Charm offensive! N. Korean “diplomats” call Botswana’s UN Ambassador a “black bastard,” laugh at testimony of gulag survivors

Discussion about North Korea’s crimes against humanity is accelerating so quickly that it’s becoming difficult to keep up with it all. Last week, among other events, diplomats from Australia, Panama, and Botswana–which severed diplomatic relations with North Korea after the Commission of Inquiry published its report–held a Panel Discussion on human rights in the North.

Not surprisingly, Botswana’s U.N. Ambassador is the latest target of North Korea’s racism, according to Vice News:

At one point, members of the North Korean delegation were heard referring to Botswana’s UN Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae in Korean as “that black bastard,” sources who were nearby told VICE News. They also chuckled at the testimony of Kirby and the two prison escapees, Jung Gwang-il and Kim Hye Sook. Those in the room with the North Korean delegation who later spoke with VICE News insisted on anonymity due to fear of reprisal.

“I am not the least bit bothered by whatever insult they may have hurled at me,” Ambassador Ntwaagae told VICE News when approached for comment. “What is important is everyone recognizes the report of the commission of inquiry makes grim reading. What is important is that they are challenged to rebut the findings of the report.” [Vice News]

Some observers have called North Korea’s frenetic and incoherent reaction to the proposed U.N. action as a “charm offensive.” Myself, I see very little charm, but much that is offensive.

Video: Michael Kirby on human rights and religious freedom in North Korea

This was yet another event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where Justice Michael Kirby (despite his admonition, I find it awkward to call him “Mister”) talks about North Korea’s frenetic reaction to proposals to indict Kim Jong Un, and other topics.

Kirby also describes some extraordinary encounters with North Korean diplomats, the limitations of a potential ICC referral, and why he didn’t charge North Korea with genocide for the near-extermination of Christians (I still think a strong case could be made, based on the evidence that Kirby collected, for the genocide of mixed-ethnicity children).

At the end of the event, some survivors of the North Korean gulag describe their experiences.

 

Must listen: Suki Kim, on teaching undercover at PUST

Kurt Achin, who hosts a series of outstanding podcasts for NK News, interviews Suki Kim, who went undercover as a teacher at the experimental Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. PUST teaches an elite, hand-picked group of male students, ostensibly as a strategy to open North Korea to the world, but the regime’s restrictions on both Kim and her students were so severe that Kim calls PUST “a five-star prison.”

Among other verboten topics, Kim wasn’t allowed to mention the internet. At a technology university.

At about 5:30, Kim describes how the PUST leadership urged its teachers never to talk to the press, even after they return to their countries of origin. In other words, PUST saddled them with the censorship of Pyongyang, and told them to carry it with them, wherever they go.

Engagers don’t change Pyongyang, engagers change for Pyongyang.

What struck me the most was Kim’s statement, at about 23 minutes in, about the way young North Koreans learn to lie casually, habitually, and convincingly. Here’s another interview with Kim via NPR. Her book is called, “Without You, There Is No Us.”

North Korea perestroika watch

The Daily NK reports that North Korean security forces in the bleak border province of North Hamgyeong are “shaking down” smugglers to make them rat out the identities of those who’ve escaped to South Korea. They’re identifying the smugglers by intercepting the cell phone signals of money-smugglers, who in turn are forced to rat out goods and people smugglers, who rat out the refugees, whose families are then vulnerable to shake-downs and collective punishment.

For many of the stay-behinds, what their relatives in Seoul send is a large share of what keeps them alive. You don’t have to wonder how this crackdown is affecting the food crisis for those families, although I doubt the World Food Program will never tell us much about that.

It’s all in a day’s work in North Korea’s steady progress toward reforming and opening itself to the world–progress that some of the brightest minds in America and South Korea have been predicting for several decades now. And that many bright people couldn’t possibly be wrong.

In other perestroika news, to most North Korea-watchers, it has been old news for a long time that South Korean DVDs have become ubiquitous in the North, despite the occasional public execution for watching them. This, too, is being undone by the His Porcine Majesty:

“Recently, aside from the 109 Group that is in charge of cracking down on CDs containing dramas from the South, officials from the SSD, People’s Safety Ministry, and People’s Committee are also taking part in surveillance,” a Pyongyang-based source reported on Friday. “With this, people are now trying to stay away from South Korean dramas.”

“Especially now, even bribes that could have helped bypass punishment from the SSD are no longer an effective option,” the source explained. “And with word that those involved will face penalization with no mercy, people are now too scared to watch them.” [Daily NK]

The report relays the accounts of local residents that “a woman in her 50s from the Hyongjaesan District in Pyongyang,” and “[t]he merchant who lent her the CD” have both been sent to prison camps—you know, one of those camps that North Korea says don’t exist. The risk is said to be so great that traders are getting out of the DVD business entirely.

The crackdown on so-called Hallyu [Korean Wave] content in North Korea is a more marked trend since the leadership of Kim Jong Eun. On January 14th, 2012, he ordered a crackdown on “impure” recorded content and publications, which led to the creation of an organization dubbed, “Unit 114.” This became the first regular group instituted during the current leadership with the aim of preventing capitalist culture from spreading.

Say, did you hear he went to school in Switzerland and likes to ski? Also, I understand his wife has a lovely handbag collection.

N. Korea threatens war over leaflets

North Korea warned Thursday of further military measures against the cross-border scattering of propaganda leaflets by South Korean activists, saying their campaign risked putting inter-Korean ties into an “unrecoverable” state.

In a statement, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland sharply criticized the South’s government for doing little to block the leaflets.

“As shown in a recent incident, leaflet scattering is an extremely dangerous act that could bring about a war as well as the failure of north-south relations,” it said. [Yonhap]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

The emperor is the elephant in the room

“Our Marshal must be at least 100 kilograms,” people have said about Kim Jong Eun’s physique, according to the source. “It’s very rare to see anyone who has body type like the leader in this country [North Korea],” the source said. This has caused people to say in public that “our leader has a fine presence,” but in private they say, “what is it that he eats alone to make his body like that.” [Daily NK]

A simple request from our North Korean friends

If you liked this video, please like this page.

I want to know who sold it to them

North Korea has a new submarine that, according to Joseph Bermudez, “will have greater range, patrol time and weapons capability than the existing KPN fleet of coastal submarines.” Please don’t try to tell me they built this thing from scratch. Someone broke U.N. sanctions to sell it to them.

Incoherence of N. Korea’s human rights “engagement” betrays its insincerity

Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il could spend the duration of their reigns answering charges of atrocities with flat denials. That hasn’t worked since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) published its landmark report in February, or during the scrutiny that has followed. Today, Kim Jong Un must deepen his overdraft of diplomatic capital to fend off an indictment before the International Criminal Court. Ambassador Robert King, U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, describes North Korea’s diplomats as “scrambling” and “fighting back” to escape this “horrendous publicity” — to say nothing of the risk, however slight, that Kim Jong Un and his minions could face personal accountability for their crimes. Oddly enough, King still described these reactions as “helpful” and “positive:”

“The North Koreans are losing the battle. They’re recognizing it, and they’re becoming engaged. They are sending their foreign minister and others around the world to see if they can stop the damage,” King told a seminar at a Washington think tank. [….]

King noted some small, positive developments in Pyongyang’s attitude. He said the North had acceded to an international convention on people with disabilities in response to suggestion in a U.N. periodic review of its rights situation.

“I think it’s helpful that they are becoming engaged,” King said.

Doug Anderson, general counsel to the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, however, the progress was superficial. He said he’d be less skeptical if North Korea took an important step like allowing outside observers to visit the prison camps. [AP, Matthew Pennington]

Other than the fact that Pyongyang is “losing the battle” at the moment, it’s hard—for me, anyway—to see much good coming of this “engagement.” Maybe I’ve been watching the way North Korea engages a little too long, or maybe the incoherence of Pyongyang’s message robs it of its persuasiveness. Writing at 38 North, Roberta Cohen summarizes the early stages of this diplomatic schizophrenia:

Initially, North Korea denounced the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) upon which the resolution was based and made inflammatory personal attacks against its chair, Australian justice Michael Kirby. Now it offers dialogue, seemingly with the aim of weakening the text of the resolution and encouraging “no” votes or abstentions in the 193-member General Assembly.

Although the DPRK is often said to be impervious to outside criticism, the resolution’s focus on accountability for “officials at the highest level of the state” seems to have caught the attention of the leadership. No North Korean Foreign Minister had been sent to the General Assembly for 15 years and presumably one of Ri’s purposes in September was to head off the resolution. Soon thereafter, the North’s UN Ambassador sent out a letter to all UN Missions proposing an alternative resolution that would exclude reference to an international criminal justice mechanism and promote instead “dialogue and negotiations.”[7]

This sudden interest rings hollow for many because for more than a decade, North Korea refused any dialogue and ignored annual UN resolutions requesting talks. The DPRK also broke off its human rights dialogue with the EU in 2003 after the Europeans, finding the dialogue unproductive, introduced a resolution on North Korea’s human rights at the UN. 

Pyongyang’s “outreach” strategies have evolved from the offensive, to the conciliatory, to the ridiculous, and predictably, back to the menacing. In September, it impressed The New York Times when it said that it had, in the Times‘s words, “accepted a wide range of recommendations for improving its human rights record.” But by October 6th, North Korean diplomat Ja Song Nam was calling the General Assembly debate a “human rights racket … kicked up to the extreme.”

On October 9th, North Korea was said to be taking “the unusual step of proposing its own text praising its human rights record,” which really doesn’t sound so unusual for North Korea. Its text would have included demonstrably false boasts about its “free compulsory educational system and free medical care,” and praised its widely ridiculed and criticized human rights self-audit.

This must not have gotten much traction, either, because by October 12th, the North Koreans had asked the EU to “soften” the draft in exchange for bilateral talks, in a transparent effort to split the EU from other U.N. member states. The next day, Yonhap quoted the Rodong Sinmun as calling the draft an attempt “to meddle in North Korea’s internal affairs,” and suggested that it was the result of (Yonhap’s words) “the influence of some powerful countries.”

By October 18th, Yonhap quoted KCNA as describing the draft resolution as “typical politicization, selectivity and double standards,” and the work of “hostile forces attempting to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries under the signboard of human rights.” The AP reported that Pyongyang had called for an across-the-board “end to the practice of calling into question the human rights situation of specific individual countries.” It also called a plea by South Korean President Park Geun-Hye for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs and improve its human rights practices “reckless,” “double-dealing,” and an “unpardonable politically motivated provocation … chilling the atmosphere of the hard-won North-South dialogue.”

Ironically, just a week after Pyongyang offered the EU bilateral talks on human rights, it had answered a similar South Korean proposal with fury and venom.

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Pyongyang’s recent gestures toward dialogue may be its way of “recognizing that the international focus on its human rights will not fade away,” but then, the same could once have been said about the international focus on its nuclear programs and its food crisis. In both cases, Pyongyang offered “engagement” that amounted to so much stalling, lying, and cheating, but which was financially lucrative for itself. Twenty years, three nuclear tests, and 2 million dead North Koreans later, that engagement has benefited no one but Pyongyang. There’s little question that “engagement” on human rights, at least as Pyongyang envisions it today, would have similar outcomes.

Despite her reservations, Cohen ultimately concludes that “no opportunity to promote the human rights of the North Korea’s people should be neglected,” and sets forth conditions and caveats for that dialogue. But if the incoherence of North Korea’s recent responses causes you to conclude that today’s opportunities aren’t yet worth taking, you’re in good company (mine, for instance). There will be better opportunities for dialogue after the General Assembly has acted, after the Security Council has voted, and after civilized nations have agreed on and implemented a plan of action to force North Korea to change. Change will only become possible when Pyongyang perceives that its alternatives are evolution, extinction, and absolutely no others.

Even so, pressure is merely a means to an end. Those who will eventually engage Pyongyang on human rights must think carefully about their strategies, objectives, and outcomes if they hope to do better than those who failed to end North Korea’s nuclear ambitions or its endemic hunger, but that topic also has material enough for another post.

It’s discouraging enough about Pyongyang’s intentions that it would vacillate between these conflicting approaches in the space of a few weeks, but tomorrow, I’ll tell you about a surreal, sad spectacle presented by Donald Gregg at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Monday, where North Korean diplomat Jang Il Hun managed to shoehorn most of them into a single hour. I doubt that Jang altered many views of the regime he represents, but that event might alter plenty of views about Gregg.

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Update: This post was edited after publication.

Kim Il Sung’s creepy quest to live to 100.

The delightfully named Kim So-Yeon was one of Kim Il Sung’s personal physicians before he defected in 1992.

The doctor’s team devised many different ways to ensure a longer life.

“We did a lot of research,” says Kim. “But we only gave him the treatments he had chosen from our list of options.”

One treatment the late leader favored in his later years, according to Kim, was blood transfusions from citizens in their twenties.

Those who had been chosen for the honor of donating blood to the “Eternal President” were fed special nutritious food beforehand.

“He wanted to rule as long as he could. I think he wanted to live a long life for his own satisfaction,” says Kim.

Another favorite, according to Kim, was watching young children do funny or cute things to make him laugh. [CNN]

If you were to ask me to free-associate adjectives to describe Kim Il Sung, “jovial” wouldn’t be one of my choices. So, could this possibly be true? I guess a lot of things could be true of Kim Il Sung, and people who share his genes.

30% fewer N. Korean companies exhibiting at trade fair in Dandong

Yonhap attributes this to chillier relations between China and North Korea. That may be, and it may also be that the network of North Korean vendors uprooted by Jang Song Thaek’s purge hasn’t fully recovered. A third possible explanation is that China may prefer to avoid repeating the embarrassment of another revelation by the U.N. Panel of Experts that it was allowing North Korean companies involved in proliferation to exhibit openly at another trade fair last year. The knowledge that there are gweilos with cameras about may have changed their perspective.

Also from Dandong, CNN reports that there are still smugglers operating there, but that it has also become a nest of North Korean regime spies.

Veto or not, a Security Council vote on N. Korean human rights is a victory

A draft U.N. General Assembly resolution, co-authored by EU and Japanese diplomats, may ask the Security Council “to refer North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to an international court” for his crimes against humanity, as documented extensively by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry.

A draft leaked to the press on October 9th called for “effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity,” possibly including Kim Jong Un himself. The draft also recommended “reporting the country’s situation and its leaders to the International Criminal Court” at The Hague “for crimes against humanity.”

Negotiations over the text of the draft continue, and it remains subject to “change before it goes to a vote in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights.” Whatever text passes the Third Committee is expected to “be sent to the UN General Assembly in December.” Only then will it go to the Security Council, where it’s a foregone conclusion that China and Russia will veto any resolution worth passing.

The inevitability of a ChiCom veto, however, does not mean that the pursuit of a resolution is necessarily an exercise in futility, although it could certainly become one if civilized nations fail to agree on an alternative plan of action. The Editors of The Washington Post, who say that North Korea’s “malevolent system … should not be acceptable,” suggest one such plan:

Another course of action was suggested recently by 20 defectors from North Korea, including Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped from the notorious Camp 14. The defectors asked the Swiss government in a letter to freeze any financial assets held by members of the North Korean regime in Swiss bank accounts. It is not known whether Mr. Kim and his cohorts have stashed fortunes there, but some news accounts have suggested as much. North Korea’s leaders have paid attention to efforts to cut off their source of lucre. An asset freeze would be another way to get their attention and send a message that they cannot escape accountability for their crimes. [Editorial, Washington Post]

As they say, great minds think alike. After all, if passing a Security Council resolution is really a solution, we’ve solved the North Korean nuclear crisis four times since 2006. To be sure, an ICC indictment would be a powerful symbol that would also have important diplomatic and economic consequences, but China and Russia are certain to ignore any resolution’s key provisions anyway. A more plausible objective is to mobilize civilized humanity to deny North Korea the means–particularly, the financial means–to commit crimes against humanity, and Chinese bankers have never been willing to risk their capital and market access for North Korea’s sake.

Roberta Cohen, Co-Chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, notes that Pyongyang’s infamy has already had some significant diplomatic consequences:

Pyongyang could hardly have failed to notice that its human rights record has begun to have impact on an array of governments it might need politically or for foreign investment and aid. In 2013, Mongolia’s President made the news by stating during a visit to Pyongyang that “no tyranny lasts forever” and arguing for linking the nature of “tyrannous governance to prospects for economic development.”[8] Japan has been holding up further economic concessions to North Korea until information is forthcoming about the fate of abducted Japanese citizens.[9] At a meeting of Security Council members in 2014, the Ambassador of France declared that his government did not have diplomatic relations with North Korea and didn’t intend to given the COI report, while the southern African state of Botswana terminated its relations with North Korea over the COI’s findings.[10] The world’s leading industrialized nations in the Group of 8 (now 7) for the first time urged North Korea to address international concerns about its human rights violations,[11] while the United States has made clear that overall relations with North Korea will not fundamentally improve without some change in human rights practices, including closing the prison labor camps.[12] And President Park Geun-hye of South Korea has agreed that her country will host the UN office to be established in order to continue the monitoring done by the COI into human rights in North Korea with a view to promote accountability. [Roberta Cohen, 38 North]

This diplomatic isolation has probably also dissuaded potential investors, who may see investment in North Korea as a big risk to their capital and their reputations, even with the backing of their country’s diplomats. The financial price of North Korea’s atrocities is rising.

Finally, if the objective of a General Assembly vote is to show the world that it has a North Korea problem, a Security Council vote could be just as useful to show the world that at its root, the North Korea problem is a China and Russia problem. The leaked drafts have further increased pressure on Russia and China for shielding Kim Jong Un, and all that is done in his name. That understanding could be a step toward consensus for effective action by civilized nations.

You may believe in the U.N., and you may be a skeptic, but whichever of those things you are, you must still acknowledge that for many governments and many people, a good-faith effort to act at the U.N. is a prerequisite to other forms of action. If nothing else, that effort is placing this issue before the eyes of the world.

The good news is that for the first time in North Korea’s history, its rulers face a real risk of accountability for murdering or starving to death more than two million of their own people. In the short term, this raises little or no direct legal risk to Kim Jong Un and his courtiers. In the long-term, a global deliberation on Kim Jong Un’s responsibility for crimes against humanity could unite the world in pressuring North Korea to discard its malevolence, or alternatively, until its malevolent system ceases to exist.

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Update: Justice Kirby says we should not assume that China would veto the resolution. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong, but the more Kirby talks about it, the greater the pressure on China.

Sue Terry’s review of Chris Hill’s book was much too kind

Terry’s review isn’t what I’d call favorable, and Terry is a much kinder soul than I am, but it seems too kind to call Hill “one of the most successful diplomats of his generation.”

Sure, Hill was one of his generation’s most successful careerists, but as a diplomat, he may have been the greatest human wrecking ball in modern American diplomacy.

What I’m really waiting for is a critical appraisal of Hill’s IKEA writing style.

Freed, fired Fowle flies to family

North Korea has released Jeffrey Fowle, one of its three American hostages. We learn this from, among other sources, an AP report — filed from Washington, following a State Department announcement.

Hey, at least AP Pyongyang got a picture of the Defense Department plane on the runway, next to what looks like one of Air Koryo’s Il-76s in camo paint.

In addition to spending five months in North Korea’s gulag lite, Fowle lost his job during his confinement. He can’t sue North Korea because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, but I do hope he at least sues the company that sold him his tour. Also, as taxpayers, we deserve our own cut of the proceeds for the cost of that flight, and for anything we paid Kim Jong Un to ransom this schlamassel out.

It was unclear whether the U.S. and the North had negotiated Fowle’s release or if the North was offered any concession from the U.S. in exchange for the release.

But State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a regular press briefing that she will “let the North Koreans speak for themselves about why they decided to do this, why now,” strongly suggesting that the release was a unilateral decision by the North, not a product of negotiations between the two countries. 

That’s not exactly a denial, now, is it?

The widespread view has been that the North wants to use the three Americans as leverage to reopen negotiations with Washington. Pyongyang has indicted (sic) such intentions, displaying the three before U.S. TV cameras in interviews where they asked their government in Washington to send a high-level special envoy to Pyongyang.


I see that I share a widespread view, but I promise not to make a habit of it. Anyway, let it be a lesson to good people everywhere to stay the f … to stay out of North Korea. Hat tips and thanks to several of you.

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Update: This is a denial. Secretary of State Kerry flatly denies any “quid pro quo.”

Amb. King: “Do not go to North Korea.”

“Do not go to North Korea. It is a tough place and Americans find themselves getting into trouble there,” he said, apparently referring to three U.S. citizens who have been detained in the communist nation for as long as nearly two years. [Yonhap]

That’s much better, although King’s case should have a stronger moral component.

Another reason North Koreans need an independent cell phone network: online banking

The AP’s Hyung-Jin Kim reports on how the 25,000 North Korean refugees in the South use Chinese cell phones, which reach across the border into North Korea, to send remittances to their families at home, and to keep food in their bellies.

Once Lee was certain she was talking to her sister, a broker took the phone on the North Korean end. Lee transferred 2 million won ($1,880) to a South Korean bank account belonging to a Korean-Chinese who was working with the broker, who confirmed the transfer and handed the phone back. The arrangement gave Lee’s sister 70 percent of the money, with a 30 percent cut for the go-betweens. [AP, Hyung-Jin Kim]

This is the kind of engagement that feeds the hungry and drives change, which is why Pyongyang is so desperate to shut it down.

Yeonmi Park appeals to the conscience of Europe

It is her first time in Ireland and, indeed, Europe. But at the age of just 21, this sweetly-confident, intelligent and tiny-framed young woman, who managed to flee the famine-torn country at the age of 13, is already a global spokesperson for her own people – a people terrorised into submission and silence while the wider world ignores what she describes as a “holocaust”. [Irish Independent]

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 6.51.15 AMMiss Park’s life went from latent terror to a living hell when her parents were arrested.  

Yeonmi and her sister, Eunmi were left to fend for themselves, at the age of nine and 11, foraging on the mountainsides for grasses, plants, frogs and even dragonflies to avoid starving to death. “Everything I used to see, I ate them,” she said.   Asked if any adults around knew the children were surviving alone, Yeonmi tries to explain.   “People were dying there. They don’t care… most people are just hungry and that’s why they don’t have the spirit or time to take care of other people.”

Park was reunited with her parents later, but what happened to them next may be worse than death. There’s also video at that link; unfortunately, it didn’t embed.

Let’s hope that Park evokes Ireland’s own historical memories of a famine caused by government indifference and cruelty. If nothing else, maybe the Irish government will do a better job of enforcing U.N. sanctions against selling luxury goods to Pyongyang.  

Commendably, the EU is now leading the U.N.’s effort to hold Kim Jong Un and his regime accountable for crimes against humanity. That is a vast improvement over its role until recently, which was predominantly one of softening and even violating U.N. sanctions designed to pressure North Korea to change.

Park’s visit is not only welcome for its impact on pubic opinion and policy in Europe, but also because another North Korean is leading the world toward how it should respond to the crisis in her homeland.

Suzanne Scholte makes her case at Mason District, in Fairfax

I’m not neutral in this race, but in the interest of fairness, I went looking on Congressman Connolly’s site for his speech from the same event, and found nothing recent.