GENEVA A report detailing brutal crimes against humanity in North Korea was released by a United Nations commission that urged the international community to take responsibility for protecting the people there.
The fact that North Korea "has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community," the report states.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, in its 400-page report and supporting documents released Feb. 17, cites "unspeakable atrocities" committed by the government against the North Korean people.
"The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," the commission, established a year ago, said.
The findings are based on public testimonies from about 80 witnesses and more than 240 private interviews with victims and other witnesses. Though the international community has known of ongoing atrocities in North Korea, observers believe the vivid details conveyed in the new report should make a difference.
North Korea uses public executions and forced disappearances into political prison camps to terrorize its citizens into submission, the report states, noting between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are estimated to be detained in four large camps.
"There is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association," according to the report, described by The Washington Post as "a devastating read."
Military spending is prioritized while vast numbers of North Koreans endure avoidable starvation, the commission found. Pregnant women who escape North Korea and then are found and forced to return are "regularly subjected to forced abortions, and babies born to repatriated women are often killed," the document states.
If war or revolution breaks out in North Korea, the commission found, authorities there have been instructed and drills have been held to kill all prisoners and "eliminate any evidence."
The commission urged all other nations not to forcibly return North Korean refugees to their home country. It also sent a letter to Kim Jong Un, North Korea's dictator, notifying him that the case would be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Among the prisoners held in a labor camp is American Kenneth Bae, described in February by President Obama as "a Christian missionary who's been held in North Korea for 15 months, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor." Bae suffers from chronic medical conditions including diabetes, cardiac problems and severe back pain.