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Kim Jong Il, you're under arrest

Concerned citizens want the notorious leader of North Korea tried at the ICC. Are they on the right track? Or, are they only dreaming?

A North Korean defector known as Ahn Soo-chul, 10, stretches out while his mother speaks to the media during a news conference for the human rights of North Korean people, in Seoul, Dec. 3, 2009. South Korean human rights activists and North Korean defectors would like to see a criminal case against the North's leader Kim Jong-il be taken up by international courts. (Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters)

SEOUL, South Korea — Setting fire to life-size cutouts of North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Il in the streets of Seoul is one of the more creative ways activists have protested against the hermit kingdom’s unpopular human rights record.

But challenging a leader who has managed to completely isolate his country from the rest of the world is no easy task. After years of picketing and publishing booklets, groups in South Korea have set their sights higher: taking Kim Jong Il to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

More than 100 civic groups in South Korea recently launched a movement called the Anti-human Crime Investigation Committee and have declared their intention to take North Korea’s leader to the international court, which can prosecute individuals for their involvement in war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

“We’ve been fighting for human rights in North Korea for over 10 years now. What we’ve learned in that process is that North Korea tends to react only when the international community takes notice,” Do Hee-youn, the head of the umbrella committee, said.

The court, since it began operating in 2002, has taken A former rebel leader of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Thomas Lubanga, into custody for forcibly conscripting child soldiers, and unsealed an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.   It has two additional ongoing investigations in Uganda and the Central African Republic.

Do and his partners have gathered 212,200 signatures from the public since launching the movement in July and has also held a meeting with officials from the ICC at The Hague.

The committee says Kim should be held responsible for crimes against humanity that include the operation of political prison camps, conducting public executions and killing newborn babies with deformities — among a long list of other atrocities.

But is the battle against the Stalinist state’s leader at all realistic? Most have shrugged off the idea as another effort that will go up in smoke, but the activists say they want to place their bets on the impossible.

“Of course, in all campaigns we have our highest goals and our lower goals,” Do said. “The highest goal is to have Kim Jong Il stand in court for the crimes he has committed,” he said, “but we’re going to take things slowly.”