China Likely to Block UNSC Referral of North Korea to ICC

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Feb. 17, 2014 – ┬áNorth Korea’s totalitarian regime should be referred to the International Criminal Court, according to UN investigators who have compiled a detailed report outlining systematic and widespread human rights abuses that the investigators say amount to crimes against humanity.

But any move by the 15-nation council to refer the situation to the Hague-based court is likely to be scuppered by veto-wielding China. Beijing is named in the report for forcibly repatriating fleeing North Koreans. Those repatriated are then tortured and often disappeared, the report says.

The Security Council has only twice ever referred situations to the ICC, voting 11-0 in 2005 to refer the situation in Darfur to the court – with China, US, Algeria and Brazil abstaining – and in 2011 voting unanimously to refer the situation in Libya.

Neither situation has resulted yet in justice served with Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir, though subject to an international arrest warrant, still in office and still traveling outside his country’s borders. The case against Muammar Gaddafi was dropped following his death while Libyan authorities have refused to handover his son Saif to the the ICC. The court ruled last year that intelligence chief Abdullah Al-Senussi could be tried in Libya, under the principle of complementarity.

With Security Council referral not likely, the General Assembly could pass a resolution establishing an ad hoc tribunal administered by consenting countries but UNGA resolutions are non-binding so any ad hoc tribunal set up by the 193-nation body would lack compulsory jurisdiction.

A copy of the 372 page report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz