Top U.N. official calls for North Korea to face International Criminal Court

Story highlights

  • U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says North Korea poses a "threat to international peace and security"
  • 2014 U.N. report compared North Korean human rights abuses to those of the Nazis
  • North Korea says it has added the hydrogen bomb to its arsenal

(CNN)A senior United Nations official has called for the Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court over "gross human rights violations."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein testified before the Security Council after permanent members China and Russia attempted unsuccessfully to block the meeting on procedural grounds.
    "The abduction of foreign nationals, the enforced disappearances, the trafficking and the continued movement of refugees and asylum-seekers makes this point clearly. These, in addition to a litany of other gross human rights violations, have still not been halted or reversed by the Government of the DPRK," Zeid said, using an acronym for the official name of the country, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
    He said that it was "essential" to refer the situation in North Korea to the ICC.
    Testimonies by Zeid and U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman come after a landmark U.N. report in 2014 that found human rights abuses on a scale "without parallel in the contemporary world," comparable to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
    Any attempt to refer North Korea to the international court would likely be vetoed by China.
    Though relations have been strained between Pyongyang and Beijing in recent months, there have been signs of a thaw, with North Korea announcing this week that dictator Kim Jong Un's personal girl band will perform a series of shows in China.

    Talk, but no action

    Refugees, defectors and human rights organizations have expressed their frustration that little has been done in the two years since the U.N. report was published.
    "I am certain the day will come when we will see North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un stand trial at the ICC," says Ahn Myung Chul, a former prison guard.
    "But that day is too far away for the victims."
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    Chul and three other defectors, all of whom testified to the panel almost two years ago, said that public executions are becoming more frequent and the suffering of the North Korean people has not eased.
    "The sheer brutality of North Korea's totalitarianism is grotesque," Param-Preet Singh, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said Wednesday in a statement.
    "The U.N. Security Council should put Pyongyang on notice that those implicated in crimes against humanity may soon have to face justice."
    It's a frustration those involved with the U.N. panel sympathize with, but Michael Kirby, the former chair of the inquiry, was positive about the potential for diplomatic intervention.
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    "This is a novel where the last chapter is yet to be written. It is a horror novel and it's a distressing story but I think there will be action," he said.