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Tackling Human Rights Crisis In Democratic People's Republic Of Korea By Humanitarian Intervention

Humanitarian intervention is a measure taken by "a state, group of states or an international organisation to prevent or to stop gross violation of human rights in a state, where such state is either incapable or unwilling to protect its own people, or is actively persecuting them."[1]

In the past, several interventions have been carried out by different nations on humanitarian grounds. Some of these interventions resulted in positive outcomes like the U.S. intervention in Libya to overthrow the tyrannical dictator Gaddafi however some led to extremely devastating and irreparable impacts like the intervention carried out by united states in Iraq which not only led to regional instability in the area but also negatively affected the world economy.

These varied positive and negative outcomes led to the Doctrine of Humanitarian Intervention to be widely discussed .

On one hand the Anti- Intervention supporters argue stating principles like Non- intervention principle which refrains the nations from interfering with internal matters of other nations , Westphalia sovereignty principal which provides the state with exclusive sovereignty over its territory and clause 2 of the UN Charter that refrains the state from using force in international relations, etc.

On the other hand the pro- intervention side argue using several principles and laws some of them being the principle of responsibility to protect, Doctrine of double effect, exceptions to interventions in the UN charter, etc.

Responsibility To Protect Principle
The doctrine of humanitarian intervention has been widely debated since world war II. The underlying reasons for the debate being the contradiction between the two fundamental principles of international law i.e. the prohibition of use of force and the obligation to protect human rights. The principle of responsibility to protect seek to bridge the gap between these two principles.[2]

The principle of responsibility to protect is a global commitment which aims to protect the world's most vulnerable part of the population from the most gruesome crimes. It aims to end the worst forms of violence and persecution. These gruesome crimes constitute genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The responsibility includes taking necessary steps to prevent such crimes. It aims to bridge the gap between the obligations of ember countries under international law and the conditions faced by the population at risk of international crimes

The principle of responsibility to protect was first introduced in 2001 by the international commission on intervention and state sovereignty through a report titled ' responsibility to protect'. The focus of the report was mainly to highlight the responsibility of the states to protect its own population but in addition to that it also covered the responsibility of the international community to interfere if a state was failing or unwilling to protect its own people.[3]

In 2005 the principle gained prominence when at the UN world summit the general assembly unanimously adopted it. Since then the principle has continued to evolve. The three main elements of the principle (R2P should be seen as 'an ally of sovereignty, not an adversary', R2P should remain narrow and that the responsibility to protect principle is narrowly focused on the four crimes, The response of RP2 should be wide i.e. a wide range of support measure should be available to fulfil the responsibility.)were recognised in 2009 by the general assembly secretary general Ban Ki Moon.[4]

Doctrine of Double effect
The doctrine of double effect states that "a moral act with foreseen harmful consequences as a side effect can be done, provided four conditions are met i.e. The intentions behind the commission of that act are good, The final result of the act does not seek to accomplish any ulterior motives, the action taken must not be moral incorrect, the positive consequences must outweigh the negative consequences."[5]

Several issues are raised while assessing the morality of military human intervention. One of those several issues being 'the loss of innocent life' as a side effect. This loss of life that is "incidentally unavoidable by the armed conflicts of the war", is made permissible using this doctrine.[6]

Exceptions to Anti- intervention Principles to UN Charter
Article 2 of the UN Charter refrains the states from using armed force in international relations. However, chapter seven of the charter provides exceptions permitting use of force in case threat to international peace and security. These exceptions are mentioned in Article 42 and Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Article 42 � "Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations."[7]

Article 51-"Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security."[8]

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a nominally communist and an autocratic state. The nation though claims to hold elections but these elections have been described by the international community to be a sham. The leader of the workers party of Korea holds absolute power in the state.

The absolutist leader promotes the Juche ideology i.e. a group of ideas stating that the interest of their nation is foremost and heavily relies on the cult of personality to consolidate his power. The party practices a tight control over the people of the country and has successfully managed to isolate the country from the rest of the world.

The FIDH report in 2012 presented an elaborate report on alarmingly high rates of capital punishments in the country the report also stated that other than capital punishments extra judicial and arbitrary executions were also widely being conducted by the state.

In 2013 a commission for inquiry of human rights in DPRK also called the Kirby commission was set up by the UN human rights council. This commission was set up with the goal to investigate into the grave human rights violations in the North Korea. The 400-page report presented by the commission stated a widespread, gross violation of human rights to be prevalent in the state. Many of those violations without a doubt qualified as crimes against humanity.

An article published by Hwang Jang Yop, who is the former international-secretary of the Koreans workers party provided an extensive list of the widespread and gruesome human rights violations taking place in the region. These violations included violations like violations in economic life, political life, ideological and cultural life.

The government does not guarantee the people basic living conditions and is starving millions of workers to death. The issue of starvation has reached a point where there were reports of human meat being sold all over the country as result of food crisis in the nation. More than 5 million deaths due to starvation were reported in the nation from the year 1995 to 1998. The government not only denies its population the right to food but also uses military action against individuals who try seek help for food from the neighboring countries.

The laws in the country hold no value and are everchanging with the wishes of 'the great leader'. The people of the country cannot travel to other countries without a travel pass. There have been several reports of executions of individuals who appeared to pose even the slightest of threat to the ruling party or to its reputation.[9]

There is also complete denial of all fundamental rights such as Right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion opinion, expression, etc. The Kirby commission report confirmed the presence of prisoner camps some of these camps were not just similar to 'Stalin's gulag' but some were even worse than those. The reports described the treatment of the prisoners in these camps as horrific and similar to the atrocities committed by the Nazi's.

The survivors of these camps in their experiences described instances like watching their family members getting murdered in front of their eyes, seeing their defenseless inmates being used for martial arts practice and catching mice and snakes to provide food for their malnourished kids.[10] More than one lakh north Koreans were estimated to be living in those camps. Commission of widescale crimes "like extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, rape, forced abortion and persecution of grounds of religion gender and race"[11] were reported by the defectors interviewed by the Kirby commission.

The Rome statute of ICC defined crimes against humanity as the "acts of Murder, Extermination, Enslavement, Deportation or forcible transfer of population, Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, Torture, Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity, Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court, Enforced disappearance of persons, The crime of apartheid, Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.When committed as a part of a widespread or systemic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack. "[12]

The section also clarifies that the crimes against humanity can occur in peacetime and should not be linked to an armed conflict."[13] The section explicitly states that the acts of crimes against humanity does not include isolated acts of violence. For actions to be constituted as crimes against humanity it is important that the violence is large scale with respect to the number of victims. It also states that the act must be done in furtherance of a state without having formally adopted it.[14]

Most of the crimes committed by DPRK against its people does not only fall within the ambit of the exhaustive list of crimes provided by the Rome statute in the definition of 'crimes against humanity' but also fulfills the condition of the crimes being committed at a very largescale. Hence, it can rightfully be contended that the crimes committed by DPRK against its people fall with the domain of 'crimes against humanity'.

International Response
Since the Kirby report confirmed human rights violations in DPRK, the nation has continued to deny the validity of any such accusations and has refused cooperation with any UN special rapporteurs. There have been sanctions imposed and threats made by international court of justice, but these threats have had no impact on the human rights conditions in North Korea.[15]

U.S. made a center that exclusively aimed at tackling human rights issue in north korea however no significant step has been taken towards tackling this issue by the center. The regime of the tyrannical dictator of North Korea also provides the U.S. with an excuse to continue to retain its military in the region.[16]

The united nations though took many steps in the past to provide aid to people of North Korea by providing them with food and medicine but in 2017 after the sanctions were imposed against North Korea it minimized these operations. The UN security council also brought up the issue of north Korean human rights record since the COI 2014 report, however the issue has not been raised again. The rest of the western nations appear to be indifferent to the havoc caused by the ruling party in North Korea.[17]

The reason behind this indifference towards North Korea is also that nation lacks in resources and does not have a unique geo-political significance, which were the driving forces in most of the interventions carried out in the past. The nation also does not pose any actual threat to the western countries. All of these reasons make the intervention unnecessary in the eyes of the western nations while they continue to ignore the death of millions of people in the 1990's and the systemic repression that the north Korean population faces in the day to day life.[18]

For decades the Kim dynasty has instilled upon its people the most gruesome forms of Human rights violation. The violations, which based on the definition provided by the International Criminal Court qualifies as 'crimes against humanity'. 'Crimes against humanity' falls within the four grounds of the principle of responsibility to protect which puts an obligation on the international community to interfere in the matters of the state responsible for inflicting such crimes and to protect the individuals upon which the crime is being inflicted upon.

Not only are the people of North Korea in an urgent need of help but the responsibility to protect principle also confers upon the international community an obligation to interfere.

The issue of humanitarian intervention is a Jus ad bellum question? And the ground of crime against humanity under the R2P principle validates it. The fact that military human intervention has resulted in loss of innocent life in the past and any such actions in North Korea will also have similar foreseen consequences is undisputable.

But at the same time, it should not be forgotten that the tyrannical rule of the Kim dynasty has in the past killed lakhs of innocent people and will continue to take innocent life while the rest of the population of the nation lives under constant life-threatening conditions. To conclude, as explained by the Doctrine of double effect, If Humanitarian intervention is done in DPRK the Positive consequence of the intervention will outweigh the negative consequences.

  1. Jayakumar, K. (2012). Humanitarian Intervention: A legal Analysis. E- International Relations
  2. United Nations office on genocide prevention and responsibility to protect. (n.d.). Responsibility to Protect.
  3. Australian Red Cross. (n.d.). International Humanitarian Law and the Responsibility to Protect.
  4. Australian Red Cross. (n.d.). International Humanitarian Law and the Responsibility to Protect.
  6. Gershel, Bradley. (n.d.). Applying Double Effect in Armed Conflicts: A Crisis of Legitimacy. Emory Law
  7. United Nations. (n.d.). UN charter.
  8. United Nations. (n.d.). UN charter.
  9. Hwang, Yop Jang. (n.d.). The Problems of Human Rights in North Korea. Colombia law.
  10. International coalition for the responsibility to protect . (n.d.). Crisis in North Korea.
  11. International coalition for the responsibility to protect . (n.d.). Crisis in North Korea.
  12. United Nations office on genocide prevention and responsibility to protect. (n.d.). Crimes Against Humanity.
  13. United Nations office on genocide prevention and responsibility to protect. (n.d.). Crimes Against Humanity
  14. United Nations office on genocide prevention and responsibility to protect. (n.d.). Crimes Against Humanity.
  15. Expos�. (n.d.). North Korea and the hypocrisy of humanitarian intervention.
  16. Armacost, Michael h. (2001). Korea: A Geopolitical Overview. Brookings.
  17. Ronkin, N. (2020). The Role of Human Rights in Policy Toward North Korea. Stanford University.
  18. Expos�. (n.d.). North Korea and the hypocrisy of humanitarian intervention.

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