Former High Court judge Michael Kirby said he will approach his new role examining human rights abuses in North Korea with the same neutrality he used in Australia’s High Court.
Kirby will lead a three-member team probing "systematic, widespread and grave violations" of human rights in the country, it was announced by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) yesterday (7 May).
“I can approach this matter with complete dispassion and without preconceptions,” said Kirby, who said he has had 34 years of training for the role as a judge in Australia.
The inquiry, which begins work on 1 July, will gather and analyse allegations of human rights abuses, including torture, forced starvation, prison camps, restrictions to freedom of expression and movement, and murder.
The commission will have to rely largely on testimony from North Koreans who have fled the country and Kirby said he did not expect it would be difficult to reach out to such communities in nearby Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
He said he did not want to anticipate what the findings of the commission will be.
“I’ve learned how to listen respectfully and quietly to those who are making their complaints and to judge them not on face value, but with the need for clear proof of serious allegations,” said Kirby.
North Korea has condemned the inquiry as a political ploy, but the commission will attempt to make contact with dictator Kim Jong-un and gain permission to enter the country.
“We will make every endeavour to pay our respects to the people and government of North Korea; undoubtedly observe due process … and give them a full opportunity to respond,” said Kirby.
North Korea has repeatedly sparked controversy and concern in the international community by testing and threatening the use of nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang has ignored international sanctions in the past, but Kirby said there have also been instances of cooperation with the UN.
“In particular areas, such as UNICEF, there has been cooperation, and I’m hoping there will be avenues for cooperation in [our] work,” he said.
Kirby previously served as president of the International Commission of Jurists and as UN special representative to Cambodia, and he currently serves on the UNAIDS Global Commission on Sustainable Health.
The commission will announce its findings in a report to be released in mid-March, which Kirby noted was not much time for such a significant inquiry.