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North Korea urged to focus on human rights after Kim Jong-il death

Amnesty International (AI) responded Monday to the death of North Korean [JURIST news archive] leader Kim Jong-il [BBC profile] by urging [statement] his son and likely successor Kim Jong-un [BBC profile] to improve the nation's human rights record. AI warned that reports indicate the exchange in power could forecast new repressions to "crush any possibility of dissent." Indeed, there are allegations that the government has "purged" any official opposed to Kim Jong-un's succession, by execution or labor camp internment. Not much is known about Kim Jong-un, who is 27 or 28 and Kim Jong-il's youngest son, except that he was recently appointed head of the National Defence Commission and will head his father's funeral committee. North Korean state media reported that Kim Jong-il died early Saturday morning:

Although images from the country center around a grief-stricken populace, AI and others have criticized Kim Jong-il's regime as damaging to the nation, citing that nearly a million people have died of food shortages since he took power in 1994. Kim Jong-il reportedly died of "great physical and mental strain" while "dedicating his life to his people." An autopsy revealed more specifically that the 69-year-old died of heart failure [KCNA report, in Korean]. There has been speculation that Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke several years ago, as well as a continuing struggle with diabetes, which it is alleged Kim Jong-un shares. A national mourning period has been declared until December 29. Reactions to Kim Jong-il's death have been varied [BBC report]. South Korea and Japan are on high alert for the possibility of a strike by North Korea in the wake of his passing, and Asian stock markets have fallen since the death of North Korea's "Dear Leader."

North Korea under Kim Jong-il was alleged to be one of the most notorious violators of human rights in the world [HRW report]. The UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Marzuki Darusman criticized North Korea's human rights record last month, especially concerning treatment of prisoners [JURIST report], echoing a UN General Assembly [official website] resolution [text] earlier that week. North Korea has refused to admit agents of the UN to gather information and denies that labor camps exist. Last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] confirmed that the prosecutor's office has opened preliminary examinations to evaluate possible war crimes committed by North Korea [JURIST report]. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] verified that evaluations will determine if some of the incidents by North Korean forces in South Korea constitute war crimes, giving the ICC jurisdiction over the matter. Earlier in 2010, a UN committee condemned [JURIST report] what it called persistent, "grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights" of its own people. In March 2010, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution condemning [JURIST report] North Korea for human rights abuses.

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