Photo: Getty Images/AFP; Illustration by Bloomberg View
Photo: Getty Images/AFP; Illustration by Bloomberg View

The United Nations' report on human rights in North Korea is a sickening document. It should give China's leaders pause. Supporting the despicable regime of Kim Jong Un is not in their interests.

North Korea's chubby, basketball-loving leader invites mockery, but the report released Monday makes plain that he and his regime are no joke. UN investigators provide an appalling catalog of horrors: children beaten for not performing well at mass games honoring the Dear Leader, citizens jailed for dusting their mandatory portraits of Kim’s father and grandfather with insufficient dedication, women subjected to systematic sexual exploitation, families sent to labor camps for the supposed crimes of a single member.

The descriptions of those camps -- estimated to hold as many as 120,000 people -- are especially disgusting. Former inmates talk of being tortured and starved, forced to eat rats and flesh from the bodies of dead prisoners.

Michael Kirby, the retired Australian judge who led the inquiry, warns Kim that he might be personally culpable for crimes against humanity and could face international prosecution. Yet the investigators' recommendation to arraign Kim and others is almost certain to fail, because China will veto it. Chinese officials refused to cooperate with the commission. A Foreign Ministry representative denounced the report for politicizing human rights.

China props up Kim's rule with moral, diplomatic and economic help. It abets some of the regime’s worst crimes, forcing North Korean refugees -- whom China calls economic migrants rather than asylum seekers -- back to face imprisonment and torture. One such returnee told investigators that North Korean guards forced her to drown her infant child because the father was presumed to have been Chinese, hence racially impure. Refugees who manage to escape detection in China must live in hiding, their children deprived of schooling and health care.

If China wants to prevent a flood of refugees, here's an idea: Instead of helping Kim oppress his people, apply pressure for better conditions in North Korea. China's interests lie in a transition to minimally acceptable standards of behavior in Pyongyang, not in supporting the insupportable pending the outright collapse of Kim's regime.

China resists the idea that governments can be prosecuted for abusing their citizens, and officials in Beijing still prize stability on the Korean Peninsula above all else. They should rethink their aid for a regime as vile as Kim's nonetheless. If China cares a jot for the good opinion of the world, it shouldn't be friend to a monster.

To contact the editor responsible for this article:
David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.