Tokyo -- A campaign within the United Nations to haul North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before an international court for crimes against humanity has touched off a defensive fury in Pyongyang, where it's being treated like a diplomatic declaration of war — an aggressive act aimed not only at shutting down prison camps but also at removing Kim and dismantling his family's three-generation cult of personality.
Actually, according to the U.N.'s point man on human rights in North Korea, that's not too far off the mark, though he stressed no one is advocating a military option to force regime change.
"It would be, I think, the first order of the day to get these 80,000 to 100,000 (prisoners) immediately released and these camps disbanded," Marzuki Darusman, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But that can only happen if this cult leadership system is completely dismantled. And the only way to do that is if the Kim family is effectively displaced, is effectively removed from the scene, and a new leadership comes into place."
Such blunt words from a high-ranking U.N. official are unusual, although common among American officials.
Darusman said previous proposals submitted to the U.N. trying to persuade or force North Korea to improve its human rights record were mostly "rhetorical" exercises.
But he said this resolution, passed by the General Assembly in December, is more significant because it holds Kim responsible based on a 372-page report of findings presented last year by the U.N.-backed Commission of Inquiry that detailed arbitrary detention, torture, executions and political prison camps.
"This is a sea change in the position of the international community," Darusman said during a recent visit to Tokyo. The North Koreans "are in their most vulnerable position at this stage, whenever the culpability and responsibility of the supreme leader is brought out in full glare of the international public scrutiny."
North Korea's intense response has included threats of more nuclear tests, mass rallies across the country, a bitter smear campaign against defectors who cooperated in the U.N. report and repeated allegations that Washington orchestrated the whole thing in an attempt at speeding a regime change. Its state media last week railed yet again against the U.N. findings, saying "those who cooked up the 'report' are all bribed political swindlers and despicable human scum." It called Darusman, the former attorney general of Indonesia, an "opportunist."
In a rare flurry of talks, North Korean diplomats at the U.N. lobbied frenetically to get Kim's culpability out of the resolution without success. The proposal is now on the agenda of the Security Council, which is expected this year to make a decision on whether the issue should be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Just before the resolution passed the General Assembly, the North Korean diplomatic mission to the U.N. sought a meeting with Darusman to get the wording deleted. During the meeting with Ri Hung Sik, North Korea's ambassador-at-large, the North Koreans indicated their future was at stake, Darusman said.
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