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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a performance given with splendor at the People's Theatre on Wednesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State Merited Chorus in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 23, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - A veteran investigator urged the United Nations on Thursday to appoint an international legal expert to prepare judicial proceedings against North Korea's leadership for documented crimes against humanity.
His call came amid an international furore over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and critic of his rule, in Malaysia last month.
A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a 2014 report issued after it conducted interviews and public hearings with defectors, catalogued massive violations in North Korea - including large prison camps, starvation and executions - that it said should be brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general who served on the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea, said the U.N. Human Rights Council must pursue North Korean accountability during its current session.
"There is a need for the Human Rights Council to appoint an independent special expert to oversee the judicial prosecutorial process which will lead up to an eventual mechanism of accountability," Marzuki told a panel held on the sidelines of the Geneva forum.
The landmark 2014 report, rejected by Pyongyang, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for crimes against humanity.
Evidence recorded over the past decade or more by U.N. investigators should be given to a new U.N. mechanism for prosecution, he said, adding: "Let us prevail in the end-game."
Experts hope an ad hoc tribunal on North Korea may be set up someday, as China would be expected to veto any move in the U.N. Security Council to refer its ally to the ICC.
The "assassination" of Kim Jong Nam ought to be a "wake-up call", Lee Jung-Hoon, South Korean ambassador for North Korean human rights, told the event.
"That is why I think this assassination is such a game-changer because a general audience is seeing for the first time live what kind of regime we are really dealing with," Lee said.
"If North Korea is able to do this to the older brother of Kim, to the uncle of Kim (Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013), and all the elite purging left and right, can you imagine what life might be like if you are a prisoner in a North Korean prison camp, with over 100,000 of them?" he said.
Australian Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the 2014 inquiry, said witness statements would be used once a tribunal and prosecutor were appointed. "Accountability is the name of the game in human rights, otherwise it's all rhetoric."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich)