Listen: Justice Michael Kirby in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
The huge issue of human rights was not even mentioned during the meeting between US President, Donald Trump, and North Korean supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. Former Australian High Court Justice, Michael Kirby, told Open House “There can be no peace in North Korea while the abuse of human rights continues.”
Justice Kirby chaired a UN Commission of Inquiry investigating shocking abuses in the secretive state. The report of the investigation detailed a state sponsored system of abuse which included forced abortions, political executions, torture and religious persecution.
Crimes against Humanity
Among the violations investigated by Justice Kirby’s team were denying people the right to food, matters associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to life, freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other States. The Final Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry, presented to the UN in 2014, found there was credible evidence of multiple crimes against humanity.
More evidence of Human Rights Abuse
The UN Commission of Inquiry is not the only investigation into North Korea’s human rights record. Many other organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have highlighted the situation in reports of inhumane treatment, state sponsored torture and murder, denial of religious freedom and punishment of whole families if people oppose the regime in any way.
Human Rights Watch describes North Korea as one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world where citizens are punished for contacting the outside world. Human Rights Watch says in it’s latest report “The government continued to generate fearful obedience from citizens by means of threatened and actual execution, detention, and forced labor under harsh, sometimes fatal, conditions.”
Open Doors is a Christian organisation working in over 70 countries to support Christians who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus. They compile the annual ‘World Watch List’ of countries where people are denied religious freedom. Open Doors describes North Korea as ‘The hardest place to follow Jesus’. For 17 years it has been the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian.
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In their current report on Persecuted Christians, Open Doors describe how North Koreans are forced to worship the Kim dynasty, and nothing else. Anyone with links to Christianity is arrested, tortured and even killed. Despite this, the underground church is growing, with an estimated 300,000 Christians in North Korea.
Secretly working in North Korea, Open Doors found that North Koreans are indoctrinated to worship the Kim family. Children are taught to report their own parents’ activities. Christian parents often don’t tell their own children about their faith in Jesus. There is a North Korean saying, “Wherever two or three are gathered together, one is a spy.” Some believers memorise their Bible, then destroy it. Others carefully hide their Bible and only read it when they’re truly alone.
On Open House earlier this year, North Koreans now living in Australia told of the extraordinary sacrifices involved in fleeing the country and the pain of leaving family behind.
Their testimony haunts our world
In an editorial published by Fairfax media, Justice Kirby says the evidence given to the UN Inquiry he chaired was shocking. “…I cannot put out of my mind the people who came to the public hearings of the United Nations inquiry. They told their stories of suffering. They trust the world and the United Nations to right the wrongs. Their testimony is on the internet. It haunts our world.”
Cambodian civil society frightened
At the end of the Pol Pot regime, Justice Kirby was asked by the United Nations to use his experience as an internationally recognised jurist to help rebuild the Cambodian justice system. Commenting on Open House about the upcoming Cambodian election and his previous work in Cambodia, Justice Kirby told Stephen O’Doherty “The UN seem to give me all the hard cases.”
A one party election
Justice Kirby has maintained an interest in Cambodia and is most concerned that the current government succeeded last November in dissolving the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Both North Korea and Cambodia are isolated from the western world and have close ties to China. Justice Kirby says both are not happy countries and the world needs to focus attention on them.
With no opposition, the United States and the European Union withdrew their support for the election. However, the election will proceed on July 29. The ruling Cambodia People’s Party, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, is certain to win. A victory would extend Hun Sen’s 33-year rule.
Justice Kirby says Cambodians are greatly concerned about the future.
“…. [Cambodian] civil society is frightened. They wonder how checks will be made on voting. … With no opposition the elections can’t be free and fair”
The Cambodian government has launched a campaign to get voters to go to the polls and Hun Sen has said urging people not to vote is illegal. Of course, the main reason for urging – or enforcing – voting in what is effectively a one-party state, is to claim the winner has a mandate from the people.