A UN panel has warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he may be held accountable for orchestrating widespread crimes against civilians in the secretive Asian nation.
It is unusual for a UN report to directly implicate a nation's leader but in a letter accompanying a year-long investigative report, the panel's chairman, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, directly warned Kim that international prosecution is needed "to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity".
"Even without being directly involved in crimes against humanity, a military commander may be held responsible for crimes against humanity committed by forces under the commander's effective command and control," he wrote.
The panel's 372-page report is a wide-ranging indictment of North Korea for policies ranging from deliberate starvation and torture in political prison camps with 80,000 to 120,000 people, state-sponsored abductions, publicly motivated executions, and lifelong indoctrination.
The report also explains the panel's reason for the letter to Kim.
"In the letter, the commission drew attention to the principle of command and superior responsibility under international law," the report says. "It urged the Supreme Leader to prevent and suppress crimes against humanity, and to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and brought to justice."
Speaking to reporters after the release of the report, Mr Kirby said that "the letter to the Supreme Leader was respectful" but that it was impossible not to include his name in the list of suspects because of what he described as the government's totalitarian nature.
North Korean officials did not co-operate with the panel's investigation, saying in correspondence last year that the country "totally and categorically rejects" the probe ordered by the UN's 47-nation Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.
Mr Kirby also wrote to China's UN ambassador in Geneva, saying there is evidence that Chinese officials have in some cases shared with North Korean officials "information about the contacts and conduct" of North Korean nationals subject to repatriation.
The ambassador, Wu Haitao, replied to the panel and denied that repatriated North Korean citizens from China face torture in North Korea. He added that China "will continue to prudently and properly handle" North Korean citizens who enter China illegally.