Where Was Mary?

Mary Robinson was the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2001, during the height of the Great North Korean Famine, while China flagrantly violated the U.N. Convention on Refugees to keep the starving millions outside its borders. While millions more died in a famine that was certainly preventable, but for the diversion of North Korea’s coffers to higher priorities. While North Korean concentration camps filled to the brim with families whose children had to the temerity to ask for another dollop of gruel, where was Mary?

At best, the famine was mass murder by criminal negligence. At worst, it was political cleansing by famine, which is certainly what you might think after reading this statement by the NGO Refugees International:

Members of the “hostile class” and residents of areas deliberately cut off from international food assistance have an especially strong case to be considered refugees in the sense of fleeing targeted political persecution. . . . Not since Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge has a government succeeded in creating such an all-encompassing reality of oppression and restrictions on the basic rights of the majority of its citizens.

You can read more here, if you’re so inclined. If you’re a regular here, you’ve seen it all a hundred times. Conclusive evidence may have to wait for the trial. Mary Robinson will not be on the witness list. Prove me wrong. Nor will she sit in the dock for dereliction of duty; accountability isn’t a strong point of the United Nations. One day, future generations of North Koreans stunted by malnutrition and scarred by bereavement will ask: “Where was Mary?”

I actually looked. I searched for all of Mary Robinson’s statements about the horrors in North Korea, the worst human rights violations that occurred during her tenure, the worst of which took place on her watch. What I found could meet the space limitations for a classified ad for a used car. Here it is:

“It is most important that we recognize that if they are forced to return, their situation is extremely serious. . . .”

I don’t mean to sound completely unappreciative. They’re nice words, all two dozen or so of them. Especially the last two. Those really pack some wallop. Not quite “the gulag of our time,” but she certainly manages to convey how truly inconvenient it all must be (not mentioning, probably for the sake of politeness, the part about the cables, the electric cattle prods, the high-voltage fences, or the hunger strikes, or where those people ended up). Of the latter, of course, there are many things of which we can’t be sure, but one is that no one gains much weight there.

The parts about killing the racially impure babies and sticking whole families into gas chambers are unverified, of course. And to be fair, those revelations (like the Gitmo vitriol, and more on that in a moment) came after the end of Mary Robinson’s tenure. But of the famine and the camps, we knew. Not that Mary Robinson ever tried to sent in a delegation to inspect them . . . nor had anyone else at the U.N., until Vitit Muntarbhorn’s appointment. In 2004. I hear the one on Srebrenica is due out any day.

But better late than never. Except for those two million dead, of course. When North Korea’s millions were dying, where was Mary? Mary was doing other things, some noble, some not-so-noble. The least noble is the passion that consumes her to this day–the crusade to make Iraq safe for fascism. Which brings me to why I’m writing this post today:

Iraq war weakens US human rights clout: Robinson

The old hypocrimeter being finely tuned, gears whirred smoothly and spat out this:

Robinson Legacy Weakens Justification for U.N. High Commision for Human Rights

Mary Robinson, who said and did next to nothing for the people of North Korea while two million people were starved to death on her watch, who would prefer that Abu Ghraib was still a safe place to sever tongues, hands, and heads, now wants you to tremble before her moral authority. And she wields her mighty sword of justice on whose behalf? Refugees in Darfur? The displaced of Zimbabwe? Those whose votes were stolen from them in Egypt or Azerbaijan? Nope, nope, and nope.

She wields it for him. You were thinking, perhaps, the one on the right? Nope again. Says Mary:

Robinson . . . said she hoped that what followed would be analysis of how Congress acquiesced so easily to a war where “the poor, beleaguered people of Iraq are not better off.”

Not better off? Not better off than what? Than this, does she mean? Now, really–what exactly did Mary Robinson do for these people on her watch? When the four hundred thousands stood at the edge of Saddam’s mass graves, screaming out the last breath in their souls, where was Mary?

Mary was fighting her hardest to make sure it would all go on until the end of Uday’s natural life span.

That, dear readers, encapsulates what I despise about the United Nations. An institution that cannot even define evil certainly tends to attract a certain type of person. The type of person for whom objective values mean nothing, and dry, valueless, and deeply corrupt bureaucratic procedure means everything. No system of laws can succeed without orderly procedure, of course. In that regard, much can be said for the kind of accountability that the U.N. lacks. But procedure without a sense of justice is a formula no despot ever met and didn’t love.

2 comments

  1. Where Was Mary?

    [...] When the last disappointing chapter is written in the history of the United Nations, the UNHCR’s failure to take any effective action or raise a public outcry on behalf of these people may well be one of the Mussolini moments that marks its descent into feckless irrelevance. South Korea’s meek response to China’s brutal treatment of its citizens (North Koreans are legally citizens of the South) may also mark the moment when Korea’s nationhood fell captive to Chinese bullying. [...]

  2. [...] That’s why I am agnostic to skeptical about the concept of “duty to protect.”  In theory, it sounds just spiffy.  In practice, it relies on the UN as its executor, which really means that the UN will continue to occupy the field without even being able to see the ball, much less move it.  What’s more, I’m not sure which scares me more:  a UN that realizes that it can’t enforce basic universal values, or one that thinks it can.  Just look at who’s defining those values.  Frankly, I’d prefer to see UN agencies that can’t prevent genocide be given 90 days to present an effective plan to stop it, or be “fired” from their protective role.  This has, besides its fiscal advantages, the advantages of dispensing with the false pretense that someone is taking care of the problem, and refocusing minds on something more constructive than the kind of salvation Rwanda got … posthumously.  After you take every other implausible option off the table and recall what Chairman Mao told us about where power comes from, you conclude that what North Korea really needs is not UN intervention, but a more equal distribution of gun barrels. [...]

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