Human Rights Korean History

KCNA Trips Over the Truth on Human Rights

Writing in the Asia Times, Professor Sung Yoon Lee describes reading KCNA in the original Korean and finding, among the hackneyed sloganeering, that the writers “inadvertently rang with uncommon common sense, not to mention striking validity:”

A staple of the KCNA diet, such oft-stated claims [about Japanese abuses during colonial times] are indeed valid historical grievances that North Korea and Japan will have to resolve if the two are ever to normalize diplomatic relations. [OFK note: as if.] But the rare moment of unwitting cogency comes with chilling clarity in the very next sentence: “Any violator of international law is liable to punishment under this law without exception. No statute of limitations is applicable to the crimes against humanity [sic].”

When it comes to “crimes against humanity”, which Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines as “widespread or systemic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of attack”, there is simply no better candidate for prosecution than the Kim Jong-il regime.

Among the 10 specific systemic crimes against civilians defined in Article 7 as crimes against humanity – murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, sexual slavery, persecution against any identifiable group, enforced disappearance of person, and the crime of apartheid – the Kim Jong-il regime faithfully fulfills all but the last. [Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee in the Asia Times]

That last point merits reconsideration, and it deserves a prominent place in Kim Jong Il’s indictment. North Korea’s systematic discrimination against hereditary social groups extended to depriving them of food. Were it not for Stalin’s self-serving intervention when the U.N. was writing its definition of genocide, Kim Jong Il’s starvation of the “hostile” classes, like Stalin’s starvation of the Ukrainian kulaks, would have been classifiable as such.

Still, it’s a rare day when anyone can start with a self-oblivious KCNA screed and end with an interesting and relevant argument. Lee goes runs through a bill of particulars and reaches a conclusion that requires some intellectual rigor — that Koreans have been far more ruthless at oppressing their fellow Koreans than the Japanese ever were. I wonder how ordinary South Koreans would react to his conclusion:

In fact, on account of the deprivation of all these basic freedoms, life in colonial Korea was far freer than that in North Korea under the Kim Il-sung – Kim Jong-il continuum throughout the sweep of the North’s political existence since 1948.

As repressive and humiliating as Japanese colonial rule was for Koreans, when measured against the indices of “widespread and systemic crimes against civilians”, the North Korean regime comes through on top unsurpassed in its criminal feats – in degree, kind and duration.

Let’s all hope the people he’ll be spending his next chusok with won’t be reading that.

(Sigh) If only I could write as well in my first language as Lee does in his second.