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HRNK & IBA Release Report on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Detention Centers
June 22, 2022

HRNK and IBA release 200-page report on crimes against humanity committed at North Korea’s detention centers. Prominent judges call for the investigation of Kim Jong-un and all North Korean officials along the detention center chain of command-and-control.


WASHINGTON, JUNE 22, 2022. After an exhaustive, multi-year Inquiry, renowned international jurists release a landmark Report finding there is a reasonable basis to conclude Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and other high-level North Korean officials should be investigated for crimes against humanity committed in North Korean detention centers.

These jurists, including the former President of the International Criminal Court and the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are the highest-ranking international judges ever to assess the potential culpability for crimes against humanity committed during the Kim Dynasty’s reign of terror, now in its 74th year. A 10-minute documentary on crimes against humanity in North Korean detention centers will be screened at the event.
Four renowned international judges--including the former Presidents of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Rwanda Tribunal, as well as judges who served on the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Cambodia--have released a sobering, nearly 200-page Report on crimes against humanity that have been, and continue to be, committed in North Korea's pre-trial detention centers, holding centers, and labor training camps.
The Report, titled Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Detention Centers, is the culmination of a multi-year investigation conducted by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and the International Bar Association’s (IBA) War Crimes Committee.

The Inquiry included a March 4, 2022 live Hearing at which the four Inquiry judges – (ChairNavanethem ‘Navi’ Pillay (South Africa), Silvia Fernandez (Argentina), Dame Silvia Cartwright (New Zealand), and Wolfgang Schomburg (Germany) – heard in-person and live virtual testimony from North Korean escapees and experts about crimes that rise to the level of crimes against humanity under the Rome Statue, such as the relentless persecution of Christians, summary executions, and rampant rape, forced abortions and infanticide.
Those potentially liable for crimes against humanity chronicled in the Report include Kim Jong-un at the apex of the North Korean regime as well as all officials along the detention system chain of command and control, including low-level guards.

The full list of crimes under the Rome Statute of the ICC that the judges concluded likely have been committed on a massive scale in North Korean detention centers are as follows: (1) murder, (2) extermination, (3) enslavement, (4) forcible transfer, (5) imprisonment or severe deprivation of physical liberty, (6) torture, (7) sexual violence, (8) persecution, (9) enforced disappearance, and (10) other inhumane acts.

Further, the judges have called for urgent action, including: (1) the launching of an investigation by the ICC or a special international tribunal, (2) the exercise of universal jurisdiction by national courts, and (3) targeted sanctions against North Korean officials by the UN Security Council.
At a live Hearing on March 4, 2022, Inquiry judges heard evidence presented by IBA War Crimes Committee lawyers and Debevoise & Plimpton, a preeminent international law firm that, during the course of the Inquiry, made the single largest pro bono contribution to the IBA in its 75-year history.

Live witnesses at the Hearing included six (6) survivors of North Korea’s detention centers and six (6) experts, including Ben Rogers, one of the world’s leading experts on North Korea’s persecution of Christians, and Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a world-renowned satellite imagery expert.

The judges also heard recorded testimony from Michael Kirby, the Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights abuses in North Korea. Also informing the Report were sworn affidavits from 25 North Korean escapees, nine (9) experts, and a sworn affidavit from Tae Yong-ho, formerly North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Kingdom and North Korea’s highest-ranking defector in many years.
Crimes chronicled during the Inquiry and in the Report include:

  • After a female detainee helped deliver the healthy half-Chinese baby of a fellow detainee, a guard grabbed the newborn by one leg and threw it in a large, plastic-lined box. The detainee later learned that, when the box was full of dead babies, it was taken outside and buried. Another witness who was a midwife described an instance in which she was forced to give a pregnant woman a labor-inducing injection. After the baby was delivered, it was suffocated with a wet towel in front of its mother because “no half-Han (Chinese) babies would be tolerated.” There also was evidence presented of a woman who delivered a baby in her cell before being forced to leave the baby outside in freezing temperatures to die.
  • An expert testified that in cases when induced abortions resulted in a live birth, prison guards would cover the infant’s face with a torn plastic bag; the infant would then be wrapped tightly in a cloth blanket, after which it would suffocate and die. Bodies of dead infants were stored in a closet that was used for chlorine and maintenance tools. Later the bodies of the infants were buried. Mothers of the aborted infants were forced to resume manual labor the day after the abortion and without medicine or rest. Separately, a 20-year-old was five months pregnant when she was detained. After she refused to abort her own pregnancy as ordered, a prison guard kicked her in the stomach repeatedly until she was unconscious, and the fetus was aborted. The guard forced her sister to watch.
  • Ben Rogers, an expert on the persecution of Christians in North Korea, testified that persecution against Christians in North Korea is the worst in the world, with Christians consistently subjected to more severe and protracted torture than non-Christians. Mr. Rogers testified about “documented incidents . . . includ[ing] being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot."
  • Sexual slavery is practiced in North Korean detention centers. At the Hearing, a witness testified to being brutally beaten and raped by the general manager of a detention facility, who threatened to send the witness to a longer-term prison if she resisted. Said manager raped most of the young women detained in the facility. Separately, one witness reported that a correctional officer who sexually assaulted her said that “this did not constitute a sexual assault because you are dead here and a dead person cannot say she is assaulted."
  • In addition to rampant, macabre acts of physical torture, psychological torture is commonplace. Witnesses testified that guards often forced detainees to mutilate or perform other barbaric acts on the corpses of detainees whose murder they were forced to bear witness to.
  • Deliberate starvation is extremely common at detention centers. At the Hearing, a witness testified about a vicious cycle in which a detainee who failed to meet daily work quotas received reduced food rations. Detainees would then have even less energy to meet the work quota the following day, eventually resulting in death from starvation. He estimated that he had personally buried over 200 detainees who died in this fashion. In another case, a witness described seeing two detainees being beaten to death while carrying out forced labor because they had not reached their work target.
  • One witness described a mass grave housing over 5,000 bodies and having “to dig holes for the dead that were so small and shallow that the bodies had to be bent to fit. On some occasions the deceased person’s knees stuck out of the ground."

This Report on North Korean detention centers is a follow-on to the IBA’s 2017 Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Political Prisonsalso presided over by Navi Pillay (Chair), alongside two renowned jurists, Thomas Buergenthal and Mark Harmon. After hearing live testimony from North Korean defectors and reviewing voluminous evidence, Judge Buergenthal, a childhood survivor of Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen, stated in a Washington Post interview that: “I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps and in my long professional career in the human rights field.”

HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu stated: "Disappointment in the UN system is growing. The UN Security Council is paralyzed. One Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, the People's Republic of China, is committing genocide at its Uyghur concentration camps. Another Permanent Member, the Russian Federation, is committing war crimes in Ukraine. Both have been doggedly opposing relevant action on North Korea's crimes against humanity. HRNK and the IBA, together with a group of most distinguished judges, international human rights experts, and North Korean escapees, are asking for truth, justice, human rights, reconciliation, peace, and unification to be brought to the Korean Peninsula. The message to be remembered is: No justice, no peace. The people of North Korea are never abandoned, and never forgotten."


Judge Navi PillayJudge Silvia FernandezJudge Wolfgang SchomburgDavid TolbertGreg KehoeNawi UkabialaRoberta Cohen, and others will discuss the Inquiry’s findings and recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., on Monday, June 27, from 9:30a.m.–11:00a.m ET. Clips from a first-ever documentary on crimes against humanity in North Korean detention centers also will be screened at the event.

To attend the event or view the event via livestream, please register by clicking the following RSVP link. For any questions or concerns regarding the event, please contact Raymond Ha, HRNK Director of Operations and Research, at [email protected].

The report release is ON-THE-RECORD. For media inquiries, please contact HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu at [email protected].

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