Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Political Prisons

Since 1948, a succession of family leaders—Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un—have designed and perpetuated a brutal, totalitarian regime in North Korea, a signature feature of which is a network of political prisons that has no parallel in the world today.

To date, hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have died in North Korea’s political prisons and some 80,000 to 130,000 people are said to still be imprisoned there today. Many of these people are family members of individuals accused of political wrongdoing, a form of punishment that can be traced to Kim Il-sung, who in 1958 said it was critical to eliminate the “seed” of three generations of “class enemies.”

To assess the criminal liability that may result from the operation and oversight of North Korea’s political prisons, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, along with our partners from the International Bar Association and numerous other NGOs, launched a new report looking into the legal basis for holding the country’s leaders responsible for crimes against humanity.

After an exhaustive examination of evidence, including in-person testimony from North Korean defectors, satellite imagery, videos, and a detailed affidavit from Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s former Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, the report authors concluded that Kim Jong-un and other regime officials in North Korea should be prosecuted for 10 of the 11 crimes against humanity enumerated in the Rome Statute. Furthermore, the report calls upon the United Nations to provide the International Criminal Court or a special international tribunal with jurisdiction to appropriately investigate and remedy the crimes, for targeted sanctions against the people responsible for these human rights violations, and for North Korea to dismantle its gulag system and release all political prisoners, once and for all.

Read the full report here