Archive for “United” Nations

Why does North Korea still need food aid? (Updated)

The UN aid agencies working in North Korea — the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Population Fund, UNICEF, the World Food Program, and WHO (writing collectively as Relief Web) — have published a new report. I draw three main conclusions from it. First, despite some reports of improved food production, the humanitarian situation is still bad. Second, aid agencies still aren’t being forthcoming about the most important reasons for that. Third, various UN entities are working at cross purposes, and don’t share a single coherent vision of how to balance providing for North Koreans in need with responding to the aggressive behavior of their government.

The Relief Web report finds that “[f]rom a population of 24.6 million, approximately 70 per cent (18 million) are food insecure and highly vulnerable to shortages in food production.” As a misery index, this is a lower estimate than in the December 2013 WFP and FAO study, which found that 84% of North Korean households have “poor” or “borderline” food consumption, a difference that’s probably attributable to slightly different questions and methodologies. (The 2013 study looked at consumption during the lean season, the Relief Web report focuses on dietary diversity.) The new report also finds that “[t]he chronic malnutrition (stunting) rate among under-five children is 27.9 per cent (about 540,000) while acutely malnourished (wasting) affects four per cent of children under-five (about 90,000).”

As always, one should accept such estimates with great caution. The regime is very practiced at skewing assessments like these by showing aid workers precisely what it wants them to see. For example, North Korea denied the UN assessment teams access to the entirety of Jagang Province, a remote mountainous area that, according to the same report, has one of North Korea’s highest rates of food insecurity. We also know that — despite the professed principle of “no access, no food,” North Korea has long denied the aid agencies access to its horrific prison camps. Marcus Noland often says that one should never trust a statistic from North Korea that includes a decimal point.

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So why, after 20 years of aid, can’t this fully industrialized state feed its people? Primarily, the UN finds that “[f]ood production is hampered by a lack of” things that money can buy from any number of commercial sources, including (most obviously) food, but also “agricultural inputs, such as soybean seeds, fertilizer and plastic sheets.” But as OFK readers know, lack of money isn’t an issue for Kim Jong Un.[1]

The report also repeatedly describes North Korea as “vulnerable” to “shocks” like natural disasters, but doesn’t explain how it is that North Korea (again, in contrast to all other industrialized societies) remains vulnerable to famine after two decades of food aid. The report cites “the fragility of the national emergency response capacities,” but that’s an essential government function that other governments prioritize. If you can assemble, equip, and train a million-man army with special forces and a mobile missile force, why not a disaster response agency or EMTs? North Korea is in a temperate zone, not the sahel, so it’s not uniquely vulnerable to extreme weather. When is the last time you heard about anyone going hungry because of extreme weather in South Korea, or for that matter, Mongolia?

The report also reminds us not to assume that increased food production, even if we’ve measured it accurately, translates to a better nutritional situation:

DPR Korea’s Crop Production and Food Security Assessment (CPFSA), carried out by the Government in November 2014, reported a modest increase of 48,700 MT in cereal production in 2014, despite a prolonged dry-spell from spring to autumn. However, production did not reach the targeted level, which was higher than previous years due to increases in consumption patterns, as well as the need to use cereals for seed and livestock feed. As a result the shortfall of cereal increased from 40,000 MT in 2013 to 891,508 MT in 2014. Soybean production also decreased to 160,364 MT in 2014; approximately 1.83 per cent lower than 2013 and the third consecutive year of decline. Crop rotations of soybeans are critical to improve nitrogen levels in the soil and also to provide dietary protein for a number of protein-rich products, such as soymilk, soy-sauce and soy-flour. The estimated level of vegetable production was 0.45 million MT against a requirement of 2.50 million MT, leaving a gap of 2 million MT. Despite improved harvests in some crops, the food security situation will remains similar to previous years with poor food consumption in most households. [Page 7]

Does “increases in consumption patterns” mean that people are eating more, that the UN is adjusting expectations to account for what a human being needs to eat, or is it just creative accounting? I can’t tell.

What Relief Web doesn’t explain is that private, gray-market (sotoji) farming is another important component in North Korea’s food production story that UN survey statistics can’t measure. Andrei Lankov once wrote that in some areas, sotoji farming could account for “as much as 60 percent of all food sold on the local market.” To some extent, and despite all of the renewed talk of agricultural reform, the state’s confiscatory policies toward sotoji agriculture may also be offsetting these nominal increases, but to an unknowable degree. The crackdown is manifested in two ways: increased fees for the use of the plots, and the confiscation of some plots in the name of reforestation. In the recent past, the regime has also exported “excess” production for hard currency. Stories like these cause me to wonder, at times, whether Pyongyang is deliberately limiting the food supply.[2]

According to the report, donor fatigue is a growing problem: “[F]unding for United Nations (UN) agencies decreased substantially over the past decade, from US$300 million in 2004 to less than $50 million in 2014.” It isn’t hard to think of any number of sound reasons for that, from the regime’s own culpably malignant priorities, to its interference with aid workers (see also Steph Haggard’s comment on this) by limiting access or expelling them, to the aid agencies’ own refusal to confront those problems frankly and directly. The UN agencies still appear to be relying on the state’s Public Distribution System, a system that experts will tell you barely functions at all.

Perhaps donors should still do more to meet UN’s requests for vaccination programs to prevent tuberculosis, malaria, and cervical cancer, and for the treatment of tuberculosis and pneumonia. Even medicine isn’t completely free of the risk of diversion, however, which means that monitoring is still important.

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Of course, what the report does not confront is the fact that North Korea shouldn’t need humanitarian aid at all. According to Marcus Noland, North Korea could close its food gap with “less than two-tenths of one percent of national income or one percent of [its] military budget.” Its known annual spending on luxury goods is six times the amount of the UN’s latest appeal for North Korea. Its gap between rich and poor is obscene and growing. Similarly, every North Korean who died in the Great Famine of the 1990s was a victim of Kim Jong Il’s priorities — not weather, not lack of resources, and not sanctions. And yet the report says this:

Recent political developments resulted in further international sanctions on DPR Korea, creating additional constraints in providing vital assistance. As a result of sanctions on the Foreign Trade Bank imposed in March 2013, led to the significant issues and delays in transferring funding into DPRK throughout 2014. UN agencies put in place contingencies to continue programmes, with lifesaving activities prioritised. Measures to reduce in-country payments included maximizing off-shore payments and minimizing in-country operating expenses. The inability of UN agencies to use their regular banking routes created multiple operational obstacles and affected in-country procurement, monitoring visits, effective programme delivery, in-country capacity building programmes and general operating expenditures. [Page 15]

Now, here is what a UN Panel of Experts charged with monitoring the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions just said about that same topic:

209. While the Panel has been made aware of allegations that sanctions are contributing to food shortages, its assessment has found no incidents where bans imposed by the resolutions directly resulted in shortages of foodstuffs or other humanitarian aid. National legislative or procedural steps taken by Member States or private sector industry have been reported as prohibiting or delaying the passage of certain goods to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish these measures from United Nations sanctions. The Panel will continue to seek information on the issue. 210. Although the resolutions underline that the sanctions measures are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the country’s civilian population, there is no exemption mechanism in the resolutions under embargoes to that end. The Panel therefore recommends that the Committee propose to the Security Council exemptions under embargoes, provided that such items are confirmed to be solely for food, agricultural, medical or other humanitarian purposes. [U.N. Panel of Experts, Feb. 2015 report]

The latter recommendation, of course, is both humane and sensible. Sanctions resolutions and legislation should always contain flexible waiver and exemption provisions for purely humanitarian transactions. But agonizing dilemmas like these again point us to Pyongyang’s skill at using its own poor as human shields to divide the world’s response to its offenses and outrages.

To the extent sanctions have complicated aid delivery, the UN Relief Web report attributes that to “recent political developments” — that is, Kim Jong Un’s decision to test a nuclear weapon in February 2013 — and then says that this “resulted in further international sanctions” by the UN Security Council. The U.S. Treasury Department is obligated to enforce UN sanctions, so when Treasury concluded that North Korea was using its Foreign Trade Bank “to facilitate transactions on behalf of actors linked to its proliferation network,” it blocked that bank out of the dollar system. It’s unfortunate that North Korea also forced humanitarian groups to use the same bank, but thankfully, according to Ghulam Isaczai, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for North Korea, UN aid agencies have “been able to work around” those complications “and still bring in humanitarian aid to support the population.”

On close reading, the “complications” the aid agencies cite are related to “local procurement.” Those complications only exist because Pyongyang is demanding payment for that local procurement in U.S. dollars. In plain English, it looks like Pyongyang is charging UN aid agencies for fuel and labor in hard currency, leaving the aid agencies to feed poor North Koreans, while Pyongyang spends its own cash on ski resorts, limousines, private jets, and flat screen TVs.

Despite all of this, the aid agencies and NGOs choose to reserve all of their public criticism for the U.S., because they know the U.S. can’t expel them from North Korea, and actually cares if North Koreans starve. But that selective criticism only does more harm to their credibility and fuels more donor fatigue. Last month, in a supreme irony, Pyongyang expelled the Country Director of one of the NGOs that complained when Treasury blocked the Foreign Trade Bank.

And of course, the latest UN Panel of Experts report also contains this explosive allegation:

202. On 30 January 2014, the French Ministry of Economy and Finance ordered the freezing of assets held by two Democratic People’s Republic of Korea nationals affiliated with the Reconnaissance General Bureau, Mr. Kim Yong Nam and Mr. Kim Su Gwang, and one affiliated with the Korean United Development Bank, Ms. Kim Su Gyong, on the grounds that they were likely to engage in activities prohibited by the resolutions (Table 11).

203. At the time of the freeze order, Mr. Kim Yong Nam was a Reconnaissance General Bureau officer operating under the cover of a contract as an employee at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris and Mr. Kim Su Gwang was a Reconnaissance General Bureau officer operating under the cover of a position as an international civil servant at the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome. Ms. Kim Su Gyong works at the Korean United Development Bank in Pyongyang and was engaged in financial activities under false pretences in order to conceal the involvement of her country. The three are related and have all provided support to Reconnaissance General Bureau officers abroad. Additional information obtained by the Panel regarding these individuals is summarized in annex 49.

One can only speculate as to how that infiltration has affected the WFP’s internal integrity or external messaging. The very fact that the WFP hired a North Korean government official into its headquarters in Rome is disturbing, much less a spy. After all, the WFP’s own Inspector General reports give the WFP ample notice of the risk of manipulation and diversion. I’ve yet to hear a single report that the WFP has begun an investigation, or fired the spy.

Let’s make no mistake here — sanctions are not the reason North Koreans are going hungry. UN aid agencies have an obligation to be honest about the greater causes, including North Korea’s inequality, military spending, and its restrictions on aid workers. If the aid agencies don’t protect their candor and integrity, the donor fatigue problem will only worsen.

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It’s the same story in other parts of the UN bureaucracy, where a whistleblower scandal is arising from the export of computers to North Korea:

At the center of the debate is the World Intellectual Property Organization, whose mandate includes helping governments create patent systems, allowing it to send technical equipment to sanctioned countries such as North Korea and Iran. Critics including former Justice Department official John Yoo argued that the computers could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

When three WIPO officials raised concerns over the shipments with member states in 2012, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee began an investigation. WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry blocked two of them from testifying before the committee and later fired one before he was due to publicly criticize the agency’s leadership, according to the three whistle-blowers, James Pooley, Miranda Brown and Moncef Kateb. [Swissinfo]

As The Daily NK noted when this story first broke in 2012, this isn’t just about a few loose MacBooks; it involves “advanced computer technology and data-storage servers.” How advanced? It would be nice to know a little more about just what that technology was. It may turn out that obstructing the whistleblowers’ testimony was a greater sin than the sanctions violation.

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There is, of course, a fourth U.N. report that no one is even talking about here — the Commission of Inquiry’s report on human rights. It would do much to inform the other reports, especially Relief Web’s. Unfortunately, there is no UN bureaucracy whose job it is to represent the interests of that report’s subjects, or to implement its recommendations.

More broadly, all four reports point to a widening divide between different UN bodies, their interests, and their influences. It’s clear that North Korea has succeeded in wedging those divides to pit concerns for the humanitarian needs of the North Korean people against the interests of the Security Council in enforcing sanctions meant to disarm North Korea, thus exploiting the former and weakening the latter. No one in the UN is mediating and adjudicating these conflicting interests, even where (as with humanitarian exceptions to the sanctions) sensible compromises are within easy reach. Consequently, “United Nations” is again proven to be an oxymoron.

The obvious conclusion one draws is of a leadership vacuum in the higher reaches of the UN. But perhaps strong leadership that stifles free debate and disclosure would be even worse. That’s especially so when one considers that the leader is Ban Ki-moon.

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Updates, 15 April 2015:

[1] More about North Korea’s financial means, and how it chooses to spend it: North Korea increased its military spending by 16 percent over the last five years, to $10.2 billion (with a “b”) last year. That’s nearly 100 times the $111 million (with an “million) UN is asking for.

[2] Today, the Daily NK published another fascinating report on private farming, and it makes me wonder if we’re missing the real ag-reform story. To North Korean farmers, June 28th is so 2012:

While the North Korean authorities continue to push the bunjo [cooperative farm production unit] system, residents, on the other hand, are largely focusing on cultivating individual plots. According to sources within the country, this is because after failing to see the increased allotment of production under the nascent  system, discontent with the state’s hollow promises has spread rapidly among the population.

“As preparations for spring cultivation are in full swing, people feel that individual farming is far more of a priority than collective farming. It’s a major shift from last year,” a source from Yangkang Province reported to Daily NK on April 13th. “With spring upon us, more households are facing decreased food supplies, so groups of residents have been gathering together to commiserate and mull over the matter together.”

North Korea stipulated in its “June 28th Measures,” announced in 2012, plans for the state to establish a “new economic management system in its own style.” Under the new system, production units on cooperative farms shrank from groups of 10 to 25, to smaller factions [pojeon] of 4 to 6 members. The state receives 70% of the target production, with farmers taking 30% and any surplus if targets are exceeded. [Daily NK]

According to the report, farmers have been cheated so many times now that they distrust the state to keep its share-cropping promises. Instead, they’re doing what they can to slip outside the state’s system and grow food privately. The story even causes me to wonder whether the June 28th measures were nothing more than a way to pacify farmers whose sotoji farms were being confiscated, or whose crops were being cut down.

On N. Korea’s crimes against humanity, Congress can do what Obama won’t and the U.N. can’t.

It’s nearly a sure bet that you hadn’t heard that last month, American diplomats in Geneva co-sponsored yet another resolution (HRC/28/L.18) at the U.N. Human Rights Council, expressing “deep concern about human rights violations in North Korea.” For those who may have lost track, that follows the HRC’s vote to begin an inquiry into human rights in North Korea (March 2013), the presentation of the report (February 2014), an HRC vote endorsing the COI report (April 2014), a General Assembly resolution (November 2014), and eventually, placement of the human rights question on the Security Council’s permanent agenda (December 2014). Placing the issue on the UNSC’s agenda was not subject to a veto for the simple reason that this move, by itself, is likely to amount to approximately nothing as long as China and Russia remain certain to veto any meaningful resolution.

North Korean diplomats reacted to each of these events with lies, denials, whataboutisms, insults, and the occasional racial slur. Safe to say, there is no sign that Pyongyang has any plans to accept political reform.

And yet, the U.S. diplomats have the gall to call the latest HRC resolution introduction “important,” apparently expecting us to forget that the move puts us right back where we were a year ago. Although the U.S. claims to be “extremely concerned” about the North’s crimes against humanity, once again, it led from behind, allowing the EU and Japan to introduce the resolution.

This is not to say that absolutely nothing has been gained. One day, a better president who really is “extremely concerned” about this issue will be better positioned to raise human rights at the Security Council, and to pressure the next South Korean government to let the newly established OHCHR office in Seoul do its work. The best we can hope from President Obama is that he might schedule “briefings” to the Security Council, which China and Russia will skip, and where those who bother to attend will nod along in sagacious impotence. If there was any question that President Obama would earn his Nobel Peace Prize with a serious and meaningful policy response to crimes against humanity comparable to those of the Khmer Rouge, the Bosnian Serbs, and (on a per capita basis) the Nazis, that question is now resolved. Obama will not force a vote on a Chapter VII resolution at the Security Council, an act that would force China and Russia to veto the resolution and forever own Kim Jong Un’s crimes against humanity. North Korea will be Samantha Power’s Rwanda, and hopefully, history will at least hold her, Obama, and Ban Ki Moon accountable for their failures.

But what else would a Security Council vote achieve? There has been much emphasis on pressing for a referral to the International Criminal Court, a body that’s unlikely to lay its jurisdictional hands on any North Korean official responsible for crimes against humanity. A more effective response would be the sort of cultural and economic boycott that ultimately forced change in South Africa, when paired with an effective grass-roots campaign. But then, we already know what North Korea’s vulnerability is, and Congress knows that it has a greater power to attack that vulnerability than the U.N. itself. After a short spasm of vitality, a divided U.N. has failed again. The President appears apathetic, and has abdicated his responsibility. Now, Congress must act.   

North Korea evades U.N. sanctions with shell games, spell games, and whack-a-mole

On any given day, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control may publish several pages of new designations for the list of Specially Designated Nationals. Inevitably, most of the designations will be designations of aliases. That’s because one of the oldest sanctions-evasion tricks is renaming an entity, so that when banks type its name into their software, they don’t get a hit that might warn them to decline the transaction, block the account, or file a Suspicious Activity Report.

In the case of North Korea, there’s an additional and related problem. North Korea can also play spell games with the English transliteration of Korean names. The U.N. Panel of Experts has specifically raised that issue as a problem that requires closer attention from national governments.

So when Treasury designates a list of North Korean smuggling ships, as it did last July, it’s not enough to publish their names and IMO numbers and call it done.

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Like any sanctions program, the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea requires constant attention and follow-up.

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It’s a long game of what Marcus Noland calls Whack-a-Mole. And judging by the POE’s latest report, we aren’t winning that game.

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This isn’t a grand new revelation. NK News’s Leo Byrne, one of the very best reporters to cover North Korea for any publication, noticed this last October. Four months later, Treasury hasn’t followed up with new alias designations. You can even extend that M.O. back to this 2006 New York Times report, on North Korea’s use of deceptive shipping practices, like re-naming and re-flagging. Whether Treasury’s inaction reflects a lack of political will or a simple lack of resources, I’ll decline to speculate.

A key point the POE makes is that member states are required to seize these vessels as soon as they identify them.

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Instead, several nations are allowing Ocean Maritime Management to continue operating on their soil, or from their ports.

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OMM doesn’t just rename its ships; it also renames itself. Lately, for example, it has gone by the names “Haejin Ship Management Co Ltd.” and “Yongjin Ship Management Co Ltd.” Sometimes, it puts each ship under the ownership of its own shell company. The POE also suspects that OMM is working through Singapore-based entities known as ”Senat Shipping & Trading Private Limited,” “Senat Shipping Limited,” and “Senat Shipping Agency Pte. Ltd.,” particularly for the handling of its financial transactions. The POE put some questions to Senat. Senat hasn’t responded.

OMM’s deceptive practices don’t only appear to be designed to evade sanctions. They also appear to be intended to evade creditors. Switching the ownership of each ship to a single shell company is helpful for that.

As a result, OMM is still in business. And in some cases, its agents are actually North Korean diplomats.

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The POE even made this interesting diagram.

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North Korea isn’t only playing whack-a-mole with shipping. Notorious (and U.N.-designated) proliferator Ryonha Machinery sometimes goes by “Millim Technology Company.” It operates openly in Dandong and Beijing, China under that name. The General Department of Atomic Energy of the DPRK now calls itself the “Ministry of Atomic Energy Industry of DPRK.” The Korean Committee for Space Technology recently renamed itself the “National Aerospace Development Administration,” or NADA (couldn’t you have checked that one with your Cuban friends?). The Second Academy of Natural Sciences has taken to calling itself the “National Defence Science of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

The moles, in other words, are popping up faster than we can whack them. Thanks to Chinese stalling, the U.N. bureaucracy is too hopelessly slow to keep up, and the member state governments (including ours) that are supposed to be enforcing these sanctions aren’t paying attention.

The report tells us some other interesting things about North Korea’s merchant fleet. As North Korea’s fleet ages out, it is switching to smaller vessels. In a rare bit of good news, its port calls in non-Chinese foreign ports have declined dramatically in recent years, “to just 6 percent of 2008 figures,” according to the POE. Today, nearly all of its direct shipping trade is with China. It would make sense for North Korea to migrate to smaller ships in that case. In the past, for example, in the 2009 ANL Australia incident, North Korea shipped its cargo to Chinese ports in containers, and then played a shell game with port authorities all the way to Dubai, and very nearly to Bandar Abbas.

North Korea is also relying more on reflagging — the use of so-called “flags of convenience,” to dodge inspections.

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The obvious answer is for governments to call on these states to stop reflagging North Korean ships, unless they physically cross-check their IMOs. If these states continue reflagging vessels that are subject to immediate seizure, vessels flying these flags should be targeted for inspection by the United States and other countries. This is a national security issue. God only knows what the North Koreans might want to slip into this country in a shipping container. For more on that option, see Section 205 of the NKSEA.

One potential exploit in North Korea’s shipping system is insurance. North Korea has found it difficult enough to insure its vessels that it self-insures.

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We saw, in the case of the Mu Du Bong, that North Korean self-insurance isn’t particularly useful. One solution to that problem is for ports to refuse to accept KSPIA as a valid insurer. When port directors and customs inspectors see that a vessel is insured by KSPIA, that should also be a signal for them to check the vessel’s IMO number, or any links to Ocean Maritime Management or its aliases. If they can, they should be seizing any of its vessels on the spot.

Finally, North Korean ships are switching off their transponders.

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Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.56.41 PMThat’s often the first sign of a vessel that’s engaged in smuggling or piracy. Those vessels should be followed to port, boarded, and inspected.

The POE also seems close to calling for the designation of Air Koryo, although I’d personally counsel against that, absent some established link between them and North Korea’s post-UNSCR 1874 smuggling:

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I’ll close with this graphic of POE’s various methods of deception.

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Clearly, many member states aren’t taking the enforcement of these sanctions seriously. What’s most obviously lacking is any coordination of enforcement among governments. If only there were some inter-governmental organization whose mission were to control proliferation through international air and maritime cargo. Even better, if only that organization were unencumbered by a requirement for unanimous consent, or the threat of a veto from Russia or China. Oh, wait. There is exactly such an organization. So what’s stopping us?

Yes, North Korea is still using the dollar system to launder its money.

The Financial Action Task Force has re-issued its call for “countermeasures” against the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing emanating from North Korea. The FATF’s call is not significantly different from advisories the FATF has issued since 2011, but it is significant in one way.

More sensible Korea-watchers are accustomed to the pavlovian response of the South Korean press, and of certain American academics, whenever North Korea hints at being willing to talk. We saw this again after Kim Jong Un’s New Year speech, which was (as is traditional) so selectively overanalyzed that Kim Jong Un’s intent could not be identified from dental records. We saw it when the editors of The New York Times seized on a risible North Korean offer and called on President Obama to “test North Korea’s intentions” — it would be equally enlightening to test Dennis Rodman’s urine — as if the last 20 years have tested nothing. By my count, North Korea has conducted three underground tests of its intentions. But I digress.

We saw the same Pavlovian response in some reporters after North Korea agreed to hold talks with the FATF, and after its Central Bank issued a statement committing “to implementing the action plan of ‘international standard’ for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism.” (As if.) Yonhap even took it seriously when Pyongyang announced that it had established its own anti-money laundering body. And here’s how the FATF dispensed with that:

Since October 2014, the DPRK sent a letter to the FATF indicating its commitment to implementing the action plan developed with the FATF.

However, the FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from ML/FT risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction. [FATF]

The force may have a strong influence on the weak-minded, but Pyongyang’s mind tricks haven’t influenced the FATF’s bankers. Maybe all those years of foreclosing on tearful widows and orphans have built an immunity that can, in a different context, serve mankind’s greater good. It never ceases to fascinate me how much better bankers are at diplomacy than diplomats are. A certain discipline may come with the expectation that the words in contracts are meaningful and enforceable as written. The FATF expects more than words from North Korea, and the latest draft U.N. Panel of Experts report goes far to explain why.

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That is, North Korea habitually uses deceptive financial practices similar to those used by criminal organizations. Moving money this way has a higher risk premium, higher cost, slower speed, and less flexibility. North Korea wouldn’t use these cryptic, bronze-age methods unless it was hiding something. Similarly, if Pyongyang’s finances are legit, why is it using Reconnaissance General Bureau agents as bulk cash smugglers?

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The U.N. report also tells us that North Korea continues to use the dollar system for those deceptive practices.

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That isn’t the only report this week that King Dollar rules in Pyongyang, partially as a consequence of Pyongyang’s catastrophically self-destructive currency “reform.” An interesting report in The Daily NK tells us that North Korea’s Ministry of Railways expects payment for shipping from both its state-controlled “foreign-currency earning enterprises” and “individual vendors” in U.S. dollars. This Yonhap report quotes an anonymous source, who says that “Pyongyang has become a de-facto dollar-using economy,” although the Yuan is more popular near the Chinese border.

And here’s an example of how this works in practice:

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The FATF’s warnings, of course, are merely persuasive authority; they don’t have the force of law. They are persuasive to responsible governments and banks, but North Korea finds its enablers among the world’s less responsible actors. That will not change until the U.S. Treasury Department and other regulators credibly threaten those actors with secondary sanctions. You can almost hear the Panel of Experts calling on the Treasury Department to do exactly that here, with respect to North Korean weapons smuggler/shipper Ocean Maritime Management, and others:

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And what has President Obama done about any of this lately? On January 2, 2015, he signed Executive Order 13687, the actual legal effect of which was to block the assets of ten low-level arms dealers. If there is a single theme that emerges from the latest POE report, however, it is Pyongyang’s speed and deftness at whack-a-mole. I can just about guarantee you that those low-level arms dealers have been replaced by ten other low-level arms dealers. Whatever the effect of EO 13687’s original designations, they were minimal and brief.

There are several conclusions this evidence points to. First, Pyongyang is worried about sanctions. Second, its growing dependency on King Dollar gives it good reason to be. Third, it continues to use the dollar system to engage in money laundering and to violate U.N. Security Council sanctions. Fourth, the Obama Administration has yet to show that it is serious about protecting the U.S. financial system from North Korea’s money laundering, or about making U.N. sanctions work. It tells you everything you need to know that even the U.N. is (in its own subtle way) pleading for the President to enforce the law.

North Korea’s arms trade flourishes as U.S. diplomacy falters

The latest U.N. Panel of Experts report is a bleak one for the U.N., and for an Obama Administration that seems content to outsource its policy to it. North Korea shows no sign of complying with the resolutions, and every sign of pursuing its WMD programs at full speed. Yongbyon was active for a while last year, and as recently as last September, there were signs of new excavation at North Korea’s nuclear test site at Punggye-ri. North Korea has improved its Seohae missile test site, tested a KN-08 engine, and fired off large numbers of rockets and missiles from its east coast.

By design, the U.N. can’t enforce its own resolutions, and governments’ enforcement of the U.N. sanctions is flagging. This chart from the latest U.N. Panel of Experts report should tell you most of what you need to know:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 8.23.14 AMIn other words, most member states are less likely to have reported back to the U.N. on their enforcement of North Korea sanctions than they were to have reported on their enforcement of other U.N. sanctions. We’ll turn to why later in this post, but a number of anecdotes reported by the POE should give you a good idea:

– Iran (of course) has been shipping North Korean weapons to Yemen (most likely to Houthi militias). That would be consistent with Iran’s long-standing practice of buying North Korean weapons for Hamas and Hezbollah.

– Ethiopia, a longstanding arms client of North Korea, is suspected of violating the arms embargo to buy ammunition from the Korea Mineral Trading General Corporation, or KOMID, which has been designated by Treasury for its proliferation-related activities.

– Next door, Ethiopia’s arch-enemy, Eritrea is suspected of “arms-related cooperation” with Green Pine Associated Corporation, another North Korean proliferator.

I’ve previously accused Uganda of violating the arms embargo by hiring North Koreans to train its police, and apparently, the POE agrees:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.12.33 AM

– North Korean-made 107- and 122-millimeter rockets have been found in the possession of rebels in the eastern D.R. Congo. The POE is still investigating, but Uganda and Rwanda are both known to have armed rebel groups there.

– The POE also updates us on the abortive sale by corrupt Mongolian military officers of MiG-21s to North Korea. The story has a happy ending: the sale was blocked, and the North Koreans never got their money back.

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The POE also reports that an unknown European state provided information leading to the discovery of “an air shipment” of “spare parts for Yugo class submarines that were procured in the United States market, for a military-related company based in South-East Asia.” Really? There are people in the United States who deal in that sort of gear? So where are the indictments? Maybe they’re filed in the same receptacle as Dennis Rodman’s civil penalty.

While we’re on the subject of luxury goods, the U.S. is in good company in its lackluster enforcement:

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There are certainly plenty of knowing suppliers, although the only guilty party these particular facts implicate is the one that the luxury goods almost necessarily traversed to get to North Korea.

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So while one part of the U.N. goes begging for aid for malnourished North Korean kids, another part of the U.N. can only point out that Kim Jong Un is spending freely on limousines, ski equipment, and yachts:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.19.37 AMScreen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.19.59 AM

Not even rule-bound Britain would (or could) make Princess Yachts answer the POE’s questions about selling yachts to North Korea. That’s typical: of 262 requests the POE sent out last year, asking for information, it only received 116 responses.

Numerous states also hosted offices of U.N.- and U.S.- sanctioned Ocean Maritime Management “including Brazil (São Paulo, Brasilia), China (Dalian, Hong Kong, Shenzhen), Egypt (Port Said), Greece (Athens), Japan, Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Peru (Lima), the Russian Federation (Vladivostok), Singapore and Thailand (Bangkok).” But more on shipping in a future post.

Then, there is the example of Cuba. It violated the North Korea sanctions flagrantly, yet neither the U.N. nor the Treasury Department sanctioned a single Cuban person or entity for it. You may agree with the U.S. policy shift toward Cuba, and you may not, but the U.S. was able to improve its relationship with Burma and still sanction Burmese generals for their arms deals with North Korea.

~   ~   ~

The picture this paints is of a sanctions regime that few governments — including ours — believe they have to take seriously. It isn’t the job of the POE, after all, to enforce the law. That’s something member states have to do through their national laws.

The Ugandas, Ethiopias, and Chinas of the world have their own reasons for violating sanctions. They aren’t going to be persuaded to change their behavior the easy way. We can raise the cost of their non-compliance, but that would require political will. States that receive U.S. aid may find themselves denied aid one day under Section 203 of the NKSEA, and the bureaucrats responsible for arms deals with North Korea could have their assets blocked. In the case of China, forcing change will require a combination of credible threats and face-saving diplomacy.

Other governments are probably more passive and persuadable, but they might reasonably ask why they should be the only ones enforcing the resolutions. They aren’t necessarily looking to the U.S. for leadership, but because of America’s economic power, U.S. leadership would certainly sway many of them toward a global consensus of serious enforcement of North Korea sanctions. If forced to choose whether to have an economic relationship with the United States or an economic relationship with North Korea, the choice would be an easy one for most banks and governments. Right now, that’s not a choice anyone has to make. But if the U.S. doesn’t lead, who will? And if it doesn’t, who will follow?

Most people remember that the Treasury Department sanctioned Banco Delta Asia. Few people remember that top Treasury Department officials did much more than sanction one bank in 2005 — they launched a campaign of financial diplomacy to persuade bankers and finance ministers from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar to Hanoi to distance themselves from North Korea. It was multilateral diplomacy at its best, and it worked, until the State Department swallowed Kim Jong Il’s bait and undid all of it. What’s needed today is neither war nor appeasement, but some good diplomacy. Of course, all good diplomacy requires leverage, in the form of veiled consequences.

UN POE Report: North Korean spies infiltrated UNESCO, World Food Program

I’ll just let you read what the POE’s draft report says for yourself:

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.45.07 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.45.30 AMWell, that might explain a few things. For those who don’t know, the Reconnaissance General Bureau handles most of North Korea’s clandestine foreign intelligence work. It is sanctioned by the Treasury Department. It is suspected of being behind the Rangoon Bombing in 1983, KAL 858 bombing in 1987, a series of attempted and completed assassinations of activists and defectors, and the Sony hack and threats. RGB agents may have also crewed the vessel that sank the Cheonan.

I wonder if this can also be linked to the diversion of U.N. emergency aid to North Korea, or the U.N. Development Programme scandal from a few years ago. Or, this angry email I received from a WFP official in Rome a few months ago:

I’ve been reading you for some months, but am stopping now because this is not aimed at helping the people of North Korea. It’s all sadly about you.

This, children, is what’s known as “projection.” I’m not going to name the official, but by googling his name, I was able to identify his position and location. There’s little doubt that this person and Kim Su Gwang were well acquainted. It’s Oil-For-Food all over again.

Kudos to the POE for having the courage to tell us this. Now, let the Inspectors General get to work.

~   ~   ~

Update: Remember, this is a draft. The final still hasn’t been released yet.

North Korea makes more homophobic slurs against Michael Kirby

Once again, North Korea is responding to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s exhaustively documented evidence of crimes against humanity … by making an issue of Chairman Kirby’s sexual orientation:

The editorial also singled out the chair of the COI, Michael Kirby, and leveled homophobic abuse at the former judge, something it has done previously to discredit his work.

“As far as the former chairman of the ‘Inquiry Commission’ Kirby is concerned, he is an old sexual maniac who earned an ill-fame for his decades-long homosexuality,” the article read. [NK News]

The last time North Korea attacked Chairman Kirby’s sexual orientation, it also denied the very existence of homosexuality in North Korea. An interesting new report, however, also via NK News, informs us that this is not the case, and that homosexuality is common in the isolated and otherwise sexless North Korean Army. According to the report, “senior officers have been known take charge of ‘pretty boy privates.’” That is to say, officers rape their soldiers, which can’t be good for morale or unit cohesion.

The story isn’t just an interesting one about North Korea and the mendacity of its media, but about the irrepressibility of human nature. Next time someone tells you there are no gay people in North Korea, answer them in the most fabulous way you can: “That’s not what I’ve heard, sister!”

This organization does not tolerate failure.

For weeks, I’d heard rumors that the North Korean government told its diplomats that they’d be held accountable — personally — unless they stopped the U.N. from moving human rights resolutions. There may have been some truth to those rumors.

North Korea has recently replaced the deputy chief of its mission to the United Nations in New York, diplomatic sources said Wednesday, a personnel change that followed the recent U.N. passage of a unusually strong human rights resolution against the communist country.

“Around two weeks ago, North Korean deputy ambassador to the U.N., Ri Tong-il, was replaced and he returned to the North,” one of the sources, well-versed in U.N. matters, told Yonhap News Agency. “As far as I know, his successor, Deputy Ambassador An Myong-hun, has entered New York.”

The decision to replace Ri, a well-known U.N. expert, comes as a surprise at a time when the North is undergoing a critical phase at the international body over its human rights situation. [Yonhap]

OFK has exclusive video.

Kirby: “strategy of non-criticism” gained only “crumbs” for Japan, S. Korea

In an op-ed for CNN.com, Michael Kirby talks about North Korea’s crimes against humanity, the history of the U.N.’s attempts to “engage” Pyongyang on human rights, and the broader failure of strategies that sought to transform North Korea though scented candles, mood lighting, and Marvin Gaye music alone:

The strategy of non-criticism, attempted friendliness and deference was singularly unsuccessful in securing either the goal of peace, national reunification or human rights compliance. For example, the meetings in Pyongyang in September 2002 with Japan’s prime minister at the time, Junichiro Koizumi, and in September 2000 with then-President Kim Dae-Jong of ROK, were not long-term substantive successes.

In the case of the Japanese prime minister, a tiny number of abductees were returned with an acknowledgment of a state policy of abductions by the DPRK that was said to have been abandoned. However, when the bones of some of the Japanese abductees, said to have died in DPRK, were returned to Japan, they were found to have no DNA match to the families of the abductees. In some cases they were probably animal bones — an affront to Japan and to the abductees’ families.

Negotiations with ROK actually coincided with the clandestine development of nuclear weapons at the very time of the promotion of the “Sunshine Policy” by President Kim.

Whilst such strategies are sometimes rewarded by minor concessions, objectively such measures can only be assessed as “crumbs” when measured against the violations and international crimes reported by the COI. [Michael Kirby, CNN]

These days, true liberals sound like neocons when it comes to North Korea. In America, most of those who still keep faith with the discredited and unrealistic premises behind the Sunshine Policy are hard-left progressives, or people who call themselves “realists.”

Kirby appeals to China and Russia to support the recommendations of the U.N. General Assembly and refer Kim Jong Un’s regime to the International Criminal Court:

Unlike earlier totalitarian states and oppressive conduct, the world cannot now lament, “if only we had known…” Now, the world does know. And the question is whether the world will respond effectively and take the necessary action. [….]

The world has therefore reached a moment of truth over DPRK. The international community and people everywhere will be watching closely the United Nations’ consideration of the COI report. I am hopeful that the outcome will be positive.

The human rights of the people of DPRK demand it. The peace and security of the Korean peninsula and its region require it.

If When China does veto a Security Council resolution, the world’s civilized nations must do more than shrug their shoulders helplessly. They should be ready to move on to a discussion of alternatives, including financial isolation, travel bans on regime officials, and a special tribunal under the authority of the General Assembly. My friend, Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, adds this:

“High-profile actions at the U.N. that pit China and the DPRK on one side against the ‘civilized’ nations of the world on the other have implications on how states and multinational corporations conduct trade and business with the DPRK,” he said.

“Divestiture was a powerful tool the world used against South Africa’s apartheid regime. Likewise, deterring European states and companies from selling North Korea luxury goods in violation of several UNSC resolutions can only put pressure on the Kim regime.” [CNN]

Perhaps the most important role Justice Kirby can play is to keep this issue in the public eye, and to impose political and reputational costs on Pyongyang and its enablers.

I heard Obama told Putin that Kim Jong Un was too big a wuss to test a nuke to punish the U.N.

Before the committee voted Tuesday, North Korea warned that it might retaliate with further nuclear tests. Trying to punish it over human rights “is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests,” said Choe Myong Nam, a North Korean foreign-ministry adviser for U.N. and human rights issues, according to the Associated Press. [Washington Post, Anna Fifield]

Oh, dear God, please, please do this.

Today’s General Assembly vote is about the people of North Korea, and the relevance of the U.N. itself (Update: UNGA approves, 111-19-55)

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.  – Voltaire

It now seems that the U.N. General Assembly’s vote on a North Korea human rights resolution is to take place this very day. Because of Justice Kirby’s report — and because of what so many survivors have told us, at the risk of their lives — no one can ever again say, “I did not know.” Unlike the bystanders of previous generations, we are free to speak, and to act.

Germany 1945

The draft resolution itself mostly states what has been obvious for years to anyone who has paid attention. It is strong in many regards, but conspicuously weak in failing to note North Korea’s denial of the right to food, where the influence of the World Food Program in weakening the draft is obvious. Nor did Pyongyang need any external encouragement to punish “human traffickers,” who are now the only way out of North Korea for its most desperate people. But it is still the best text we’re likely to see for a very long time. You can read it here. Read more

Washington Post Editorial calls for International Criminal Court referral

The Editors of The Washington Post aren’t falling for North Korea’s so-called charm offensive, nor (thankfully) do they use that inapt cliché:

[R]ecent maneuverings suggest that Pyongyang views the latest debate with alarm. North Korean diplomats have been attempting to head off any action that would lead to a referral to the ICC. The latest gambit was to invite Mr. Darusman to visit North Korea for the first time, a cynical gesture after the country refused to allow a visit by the commission of inquiry.

No amount of damage control by North Korea should get in the way now. The Security Council ought to vote on a referral, and if China decides to veto it, then the entire world will see who supports the thugs who have built a superstructure of brutality in North Korea. As Mr. Darusman states in his report, there is no justification for inaction, given the horrifying facts that have now been brought to light. The United States should give his recommendation full support. [Washington Post]

Even Marzuki Darusman, probably the wobbliest of the three Commissioners, is calling for an ICC referral. Similar thoughts here, via the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

~   ~   ~

Update: I fixed the bad link to HRNK’s press release.

Kirby presses China to support ICC referral of North Korea

Western diplomats say China, North Korea’s principal protector on the UN Security Council, will likely use its veto power there to knock down any attempt to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But Michael Kirby, a former Australian judge who led the independent UN inquiry into alleged human rights abuses in North Korea, told reporters at UN headquarters that it was by no means certain if Beijing would block an ICC referral. “I don’t think a veto should be assumed,” Kirby said. “China is a very great pal with great responsibilities as a permanent member. Veto is not the way China does international diplomacy. China tends to find another way.” [Joongang Ilbo, via Reuters]

I suspect that the Korean reporter mistook Kirby’s Australian pronunciation of “power” for “pal.” If not, the word “pal” must have some completely different meaning in the Australian vernacular. Because China is nobody’s pal.

China will never agree, of course, but I hope Justice Kirby keeps bringing the subject up every time a microphone or a camera finds him. On this subject—and plenty of others—China deserves all the infamy its gets, and exposing its unreasonable positions raises the cost of its support for Kim Jong Un and his crimes against humanity. It will also help persuade other nations to seek out and join in alternative, multilateral strategies for sanctioning North Korea.

Charm offensive: N. Korea threatens to nuke U.S., hands out Halloween candy

As near as I can figure, Kim Jong Un’s stages of grief over his potential indictment for crimes against humanity have included denial, homophobia, mendacity, engagementracism, and (again) terrorism, not necessarily in that order. The North Korean model differs from the Kübler-Ross model in its inclusion of several additional stages, and also, for its lack of an “acceptance” stage.

In any case, North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated and opaque countries, seems to be taking the threat of at least some action seriously. Its envoys have struck back in recent weeks with a mix of unusual diplomatic concessions, hard-line rhetoric and propaganda videos, handed out to reporters like Halloween candy in the corridors of the United Nations. Earlier this month, North Korea even circulated a draft measure of its own, calling on the United Nations to conduct an “unbiased reassessment” of its human rights record; it regards Mr. Kirby’s commission of inquiry as a Western plot. [N.Y. Times]

Some commentators have described this series of reactions as a “charm offensive,” which is a charmingly stupid way of describing it:

DPRK Will Mercilessly Shatter U.S. and Its Followers’ “Human Rights” Campaign

[….] First, Now that the U.S. “human rights” offensive against the DPRK has reached an extreme phase, the DPRK formally notifies the U.S. that the DPRK will settle accounts with those related to the offensive without the slightest clemency and by every possible means and methods generation after generation.

[….]

Second, Now that the U.S. anti-DPRK “human rights” campaign is leading to a vicious plot to bring down the dignified social system in the DPRK, it declares its new tough counter-action of its own style to frustrate the campaign of the U.S. and its allied forces.

The “human rights” campaign of the U.S. is another version of the most undisguised act of aggression against the DPRK’s sovereignty and rights.

To cope with this, the DPRK, too, decided to launch a new tough counter-action of its own style to blow up the stronghold of the violators of “human rights.”

The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK had already declared before the world that an operational plan for striking all the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in the Pacific targeting the DPRK and the main cities of the U.S. mainland where war maniacs are stationed was ratified.

The DPRK never hides the fact that the declaration of the most powerful new counter-action of its own style is based on a powerful nuclear force built in every way and various ultramodern striking means deployed in the ground, sea, underwater and air.

The world will clearly see how the DPRK’s declaration of a powerful counter-action will be put into practice to blow up the citadel of the U.S. now that its “human rights” campaign to infringe upon the sovereignty and rights of the DPRK has gone beyond its tolerance limit.

Third, The army and people of the DPRK call upon the world to thoroughly shatter the sinister cooperation for aggression sought by the U.S. and its followers under the pretext of the “human rights issue” through anti-U.S. cooperation based on justice and truth.

[….]

The anti-U.S. cooperation called for by the DPRK will lead to a decisive battle through which human beings will kill beasts and justice will prevail over injustice and truth over lies.

The nuclear forces of the DPRK and political and military deterrence including them will demonstrate unimaginably tremendous might in effecting worldwide anti-U.S. cooperation.

The U.S. anti-DPRK “human rights” racket is bound to go bankrupt as it is faked up by those fanatics whose days are numbered, without elementary understanding of their rival and it is based on the brigandish and self-opinionated theory of hostility. [KCNA, Oct. 25, 2014]

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.

North Korea may also have reached the “bargaining” stage:

North Korea has offered to invite the top U.N. human rights official to Pyongyang if the European Union drops any mention of referring the country’s leader to the International Criminal Court from a U.N. human rights resolution, a news report said.

The North made the offer via Cuba earlier this month, saying it would invite the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to discuss the situation in exchange for EU assurances that the “North Korean leader would be off-limits,” Foreign Policy magazine has reported.

“The Cubans came forward with a proposal to drop the ICC referral from our text. In exchange, they would accept a visit from the high commissioner for human rights,” an EU diplomat was quoted as saying. “The reaction was very negative to such a deal. We don’t trust them.”

China subsequently delivered the same offer to the EU, the report said. [Yonhap]

And in what even the AP described as “probably … another attempt to stop a growing international call to refer its dismal human rights situation to the International Criminal Court,” North Korea even met with a U.N. special investigator, and said that they could “’envisage’ him visiting their country.” In the unlikely event that comes to pass, I can imagine how that would work in practice. Apologies for the second long quote:

Succumbing to pressure following the deportation of Danish Jews to Theresienstadt, the Germans permitted representatives from the Danish Red Cross and the International Red Cross to visit in June 1944. It was all an elaborate hoax. The Germans intensified deportations from the ghetto shortly before the visit, and the ghetto itself was “beautified.” Gardens were planted, houses painted, and barracks renovated. The Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries.

[….]

After considerable stalling, the RSHA finally authorized a visit for representatives of the International Red Cross and the Danish Red Cross for June 1944 and ordered the SS staff in Theresienstadt to complete the preparations.

Elaborate measures were taken to disguise conditions in the ghetto and to portray an atmosphere of normalcy. The SS engaged the Council of Jewish Elders and the camp-ghetto “residents” in a “beautification” program. Prisoners planted gardens, painted housing complexes, renovated barracks, and developed and practiced cultural programs for the entertainment of the visiting dignitaries to convince them that the “Seniors’ Settlement” was real. The SS authorities intensified deportations of Jews from the ghetto to alleviate overcrowding, and as part of the preparations in the camp-ghetto, 7,503 people were deported to Auschwitz between May 16 and May 18, 1944.

[….]

In the wake of the inspection, SS officials in the Protectorate produced a film using ghetto residents as a demonstration of the benevolent treatment the Jewish “residents” of Theresienstadt supposedly enjoyed. In Nazi propaganda, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a “spa town” where elderly German Jews could “retire” in safety. When the film was completed, SS officials deported most of the “cast” to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Despite the effort involved in making the propaganda film, the German authorities ultimately decided not to screen it. [U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum]

You can still see parts of that film here. If the pressure were sufficient to require it, the North Koreans might also contemplate allowing a one-and-done inspection of one smaller prison, but not one of the larger camps. This would almost assuredly be a hoax. Only a broad inspection of all of the known camps, followed by a regular inspection regimen, would bear any credibility.

The Obama Administration might, possibly deserve some degree of credit for the effectiveness of this campaign in reaching a large audience, but it’s hard to much evidence for that right now.

The Times reports that Samantha Power gave Justice Kirby an award of some kind, but it would be far better if President Obama made it clear that if the U.N. fails to address the issue by consent of the P-5, it will lead a global campaign to impose the kind of financial sanctions on North Korean human rights violators—and their Chinese and Russian enablers— that it imposed on Iran, Burma, Syria, and Russia, and even on Belarus and Zimbabwe.

Publicly, the U.S. is not leading the effort to the extent that the EU and Japan are, and there are reasons to be worried that Pyongyang might find ways to buy off the EU and Japan through trade, or a ransom deal. For that matter, I worry that Pyongyang’s hostage-taking has also silenced the U.S. to an extent; it certainly has succeeded in moving Bob King’s job description away from human rights.

I can see some tactical benefit in allowing other nations to take a leadership role here. What I can’t say is whether that was a deliberate plan or simply a case of foreign powers filling an American void.

~   ~   ~

Update: According to the Chosun Ilbo, North Korea is already preparing Yodok for just that purpose.

North Korea is secretly moving political prisoners out of its most notorious concentration camp in Yodok, in apparent preparation for a PR exercise showing that conditions are not as bad as reported, a source claimed.

“The regime is transferring the inmates one by one during the night so that their movement can’t be detected by satellites,” the source said Monday.

The regime aims to show the camp to foreigners looking like little more than a collective farm, the source added. “The regime will probably send farmers to the political prison camp to do the labor there,” the source said. [Chosun Ilbo]

What does that mean for the prisoners who are being moved, I wonder?

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.

~   ~   ~

Update: Ironically, the New York Times reports that China’s strategy for killing the resolution at the General Assembly will be to “lobby vigorously against the I.C.C. language, especially among African states that have their own grievances with the international court.”

 

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.

 

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.

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.