UN head of new N. Korea probe 'inundated' on abuses
North Koreans from a collective farm work alongside a road close to the border with China in North Pyongan Province, in April 2011. The head of a landmark UN team set up to probe human rights violations in North Korea said Wednesday he had been inundated by people wanting to give evidence on abuses just hours after his appointment.
Former Australian judge Michael Kirby was named Tuesday to steer the investigation looking into "systematic, widespread and grave violations" of human rights in a country that refuses to cooperate with the world body, and he vowed impartiality.
The team's other members are Serbian human rights campaigner Sonja Biserko, an expert on war crimes, and Marzuki Darusman, an Indonesian former attorney general who since 2010 has been monitoring North Korea for the UN Human Rights Council.
The Rights Council set up the commission after Darusman presented a report accusing North Korea of a string of violations including torture, arbitrary detention and depriving the population of food.
He also highlighted concerns about a network of political prison camps believed to hold some 200,000 people, including detainees who were born in captivity because entire families are thought to have been sent there.
Kirby told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he had no preconceptions about the North Korean government, run by dictator Kim Jong-Un.
"I'll proceed as one should: with impartiality and just giving them the opportunity to have their say and to respond to testimony. That's due process," said Kirby, who sat on Australia's High Court from 1996 to 2009.
"But there are a lot of people who are already contacting me -- even overnight since this was announced in Geneva -- seeking to make contact with the commission of inquiry," he added.
"And they are often resident in countries, bordering countries, in Japan and South Korea, and in Thailand.
"So there won't be a difficulty having people who want to make submissions to the commission, and when it's set up in July that's exactly what we'll be doing. We'll be gathering that material and then reporting on it."
North Korea is one of the most isolated nations on the planet and has refused to let UN rights monitors visit, leading them to rely largely on testimony from North Koreans who have fled.
Kirby said the commission would like to visit North Korea, but he was not hopeful.
"Certainly the commission will pay its respects to the government of North Korea and will be seeking to make contact with them and certainly to give them opportunities to respond to the testimony that we receive," he said.
"So that's again just due process. But whether they permit the commission to enter their country will be a matter for them."
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