GENEVA — A U.N. panel warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday that he may be held accountable for orchestrating widespread crimes against civilians in the secretive Asian nation, ranging from systematic executions to torture, rape and mass starvation.
It is unusual for a U.N. report to directly implicate a nation's leader. But in a letter accompanying a yearlong investigative report, the chairman of a three-member U.N. commission of inquiry, retired Australian Judge Michael Kirby, directly warned Kim that international prosecution is needed "to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity."
"Even without being directly involved in crimes against humanity, a military commander may be held responsible for crimes against humanity committed by forces under the commander's effective command and control," Kirby wrote.
He urged Kim to take "all necessary and reasonable measures" to stop crimes against humanity and ensure that they are properly investigated and prosecuted. Kirby added, however, there was no indication that North Korea would do so.
The investigative commission's 372-page report is a wide-ranging indictment of North Korea for policies including political prison camps with 80,000 to 120,000 people, state-sponsored abductions of North Korean, Japanese and other nationals, and lifelong indoctrination.
"They are wrongs that shock the conscience of humanity," Kirby said, comparing them with Nazi atrocities.
North Korean officials did not cooperate with the panel's investigation, saying in correspondence last year that the country "totally and categorically rejects" the inquiry ordered by the United Nation's 47-nation Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.
North Korea is unlikely to face prosecution because China, one of five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, generally opposes such referrals to the International Criminal Court.