profoundly influence the formulation of any nation’s policy towards the Kim Jong Il regime in the future.
In the conclusion to his report, Hawk presents a realistic set of options for meaningful initiatives by the international community to end the criminal conduct of the North Korean government. It is my strong belief that given the probable continuing character of the labor camp atrocities reaching far beyond mid-2002 when the ICC’s temporal jurisdiction commenced, the United Nations Security Council should approve a U.N. Charter Chapter VII resolution referring the situation in North Korea to the ICC for investigation and, if merited, prosecution of the leadership of the Kim Jong Il regime and its labor camp system. David Hawk’s report is Exhibit A for such an initiative, which is long overdue.