Archive for “United” Nations

First as tragedy, then as farce

The story I linked Monday about Michael Kirby’s comments spurring the U.N. to action in North Korea eventually grew into two posts, because in the same story, Kirby also warned against trivializing what’s happening in North Korea.

The Commission of Inquiry, which reported to the UN in March, detailed horrific abuses of human rights in North Korea, including starving political prisoners reduced to eating grass and rodents in secret gulags, schoolchildren made to watch firing squad executions, and women forced to drown their own babies to uphold racial purity laws.

Justice Kirby compared the actions of the North Korean regime to a modern-day Holocaust, and he warned against treating North Korea as a quirky, oddball regime.

“Please do not think North Korea is a cuddly, cute sort of a case, with a leader with a bad haircut who is nonetheless loveable and is going to go in the right direction because he’s a young man. This is not a situation where a young person is going to bring a new broom, if his is a new broom it is a violent new broom. Things have not improved.”

I suppose Justice Kirby was talking about films like “The Interview” and the Dennis Rodman parody “Diplomats,” neither of which I’ve seen. Based on the description of the plot premise, it’s clear to me that “Diplomats” is too stupid to have much redeeming artistic merit, and will almost certainly trivialize a terrible tragedy. It deserves, frankly, to be the object of a boycott, but as North Korea has learned, protests like these often backfire — just like Dennis Rodman’s birthday serenade did. The learner’s-permit demographic that films like “Diplomats” target are unmoved by moral and philosophical arguments, and by standards of taste.

If you filled a thimble with everything Dennis Rodman knew about North Korea last year, there would still be room for everything Dennis Rodman remembers about North Korea this year. Rodman has suggested, probably seriously, that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for his addlebrained adventures in North Korea. Most people dismissed this as farce, but to be fair, Rodman may (however inadvertently) have done as much to bring Pyongyang’s crimes against humanity into the global consciousness as Kirby’s carefully documented report.

That is both good and a sad comment on the state of our media and human rights watchdogs today. The sadder comment is that no watchdog, no global law-giver, no son of Korea in any position of global leadership, and no Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader of any nation, indispensable or otherwise, has lifted more than a token finger to press for action on the findings of the COI’s report, so far. The people of North Korea have been forgotten for decades. All indications are that in September, the General Assembly will send Justice Kirby’s report to the Security Council. All indications also suggest that after 48 hours of page four news, the U.N. will have forgotten it by the end of October.

My expectations for “The Interview” are almost as low. “The Interview,” however, benefits from much promotional assistance from the North Korean government. With its impeccable talent for irony, North Korea’s official “news” service, KCNA, printed a statement by the Foreign Ministry that called the film “terrorism,” accused the United States of “bribing a rogue movie maker to dare hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK,” and threatened “to mercilessly destroy anyone who dares hurt or attack the supreme leadership of the country even a bit.” It concluded, “Those who defamed our supreme leadership and committed the hostile acts against the DPRK can never escape the stern punishment to be meted out according to a law wherever they might be in the world.”

North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. KCNA and the Associated Press signed two still-undisclosed memoranda of agreement in 2011, under which they agreed to cooperate in their reporting of “news” from North Korea.

Thankfully, Pyongyang still hasn’t learned that the best way to censor speech in America is violence — say, summoning mobs into the streets, sacking our embassies, and killing our diplomats. Do that, and our President will go on TV to apologize to the mobs for the very existence of free speech, we’ll jail the heretics who offend you, and our own government will be your vicarious censor. (This is the real Benghazi scandal — and the Republicans can’t see that.)

As with the U.N.’s greater interest in objectively lesser crises, parodies of North Korea also raise the question of double standards. Can you imagine someone making a spoof film about Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or even Gaza? (Not that anyone should.) How many decades passed before a film like “Inglorious Basterds” could be made?

This isn’t to say that North Korea shouldn’t be parodied (it should be), or even that the parodies must be tasteful (the good ones seldom are). What I suppose I am saying is that artistic judgments are balancing tests that weigh what makes a work distasteful against what makes it important. I struggled with that balance in my judgments of films like “Borat” (very funny and thought-provoking, but even more distasteful) and “Team America” (distasteful, but funny and profanely profound). The moral risks of failing that test are greater if the work’s effect is to blunt our sense of outrage.

The truth, of course, is that Justice Kirby deserves the Nobel Prize, and deserves to be the subject of a serious nomination campaign for both himself and his fellow Commissioners. Perhaps that campaign would give one of our world’s great institutions, or their so-called leaders, a small twinge of responsibility to act.

If, in the end, the world is only capable of answering tragedy with farce, it least it should be good farce. It ought to be better a better farce than “Diplomats,” and diplomats.

A campaign is more than just a vote

Justice Michael Kirby, the head of U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) for Human Rights in North Korea, has struggled to get the attention of the U.N. Security Council since February of this year, when the COI released its report finding widespread and horrific crimes against humanity. This leaves Kirby wondering whether hundreds of European lives matter more to the U.N. than hundreds of thousands of North Korean lives.

Michael Kirby has called on the United Nations to show the same resolve and unanimity on North Korean human rights abuses as it did on passing a resolution on downed flight MH17. [....]

“The attention to MH17 was admirable … and I think we can all be proud of the way our ambassadors dealt with it. But in all truth, the case of North Korea is dealing with millions of people,” Justice Kirby told a university audience.

“The question is will the UN find a way to respond? In the last week, on a matter that had great sensitivity, through … strong political action, including by Australia, a consensus was found, and I’m hoping the same sort of spirit will operate in the case of North Korea when the matter comes to the Security Council.” [The Age]

Until now, the response to the COI’s report has advanced no further than a toothless, informal “Arria” meeting, where the idea of further action was discussed, boycotted by the Chinese and Russian representatives, and quickly (almost) forgotten. According to The Age‘s report, however, the General Assembly will take up the COI’s findings in September, and is expected to refer them to the Security Council soon thereafter.

This represents a modest improvement over nothing, but not by much. Major international actions require the mobilization of world opinion, and the expenditure of diplomatic capital, to achieve broad consensus and effective action. The point of a vote at the Security Council is not really to pass a resolution; after all, we already know that China and Russia will veto it. The point is to make that veto as diplomatically costly for China and Russia as possible, and to lay the diplomatic groundwork for the U.S., the EU, and a critical mass of the world’s civilized nations to enact and enforce targeted national sanctions against North Korea’s human rights violators. (Another potential benefit could be to support the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal in South Korea.) I see little evidence that this mobilization has begun.

Unfortunately, a lot of diplomatic bills are coming due at the moment, and capital is in short supply. When Susan Rice called America’s leadership “indispensable” recently, she was correct. That has never been clearer than in recent times, when that indispensable leadership has often seemed to be absent. Samantha Power, Rice’s successor as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., first made herself famous by writing a book that excoriated the Clinton Administration’s lack of leadership in the face of the Rwanda genocide in 1994. If Power reprises Madeleine Albright’s role, one small benefit would be the exquisite material it could yield for an unauthorized sequel. If she overperforms both her predecessors and my expectations, it could be a moment of redemption for this administration, and perhaps for the viability of international institutions that have failed so consistently.

That may be asking too much in a time of national exhaustion for the world’s indispensable leader, when it lacks the psychological, political, and diplomatic capacity to contemplate more than one genocide at a time. For a month, the endless loop called Gaza had tunneled its way from its rightful place on page four to page one and occupied it, along with the attention of our Secretary of State. At the moment, we’re somewhat more justifiably preoccupied with a very real genocide that began not long after we “ended” the war in Iraq. But consider: when a regime can make tens of thousands (or tens of thousands) of men, women, and children simply disappear, or allow perhaps millions to starve – all without any material consequence – what deters psychopaths in Pyongyang or any other place from seeking out new victims, whether within their own fiefdoms or beyond their borders? As Kirby put it:

“There’s a lot of talk in the United Nations about accountability, a lot of talk about ‘rights up front’, a lot of talk about ‘responsibility to protect’, well, in September and October of this year, the UN will face up to the question of whether it is serious about this talk in the case of North Korea.”

North Korea differs from all of these other cases in the greater scale of its crimes (so far), and its capacity to propagate evil. It’s the one with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, after all, and with the demonstrated propensity to sell them to others.

You may not like the idea of America as a global leader. I suspect Americans like it less than anyone at this point. But when the alternatives come into sharper focus, we remember that it’s still the only worst alternative except for all of the others. The real question is how to exercise that leadership as wisely and cheaply as we can. It has been obvious for some time that George W. Bush had the wrong answers to that question, with the possible exception of the Surge. Judging by recent events, President Obama’s answers haven’t been much better, but like his predecessor, bitter experience is forcing him to regress from the extreme to the mean.

Obama’s soft line on North Korea sanctions has failed.

AT LEAST ONE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER thinks North Korea has never been nastier to the United States, and if its racist attacks on President Obama aren’t proof enough of that, maybe this message from North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador, Ri Tong-Il, is:

He accused the United States of using its military power to deliberately subvert any dialogue between North and South Korea — which is also a standard North Korean assertion. But in a variant of that theme, he said the American behavior “is reminding us of the historical lasting symptom of a mentally retarded patient.” Asked later to explain the analogy, Mr. Ri said, “The U.S. has been doing it for over six decades on our doorstep.” [N.Y. Times]

I don’t think I’ll ever get over my amazement that North Korea, a flagrant violator of U.N. Security Council resolutions that keeps 100,000 men, women, and children in political prison camps, is a member of the United Nations in good standing.

“Ambassador” Ri also threatened that Pyongyang would continue its nuclear weapons development if the U.S. continues its “threats” against North Korea, and demanded that the Security Council conduct an emergency session to review joint U.S.-South Korean training exercises.

Consider the absurdity of this. It’s the equivalent of Dennis Rodman telling his agent that unless he quits nagging him about going back to rehab, he’ll have no choice but to keep drinking and sue for breach of the peace … in Judge Joe Brown’s court.

Meanwhile, as John Kerry claims credit for keeping North Korea quiet, North Korea continues its quiet progression toward the development of an inter-continental ballistic missile, and a pad to test it from:

Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told reporters Tuesday he believes North Korea has continued to make “steady progress” in both its missile technology and nuclear capability.

So we find ourselves in a place where the sanctions we’ve imposed are woefully insufficient to slow or stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, or to force it to negotiate away its nukes. Our State Department still says it isn’t interested in talks with a North Korea that rejects the premise of nuclear disarmament, and North Korea insists that it isn’t disarming. Intelligence estimates vary on North Korea’s capacity to miniaturize and deliver a nuclear weapon, but time clearly isn’t on our side. We also know that North Korea will sell any weapon it possesses to any willing customer, including helping listed state sponsors of terrorism with their nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

In his inauguration speech, President Obama promised to reach out his hand to rogue states if they would unclench their fists. In the years since then, the President has given North Korea the closest thing there is to immunity from sanctions for its attacks on South Korea, its missile tests, its nuclear tests, its arrests of harmless tourists and tour guides, and its proliferation and weapons smuggling.

I suppose I shouldn’t overstate my point here, because I’ve never seen that much significance in North Korea’s displays of good will or temperamental moderation for external audiences. In fact, my point is that in the North Korean context, gestures and atmospherics mean next to nothing. By now, it should be clear that those who counseled the President that he could move us closer to the realization of our nation’s interests by avoiding confrontation with Pyongyang, and by building a reserve of good toward it have sent him on a fool’s errand. North Korea is never meaner than when, fairly or unfairly, it perceives us to be soft.

Former U.N. sanctions investigator calls U.N.’s slow response to Chong Chon Gang incident “regrettable”

If you care at all about North Korea sanctions, then NK News’s interview with Martin Uden, the former head of the U.N. Panel of Experts investigating the enforcement of sanction on North Korea, is an absolute must-read. I’ll give you a taste, and then you’ll have to read the rest on your own:

In particular, the seizure of a DPRK cargo vessel in Panama in 2013 – the Chong Chon Gang – highlighted that North Korea remains actively engaged in sanction-breaking behavior.

But even though the most recent Panel of Experts report published in March concluded that the vessel’s cargo of munitions – MiG fighter jets and Soviet-era radar systems – did constitute a breach of sanctions, the response from the UN Sanctions Committee was muted.

“The problem of course is the lack of action by the Sanctions Committee, and that I think is more regrettable. This [case] was a pretty much an in flagrante delicto violation of UN sanctions” Uden said. [Leo Byrne, NK News]

It’s reporting like this that makes me hope we’ll have NK News at least as long as we have North Korea.

Lo and behold, five days after that interview is published, the Sanctions Committee has finally designated Ocean Maritime Management, but not Chongchongang Shipping, Chinpo Shipping, Korea Central Marketing and Trading Corporation, Tonghae Shipping Agency, or any of the Cuban entities involved in the transactions.

Or, the bank that processed the transactions, whose identifying information was redacted out of the documents published in the POE Report. (Although it’s interesting that the sugar transaction, at least, was denominated in dollars.)

At this point, Treasury probably has no choice but to designate OMM, but of course, OMM could fold up and restart in Magadan, Trinidad, or the Seychelles next week.

Another OMM ship, the M/V Mu Du Bong, remains stranded in a Mexican port after running aground and damaging a nearby coral reef.

Where is John Bolton when we need him?

Is the U.S. ready to take N. Korea’s crimes against humanity to the Security Council?

On balance, probably not, but hey, it’s an election year, which may or may not explain why it’s making noise like it might:

The United States, France and Australia called for the United Nations Security Council to deal with North Korea’s human rights violations, a news report said Saturday.

It isn’t clear why this push is happening nearly six months after the release of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) report; after all, the testimony before the COI was widely covered in the news, signaling what the eventual outcome had to be. Was the State Department unprepared for the report’s conclusions, not interested, or simply flat-footed and ill-prepared?

It also isn’t clear which of the three nations is pushing for the resolution most aggressively. The Government of Australia, however, has shown great interest in the findings of the report, written under the direction of native son Michael Kirby.

Ambassadors from the three countries to the U.N. sent a joint letter to the president of the Security Council on July 17, which called on the U.N. body to formally discuss a report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights violations in the North, according to the Voice of America (VOA).

The U.N.’s General Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon, is of indeterminate nationality.

Following a year-long probe, the COI published a report in March, accusing North Korea of “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights.” It added that North Korean leaders’ crimes against humanity should be dealt with by the International Criminal Court. They also urged the Security Council to take proper actions against the North’s appalling track record on human rights, the VOA added.

A number of human rights groups have been pushing the Obama Administration to take issue to the Security Council. That would be a welcome move, despite the ambivalence I harbor about it. I was initially skeptical of the COI, but I later realized the importance of the attention it brought to this topic, and I was convinced to become a strong supporter. Justice Kirby himself is a significant part of my own support. I met with him twice during his last visit to Washington, and he made a deep impression on me for his gravitas and his determination.

I fully expect China to veto any resolution on human rights, and I suppose that given the state of U.S.-Russian relations, Russia will probably join that veto. I think it’s useful to force China and Russia to veto those resolutions, if only to hold their cynicism and profiteering up before the eyes of the world.

That still doesn’t completely foreclose options for bringing North Korea before the International Criminal Court, although I’ve written about that institution’s flaws.

In the end, the South Korean Government could host an ad hoc tribunal like the one Cambodia held because China wouldn’t let the ICC try the Khmer Rouge. The South Korean Constitution, after all, claims jurisdiction over the entire Korean Peninsula. If only South Korea had the courage to do that.

N. Korea threatens annual missile, nuke tests

Our setting is a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the prevention of WMD proliferation, last Wednesday. Ironically, a diplomat from South Korea, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, chaired the meeting.

The turn of North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador, Ri Tong Il, came. When it did, Ri added further evidence to support the Theory of North Korean Exceptionalism — that is, North Korea is neither inclined nor expected to follow the simplest of rules that apply to everyone else on earth. Ri was supposed to have four minutes to speak, but he growls on for at least four times that. The Chair finally cut Ri off mid-sentence, just as he was getting to the part about the annual testing. Unless you find this sort of thing interesting on its own merits, skip to the 40-minute mark.

[link; hat tip to Adam Cathcart]
As a result, we miss the full flavor of just exactly what the North Koreans intend to test, and how often. Pity. I suppose there’s always KNCA.

Breaking! N. Korean gulag prisoners celebrate liberation by Samantha Power’s hashtag

The Talmud scholars have long written that it isn’t given to any generation of human beings to correct every wrong and every injustice. But neither are we excused from our obligation to try. And that is the challenge as an international community we face this week. It isn’t given to any generation, or members of the Security Council or the great officers of the world, to right every wrong. But surely we are not excused from our obligation to make a genuine effort now that we have the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in North Korea. - Justice Michael Kirby

Within the next few hours, we’ll know whether Kim Jong Un has the brass to conduct a nuclear test during President Obama’s tour of Asia. A test in the coming hours would shift the focus away from all of the carefully planned agendas and photo ops, and would lead to much more of the discussion we’ve heard lately about foreign policy drift in the administration. Some of that discussion deserves to be about the administration’s rudderless North Korea policy, but I hope that this time, the commentariat won’t just stop at the nuclear issue again.

In this sixth year of the Obama Administration, a series of three tweets and a blog post form the corpus of its policy — if you can call it that — for addressing human rights violations whose “gravity, scale, duration and nature” have no “parallel in the contemporary world.” A week after the members of a U.N. Commission of Inquiry and two North Korean witnesses appealed to Security Council members for action on the report, the administration shows no sign of having a credible and coherent plan to attach a prohibitive cost to those crimes.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 7.26.34 AM

[tweet, tweet, little birdie]

Power’s “#hell” hashtag can only be seen as a reference to her own scathing criticism of Clinton Administration officials who sat paralyzed for the duration of the Rwanda genocide. The idea that someone will eventually stain Ambassador Power’s legacy with the same charge must sting, but no hashtag ever prized open the gates to a concentration camp.

Maybe you believe that the release of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report has finally driven Samantha “Genocide Chick” Power toward some sort of effective action. Maybe, through the servers of John Kerry’s State Department, she’s fighting an internecine struggle to take the issue before the Security Council. Maybe fresh editorials from the New York Times and the Washington Post, and a rising chorus of calls from NGOs, will weigh toward arguments for action, and against stalling in the name of diplomacy that carries an impeccable pedigree of failure. After all, President Obama knows that North Korea isn’t about to stop behaving “irresponsibly,” and isn’t interested in dialogue about denuclearization. At least implicitly, this recognizes the hard truth that the policies of the past and present have made no impression on the pathology behind both Pyongyang’s murder of its subjects, and its careful preparations to expand its killing zone beyond its own borders. At least, I want to believe it recognizes something this obvious, and that it will confront its implications.

Or maybe, Power’s hashtag is the policy. What a perfect symbol that would be of a foreign policy of peace pipes and drum circles and bravely running away from dangers that will chase us — but hopefully won’t catch us until someone else is president — in which meaningless gestures substitute for substance, consequences, and hard decisions. And maybe, like other ill-informed members of this administration, Power has been spoon-fed the lazy falsehood that there’s nothing more we can do, despite the relative weakness of our North Korea sanctions, the inattention to their enforcement, our failure to press China publicly on human rights or sanctions enforcement, and the underfunding of our subversive broadcasting to North Korea. I want to believe in the competence and moral clarity of this administration, because this is the government we elected. Sadly, no evidence supports such a belief.

Beyond symbolic gestures, the Obama Administration has passed up opportunity after opportunity for effective action. For example, who believes that the human rights abuses in Iran are greater than the outrages in North Korea? So why is it, then, that President Obama has signed an executive order blocking the assets of persons and entities involved in censorship and human rights abuses in Iran, but not in North Korea?

Say what you will about Ukraine’s deposed kleptocrats, at least they didn’t starve a million or two of their own people to death. Within days of their overthrow, the administration moved to block their assets. Two months after the release of the Commission of Inquiry’s report, the administration has taken no such steps against Kim Jong Un and the leaders of his security services – as Justice Kirby’s report called for. Why not do just this much? Are we more afraid that China and Russia will be offended that we block Kim Jong Un’s assets than those of the Revoluionary Guards or Yanukovych? Instead, the Nobel laureate in the oval office has taken a softly-softly approach reminiscent of Reagan’s ambivalence about apartheid-era South Africa.

In the last two months, much valuable time and momentum — the level of momentum that caused faraway Botswana to sever diplomatic relations with North Korea – has been squandered. Today, the COI’s report has advanced no further than a meeting of the so-called Arria Formula at the U.N. Security Council. That is where Justice Kirby made his appeal for action last week, and where Shin Dong Hyok and Lee Hyeon-So testified, not before an actual session of the Security Council.

The “Arria-formula meetings” are very informal, confidential gatherings which enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views, within a flexible procedural framework, with persons whom the inviting member or members of the Council (who also act as the facilitators or convenors) believe it would be beneficial to hear and/or to whom they may wish to convey a message. They provide interested Council members an opportunity to engage in a direct dialogue with high representatives of Governments and international organizations — often at the latter’s request — as well as non-State parties, on matters with which they are concerned and which fall within the purview of responsibility of the Security Council. [UN.org, hat tip to Stephan Haggard]

You should read Professor Haggard’s excellent post on the Arria procedure, although I analyze its outcomes much more skeptically than he does. Functionally, Arria meetings do not result in votes, resolutions, or even public debates. Notes of the meetings don’t appear in the U.N. Journal. No one is subjected to the pressure of an uncomfortable veto. Symbolically enough, they’re held in side-rooms, not where the Security Council holds its real meetings. Members of the Secretariat “are not expected to attend,” unless specifically invited. Depending on whether you believe the New York Times’s news reporting or its editorial page, either 10 or 13 member states attended. China and Russia were no-shows.

The Arria procedure, in other words, is an even bigger nothing than a non-binding “Presidential Statement.” It is the absolute minimum a Security Council member state can do and still say it has done anything at all. It’s a process for burying issues that some parties want to say they’ve talked about, and that other parties don’t want to talk about at all.

[Not a bad commentary on the Arria procedure, either]

What is the point of forcing a vote if it would only result in a veto? Kirby explains:

“The price of utilizing that mandate, or the veto, as it’s called, is that it should be done openly and should be accountable not only before the bar of history but before the international community,” Kirby said. [Yonhap]

Confidentiality notwithstanding, we have a pretty good idea about what Justice Kirby told those who bothered to attend. For one thing, someone leaked a draft of Kirby’s speech to our friends at the Associated Press:

Kirby’s speech described a North Korean man whose family was “executed in front of his own eyes but he was permitted no tears” and a woman “who was forced to watch another woman drown her newborn baby.” [....]

“We dare say that the case of human rights in the DPRK exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror,” commission head Michael Kirby told the meeting, according to a copy of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. [....]

Kirby said the commission wants the Security Council to adopt targeted sanctions “against those individuals most responsible” and stressed that only the council can launch “immediate, impartial and just action to secure accountability.” Economic sanctions or a halt to humanitarian aid would harm ordinary citizens, he said. [AP]

On the matter of sanctions, I’ve put my own views to Justice Kirby directly – that sanctions can actually be used to fund humanitarian programs from the proceeds of crime, proliferation, and kleptocracy, and force necessary reforms. I’m confident that he’ll consider them, especially if after action stalls at the U.N.

Separately, Kirby has also said that the Security Council would “be held accountable to history” if it fails to act. I’m glad Justice Kirby and others present interpreted the meeting’s confidentiality narrowly:

Of the 13 other Security Council members who attended the meeting, “nine expressly said the matter should be referred to the ICC,” Kirby said, and the other four were not opposed to it. He called the feeling in the council “very strong.”

The deputy British ambassador to the U.N., Peter Wilson, told the meeting that his country supports the call for the council to “consider appropriate action including referral of situation in #DPRK to #ICC,” his mission tweeted.

The U.S. ambassador, Samantha Power, said in a statement, “The commission’s findings and recommendations are extraordinarily compelling and deserve the full attention – and action – of the Security Council and of all members of the UN.” [AP]

But saying that this issue “deserves” the Security Council’s attention and action is one thing; pushing for a resolution is another.

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[Michael Kirby, Sonja Biserko, and Marzuki Darusaman talk to the press after the Arria meeting]

The administration has the votes to send this issue to the Security Council if it wants to. If the Obama Administration even does policy planning on North Korea, I’m not privy to it, but there are far more indications of drift and apathy than of action. I’ve heard no indications that the administration means to force a vote at the Security Council, to impose targeted sanctions on North Korea’s principal perpetrators of human rights abuses or their foreign enablers, to include human rights in the agenda for the stalled six-party talks, to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court, or to push for a Cambodia-style tribunal. (Kirby apparently mentioned the Cambodia option to one of the Washington Post’s editors. I mentioned it to him at breakfast that morning, and he was familiar with its history.)

Why won’t the administration act? The obvious explanation is simple incompetence — it’s disinterested in foreign policy, overwhelmed by what it can’t ignore, unfamiliar with the full range of legal tools at is disposal, and at a loss for dealing with a North Korea that won’t do the only thing this administration knows how to do — cut a deal. Viewed this way, the administration’s drift on North Korea resembles its flailing response to the Ukraine crisis, or its tragic failure to seize on the lost opportunities of the Iranian, Libyan, and Syrian revolutions.

Kirby also called out “South Korean officials and reporters” for being “tepid” on the COI’s report. (I also spoke to Justice Kirby about South Korea’s “ambivalence” about human rights in the North. South Koreans will be held accountable to history for that, too.) Kirby criticized the South Korean government for failing to publish an “accepted, authorized Korean version” of even the short form of the COI’s report, calling it “not acceptable that a Korean language version is not yet available,” and raising the issue with the Korean Ambassador to the United States.

But there is still reason for hope (remember that word?). For one, notwithstanding any diplomatic inducements or “progress” in compromising with China, North Korea still insists that denuclearization is off the table, and seems ready for a nuke test. For another, the COI’s report is still in the headlines and isn’t fading away. Justice Kirby, his fellow commissioners, and a growing number of influential Americans, both liberal and conservative, will keep pushing the administration to act. If North Korea does test a nuke, it’s almost certain that North Korea will not only face growing pressure for U.N. and U.S. sanctions, but that those sanctions will spill over into the area of human rights, too.

N. Korea keeps it classy, calls Chair of U.N. Commission “a disgusting old lecher with 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality”

Last week, the Honorable Michael Kirby, a retired Justice of the High Court of Australia, and the Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry for Human Rights in North Korea, was in Washington. It was my honor to be invited to two events with Justice Kirby — a small-group breakfast meeting (Kirby called this is a “barbarous” custom) hosted by the Australian Embassy, and a small-group dinner hosted by a member of the Board of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. I debated whether I should accept both invitations, but ended up going to both because I suspected that the discussions would be different. I guessed correctly. (I had to miss the main event because of work obligations, but you can watch it here.)

I’ve often formed views of great men from how they were described in the newspapers, and almost as often, I’ve found that my expectations were greater than their presence. Justice Kirby is not such a man. Sagacious, eloquent, and quietly determined, Michael Kirby is the sort of man my mother calls a “mensch.” He is the right man for the great and historic work he was chosen to do. Although I don’t believe the other participants in those meetings would want to be named or quoted, I’ll simply say that Justice Kirby emphasized to people more important than myself that he does not see his work as done. It was clear, too, that Kirby has the gravitas to make this issue impossible for our State Department to forget.

Today, in a delectable irony, North Korea’s official “news” service has done a great service toward publicizing Justice Kirby’s cause.

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[Justice Kirby at dinner last week. Author’s photograph.]

Justice Kirby hasn’t made a secret of his sexual orientation since 1999, before a general social acceptance of homosexuality prevailed. He and his partner have lived together almost as long as I’ve been alive. That’s why I figured it was only a matter of time before the North Koreans said something stupid, like this, about him:

As for Kirby who took the lead in cooking the “report”, he is a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality. He is now over seventy, but he is still anxious to get married to his homosexual partner.

This practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of the sound mentality and good morals, and homosexuality has become a target of public criticism even in Western countries, too. In fact, it is ridiculous for such gay to sponsor dealing with others’ human rights issue.  [KCNA, Apr., 22, 2014]

Huh. So I suppose the North Koreans haven’t heard of Bayard Rustin either.

Sometimes, I’ve caught myself describing North Korea as like South Korea, only more so. The “no gays in Korea” myth still persisted when I lived in South Korea a dozen years ago. Although there’s now open discussion of homosexuality in South Korean culture — and probably on some of those DVDs smuggled into the North — Korean culture remains very conservative.

As been already known, what was put up by Kirby and his group as data is all testimonies made by those “defectors”, who are runaways or terrorists as they betrayed their country and nation after committing indelible crimes.

However, the Kirby group styling itself a judge accepted such unconfirmed data to cook up the “report”. This makes one question if the group has an elementary legal sense. After all, they changed their position as judges with money paid by the U.S. and its followers.

At present, many countries and even Western media and personages are astonished at the Kirby group’s “report” presented to a sacred UN body, terming it a replica of Nazi-style arbitrariness. 

Oh? Where?

It is so pitiable for the U.S. and its followers to attempt to frighten the DPRK by letting such dirty swindlers, ready to do anything for money, invent an anti-DPRK false document.

The army and people of the DPRK reject the fabricated document as a foul crime unprecedented in the world history of human rights and will surely force them to pay dearly for it. -0-

Christine Ahn and Christine Hong were not available for comment. (Someone please remember to tweet this to them, just to gaze upon their paroxysms of self-contradiction.)

Now, in the grander scheme, I suppose Justice Kirby has probably heard more offensive and sillier things than this. He would probably agree that KCNA’s words (to the extent they are merely that) fall low on the hierarchy of North Korea’s offenses against civilization, although they do give us further reason to question the hypocritical nonsense of its propagandists who’ve presented North Korea as relatively tolerant toward gays. Still, if anyone out there didn’t find racial infanticide, public executions, concentration camps, and deliberate mass starvation offensive enough, maybe North Korea’s homophobia — and our darkest fears about what actions follow in the trail of its words — may just manage to offend whole new constituencies.

In the past week, our attention has been called to Justice Kirby’s report by the editors of The Washington Post, Marco Rubio, Human Rights WatchVitit Muntarbhorn, The Brookings Institution, and Marzuki Darusman, among others. As a consequence of its latest act of public relations genius, North Korea has now given The Washington Post a whole new reason to talk about Justice Kirby’s report, and gasp anew at North Korea’s uniquely oblivious strain of stupidity. No doubt, his response will be a major story in the news cycle everywhere (except, ironically, for gay-unfriendly South Korea) for a few more days after that.

If Kaesong “wages” aren’t used to pay workers, what are they used for? (The Unification Ministry won’t comment.)

In yesterday’s post about Kaesong, I argued that by any reasonable definition, its North Korean workers are forced laborers, and that the best evidence we have suggests that the vast majority of their “wages” are probably stolen by the Pyongyang regime, through a combination of direct taxation and confiscatory exchange rates. My argument relied heavily on a recent study by the economist Marcus Noland, who has done an excellent job researching questions that most journalists have overlooked, addressing the ethical implications of the answers, and arguing for a voluntary code of ethics that could go a long way toward address those implications.

Noland has done a good enough job discussing the ethics of Kaesong’s labor arrangements that I see no need to add to it. I do, however, see some important legal implications that no one else has addressed in depth.

The first set of legal issues arises from long-standing suspicions that Kaesong manufacturers are sneaking components or finished goods from Kaesong into U.S. markets, a benefit that the South Korean government sought when it negotiated its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and which it raised again as recently as last October. Because the two sides couldn’t agree on the inclusion of products from Kaesong, they agreed instead to Annex 22-B of the FTA, on “Outward Processing Zones.” Annex 22-B, however, is nothing more than an agreement to keep talking. It’s fair to say that Congress would not have ratified the FTA without the understanding that Kaesong products were excluded from it.

That means that despite the FTA’s ratification by the Senate, by its own terms, it lacks supremacy over a statute that specifically excludes goods that are “mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor.”

You’re entitled to question the administration’s determination to enforce this law, but as it turns out, an obscure Customs regulation at 19 C.F.R. 12.42 allows private petitioners to oppose the landing of goods made with forced labor in U.S. ports. The U.S. cotton industry has been especially effective at using this provision to tie up Uzbek cotton in customs warehouses, and to raise political pressure against the import of cotton from Uzbekistan. If human rights organizations became aware of specific Kaesong-made goods being imported into the United States, Noland’s study now gives them a strong evidentiary basis to tie those products up in customs warehouses, too. This, by itself, might be enough to make the export of those products to the United States unprofitable.

Finally, depending on the amount of Kaesong labor embodied in a product, its import to the United States could violate complex country-of-origin labeling rules, or could be receiving a lower-tariff status under the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, from which Kaesong products were ostensibly excluded (after much contentious negotiation).

Nor does the administration seem inclined to defend Kaesong imports. In 2011, President Obama signed Executive Order 13,570, which banned North Korean imports from the U.S. market. Any violation of that executive order carries the severe penalties of Section 206 the International Emergency Economic Powers Act – 20 years in prison, a fine of $1,000,000, and a civil penalty of $250,000. Despite a recent spike in suspicious travel by U.S., South Korean, North Korean, and Chinese diplomats, the North Koreans are a no-show, tensions with North Korea are back on the rise, and the Obama Administration is hinting about strengthening sanctions, not weakening them.

~   ~   ~

These still aren’t the questions that cause the greatest discomfort at the South Korean Unification Ministry. That question is this: If the money paid into Kaesong isn’t going to the workers, just where is that money going? As Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen recently said, “Precisely what North Koreans do with earnings from Kaesong, I think, is something that we are concerned about.”

Cohen is concerned because his department enforces the regulations and executive orders that implement U.N. Security Council sanctions against the North’s WMD programs. Those resolutions limit unrestricted cash flows to North Korea, in order to deny its WMD programs of funding. The latest of those resolutions, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094, was passed in 2013 and says this:

“11.  Decides that Member States shall, in addition to implementing their obligations pursuant to paragraphs 8 (d) and (e) of resolution 1718 (2006), prevent the provision of … any financial or other assets or resources, including bulk cash, that could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution ….;

[....]

“14.  Expresses concern that transfers to the DPRK of bulk cash may be used to evade the measures imposed in resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), and this resolution, and clarifies that all States shall apply the measures set forth in paragraph 11 of this resolution to the transfers of cash, including through cash couriers, transiting to and from the DPRK so as to ensure such transfers of bulk cash do not contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution;

“15.  Decides that all Member States shall not provide public financial support for trade with the DPRK (including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance to their nationals or entities involved in such trade) where such financial support could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution;

The use of the words “could contribute” is burden-shifting language, like the language in Paragraph 8(d) of Resolution 1718 (2006) that required member states to “ensure that any funds, financial assets or economic resources are prevented from being made available” to persons and entities involved in North Korea’s WMD programs. You can’t “prevent” unless you know where the money is going in the first place, and if you aren’t asking, you aren’t preventing. The Security Council’s clear intent was to force member states and companies under the jurisdiction of their laws to move beyond feigning ignorance and make reasonable inquiries. The Unification Ministry’s Sergeant Schultz act doesn’t work anymore.

Past precedent gives us reason to share Undersecretary Cohen’s concern. As early as October 2000, Noland wrote here that North Korea’s revenues from the Kumgang Tourist project, which he estimated at $450 million per year, were being deposited into a Macau bank account controlled by the notorious Bureau 39, for “regime maintenance,” despite the lack of “real systemic implications for the organization of the North Korean economy or society.” For all we know, North Korea could be using its Kaesong revenues for even more sinister purposes.

There is also the broader problem that a steady stream of cash dulls the economic pressure that is the outside world’s principal lever for disarming North Korea.

“The fact is, South Korea and China are providing North Korea with a considerable amount of unconditioned economic support,” said Marcus Noland, a Korea expert at the Institute for International Economics in Washington. “As long as that support is forthcoming, North Korea will not feel as much of a need to address the nuclear issue, and attempts to isolate the North economically will have less and less credibility and effect.” [WaPo 2005]

The Congressional Research Service also discusses the tension – some would say, schizophrenia — attendant in alternating between economic subsidy and economic pressure. No wonder South Korea has clung so dearly to the pretense that Kaesong wages really are paid to the workers. Unfortunately for the Unification Ministry, the evidence contradicts this cherished falsehood — it’s impossible to deny that Kaesong is a subsidy to Pyongyang. The U.N. Security Council, however, has chosen economic pressure, most recently with the active support of South Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations (at the time UNSCR 2094 passed by a vote of 15-0, South Korea was a non-permanent member of the Security Council).

But what does South Korea know about what Pyongyang is doing with its money? I posed the question to the Unification Ministry in an e-mail and on their Facebook page. Here, in relevant part, is what I asked them:

Recently, I read a report by the economist Marcus Noland indicating that most South Korean investors at Kaesong don’t actually know how much of their nominal wages the North Korean workers there actually receive, and that the North Korean government likely keeps most of the money. First, can the Ministry comment on that? If you deny this assertion, can you explain the basis for your denial?

Second, this assertion also raises the question of where the money is going. A series of U.N. Security Council resolutions requires Member States to ensure that their money isn’t being used to finance North Korea’s WMD programs. A senior U.S. Treasury official and a report by the Congressional Research Service recently raised concerns about how North Korea uses its revenue from Kaesong.

Can you describe what if any financial checks, precautions, and transparency are in place to ensure that North Korea isn’t using Kaesong earnings for illicit purposes, to facilitate human rights abuses, or to buy weapons to threaten people, including U.S. troops, in South Korea?

Also, I’m wondering if you’ve sought an advisory opinion about Kaesong from the U.N. 1718 Committee’s Panel of Experts.

So far, the Unification Ministry hasn’t responded. I’ll update this post if they do, but I’d be astonished if they had extracted enough financial transparency measures from the North to answer the question in good faith.

Incidentally, one of the interesting points I gleaned from the last U.N. Panel of Experts report is that the POE gives advisory opinions on transactions with North Korea. If the Unification Ministry isn’t asking for one, it may be because it doesn’t want to know the answer.

Largely because of South Korean domestic politics and government subsidies, Kaesong has outlasted a few of my predictions of its demise. It will face more challenges this year and next, as we appear to be entering a new cycle of North Korean provocations, and as South Korea’s present leader appears unusually disinclined to tolerate them. The fact that Kaesong’s workers are functionally slaves deserves to be one of those challenges. So does the likelihood that the entire enterprise consequently violates a series of Security Council resolutions designed to protect South Korea’s own security.

Samantha Power, North Korea is your Rwanda

Now that anyone who cares has digested the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report on North Korea, the conversation has turned to a more practical question: So what? The E.U. and Japan are reportedly drafting a resolution for consideration by the Security Council that would (1) condemn North Korea for its crimes, (2) call “for its leaders to face international justice,” (3) impose travels sanctions on specific leaders deemed responsible, and (4) refer the COI report to the International Criminal Court.

The wording of the draft resolution has led to a difference of opinion between the E.U. and Japan. The E.U., stereotypes notwithstanding, favors “strong wording,” while Japan would sacrifice the strength of the wording to achieve “global consensus.” You probably won’t be shocked to see me siding with the Soft Reich here. Sacrificing important language to mollify China is a case of arranging deck chairs on the Titanic if I’ve ever seen one. China will veto the resolution anyway. This U.N. action isn’t going to change China’s behavior. It’s only a stepping stone to economic, diplomatic, and reputational costs that could cause Chinese companies to withdraw from North Korea. In which case, why not force China to veto something as compelling — and as injurious to China’s reputation — as possible?

Park Geun-Hye, who is in the The Hague for a conference on nuclear terrorism, has met with Xi Jinping there, and has called on him not to veto the resolution. Although a number of unnamed U.N. officials are congratulating themselves on the toughness of their response, it’s almost certain that China will veto anything that gets to the Security Council.

Surprisingly, South Korea has announced its support for a resolution that provides for the prosecution of North Korean officials. Not surprisingly, the Obama Administration has taken no position on a resolution. Its Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, Bob King, released a mealy-mouthed statement supporting calls for “accountability,” but supporting nothing more specific than “a field-based mechanism for continued monitoring and documenting human rights abuses in the DPRK” to “carry on the investigative work of the Commission and support the work of the Special Rapporteur.” (Meaning, apparently, another decade of investigation.) Bob King, bless his heart, has been about as effective a Special Envoy as the Obama Administration let him be. I might call its North Korea policy unsound if I saw clearer evidence of any policy at all, but more on that in a moment.

In a few years, no one will remember who Bob King is, but the reputation of Obama’s U.N. Ambassador won’t escape a mortal moral wound so easily. Words Power wrote in the pages of The Atlantic in 2001, about the Clinton Administration’s reaction to the Rwanda massacre, are just as applicable, and just as compelling, in the context of North Korea today as they were to Rwanda in 1994:

Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more? If so, why weren’t they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?

Power fired a volley at a cluster of non-decisions by Clinton that might have slowed the killing, non-decisions that in all fairness seem harder than the non-decisions this Administration is making now:

In March of 1998, on a visit to Rwanda, President Clinton issued what would later be known as the “Clinton apology,” which was actually a carefully hedged acknowledgment. He spoke to the crowd assembled on the tarmac at Kigali Airport: “We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred” in Rwanda.

This implied that the United States had done a good deal but not quite enough. In reality the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term “genocide,” for fear of being obliged to act. The United States in fact did virtually nothing “to try to limit what occurred.” Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.

By contrast, no one is suggesting U.S. military intervention in North Korea — only a combination of clear-eyed diplomacy, aggressive information operations, and a more serious and sustained application of the financial pressure that the administration has toyed with. It’s hard to see what’s so gut-wrenching about any of those options.

You really should read Power’s entire lengthy article just to contrast her strident scholarship with the passivity and dysfunction of the administration she serves as its U.N. Ambassador today — not to mention Power’s individual silence about North Korea — in the middle of a slow-motion genocide. (North Korea is a genocide to the same extent that Cambodia was a genocide; in both cases, victims are or were culled based on political and social classifications.) Power explains why the Clinton Administration knew exactly what was happening in Rwanda, exactly as Power herself and the President she serves must know what is happening in North Korea today.

[Samantha Power bursts into tears while visiting Rwanda]

So why the passivity and dysfunction this time? My educated speculation, based on recent diplomatic movements, is that the administration probably thinks it’s on the cusp of a new deal with the North Koreans. After John Kerry’s visit to Beijing earlier this year, China engaged in a round of “shuttle diplomacy” with both Koreas. Last month, a Chinese Vice Foreign Minister visited Pyongyang to urge it to return to talks. Japan, whose current Prime Minister was sidelined by Agreed Framework II in 2007, has engaged in its own secret talks with the North, which may explain why it favors softer resolution language now. Today, North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator is in Beijing, where he may meet “secretly” with unnamed U.S. officialsOFK readers have not been allowed to forget that the chief U.S. negotiator is Glyn Davies, who in 2007 asked a colleague at State to airbrush some of the strongest language out of its annual human rights report about North Korea, asking it to “sacrifice a few adjectives for the cause.” 

(For its part, North Korea, which was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, is threatening another nuke test if the U.S. continues “using the North Korean human rights issue to undermine its regime.”)

The speculation has reached the point that the President himself is being asked if the six-party talks are about about to restart. Cyclical history certainly favors a deal now. This is a weakened second-term administration like Clinton’s in 1994, after his party lost Congress, and like Bush’s in 2007, after his party lost Congress. But as we’ve learned so many times before, the prospects for any deal with North Korea last only as long as North Korea’s reasonable fear of significant adverse consequences. What matters is that the problem is papered over and left to the next president to deal with.

The design to stall Security Council action now is probably China’s design at much as North Korea’s; after all, North Korea has survived plenty of Security Council resolutions (thanks to China’s failure to enforce them). The Obama Administration’s plan probably calculates that after a brief kerfuffle at the Security Council, the COI and its after-effects will fade from the public consciousness and it will sign its piece of paper. It will be 1994 all over again.

In more ways than one.

For China, holocaust denial substitutes for diplomacy

It’s offensively obtuse things like this that convince me that Chinese will eventually be as despised in North Korea as Japan is despised in South Korea, and that its profiteers won’t be safe to walk the streets of Rajin: 

“The inability of the commission to get support and cooperation from the country concerned makes it impossible for the commission to carry out its mandate in an impartial, objective and effective manner,” said Chen Chuandong, a counselor at China’s mission in Geneva. [Yonhap]

In the same spirit, how can we really be so sure the Rape of Nanking and Unit 731 weren’t figments of biased imaginations without Hideki Tojo’s “support and cooperation?” Speaking of support and cooperation, North Korea just missed another opportunity to offer it:

“So Se Pyon first interrupted a statement by the head of the Japanese Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea to challenge his right to address the council, before standing up and walking out in protest.” [AFP]

“The commission of inquiry on the DPRK is none other than a marionette representing the ill-minded purpose of its string pullers including the United States and its followers who are endeavoring to eliminate the socialist system on the pretext of human rights,” North Korea’s ambassador So Se Pyong told the U.N. rights forum this month. [Reuters]

See, if Goering had just refused to cooperate with the Nuremberg Tribunal, he’d have lived out his autumn years shooting up smack in his hunting lodge in the Black Forest.

Inquiry leader Kirby said it is time to act rather than talk. “What is unique has been the capacity of North Korea to avoid international scrutiny, to avoid examination of its record over such a long time, effectively 60 years of very great wrongs against its population,” he told Reuters.

“Now we have a full volume book that tells it all in a comprehensive manner. The moment of truth has approached. We must turn it into action,” he added.

Human rights were among the founding principles of the United Nations in the wake of World War Two, after discovery of atrocities against Jews and minorities, he said. He wants North Korea referred to the ICC or to a special ad hoc tribunal. [Reuters]

Modern-day Japan, notwithstanding its problems coming to terms with its past crimes against humanity, is at least leading the effort at the U.N. to hold North Korea accountable for crimes against humanity in the present tense. Modern-day China is doing its best to aid, abet, and perpetrate them:

China strongly criticized Tuesday a high-profile U.N. report on human rights situations in North Korea that said Beijing may be “aiding crimes against humanity” by repatriating North Korean defectors to their homeland against their will.

“We totally cannot accept this accusation,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, a day after U.N. investigators condemned North Korea for widespread human rights abuses under the leadership of Kim Jong-un.

China, the North’s key ally, has considered tens of thousands of North Koreans hiding in the border areas as illegal migrants, not asylum-seekers, and routinely sends them back to North Korea, where they face harsh penalties, even death.

Hua repeated China’s stance on North Korean defectors, saying Beijing views them as “illegal border-crossers,” not “defectors,” therefore not subject to protection. [Yonhap]

This is why I can’t understand why anyone — least of all, any Korean — could plausibly see modern-day Japan as a threat to peace, or fail to see China as a threat to peace, or as an imminent and mortal threat to the lives and dignity of 23 million Koreans. Oh, those are North Koreans? In that case, never mind.

Event tomorrow on the COI report

I apologize for the short notice, but tomorrow at 2:45 p.m., the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and the Foreign Policy Initiative will co-sponsor an event: “North Korea’s Human Rights Violations – What Next After the U.N. Commission of Inquiry Report?,” at Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Melanie Kirkpatrick and Christopher Griffin will moderate, and panelists will include Hyeonsoo Lee, Roberta Cohen, and Greg Scarlatoiu.

The U.N. Panel of Experts is starting to follow Kim Jong Un’s money.

The main headlines that will come of the U.N. Panel of Experts’ new report on the enforcement of North Korea sanctions will mostly cover the Chong Chon Gang incident — the large amount of weapons seized, the brazenness of its deception, and the complexity of its corporate and financial links to entities operating from Russia, Singapore, and China. There has been relatively little attention paid to the newly revealed evidence that North Korea has helped Syria and Iran arm terrorists. In this post, I’ll discuss some other important conclusions we can draw about the enforcement of UNSCR 2094 a year after its adoption.

1. North Korea is still making a lot of money selling weapons.

In case you doubted it, the latest POE report finds that North Korea “remains … actively engaged in trade in arms and related materiel in violation of” U.N. Security Council resolutions, and concludes, “[T]here is no question that it is one of the country’s most profitable revenue sources.” How profitable? The POE doesn’t pretend to know and “doubts that all existing illicit cooperation has been identified,” but something is paying for all that rice and baby formula ski lift equipment. There has been a construction boom in Pyongyang recently, and those who know how Kim Jong Un is paying for it aren’t saying.

Clearly, North Korea is doing a brisk trade in weapons, mostly with Africa and the Middle East. Paragraphs 90 to 115 of the report recount a long series of reports of North Korean arms smuggling — everything from the fuzes in rockets fired at Israel to specialized alloys to submarine parts to gas masks — that the POE is either still investigating, or found out about after the fact and by happenstance. It’s obvious that the sanctions are leaky, and the U.N. POE admits it.

That’s why I can only shake my head when the Foreign Minister of Korea says that the POE report shows that “relatively successful in restricting the country’s ability to raise funds.” The statement could only mean two things: either he didn’t read the report, or South Korea isn’t serious about enforcing these sanctions at all. I mean, just have a look:

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Obviously, I can’t say what this construction costs, but it’s safe to assume it’s enough to feed a lot of hungry North Koreans. The POE doesn’t know how North Korea can afford to build two high-rise bank towers in Pyongyang, either, but judging by its inference about the arms trade, it’s fair to say that plenty of the money that’s paying for these buildings is illegally derived and laundered. This is not a picture of effective enforcement.

The report calls for no new sanctions, but once you read it, it’s apparent why: states aren’t even enforcing the sanctions that exist now. It says that member states already have adequate enforcement tools at their disposal — a point I’d quibble with — although it’s obvious that not all member states are using those tools.

2. China is violating North Korea sanctions — flagrantly.

China, naturally, is caught in flagrante delicto. The POE recounts the story of a trade show in China last year, when a concerned citizen spotted a booth festooned with a banner bearing the name of Korea Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation, a subsidiary of a firm designated by the U.N. for proliferation activities, and an entity named on Treasury’s list of Specially Designated Nationals.

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When the POE pointed that out, hilarity ensued:

149. In its reply to the Panel’s inquiry, Chinese authorities reported that Ryonha’s name was not on the list of exhibitors provided by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, nor did it appear on any booth before the fair’s opening. Upon discovering its presence, China requested Ryonha to withdraw from the fair and ensured that the relevant persons left its territory (according to Panel information there were at least seven Democratic People’s Republic of Korea nationals working on behalf or at the direction of Ryonha during the fair).

150. The Panel also discovered that, even though designated, Ryonha remained listed as a “recommended company and member” on the website of the China- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Trade Network.103 In reply to an enquiry from the Panel, China responded that Ryonha had been removed from the listing.

At the end of the day, the POE wasn’t even able to confirm that the ChiComs had frozen Ryonha’s assets and seized the machinery on exhibit, as required under UNSCR 2094. Another North Korean firm, Leader International, still appears on Hong Kong’s official business registry more than a year after its U.N. designation.

Embarrassments like this will not cause China to actually enforce the sanctions it supported in the Security Council. Nothing less than sanctions against the Chinese entities that knowingly fail to enforce sanctions will do that. And because China would block those additional sanctions at the U.N., it’s up to the Treasury Department, which can bar those companies from the global financial system, to put some teeth into the sanctions now.

3. Other nations, including nations in Europe, aren’t taking sanctions seriously enough.

China isn’t the only member state that has failed to enforce North Korea sanctions effectively. Taiwan, in particular, has emerged as North Korea’s main new source of precision machine tools and related technology since it lost its access to the Japanese market. Plenty of states haven’t met their requirements to file compliance reports with the POE. Others aren’t reporting violations they find out about.

Notably, not a single Member State reported a violation of the luxury goods ban, despite the many violations that occurred at the Masik Pass Ski Resort. Even the U.K. failed to report North Korea’s attempt to purchase a yacht from a British manufacturer.

In most of these cases, the non-enforcement isn’t coming from the highest levels of the government, as with China. It’s a simple problem of member states failing to make enforcement a priority, or failing to reign in the profiteers in their jurisdictions. That’s a problem that could be dealt with through competent bilateral diplomacy in most cases, though sanctions and criminal prosecution should be options for deserving violations.

There is an another, more fundamental problem — what, exactly, are member states supposed to report? U.N. definitions of controlled items are often too narrow. For example, ski lift equipment doesn’t fit the U.N. definition of a “luxury good.” (Update: It does fit the U.S. and EU definitions.)

The same problem recurs with North Korea’s acquisition of missile parts. When the South Korean Navy recovered the remains of the last Unha-3 from the bottom of the Yellow Sea, it found that the rocket contained numerous foreign components, including some of U.S. origin, that were not on the U.N. list of controlled items.  A shipment intercepted by “a Member State” contained parts described as being for “freezing carriers”and “fish-factory mother ships,” all of which were “spare parts or other items related to Scud ballistic missile systems.” Yet those items also did not meet “the criteria defined by the lists of prohibited items, material, equipment, goods and technology related to nuclear, other weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes.”

This calls for the POE itself to proffer an expanded list of controlled dual-use items, something that was (but for a few especially sensitive items) lacking in the POE’s report. (Update: If it wanted to, the U.N. could borrow or cross-reference the U.S. Munitions List.)

4. Existing financial sanctions on North Korea only show the tip of a big, dirty iceberg.

The best news in this report is that it appears to be the work of people who are intelligent, inquisitive, and serious about their work. They’ve begun investigating how North Korea launders the money it makes from its illicit activities:

166. During its mandate, the Panel commissioned an in-depth study to learn more about how the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea makes use of foreign-based firms and individuals to evade scrutiny of its assets, financial and trade dealings. It sought a comprehensive view of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s commercial footprint abroad to learn how entities and individuals that have figured in its investigations relate to this broader network and to one another. The Panel believes that an examination of those linkages would assist its efforts to detect and advise the Committee and Member States about others who might play controlling and supportive roles in evading trade and financial measures adopted in the resolutions.

167. [....] The study provided the Panel with a rich database of leads for further investigation. Starting with less than 500 loosely connected or unconnected individuals and entities that had come to the Panel’s attention during its investigations, the study found connections to an additional 700 individuals, more than 1,600 companies and nearly 2,500 corporate identifiers.

168. The results of the study show that the operations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea abroad no longer fit the description of “two persons and a fax machine”. Instead, it found a relatively mature, complex and international corporate ecosystem. Patterns that emerge from examination of the connections between identified individuals and entities show six large, discrete networks, all of which share links.

Other North Korean banks come under suspicion because of the POE report.  A table at Annex XXXIV gives a list of banks known to be affiliated with North Korea, including those designated by the U.S., the U.N., and the EU. But among those not designated —

  • The Ilshim International Bank “was reported to be associated with the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.”
  • The Koryo Bank is “possibly associated with Office 38 of the KWP.” (Office or Bureau 38 is the slush fund of Kim Jong Un and his court, and receives funds from the more notorious Bureau 39, which is in charge of laundering the proceeds of North Korea’s illicit activities by co-mingling those proceeds with the proceeds of “legitimate” business operations, like its overseas restaurants. The restaurants are believed to fall under the control of Bureau 39.)
  • The Kumgang Bank is “described as a window of the Foreign Trade Bank,” which was recently designated by the Treasury Department for its involvement in proliferation.
  • The North East Asia Bank is “[a]ssociated with the Korea National Insurance Corporation,” whose massive insurance fraud scam was the subject of international litigation and revealed by former KNIC official Kim Kwang Jin.

Curiously absent from the list is Sili Bank, which is based in Shenyang, China, and which briefly aroused international curiosity when it began offering e-mail services to and from North Korea, but which has no functioning English web site today. At one time, Sili Bank was the only game in town for anyone, including North Korean companies, to obtain international e-mail service.

Ocean Maritime Management, which the Washington Post describes as “a Pyongyang-based company with links to the North Korean government,” used a Sili Bank e-mail address to send a protest letter to the Panamanian authorities when they boarded the Chong Chon Gang and found a cargo of MiGs, MiG engines, missiles, and other weapons hidden under a layer of sugar. OMM, which arranged the shipment from its Vladivostok office, denied knowing of any cargo other than the sugar, which it describes as “essential for our people’s living” and “a cargo of humanitarian nature.”

5. Air Koryo is effectively an arm of the North Korean Air Force, and is involved in suspicious financial dealings.

North Korea’s General Administration of Civil Aviation, which is controlled by the North Korean Air Force and in turn controls Air Koryo, also lists a Sili Bank e-mail address. Air Koryo falls under the POE’s suspicion for a series of “dubious” debts owed to it by “recently formed shell companies” related to gold trading.

The Panel is suspicious that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea may be using or considering the use of precious metal sales on credit terms to create “accounts payable”. Such sources for funds would not necessarily show as being under its control and even could be swapped with other firms to further distance its connection and thereby better evade sanctions and enhanced due diligence by banks.

Because of its military links, the POE says that “providing financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, maintenance or use of Air Koryo’s aircraft” could be a violation. It will be interesting to see whether future POE reports confirm whether Sili Bank (a) still exists and (b) is knowingly facilitating illicit activities.

6. North Korea’s overseas monument business may be a money laundering scheme, too.

Finally, North Korea’s work building memorials and statues overseas has drawn its share of snark from bloggers and reporters, but the POE gives us cause to suspect that those operations could be used as fronts for money laundering, too:

Available media reports, particularly about projects in several African countries, note that project values appear inflated. Participation in overseas construction also takes place through joint ventures where a foreign partner could hold funds on behalf of or for the benefit of designated entities and prohibited programmes.

For example, if the Syrians wanted to pay for North Korean technical assistance with a missile program or a reactor while avoiding detection, they could commission the construction of a grandiose memorial at an inflated price. All perfectly legal, right?

If so, the POE should be wondering whether North Korea has recently made illicit deals with Zimbabwe and Namibia. Ironically, Zimbabwe once paid North Koreans to train their troops, who proceeded to kill tens of thousands of civilians in areas backing the Zimbabwean African Peoples’ Union, led by Joshua Nkomo. Today, Zimbabwe is paying North Korea to build a statue of Joshua Nkomo, and Zimbabwean dissidents have taken note.

A Christian blogger in Namibia also protests his government’s hiring of North Korea to build political monuments in Windhoek, when North Korea is rumored to be shooting people for having contact with Christian missionaries. (By contrast, nearby Botswana severed diplomatic relations with North Korea when the U.N. COI report came out.)

POE Part 2: Terrorist rockets that landed in Israel may have had N. Korean fuses

When the Syria collapsed into civil war in 2011, Hamas and other Sunni Palestinians broke with their sponsors in Damascus for sectarian reasons, while Hezbollah sent troops to defend the Assad regime. But in 2009, before the civil war, Assad and his own backers in Iran armed both Hamas and Hezbollah.

The year 2009 was a big one for interceptions of North Korean weapons bound for Iran and its terrorist clients. The UAE found rocket propelled grenades and explosives inside a container aboard the ANL Australia, and authorities in Bangkok seized a massive shipment of arms, including man-portable surface-to-air missiles, from the hold of a chartered Il-76 cargo plane in Bangkok.

Now, we learn from last week’s POE report that the Israelis also intercepted a third shipment on its way to Syria that year:

108. The Panel recently obtained information indicating that some items found in a large arms consignment (500 tons) shipped by the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Syrian Arab Republic in November 2009 may have originated from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This consignment was found by the Israeli Navy inside containers onboard the vessel Francop when en route from Damietta, Egypt, to Lattakia, Syrian Arab Republic.62 It was considered to be a violation by the Islamic Republic of Iran of resolution 1747 (2007) prohibiting it from exporting any arms or related materiel.

The rockets and their markings bore strong similarities to the weapons seized at Bangkok and Abu Dhabi, leading the POE to conclude that it was “highly likely” that the weapons found aboard the Francop were produced in North Korea, too.

Israel’s Foreign Minister had previously said that the arms in the Bangkok and Abu Dhabi shipments were bound for Hamas or Hezbollah. The Francop shipment fits the same M.O. and looks like a glimpse of the same pipeline, further down the line. It’s curious that the Israelis didn’t report their interception at the time, given that both Thailand and the UAE were transparent about the shipments they seized. That’s particularly true in light of this newly revealed evidence that some North Korean weapons made it into the hands of Hamas, and were actually fired into Israel.

111. The Panel recently also obtained a photograph of remnants of a 333 mm FAJAR rocket launched at Israel in November 2012. It notes that the remnants of the rocket’s fuse present some similarities with fuses produced in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea previously seized.65 Here again, because the date of its transfer and the chain of custody are unknown, the Panel cannot determine whether there could be a violation of the arms embargo.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

You can find a photo of a Fajar (a/k/a Fajr) at this Flickr page, and as you’ll see, it’s a big rocket. Among the many things I’ve never understood about the pro-Israel groups that exercise substantial political influence on the Hill is why they’ve never backed North Korea sanctions as a core security interest of Israel. There’s little question that North Korea tried to give Syria a nuclear bomb, or that it has contributed to Syria’s development and use of chemical weapons. It gave both Iran and Syria the capability to hit Israel with ballistic missiles. There are growing suspicions that it has given assistance to Iran’s nuclear program.

In a way, the revelation that North Korea has assisted terrorists with the relatively primitive Fajr-5 is less shocking than what we already know. But the fact that this technology has been used to strike Israeli territory certainly highlights both the threat to Israel and North Korea’s recklessness about the end uses of the weapons it proliferates.

U.N. Panel of Experts releases new report on N. Korea sanctions enforcement

The report, which you can find here, publishes photographs and a detailed description of the weapons seized from the Chong Chon Gang.

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 8.40.11 AM

I had not realized how big the shipment was:

72. The Panel found that the hidden cargo (see figure XI, a complete list at annex VII and detailed analysis at annex VIII) amounted to six trailers associated with surface-to-air missile systems and 25 shipping containers loaded with two disassembled MiG-21 aircraft, 15 engines for MiG-21 aircraft, components for surface-to-air missile systems, ammunition and miscellaneous arms-related materiel. This constituted the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since the adoption of resolution 1718 (2006).

The POE goes into great detail about the modifications to the ship, the false bills of lading, deceptive statements by both the Cuban and North Korean governments, and other deceptive practices to conceal the cargo, its ownership, and its destination. It also calls out a Vladivostok-based shipping company, Ocean Maritime Management Company, for operating the Chong Chon Gang without listing it as a part of its fleet.

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 8.39.56 AM

The report concludes that the incident was a violation, but suggests that in many cases, North Korea isn’t the final destination for the weapons, but a middleman that buys up old equipment, refurbishes it, and resells it. In this case, as I noted here, the Chong Chon Gang MiG engines already appeared to have been refurbished when shipped.

The POE also implicates Burma, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, and of course, Iran for suspected arms deals with North Korea. This casts considerable doubt on the news item here, suggesting that North Korea exported only $11 million in arms last year.

The POE also discusses suspected violations of the luxury goods ban, including the Masikryong ski resort, a attempted yacht purchase from the UK, and Dennis Rodman’s gifts to Kim Jong Un.

Most tantalizingly, the report begins to examine North Korea’s sanctions-busting financial arrangements in greater detail. Here’s a taste.

164. Financial measures in the resolutions, along with the strengthening of standards governing international finance, have combined to change fundamentally the financial environment in which the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea operates. In particular, it has become much more difficult to make direct use of its banks to remit earnings and make payments for transactions in prohibited goods, training and technology. The long-term trajectory of changes to improve standards promoted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)106 promises it will face even more difficulty in future. The technical efforts of FATF, especially recent steps taken to help counter the financing of proliferation, complement Security Council actions.

165. Consequently, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has had to adapt, explore and perfect ways to evade detection and circumvent constraints on the financing of prohibited programmes and activities. All evasion techniques involve higher risk, extra cost and loss of timeliness. The Panel has begun to examine more deeply the institutional frameworks and operational techniques it employs. It is experienced in using foreign-based individuals, front companies and shell companies and joint ventures engaged in legitimate business to mask illicit activities associated with sourcing nuclear, ballistic missile and other weapons of mass destruction programmes. Ownership structures often are complex and opaque and take advantage of lax rules in some Member States regarding the identification of beneficial owners.

The report calls for a more in-depth investigation of North Korea’s financial activities, connections, and methods. I certainly look forward to reading it.

I think the U.N. has been trying to confuse me by being effective recently. It’s working. But then, the U.N. still can’t really enforce measures like these without the cooperation of U.S. and EU financial regulators. POE reports can, however, be highly complimentary of national enforcement authorities, including those of Treasury.

Unlike most other U.N. products, Panel of Experts reports make for interesting reading, and often contain hard-hitting findings. Here are links to previous UNPOE reports from 2010, 2012, and 2013, along with the U.N.’s list of persons designated for asset blocking. Note that the list does not match the EU list, or the U.S. Treasury list of Specially Designated Nationals. Members states (and the U.N. itself) have far to go to harmonize their enforcement efforts, but reporting on those gaps is a good beginning.

U.N. Commission finds North Korea committed crimes against humanity, will recommend referral to the International Criminal Court

After years of apathy that not even accomplished appeaser Ban Ki-Moon could enforce, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry has released a devastating report accusing Kim Jong Un and his late father, Kim Jong Il, of crimes against humanity. You can download a summary report, or the long version, here.

CoIDPRK

I will probably have more to say about the report in the coming days as I read it, but it’s clearly having an immediate and profound impact on the public discourse. Here’s how CNN ran it:

A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state “that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” a United Nations panel reported Monday.

North Korean leaders employ murder, torture, slavery, sexual violence, mass starvation and other abuses as tools to prop up the state and terrorize “the population into submission,” the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said in its report.

The New York Times summarizes it this way:

“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials,” the report asserted, referring to North Korea by its official name. The report stopped short of alleging genocide but specified among others the crimes of “extermination,” murder, enslavement, torture, rape and persecution on grounds of race, religion and gender.

Reuters led with this:

North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities, U.N. investigators said on Monday.

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, AFP, and yes, even the AP also ran stories. The dominant focus of the reporting is that Kim Jong Un could face trial for crimes against humanity, which as most of you already know, he won’t (but more on that in a moment). And on what do they base that?

In the letter, dated Jan. 20, the panel chairman, the retired Australian judge Michael Donald Kirby, summarized the investigation’s findings of crimes against humanity committed by officials that could be inferred to be acting under Mr. Kim’s personal control.

Addressing Mr. Kim, 31, Judge Kirby wrote in the letter that his panel would recommend that the United Nations Security Council refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court, to make all those responsible for crimes accountable, “including possibly yourself.” [N.Y. Times]

No, that’s not going to happen, but it has to be the ballsiest thing ever written on U.N. letterhead. Congratulations to Judge Kirby for delivering things we so seldom see coming out of the U.N. — truth and relevance.

“Too many times in this building there are reports and no action,” Judge Kirby said. “Well, now is a time for action. We can’t say we didn’t know.”

If you read nothing else in this report, read Michael Kirby’s remarkable letter to Kim Jong Un — maybe the word I’m searching for here is “surreal” — starting at page 23 of the summarized report.

Also, North Korea says all 372 pages are based on faked evidence. Duly noted.

In South Korea, the report received prominent coverage in Yonhap and the Joongang Ilbo, but not the left-wing Hankyoreh or the right-wing Chosun Ilbo, at least as of the time of this writing (early morning in Korea, with a lot of other big news stories happening there today). The reports will probably budge opinions in the South, which are both complicated and ambivalent, but only slightly. The South Korean government welcomed the report, and it bears repeating that prior South Koreans governments — including the one that General Secretary Ban used to serve — wouldn’t have.

As you would expect, the report has a lot to say about North Korea’s prison camps, starting at Paragraph 729. But for all the horrors of the camps, North Korea’s greatest weapon of mass destruction has always been starvation. The report lays out the evidence for North Korea’s culpable starvation of its people in meticulous detail, beginning at Paragraph 500. Starting at paragraph 1115 of the long-version report, the COI methodically lays out the legal standard for “extermination” by starvation as a crime against humanity, and explains how a series of deliberate policy decisions by North Korea’s leaders starved perhaps several million people to death, and physically or emotionally scarred millions more.

The principal impact of the report, if there is one, will be to galvanize a consensus, both nationally and (to a lesser extent) internationally, to do something effective for once. The U.N. isn’t going to be the vehicle for that, however. China, which is criticized heavily and by name for its illegal repatriation of North Korean refugees, wasted no time in announcing that it would block any referral to the International Criminal Court, which just reinforces the hard truth that our North Korea problem is, at its root, a China problem. It can only be solved by making it prohibitively expensive for China to go on supporting a puppet that, of late, has failed to kowtow when called. China’s statement pours cold water on irrational exuberance that, last week, boosted an obscure academic paper into evidence of a major policy shift in which China would abandoning Kim Jong Un. No, not yet, anyway.

Or, we can let this report be a 208,000-word monument to the impotence of civilization, go back to treating North Korea like a tasteless joke, and beseech Zeus that the psychopaths who rule it will remain content to only kill North Koreans until some miracle elixir saves us from the next stage of the cancer’s metastasis. That is the stage when regimes that make war on their own people inevitably turn outward in search of more victims.

 

Update: Jonathan Cheng at Korea Real Time has done a good job of summarizing and citing the report’s key findings, and some of its more dramatic evidence. Chris Green and Stephan Haggard both comment on the report, and both pieces are well worth reading.

The conservative Chosun Ilbo’s story is harsh in tone but relatively brief. The left-wing Hankyoreh doesn’t attempt minimize the report’s charges or evidence, but buries and dulls its discussion of Kim Jong Un’s potential individual responsibility, and generally dismisses the report’s practical significance.

So, far, no reaction from KCNA or the Rodong Sinmun, but I’m willing to bet it will use any of the following words: “brigandish,” “madcap,” or “flunkeyist.”

Witnesses: North Korea culpable for famine deaths

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry for North Korea has done excellent and necessary work collecting testimony about the regime’s political prison camps. Michael Kirby, the Commission’s Chairman, has earned the eternal gratitude of the Korean people for his forthrightness, and friends of mine who met him during the COI’s session in Washington last week tell me they were deeply impressed with both Kirby and Sonja Biserko (the third commissioner, Marzuki Darusman, who performed admirably as the U.N. Special Rapporteur, fell ill during his visit and didn’t make as many of the rounds).

CoIDPRK

Before the COI convened, I had low expectations. I’d grown accustomed to the impotence and incompetence of Ban Ki Moon’s U.N. I’m glad to admit that I was wrong this time. The COI’s report may or may not result in charges before the International Criminal Court, but it matters that the world is hearing the testimony that the COI is taking. Governments will consider it, and the COI’s findings, as they decide how to implement laws and regulations, and companies will consider it as they decide where not to invest. The COI has already imposed a penalty on Kim Jong Un, and that penalty will increase with each hearing, press conference, and finding.

But as much as the attention on the prison camps is necessary and welcome, I initially regretted that the COI hadn’t focused on a even greater but less understood crime — the needless and entirely preventable famine that may have killed millions of North Koreans. Nothing can bring the victims back, but at least their deaths should not be overlooked or misattributed to natural causes. Fortunately, they won’t be:

North Korea economy expert Marcus Noland told the panel Thursday that Pyongyang is “clearly culpable” in the denial of the right to food, both under current leader Kim Jong Un and his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il, who ruled during the devastating famine era.

“The North Korean government did not and continues not to use the resources available at its disposal to address the lack of food among the populace, and when aid was offered, it hindered and continues to hinder the operation of relief programs,” he said.

The North Korean government’s economic and agricultural policies contributed to the food shortages that led to the famine, he said, and the leaders could have avoided the devastation it wreaked by devoting a small portion of its budget—such as by diverting some from military expenditures—to addressing food needs.

“This was a man-made, preventable tragedy.  These people died needlessly, and the government is culpable.”  [Radio Free Asia]

Andrew Natsios, author of The Great North Korean Famine, whom I’ve come to know and respect over the previous year, reached a similar conclusion:

Former U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Andrew Natsios said that even if natural causes had been behind the early factors contributing to the famine, once it knew about the problem, Kim Jong Il’s government did not act fast enough to address it.

“He was in charge, he was responsible, he knew what was going on, and he chose not to buy food and give it to the people.”

The leadership would have known how the famine was devastating the population—including from government records showing a massive drop in children’s heights and weights due to malnutrition, Natsios said.

Its lack of action could not be put down to “incompetence,” he said.

“They knew what was going on and they chose not to take action to protect the population because their first objective was survival.”

If the Commission should care to accept my offer, I hope they’ll consider adding this exhibit to their indictment.

MiG-29 base @ 1400' 14oct2010

[The world's deadliest operational aircraft...]

This is Suncheon Air Base, not far from Pyongyang. It’s the home of North Korea’s few modern combat aircraft — its MiG-29 fighters and Su-25 ground attack aircraft. Both types are modern enough to still be in service with the Russian Air Force, although these are almost certainly cheaper export models.

North Korea purchased its Su-25s between 1987 and 1989, before the famine, so we won’t count them in the analysis that follows. But Kim Jong Il acquired his first 12 MiG-29s from Belarus in 1995, just as North Korea plunged into famine. An export version of a MiG-29 costs about $35 million, which excludes maintenance, training, spare parts, and armament. The following year, North Korea bought 18 more MiG-29s from Belarus and Mother Russia. The total purchase cost of thirty MiG-29s works out to over $1 billion. In addition, the annual cost to maintain each aircraft is around $5 million, which works out to over $600 million for the period between 1995 and 2000. Let’s assume that North Korea skimped on fuel and spare parts and accept a more conservative cost figure of $1.5 billion.

MiG-29s @ 600' 14oct2010

[... and they've never been used in combat.]

Obviously, this $1.5 billion figure doesn’t include what Kim Jong Il spent on missiles, nuclear weapons, palaces, yachts, or limousines, or the 40 MiG-21s he bought from Kazakhstan in 1999, near the end of the famine.

The best estimates of the North Korean famine’s human toll range from 600,000 to 2.5 million (other estimates are higher). I’ve explained here why I believe the 2.5 million figure is better supported. To parse it for yourself, you’ll need to read Andrew Natsios’s book.

At the height of the famine, in 1997, North Korea’s grain deficit was estimated at 1.9 million tonnes. During the famine years, the average price of corn was around $120 a tonne. That works out to an annual cost of $228 million to close North Korea’s grain deficit during each of the famine years. If you divide $1.5 billion by $228 million, the cost of these MiG-29s could have more than covered North Korea’s food deficit for six and half years, a period that spans the duration of the famine. If Kim Jong Il had imported corn instead of these MiGs, there would have been no famine.

Now, divide 2.5 million dead by 30 MiG-29s. You arrive at a cost of 75,000 lives per aircraft — roughly the same death toll as the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. For each plane.

[A million deaths is just a statistic.]

The victims of North Korea’s famine didn’t have to die, but they did — maybe by the millions, and often after watching their children die before them. They were killed by the deliberate polices of their government — policies whose effects were felt year after agonizing year — as surely as the victims of Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Auschwitz. The main difference is that the North Korean victims didn’t die after moments of agony. Their final agony lasted weeks, if not months.

Camp 22 Update

In an update to its previous imagery analysis, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea seems to be migrating to the view that Camp 22 was closed in 2012, but if that’s the answer, the next question it raises is what happened to the prisoners there, once estimated to number as high as 30,000. The Washington Post asks that question in an editorial today:

In a way, the camp was a city in its own right, albeit a locus of inhumanity rather than a bustling metropolis. Camp 22 was one point in North Korea’s constellation of concentration camps that run on unadulterated cruelty, a secret world where prisoners are fed poison for experimentation, women are forced to kill their own children and entire families are murdered in gas chambers.

As the world sits by, North Korea has imprisoned as many as 200,000 people in these camps. Although human rights violations remain unfortunately common in many nations, these camps form a category of their own in today’s world. North Korea’s gulag is a place where people aren’t people but rather objects for exploitation and elimination.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report this week detailing the harrowing reality of Camp 22. Satellite imagery suggests the camp recently closed. Good news? Not exactly. According to the report, after a food shortage in 2009-10, Camp 22’s population shrunk to somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 people from around 30,000 in previous years. Thousands of prisoners seem to have evaporated into thin air — perhaps via Camp 22’s crematoria.

Truthfully, I don’t know how accurately these populations can be estimated, but it’s clear by now that thousands of prisoners disappeared from Camp 22, and that if they were released, we’d have heard their stories by now. By all accounts, the last surviving prisoners were loaded onto trains in the middle of the night and sent to points unknown.

The Post also takes note of the testimony of North Korean refugees to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry in Seoul. I suppose I should have written more about this; I’ve come to the conclusion that the COI’s report could be significant if it leads to the passage of another U.N. sanctions resolution, which in turn would make it easier for many in Congress and the administration to support tougher human rights sanctions legislation and condition the lifting of those sanctions on closing the camps down … without the use of crematoria. That’s also why China and Russia will probably prevent that from happening. For that matter, Europe is also profiting from its trade with the perpetrators of these atrocities and may not want effective action, either.

The hardest reaction to explain or excuse continues to be the apathy of most South Koreans. One day, a new generation of Korean nationalists will have to airbrush that out of history. North Korea has called the testimony slander, but otherwise has largely ignored the proceedings.

Here in the United States, North Korea is still not such a pariah that it can’t serve as a backdrop for a reality TV circus, a sort of reversed-polarity version of Borat in which Dennis Rodman stands in as a parody of us all, just a week after North Korea refused to receive our Special Envoy for Human Rights, and months after Rodman asked North Korea to release Ken Bae (which North Korea also ignored).

One reason I didn’t write about the COI testimony is that I was simply busy with other things, but another must be that I found the accounts both too familiar and too depressing to inspire much thought–expect that here we are, ten years after most of these accounts stopped being news, still trying to pierce the factual ignorance of the State Department, the ambivalence of multiple administrations, the hopeless impotence of the U.N., the corruption of some of our media, and the inexplicable disinterest of much of the Human Rights Industry. The sad fact is that it doesn’t serve any powerful constituency’s pecuniary agenda to make an issue of this.

Update, Sept. 8:  I’ve removed three comments from this and one other thread in keeping with the comment rules policy (see “About” link).  Two were using sock puppets of one IP address, and the third, pretending to engage one of the sock puppets in discussion, posted within minutes of the others, suggesting that it was either the same person or coordinated. The latter comment’s IP address also matched that of another commenter who was banned for using sock puppets and being a troll.

(If you wonder why I moderate comments, just read any Washington Post comment thread.)

Based on the stilted prose, the comments appear to have been posted by a non-native English speaker, maybe even one of these hired trolls we’ve been warned about. Obviously, I can’t do much more than speculate about who left the comments, but in the last item of this post, you’ll see a screen grab I took of a visit to this site from Pyongyang, which I had saved for just such an occasion.

All I can say is that someone is upset that people around the world are talking about Camp 22 and wants to change the subject to something else.