China condemns UN report that labels North Korea 'a dark abyss'

APA North Korean soldier watches the South Korean side at the border village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in South Korea

A report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council which condemns the mistreatment of North Korean citizens and calls for urgent international action has been criticised by Chinese representatives.

Australian Michael Kirby - a former judge - led an independent inquiry into the treatment of those in forced labour camps in the country led by Dictator Kim Jong-Un, and presented his findings before the Council on Monday.

"The Commission of Inquiry has found systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations occurring in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It has also found a disturbing array of crimes against humanity," he announced.

"These crimes are committed against inmates of political and other prison camps; against starving populations; against religious believers; against persons who try to flee the country - including those forcibly repatriated by China.

"These crimes arise from policies established at the highest level of the State. They have been committed, and continue to take place in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place.

"The gravity, scale, duration and nature of the unspeakable atrocities committed in the country reveal a totalitarian State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," he said.

Kirby likened the situation in North Korea to gross violations of human rights in Nazi Germany, South Africa during the Apartheid, and Cambodia under the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Each time, Kirby noted, "the world said 'never again'," and yet the mistreatment of human beings continues in North Korea while the world stands by.

"We can no longer afford to remain oblivious to it, nor impotent to act against it," he said.

Christian persecution charity Open Doors estimates that a quarter of the 120,000 people thought to be suffering in North Korean labour camps are Christians. The country is officially recognised as the worst country for the persecution of Christians by the World Watch List, retaining this title for the 12<sup>th year in a row.

Believers are forced to hide their faith, and those that are discovered are severely punished, or even killed.

Kirby has called for immediate and urgent action, branding North Korea as "a dark abyss where the human rights, the dignity and the humanity of the people are controlled, denied and ultimately annihilated".

"If the Human Rights Council is not the place to speak up about the atrocities that we have been told of, or to speak about accountability, then where is the venue? Is there any venue? Or is the world to continue to look the other way?" he asked.

"If the International Criminal Court is not the place where crimes against humanity are to be addressed, then where do we seek accountability for these wrongdoings?"

He challenged the UN to address the suffering of the North Korean people.

"Think of them. And act," he said.

"Authorities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea: the Commission of Inquiry challenges you to respect the human rights of your citizens.

"If you claim that only through dialogue and cooperation the crimes that we have uncovered and the gross human rights violations that we have brought to light can be addressed, then start that dialogue now. Commence that cooperation immediately."

Kirby's impassioned call already faces a huge set-back, however, as China – North Korea's closest ally - has vetoed the report and called its credibility into question, claiming it is built on "lies".

Chen Chuandong, a counsellor at China's mission in Geneva, told the Human Rights Council that the report's findings are "divorced from reality and highly politicised" and are not "impartial, objective [or] effective".

China is expected to block attempts to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

Open Doors is calling for increased prayer for discussions, and in particular for God to strengthen those Christians who are suffering under Kim Jong-Un's rule.

In a statement released by the charity, the international Christian community is encouraged to: "Praise God for the powerful words of Michael Kirby and the worldwide media impact of the report.

"Ask God to move people to action as a result of what they have heard [and] that China will, despite its rejection, use its influence behind the scene to bring an end to this appalling situation," the organisation said.