Since I started this blog nearly ten years ago, I’ve had one primary objective — to do my small part to make it impossible for people with more influence than me to ignore North Korea’s crimes against humanity. This week, for the first time, this quixotic campaign does not seem like such an exercise in futility. Today, everyone on earth seems to be talking about Google maps and satellite imagery of concentration camps in North Korea, even posting fake “reviews” of the camps, which often cross the line of questionable taste.
It’s gratifying, after all the effort that it took, to be able to claim a significant contribution to the study and publication of that imagery. We are, nevertheless, still a long way from doing much good for the people in those camps.
[People gathered in the courtyard at the southwest entrance to Camp 22
on April 27, 2002. Who were they? How many of them are still alive?]
But we are closer to the goal, because the regime is now on notice that the whole world is watching. It can’t expand, establish, or significantly modify a camp without attracting global interest, the the state’s whole system of terror rests on the capacity of these camps. Today, reporters who ignore these camps can be called out for bias, and the U.N. has finally been shamed into at least token acknowledgement, however ineffectual it will prove to be.
Our next Secretary Secretary of State, who has said next to nothing about the camps for the last ten years and was widely rumored to be angling for a visit to Pyongyang, is the latest of the latecomers. Last week, he felt compelled to mention them at his prepared speech for his confirmation hearing:
American foreign policy is also defined by food security and energy security, humanitarian assistance, the fight against disease and the push for development, as much as it is by any single counter terrorism initiative – and it must be. It is defined by leadership on life threatening issues like climate change, or fighting to lift up millions of lives by promoting freedom and democracy from Africa to the Americas or speaking out for the prisoners of gulags in North Korea or millions of refugees and displaced persons or victims of human trafficking. It is defined by keeping faith with all that our troops have sacrificed to secure for Afghanistan. America lives up to her values when we give voice to the voiceless.
To be sure, this is a token throwaway clause, buried inside the sort of sentence that defines the term “long-winded” — really, I can only marvel at the lung capacity one can build by being so pompous.
Wiser folk parse the words of politicians at their confirmation hearings the way they might parse the words of convicts at their sentencing hearings. The words ring about as sincere as the speaker’s personal history suggests them to be. In fact, no politician of either party with a prominent foreign policy role has had less to say about human rights in North Korea over the last decade than John Kerry, who ought to be thanking Chuck Hagel for the gift of an easy confirmation. But saying a little is better than saying nothing at all, and it will give us something to point to when, nine months from now, he asks Barack Obama to give him a long leash to negotiate Agreed Framework III, an agreement that will inevitably offer regime-sustaining aid and offer no hope to the victims of the camps.