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Michael Kirby provides insight into UN Inquiry

By Jane Hampson

The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG is welcomed to CDU. From left: Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharon Bell, Professor Ned Aughterson, Head of School, School of Law, Felicity Gerry QC, Lecturer in Law, Mr Michael Kirby and Vice-Chancellor Professor Simon Maddocks The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG is welcomed to CDU. From left: Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharon Bell, Professor Ned Aughterson, Head of School, School of Law, Felicity Gerry QC, Lecturer in Law, Mr Michael Kirby and Vice-Chancellor Professor Simon Maddocks

The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, jurist and former Judge of the High Court of Australia gave a special lecture at Charles Darwin University recently on his work with the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights abuses in North Korea.

Mr Kirby was welcomed by the Vice-Chancellor Professor Simon Maddocks, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharon Bell, senior Law Faculty staff and students.

In his lecture, entitled “North Korea: International Human Rights Law meets Geopolitics”, Mr Kirby outlined the mandate and procedures of the 2013 Inquiry, which identified systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in North Korea, and made many recommendations for internal reform and international action.

He described the situation in North Korea as “so horrendous” that the testimonials of survivors moved him to tears.

“They gave their evidence in a fashion similar to Holocaust survivors,” Mr Kirby said. “It was very low key … in a way to justify their survival.

It’s a completely totalitarian regime that wants to control everything, even people’s thoughts.”

With a mandate to investigate three main areas – alleged secret prisons, the depravation and famine of the 1990s in which more than a million people died, and ongoing discrimination – Mr Kirby led the Commission of Inquiry along the lines of a Royal Commission.

“It was different from other UN inquiries in that it was a public hearing,” he said.

“It was a new way of doing things for the UN. It’s open and builds an awareness and expectation of action from the public that something will be done.

“Human rights are the concern of us all,” he said. “It’s not just strategic, the UN has been extremely attentive to what we’ve done and is genuinely concerned about what is happening in North Korea.”

Mr Kirby was in Darwin for the 3rd Asia-Pacific Outgames, where he was a guest speaker at the Games’ Human Rights Forum. As he took questions from students attending the lecture in person and online he commended CDU’s efforts to expand its online learning capacity, saying that “no one has a monopoly on knowledge”.