Archive for Human Rights

Incoherence of N. Korea’s human rights “engagement” betrays its insincerity

Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il could spend the duration of their reigns answering charges of atrocities with flat denials. That hasn’t worked since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) published its landmark report in February, or during the scrutiny that has followed. Today, Kim Jong Un must deepen his overdraft of diplomatic capital to fend off an indictment before the International Criminal Court. Ambassador Robert King, U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, describes North Korea’s diplomats as “scrambling” and “fighting back” to escape this “horrendous publicity” — to say nothing of the risk, however slight, that Kim Jong Un and his minions could face personal accountability for their crimes. Oddly enough, King still described these reactions as “helpful” and “positive:”

“The North Koreans are losing the battle. They’re recognizing it, and they’re becoming engaged. They are sending their foreign minister and others around the world to see if they can stop the damage,” King told a seminar at a Washington think tank. [….]

King noted some small, positive developments in Pyongyang’s attitude. He said the North had acceded to an international convention on people with disabilities in response to suggestion in a U.N. periodic review of its rights situation.

“I think it’s helpful that they are becoming engaged,” King said.

Doug Anderson, general counsel to the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, however, the progress was superficial. He said he’d be less skeptical if North Korea took an important step like allowing outside observers to visit the prison camps. [AP, Matthew Pennington]

Other than the fact that Pyongyang is “losing the battle” at the moment, it’s hard—for me, anyway—to see much good coming of this “engagement.” Maybe I’ve been watching the way North Korea engages a little too long, or maybe the incoherence of Pyongyang’s message robs it of its persuasiveness. Writing at 38 North, Roberta Cohen summarizes the early stages of this diplomatic schizophrenia:

Initially, North Korea denounced the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) upon which the resolution was based and made inflammatory personal attacks against its chair, Australian justice Michael Kirby. Now it offers dialogue, seemingly with the aim of weakening the text of the resolution and encouraging “no” votes or abstentions in the 193-member General Assembly.

Although the DPRK is often said to be impervious to outside criticism, the resolution’s focus on accountability for “officials at the highest level of the state” seems to have caught the attention of the leadership. No North Korean Foreign Minister had been sent to the General Assembly for 15 years and presumably one of Ri’s purposes in September was to head off the resolution. Soon thereafter, the North’s UN Ambassador sent out a letter to all UN Missions proposing an alternative resolution that would exclude reference to an international criminal justice mechanism and promote instead “dialogue and negotiations.”[7]

This sudden interest rings hollow for many because for more than a decade, North Korea refused any dialogue and ignored annual UN resolutions requesting talks. The DPRK also broke off its human rights dialogue with the EU in 2003 after the Europeans, finding the dialogue unproductive, introduced a resolution on North Korea’s human rights at the UN. 

Pyongyang’s “outreach” strategies have evolved from the offensive, to the conciliatory, to the ridiculous, and predictably, back to the menacing. In September, it impressed The New York Times when it said that it had, in the Times‘s words, “accepted a wide range of recommendations for improving its human rights record.” But by October 6th, North Korean diplomat Ja Song Nam was calling the General Assembly debate a “human rights racket … kicked up to the extreme.”

On October 9th, North Korea was said to be taking “the unusual step of proposing its own text praising its human rights record,” which really doesn’t sound so unusual for North Korea. Its text would have included demonstrably false boasts about its “free compulsory educational system and free medical care,” and praised its widely ridiculed and criticized human rights self-audit.

This must not have gotten much traction, either, because by October 12th, the North Koreans had asked the EU to “soften” the draft in exchange for bilateral talks, in a transparent effort to split the EU from other U.N. member states. The next day, Yonhap quoted the Rodong Sinmun as calling the draft an attempt “to meddle in North Korea’s internal affairs,” and suggested that it was the result of (Yonhap’s words) “the influence of some powerful countries.”

By October 18th, Yonhap quoted KCNA as describing the draft resolution as “typical politicization, selectivity and double standards,” and the work of “hostile forces attempting to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries under the signboard of human rights.” The AP reported that Pyongyang had called for an across-the-board “end to the practice of calling into question the human rights situation of specific individual countries.” It also called a plea by South Korean President Park Geun-Hye for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs and improve its human rights practices “reckless,” “double-dealing,” and an “unpardonable politically motivated provocation … chilling the atmosphere of the hard-won North-South dialogue.”

Ironically, just a week after Pyongyang offered the EU bilateral talks on human rights, it had answered a similar South Korean proposal with fury and venom.

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Pyongyang’s recent gestures toward dialogue may be its way of “recognizing that the international focus on its human rights will not fade away,” but then, the same could once have been said about the international focus on its nuclear programs and its food crisis. In both cases, Pyongyang offered “engagement” that amounted to so much stalling, lying, and cheating, but which was financially lucrative for itself. Twenty years, three nuclear tests, and 2 million dead North Koreans later, that engagement has benefited no one but Pyongyang. There’s little question that “engagement” on human rights, at least as Pyongyang envisions it today, would have similar outcomes.

Despite her reservations, Cohen ultimately concludes that “no opportunity to promote the human rights of the North Korea’s people should be neglected,” and sets forth conditions and caveats for that dialogue. But if the incoherence of North Korea’s recent responses causes you to conclude that today’s opportunities aren’t yet worth taking, you’re in good company (mine, for instance). There will be better opportunities for dialogue after the General Assembly has acted, after the Security Council has voted, and after civilized nations have agreed on and implemented a plan of action to force North Korea to change. Change will only become possible when Pyongyang perceives that its alternatives are evolution, extinction, and absolutely no others.

Even so, pressure is merely a means to an end. Those who will eventually engage Pyongyang on human rights must think carefully about their strategies, objectives, and outcomes if they hope to do better than those who failed to end North Korea’s nuclear ambitions or its endemic hunger, but that topic also has material enough for another post.

It’s discouraging enough about Pyongyang’s intentions that it would vacillate between these conflicting approaches in the space of a few weeks, but tomorrow, I’ll tell you about a surreal, sad spectacle presented by Donald Gregg at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Monday, where North Korean diplomat Jang Il Hun managed to shoehorn most of them into a single hour. I doubt that Jang altered many views of the regime he represents, but that event might alter plenty of views about Gregg.

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Update: This post was edited after publication.

Veto or not, a Security Council vote on N. Korean human rights is a victory

A draft U.N. General Assembly resolution, co-authored by EU and Japanese diplomats, may ask the Security Council “to refer North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to an international court” for his crimes against humanity, as documented extensively by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry.

A draft leaked to the press on October 9th called for “effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity,” possibly including Kim Jong Un himself. The draft also recommended “reporting the country’s situation and its leaders to the International Criminal Court” at The Hague “for crimes against humanity.”

Negotiations over the text of the draft continue, and it remains subject to “change before it goes to a vote in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights.” Whatever text passes the Third Committee is expected to “be sent to the UN General Assembly in December.” Only then will it go to the Security Council, where it’s a foregone conclusion that China and Russia will veto any resolution worth passing.

The inevitability of a ChiCom veto, however, does not mean that the pursuit of a resolution is necessarily an exercise in futility, although it could certainly become one if civilized nations fail to agree on an alternative plan of action. The Editors of The Washington Post, who say that North Korea’s “malevolent system … should not be acceptable,” suggest one such plan:

Another course of action was suggested recently by 20 defectors from North Korea, including Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped from the notorious Camp 14. The defectors asked the Swiss government in a letter to freeze any financial assets held by members of the North Korean regime in Swiss bank accounts. It is not known whether Mr. Kim and his cohorts have stashed fortunes there, but some news accounts have suggested as much. North Korea’s leaders have paid attention to efforts to cut off their source of lucre. An asset freeze would be another way to get their attention and send a message that they cannot escape accountability for their crimes. [Editorial, Washington Post]

As they say, great minds think alike. After all, if passing a Security Council resolution is really a solution, we’ve solved the North Korean nuclear crisis four times since 2006. To be sure, an ICC indictment would be a powerful symbol that would also have important diplomatic and economic consequences, but China and Russia are certain to ignore any resolution’s key provisions anyway. A more plausible objective is to mobilize civilized humanity to deny North Korea the means–particularly, the financial means–to commit crimes against humanity, and Chinese bankers have never been willing to risk their capital and market access for North Korea’s sake.

Roberta Cohen, Co-Chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, notes that Pyongyang’s infamy has already had some significant diplomatic consequences:

Pyongyang could hardly have failed to notice that its human rights record has begun to have impact on an array of governments it might need politically or for foreign investment and aid. In 2013, Mongolia’s President made the news by stating during a visit to Pyongyang that “no tyranny lasts forever” and arguing for linking the nature of “tyrannous governance to prospects for economic development.”[8] Japan has been holding up further economic concessions to North Korea until information is forthcoming about the fate of abducted Japanese citizens.[9] At a meeting of Security Council members in 2014, the Ambassador of France declared that his government did not have diplomatic relations with North Korea and didn’t intend to given the COI report, while the southern African state of Botswana terminated its relations with North Korea over the COI’s findings.[10] The world’s leading industrialized nations in the Group of 8 (now 7) for the first time urged North Korea to address international concerns about its human rights violations,[11] while the United States has made clear that overall relations with North Korea will not fundamentally improve without some change in human rights practices, including closing the prison labor camps.[12] And President Park Geun-hye of South Korea has agreed that her country will host the UN office to be established in order to continue the monitoring done by the COI into human rights in North Korea with a view to promote accountability. [Roberta Cohen, 38 North]

This diplomatic isolation has probably also dissuaded potential investors, who may see investment in North Korea as a big risk to their capital and their reputations, even with the backing of their country’s diplomats. The financial price of North Korea’s atrocities is rising.

Finally, if the objective of a General Assembly vote is to show the world that it has a North Korea problem, a Security Council vote could be just as useful to show the world that at its root, the North Korea problem is a China and Russia problem. The leaked drafts have further increased pressure on Russia and China for shielding Kim Jong Un, and all that is done in his name. That understanding could be a step toward consensus for effective action by civilized nations.

You may believe in the U.N., and you may be a skeptic, but whichever of those things you are, you must still acknowledge that for many governments and many people, a good-faith effort to act at the U.N. is a prerequisite to other forms of action. If nothing else, that effort is placing this issue before the eyes of the world.

The good news is that for the first time in North Korea’s history, its rulers face a real risk of accountability for murdering or starving to death more than two million of their own people. In the short term, this raises little or no direct legal risk to Kim Jong Un and his courtiers. In the long-term, a global deliberation on Kim Jong Un’s responsibility for crimes against humanity could unite the world in pressuring North Korea to discard its malevolence, or alternatively, until its malevolent system ceases to exist.

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Update: Justice Kirby says we should not assume that China would veto the resolution. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong, but the more Kirby talks about it, the greater the pressure on China.

Yeonmi Park appeals to the conscience of Europe

It is her first time in Ireland and, indeed, Europe. But at the age of just 21, this sweetly-confident, intelligent and tiny-framed young woman, who managed to flee the famine-torn country at the age of 13, is already a global spokesperson for her own people – a people terrorised into submission and silence while the wider world ignores what she describes as a “holocaust”. [Irish Independent]

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 6.51.15 AMMiss Park’s life went from latent terror to a living hell when her parents were arrested.  

Yeonmi and her sister, Eunmi were left to fend for themselves, at the age of nine and 11, foraging on the mountainsides for grasses, plants, frogs and even dragonflies to avoid starving to death. “Everything I used to see, I ate them,” she said.   Asked if any adults around knew the children were surviving alone, Yeonmi tries to explain.   “People were dying there. They don’t care… most people are just hungry and that’s why they don’t have the spirit or time to take care of other people.”

Park was reunited with her parents later, but what happened to them next may be worse than death. There’s also video at that link; unfortunately, it didn’t embed.

Let’s hope that Park evokes Ireland’s own historical memories of a famine caused by government indifference and cruelty. If nothing else, maybe the Irish government will do a better job of enforcing U.N. sanctions against selling luxury goods to Pyongyang.  

Commendably, the EU is now leading the U.N.’s effort to hold Kim Jong Un and his regime accountable for crimes against humanity. That is a vast improvement over its role until recently, which was predominantly one of softening and even violating U.N. sanctions designed to pressure North Korea to change.

Park’s visit is not only welcome for its impact on pubic opinion and policy in Europe, but also because another North Korean is leading the world toward how it should respond to the crisis in her homeland.

Christian Whiton: “[W]e need a policy of truth for North Korea.”

At CNN.com, Whiton registers the signs of Agreed Framework 3, and writes:

There is another way to handle North Korea, which involves putting sustained pressure on the regime. China always says it is willing to take this step, but in fact never does — and never will as long as China itself is run by a cabal that is terrified of the will of its own people.  [….]

Help North Koreans get the truth. Grasp the truth that China will never seriously help the free world with North Korea. Accept the truth that six-party talks would fail again. Embrace the idea that the truth will set people free. 

Silencing Park Sang-Hak won’t end North Korea’s threats (updated)

For the first time since 2010, North Korea has fired across the border into South Korean territory, this time with 14.5-millimeter anti-aircraft guns. The North Koreans were shooting at the second of two launches of balloons carrying a total of 1.5 million leaflets, by North Korean refugee Park Sang-Hak and the Fighters for a Free North Korea.

The North Koreans didn’t respond to the first launch of 10 balloons at noon, but at around 4:00 in the afternoon, they fired on a second group of 23 balloons. Thankfully, no one got hurt, at least on the southern side. It’s not clear whether the North Koreans hit any balloons, although the 14.5 ammunition probably cost more than the balloon and its cargo. A few rounds landed “near military units and public service centers in Yeoncheon County,” near the DMZ, and one of them did this:

14.5mm hole

[via Yonhap]

The Soviet-designed 14.5-millimeter anti-aircraft gun comes in 2- and 4-barrel variants, as this quaintly aged U.S. Army training film shows.

True to their word, the ROKs shot back. They used K-6 machine guns, which are similar to the American M-2 .50 caliber machine gun, a slightly smaller caliber than the 14.5. Despite Park Geun-Hye’s public instructions to return fire without waiting for her permission, the ROKs didn’t shoot back until 5:30, about 90 minutes after the North Koreans fired. This time lag suggests that the front-line soldiers held their fire until they received orders from higher up their chain of command, although it’s not clear how high.

Rather than give the ROK Army the last word, the North Koreans fired again after this.

In launching the balloons, Park Sang-Hak and his compatriots defied threats from North Korea, because if you have the brass to sneak across the border into China and make it to South Korea, and if you’ve already survived one assassination attempt, you’re no ordinary man, you’re a honey badger who learned to shave, dress himself, and speak Korean.

Needless to say, the South Korean government’s “call for restraint,” to avoid harming “burgeoning fence-mending between the Koreas,” has no effect on such beings:

“We, defectors, run toward the frontline of freedom and democratic unification to end Kim Jong-un’s three-generation power transition in order to fulfill Hwang’s lifetime goal of liberating North Koreans and democratizing the country,” read the leaflets, which were launched with one-dollar bills and other pamphlets.

“In the North, Hwang is known to have died tragically. This campaign is meant to let North Koreans know he is buried in the South Korean national cemetery.” Park Sang-hak, the head of the activists group, said. [….]

Continuing its previous statements, Pyongyang warned through its official Korean Central News Agency a day earlier that Seoul should stop the activists from sending the anti-North Korea leaflets or face an “uncontrollable catastrophe” in inter-Korean relations. [Yonhap]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

Right after the statement from the North, the unification ministry asked the civic groups to scrap their plan, citing inter-Korean tensions. Despite its call, however, the government largely retained its long-standing hands-off position on the issue, saying it has no legal ground to stop them. “The issue is something that the leaflet-scattering group should decide for themselves,” a unification ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

Which is good, because a lot of South Koreans want their government to block Park Sang-Hak from sending any more of his leaflet balloons.

Now, far be it for me (of all people) to denigrate the critical importance of setting the right ambience for North Korea. But if solving the North Korean nuclear crisis is really all about mood lighting, scented candles, and Marvin Gaye music, Park Geun-Hye might be a bigger problem than Park Sang-Hak, at least if you judge by what the North Koreans themselves are saying:

North Korea resumed its direct criticism of South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Friday, warning that her “nasty” remarks toward Pyongyang may dampen a rare mood of inter-Korean reconciliation.

In a statement, the National Reconciliation Council took issue with Park’s comments earlier this week that the communist neighbor is showing an ambivalent behavior of provocations and peace gestures. [....]

“(Park’s remarks) are an unacceptable provocation against us,” said an unnamed representative for the North’s council, a working-level agency dealing with inter-Korean affairs.

It is an “impolite and reckless” act, which throws cold water on the mood of improved inter-Korean relations created by a high-profile North Korean delegation’s trip to the South last week, read the statement. [Yonhap]

See also, etcetera. Sure, you can always say that the responsible thing is to avoid antagonizing violent people. Some might even say it’s the government’s job to prevent anyone else from offending violent people, even if the offense is caused by completely non-violent expression. Send leaflets over North Korea and it’s just a matter of time before they answer you with artillery, right? In the same spirit, if your newspapers print blasphemous cartoons, if your authors write blasphemous books, or if some guy publishes a crappy blasphemous movie on YouTube, hey, people might riot, other people might get hurt, and really, isn’t the mature thing to do to censor ourselves just this one time? Or maybe just one more time, because the North Koreans are offended by some dumbass American movie, and Japan wants to get its hostages back? Or because North Korea is offended by a British TV series? Or by Kim Seung Min’s radio broadcasts? Or by the election of a defector to the National Assembly, whom Pyongyang threatened to “hunt down?” Or by a policy proposal by the President of South Korea, one that North Korea also answered with artillery?

By now, you can see where this ends. Or, to be more accurate, where this doesn’t end, ever.

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Update: The ROK Government now says that it is mulling “appropriate” measures to protect its citizens from similar incidents in the future, but that those measures will not include preventing more launches.

“As we said previously, there is no legal ground or relevant regulation to forcibly block the leaflet scattering as it is a matter to be handled by civilian groups on a voluntary basis,” he said at a press briefing. “The government, which is in charge of the safety and security of our people, will instead push for appropriate steps to deal with the matter.”

This is a more promising direction. Under U.S. constitutional law, the government can lawfully place reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of speech that’s protected under the First Amendment.

If Korean courts interpret the ROK Constitution similarly, and if the ROK Government were to restrict the FFNK from launching from populated areas or near military installations, that might be constitutional, would allow the launches to continue, would avoid rewarding a violent response to non-violent speech, and might also reduce the risk that North Korean attacks would harm bystanders.

Just remember this: Park and the FFNK are South Korean citizens, too.

North Korean official, asked about human rights problems, cites … lack of public baths.

And even this is really the fault of imperialist sanctions, which prohibit the import of “luxury goods” to North Korea:

When the North Korean officials at the U.N. briefing were asked Tuesday to identify human rights problems in their country, Choe Myong Nam, a North Korean responded, “We need some facilities where people go and enjoy a bath… Right now, due to problems in the economic field — that is due to the external forces hindrance — we are running short of some of the facilities.”

He cited lack of facilities and did not mention executions, torture allegations or food shortages. [CNN, Madison Park]

Choe’s statement raises some very grave questions — I hope you’ll pardon the use of that word — such as: What kind of a monster prioritizes ski resorts over bath houses? (You can sweat a lot under those ski clothes.) And, how much of the U.N. aid that’s currently squandered on the “third of children under five” who “show signs of stunting” ought, in the interests of decency, be diverted to building bath houses instead? Failing that, would Jimmy Carter accuse us of a human rights violation?

This WTF moment bought to you by an observant CNN correspondent with a taste for irony, who interviewed me Tuesday night to collect guesses about why North Korea has undertaken another one of its periodic charm offensives. My guess at that first link, for whatever it’s worth.

The thing about these charm offensives is that too many analysts are dazzled by the charm and overlook the offensive. A few weeks ago, Pyongyang was calling Park Geun Hye a “political prostitute” again and calling for her excommunication from the Korean race. To Madison Park’s credit, she noticed all of it, and leaves the interpretation to the reader:

From “capricious whore” to “disgusting political prostitute,” the South Korean president is routinely insulted by the North. So when KCNA, its state-run news mouthpiece called South Korean president, Park Geun-hye a “wretched pro-U.S. stooge and traitor to the nation,” it was nowhere near its worst invective.

No, that would be this invective. Or maybe this.

But just two days after this latest round of insults, three high-ranking North Korean officials arrived in a surprise visit to South Korea. They received a red carpet treatment on Saturday and shook hands with South Korean officials with a message: Let’s talk.

Google around, and it’s not hard to find recognized experts talking about what a big deal this visit was, despite the fact that we still know almost nothing about what Choe Ryong-Hae and Hwang Pyong-So even said. For all we know, they just repeated the same demand KCNA has been making for years — that Seoul lift sanctions without preconditions.

Which gesture was more probative of Pyongyang’s intent? The correct answer is probably “neither.” The most reliable indications of North Korea’s intent don’t come from its words, but from satellite imagery.

Park: Human rights are part of “our core agenda” with North Korea

I wonder whether, when, and how these words might actually translate into tangible policy:

On Tuesday, Park made it clear that the North’s nuclear and human rights issues are “our core agenda in our policy toward North Korea.

“We should not be passive in these issues out of fear of North Korea’s backlash,” Park said in a Cabinet meeting, a comment that marked a clear departure from her liberal predecessors who rarely spoke about the human rights issue as they sought reconciliation with North Korea. [Yonhap]

The reaction from Pyongyang fully conformed to Park’s expectations:

Obsessed by the anachronistic wild ambition for “unification through absorption”, the Park Geun Hye group totally denied all the agreements reached between the north and the south and escalated confrontation with the fellow countrymen. Recently it groundlessly took issue with the nuclear program and “human rights issue” in the north at the UN, making a blatant challenge to the dignity and social system in the DPRK and glaringly revealing its despicable confrontational nature.

Park should mind that as the watchwords of “no nukes, opening and 3 000 dollars” put up by traitor Lee Myung Bak was branded as confrontational policy, her hideous “north policy” can also meet a miserable end, being rejected by the nation. [....]

Act of sycophantic treachery encroaching upon the fundamental requirements and interests of the nation will meet stern punishment by the nation. To move to settle the reunification issue by relying on outsiders is the most shameful act of sycophantic treachery today when the scramble over the Korean peninsula is getting fierce day by day. [....]

The DPRK will deal the heaviest blow to anyone who resorts to heinous hostile act of slandering its dignity and social system. The puppet group’s hostile acts of doing harm to the fellow countrymen and stirring up confrontation have gone beyond the tolerance limit. The DPRK will never pardon those who dare defame its dignity and social system, no matter who or where they might be, but deal the most merciless sledge-hammer blows to them. [KCNA, Oct. 2, 2014]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

Park has never shown much interest in the welfare of the North Korean people before, and neither do most of the voters who elected her, so why now? My best guess is peer pressure. Park is saying these things because Japan and the EU are leading the response to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, while South Korea and Ban Ki Moon are passive bystanders to the oppression of their fellow Koreans. Perhaps this weighs on Park’s contemplation of her legacy. It should.

One good test of Park’s sincerity will be how hard she fights to get North Korean refugees out of Chinese jails, and to keep them out of North Korean prison camps. She has done this on some occasions, and one hopes that there are other such occasions we’ve never heard about. On the issue of North Korean human rights, South Korea’s understanding and compassion are both years behind the rest of the world. I wonder how long after the collapse of North Korea it will take for South Koreans to reinvent themselves as liberators.

There’s little contemporary basis for such a description. Today, South Korea’s political left, and some elements within Park’s own party, are pressuring her to lift sanctions on the North now, despite Pyongyang’s failure to acknowledge sinking the Cheonan, oblivious to the debate at the U.N. and North Korea’s breakneck pursuit of an effective nuclear missile (which it may or may not already have). Glyn Davies adds that Pyongyang “is even more directly rejecting its responsibility to live up to its obligations to denuclearize,” and accuses it of “directly rejecting” denuclearization.

So if nothing Kim Jong Un has done justifies lifting sanctions now, why lift them now? I suppose if you’re raking in billions of won through a combination of state subsidies and slave labor, none of that matters. The same is true if you’re inflexibly, ideologically opposed to holding Pyongyang accountable for anything at all. These people couldn’t care a whit about the safety or welfare of anyone else. Their influence in Seoul is why I’m so wary of Seoul’s influence in Washington.

For now, Park is resisting these calls and sticking to the position that Pyongyang must do its part to gain her trust. That is good, but will she lead in her own nation, where leadership is so essential, and so lacking? I hope the White House is supporting her, and doing what it can to keep her from cutting a separate deal like Japan did.

U.N.’s Seoul field office to collect evidence of human rights violations in North Korea.

South Korea will soon begin working-level talks with the United Nations to discuss the specifics of establishing a U.N. field office in Seoul on North Korean human rights, officials said Wednesday. [….]

The U.N. has later proposed setting up the field office in South Korea to collect evidence and testimonies on the North Korean regime’s human rights violations, which the South Korean government has accepted. [….]

North Korea has also warned it will launch “merciless punishment” on those involved in the plan as well as staff workers at the envisioned office. [Yonhap]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.”

Would it be slander if I called Rep. Sim Jae-kwon a fascist masquerading as a liberal?

A South Korean opposition lawmaker filed a resolution Thursday calling for the implementation of past inter-Korean agreements to stop slander between the two sides.

The resolution, submitted by Rep. Sim Jae-kwon of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), calls on the two Koreas to recognize that mutual recognition and respect are the basis for trust-building. It also urges the two sides to honor such agreements as the joint statement of July 1972, which bans cross-border slander. [Yonhap]

Sim went further than this, and called on the South Korean police to take what he darkly called “appropriate action” against the Fighters for a Free North Korea, in the name of “inter-Korean relations” — in other words, censorship to appease Pyongyang.

But once you agree to impose Pyongyang’s definition of slander on a free society to appease it, there’s no end to the reach of Pyongyang’s censorship, because inter-Korean relations will always be subject to however Pyongyang reinterprets “slander.” And when the likes of Sim were in power, the state’s censorship, or content-selective subsidies, extended to the newspapers, theater, movies, political demonstrations, and even the intimidation of refugees from the North to keep silent. That is no more liberal than Kim Jong Un is a Marxist.

Sim’s call is also a warning that North Korea’s sympathizers in the South will blame Park Sang-Hak and those who join him if the North attacks them in some way. I do wish Park would try to be a bit more unpredictable in his cat-and-mouse game with those who might be tracking his operations. That might even make their activities more interesting for journalists. And if there is an attack, it would inevitably focus media speculation on someone inside South Korea who revealed Park’s location to the North Koreans.

Seoul to Pyongyang: Let’s talk about human rights.

“Not only in high-level talks but also in any occasions of inter-Korean dialogue in the future, (Seoul) expects to have comprehensive discussion on all sorts of humanitarian issues including human rights,” unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said in a briefing.

“If high-level talks are held (between Seoul and Pyongyang), I think it is desirable that they discuss all the issues they want to discuss including this (human rights) issue,” Lim said. [Yonhap]

I’m not terribly impressed with Park Geun-Hye’s attention to human rights in North Korea overall, but this does represent progress when compared to the Roh Moo Hyun / Chung Dong-Young Die-in-Place Policy.

Kerry to North Korea: “[C]lose those camps … shut this evil system down.”

It’s no secret to readers of this site that I’ve never been an admirer of John Kerry. His tenure has been a rolling catastrophe for our national security, in a way that even a rank amateur could have predicted years ago. It’s often difficult to see that he has a North Korea policy at all.

Not so long ago, I criticized Kerry for showing no sign of pressing for action on the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on human rights in North Korea. But yesterday, Kerry went to “a ministerial meeting he hosted in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly,” where he said some important and commendable things:

“We simply cannot be blind to these egregious affronts to human nature and we cannot accept it, and silence would be the greatest abuse of all,” Kerry said.

Kerry stressed that the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report on the problem has lifted the veil on the issue, referring to a report released in February that North Korean leaders are responsible for “widespread, systematic and gross” violations of human rights. [….]

“No longer can North Korea’s secrecy be seen as an excuse for silence or ignorance or inaction because in 400 pages of excruciating details and testimonies from over 80 witnesses, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report of the DPRK (North Korea) has laid bare what it rightly calls systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights,” he said.  [….]

“If we don’t stand with men and women suffering in anonymity in places like North Korea, then what do we stand for? If we don’t give voice to the voiceless, then why even bother to speak about these issues?” Kerry said. “So we say to the North Korean government, all of us here today, you should close those camps, you should shut this evil system down,” he said. [Yonhap]

The Voice of America has video of Kerry’s remarks, in which he mentions several of the camps by name.

[Good report, but please do some research before saying how heavily
sanctioned North Korea is. It isn't.]

At the meeting, Kerry joined South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who recently replaced Navi Pillay. In the video, Kerry can be seen seated next to Shin Dong-hyuk.

Of course, to suggest that rhetoric is the measure of policy is like saying that a man’s jawline is the measure of his virility. Substantively, George W. Bush’s North Korea policy was like Rock Hudson at the Playboy Club, and Kerry’s mandibles may be the only fearsome thing about him, but the words they loosed yesterday were both welcome and overdue. Time will tell whether these words translate into effective action, but words like these are certainly a prerequisite to effective action. And of course, no effective action will issue from the General Assembly, a body that has no binding authority on anyone. But still ….

A strongly worded resolution calling for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to take responsibility for his regime’s crimes against humanity is anticipated to be considered by the United Nations General Assembly next month.

“The European Union and Japan have completed a draft resolution that endorses the February report of the Commission of Inquiry [into North Korean human rights] and will soon circulate it among UN member states,” a diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.  [….]

“Australia, the home country of Judge Michael Kirby, chair of the COI, was also very active, and there is a high likelihood that the resolution will be adopted through the momentum on the issue in the UN General Assembly,” said one foreign affairs official.

Another diplomatic source said, “Because human rights problems are a universal issue to mankind, it will be a burden on China or Russia to stick up for Pyongyang against other member states.”  [Joongang Ilbo]

Does any of this really matter, then? Pyongyang seems to think so. The New York Times has already noticed a striking shift in the tone of North Korea’s response to the Commission of Inquiry’s findings. At first, it flatly denied them and called its Chair “a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality.” Now, its U.N. Ambassador is feigning some openness to considering some of the criticisms — up to a point — and says his government has “accepted a wide range of recommendations for improving its human rights record.”

North Korea’s declaration falls far short of a commitment to follow through with any action, but the contrast with its blanket refusal to even consider similar recommendations in the past could be seen as a willingness to engage on some issues.

“There obviously has been some decision that this is the way the rest of the world relates, and the decision seems to be that North Korea should do it as well,” said Robert R. King, the United States’ special envoy for human rights in North Korea. [NYT]

Although King concedes the need to “be careful about assuming this means a great deal in terms of what they do,” a shift in tone this significant must reveal something, even if its sincerity is dubious and its execution, inartful. Last week, for example, North Korea released a self-audit of its own human rights conditions that carried all the credibility of an O.J. Simpson progress report on his search for the real killer. It recited from a fictional work called the “Constitution” of “the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea,” which is an oxymoron. Pyongyang’s report was widely ridiculed in the press.

The North’s ambassador, So Se-pyong, speaking before the Human Rights Council, signaled that the North’s leadership was now willing to consider suggestions about, among other things, freedom of thought, “free and unimpeded access to all populations in need” for humanitarian agencies and freedom for them to monitor distribution of their aid. The prevention of human rights violations and punishment for violators were also on the list.

But Mr. So said the North had rejected some recommendations that were “based on distorted information provided by hostile forces which aimed to dismantle the country’s social system,” including calls for unfettered access to detainees for the International Committee of the Red Cross, disclosure of the extent and methods of capital punishment, and the end of restrictions on movement and expression.  [NYT]

If you happen to be a North Korean, all of this will look like vaporous twaddle. Nothing the General Assembly says will make North Korea a less brutal place in the foreseeable future, and I’d still reckon that a quarter of the people in these camps will be dead within a year. North Korea still denies that the camps even exist, and its verbose human rights self-audit never mentions them. In all probability, North Korea will be back to its old bombastic self within a week.

Even so, it would also be wrong to conclude that none of this means anything. King cites declining foreign aid contributions and speculates, “I think the North Koreans are feeling some pressure.” But concerns over human rights alone wouldn’t justify denying aid. North Korea’s lack of transparency in distributing the aid might, as would its massive and deliberate waste of funds on missiles, ski resorts, German limousines, and Swiss watches. To be sure, the COI report’s findings also support those concerns, but aid programs for the North were already underfunded when the COI published its report. It’s more likely that donors simply don’t think Pyongyang is serious about feeding its people, and are diverting their limited aid budgets to places that are.

I think King is closer to the mark when he also says that “‘growing concerns about human rights conditions in North Korea make it much more difficult to raise money from foreign governments’ and private sources.” (Emphasis is mine, and note that the emphasized words were added by the Times reporter.) It’s not clear if King is referring to private aid groups or private investors, but investors are the far greater source of cash. All investment decisions weigh risks against benefits, and to many investors, the image risks of being associated with North Korea can’t be justified by the limited returns to be gained in its uncertain business climate. The growing threat of intensified sanctions will add to that uncertainty.

That’s why, for the first time, Pyongyang sees human rights as a problem it can’t just ignore. Its crimes against humanity now threaten to become a significant financial liability. Like the COI report itself, a tough resolution from the General Assembly will give investors pause.

Those signs of engagement dispel what was once a common assumption that the North’s leadership was immune to foreign criticism on issues of human rights, said Param-Preet Singh, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch’s international justice program. “However sincere or insincere it may be, it’s a reflection it does care what the international community thinks and the international community does have leverage to push for change in North Korea,” Ms. Singh said. [NYT]

That is all the more reason to intensify that criticism, but it’s also important to understand what Pyongyang’s game is, too. Pressure is of no consequence unless it extracts fundamental change, and change will only be credible if it’s transparent. Pyongyang is a good enough illusionist to fool the Associated Press — remember how well it worked in this case? — and plenty of its readers. Let’s not forget that in 1944, even the Nazis felt the need to answer damaging charges about their concentration camps. This is Theriesenstadt, which served as Auschwitz’s waiting room. In 1944, the Nazis staged this film to dispel rumors about the “resettlement” of Jews, and portray it as humane:

[Within a month, nearly all of these people died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.]

When Pyongyang can’t ignore problems — usually because it’s under some kind of external financial pressure — it does things like agreeing to “reinvestigate” its abductions of foreign citizens, or agreeing to give up its nuclear programs. It knows well enough that for plenty of us, simply agreeing to talk or (at worst) signing a piece of paper is enough to take the pressure off.

This is where we’ll need to be smarter than the Danish Red Cross, the Associated Press, and our diplomats. Pyongyang knows that there will also be calls for divestment, the blocking of its offshore slush funds, and other forms of financial pressure. There will be calls to tighten the enforcement of Security Council resolutions, and perhaps to pass new ones. Blunting that pressure is Pyongyang’s obvious objective. And those who question that that pressure could work need look no further than the signs that Pyongyang is worried about it.

4th Annual North Korean Human Rights International Film Festival

4th NHIFF banner

NKnet is hosting its 4th annual North Korean Human Rights International Film Festival this coming Friday and Saturday, September 26-27, in Gwanghwamun, Seoul.

This year there are 14 films from Korea, the US, and Saudi Arabia, and two of the films received financial support from the festival:

poster: November 9th
November 9th
100 min. – Korea – documentary – no English subtitles
Directed by: Kim Gyu-Min (the director of Winter Butterfly, which played at the first NHIFF in 2011)
Category: Reunification of the Korean Peninsula
*Following the film, there will be a conversation with the director, who is originally from North Korea (interpretation not available).

Synopsis:

10 hours from now, the ceasefire line will collapse and the Korean peninsula will be reunified.

On Thursday, November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall – symbolizing the division of Germany – fell. It wasn’t through an agreement of the East and West German governments that it happened on that day. Nor were East or West German academics or anyone else from around the world for that matter able to foresee the wall would come down on November 9, 1989. A year later Germany was reunified for the first time in 41 years through the votes of the East and West German citizenry in free elections.

– What might transpire if November 9 were to come to the Korean peninsula?
– How much have we prepared for a Korean 11/9?
– In preparing for a Korean 11/9, what are the things we must do first?
– Is there any way to know what will happen on 11/10 and beyond?


movie photo: The Threshold of Death
The Threshold of Death
115 min. – Korea – English subtitles
Directed by: Lee Eun Sang
Category: Refugees & Resettlement
* will be featured at the opening ceremony

Synopsis:

Dong-jin works at the immigration office uncovering illegal immigrants. His relationship with his father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, is one of obligation, and things are awkward between his younger brother, Dong-seok, and the family.

Coworker Nam-il regularly uses his position to commit corruption, while Dong-jin’s youngest sibling Eun-sung is led by compassion and unable to be cold-hearted. Unable to build relationships with those around him in his lonely daily life, Dong-jin finds himself favorably inclined toward Yeon-hwa, a Chinese-Korean singer he met at noraebang (a singing room).

When she suddenly receives a call from a broker who is guiding her niece, Soon-bok (who has escaped from North Korea), things fall into disarray. Seeing Yeon-hwa’s difficult situation and Soon-bok’s purity and will to live, Dong-jin starts to change little by little from his cold ways. [SPOILER ALERT - stop reading here if you plan to see the film] In the wake of his weak father’s death and then Yeon-hwa’s suicide, Dong-jin works hard to find Soon-bok.

All of this amounts to nothing as his coworker Nam-il tries to shift the blame for his corrupt dealings to Dong-jin and his sister Eun-sung betrays him in order to protect the family. Having lost everything, Dong-jin is left alone only with his sad reality and desire to see Soon-bok.


For more complete information about the festival, please visit NKnet’s website, where I’ve put up lots of trailers, photos, film schedule and descriptions, how to RSVP, directions, reviews, subtitle info, the program for the opening ceremony, etc.

For Facebookers, there’s an event page for the festival and an event page for the opening ceremony.

Dan Bielefeld

North Korean Gulag survivors call on Switzerland to freeze Kim Jong Un’s slush funds (Alternate title: Cursed are the Cheesemakers).

Switzerland has always been there for North Korea. When North Koreans were starving to death in heaps, Switzerland was there to receive Kim Jong Il’s personal shopper and sell him millions of dollars’ worth of its finest timepieces. When North Korea needed creative new ways to make money — literally! — Switzerland sold it the very same intaglio presses and optically variable ink our Bureau of Engraving and Printing uses to make money. When Kim Jong Un needed a place to spend his formative rumspringa torturing small animals, masturbating to bondage porn, flunking his classes, and developing the personality profile of a school shooter — a school shooter with nuclear weapons — his daddy picked Switzerland. Thanks to Switzerland’s narrow interpretation of U.N. sanctions on “luxury goods,” His Porcine Majesty is now eating himself into a mobility scooter on Emmental cheese.* And when the Treasury Department sanctioned North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank for its involvement in WMD proliferation, it was the Swiss who yodeled that Uncle Sam was starving North Korean babies.

Above all else, when Kim Jong Il needed a place to stash somewhere between $1 billion and $4 billion in personal slush funds, Switzerland and its bankers received his money launderers with open arms. But for one regrettable violation of North Korea’s human rights last year, when Switzerland refused to sell North Korea $7 million in ski lift equipment,** Switzerland has always been there to provide North Korea the watches and numbered bank accounts that starving people need so desperately (and the finest cheeses, of course). Switzerland’s refusal to sell the ski lifts may have delayed the opening of the Masikryeong Ski Resort by several days, but the Swiss people can still take comfort in knowing that, thanks to their government’s laissez-faire policies, the death certificates of 2.5 million expendable men, women, and children (might, possibly) record the hour and minute of their sacrifice with Swiss precision.

The Swiss government has also done its share. Every year, as a token of appreciation for North Korea’s patronage, it refunds the equivalent of 0.7%*** of North Korea’s slush funds to the North Korean government … as humanitarian aid. It’s all part of a reputation for impeccable financial ethics that dates back to the Holocaust. You could say that Switzerland is to kleptocrats what Cambodia is to pedophiles, if this wasn’t so grossly unfair to Cambodia.

For a while, it was fashionable for North Korea watchers to suggest that Kim Jong Un’s Swiss education might have influenced him toward a more libertine style of governance, but things haven’t quite worked out that way. It may be that these scholars were working from a flawed model of Switzerland as a liberal European utopia — a land of cuckoo clocks, alpine meadows, open-air heroin-shooting galleries, and drive-in brothels. This, of course, is a crude stereotype. The real Switzerland**** is the home of Europe’s answer to Gitmo, except that it holds more people (476 men, women, and children) and kills one of them now and then (sound familiar?). It’s a land that values simple things, like racial purity (sound familiar?), and that tolerates all religions except the ones that it doesn’t (hello!).

Actually, until this moment, I’d never realized just how much Switzerland and North Korea have in common. There may be enough similarities that, with a little imagination, you could view Switzerland and North Korea as moral equals.***** One logical reaction to this would be to reject everything that any Swiss person says about North Korea — ever — regardless of its substantive merit.****** Another possible response would be to call for Switzerland to use its financial power to alter how Kim Jong Un uses North Korea’s wealth and rules over its people.

This latter view is now advanced by U.N. Watch, a Swiss NGO. Despite the fact that they are Swiss, perhaps we should suspend logic briefly and hear them out. After all, U.N. Watch is really just publishing a call “by 20 North Korean defectors,” including several survivors of North Korea’s prison camps, for the Swiss Government to block Kim Jong Un’s slush funds. I’ve reprinted the letter in full below the fold, but here is the gist of it:

In conclusion, based on international law and Swiss domestic law, prior Swiss precedents, and the basic principles of morality and humanity, we respectfully urge Switzerland to immediately freeze all assets of the North Korean leadership, whether held in their names or those of their associates, that are located within its territory.

Even better, the Swiss government could make every centime of those deposits available to buy food—provided the distribution of those purchases was better monitored than, say, the Oil-for-Food program, or the World Food Program’s current North Korea operations. There is a catch, of course. Funds that are blocked, as opposed to confiscated, still belong to the North Korean government. But surely Kim Jong Un wouldn’t deny starving people their fair share of his vast wealth out of spite alone.

~   ~   ~

* Or so say the unverified rumors. I guess you could verify the exports from trade statistics, but I hesitate to believe that anyone who knows what’s on Kim Jong Un’s table is telling.

** I wish this was a tasteless joke, but the North Koreans really did call this a “serious human rights abuse.” The value of the ski lifts, at $7 million, is almost exactly the same amount as what Switzerland donated to North Korea as humanitarian aid the same year.

*** Actually, it’s impossible to estimate that percentage without knowing how big the slush funds are or where they’re deposited, but if you divide $7 million by $1 billion, you get 0.007, or 0.7%.

**** Disclaimer: Author may not have actually been to Switzerland.

***** Especially if you’re really, really high.

****** Some might say that’s especially so of one who called the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report on North Korea’s crimes against humanity “a massive exaggeration.” The best thing that can be said of most Holocaust deniers is that they’re merely vicarious, post-hoc deniers. This cannot be said of Felix Abt.

Read more

Park Sang Hak is a very brave man.

Park and the Fighters for a Free North Korea, most of whom are North Korean refugees, ignored a letter from Pyongyang to the office of South Korea’s President that, according to Yonhap, “alluded to retaliation” against their next leaflet balloon launch:

Defying the warning, 10 activists from Fighters for Free North Korea launched 10 big balloons carrying 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets into the sky in Paju, north of Seoul.

The waterproof leaflets contain messages denouncing the three-generation power transfer in the North as well as the dire economic situation, while praising South Korea’s economic prosperity. [Yonhap]

They also ignored a warning from the South Korean government about the safety risks, and a request from the Unification Ministry not to go through with the launch. Park’s reaction was defiant.

“In spite of any threat or warning from the North, we will continue sending letters of truth until the North Korean people achieve liberalization,” the activist group’s chief, Park Sang-hak, said during the leaflet campaign.

As much as I admire Park’s uncompromising courage, I also worry about him enough to think he should compromise it just slightly, by being more cagey about launch times and places. The North Koreans have already made one attempt on his life, and I wouldn’t put it past them to shell a launch site. Nor would I put it past South Korean “progressives” to blame Park for the attack and its consequences. They want the government to censor Park:

“Sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets constitutes a dangerous act that devastates peace on the peninsula,” said an activist from the Korea Alliance of Progressive Movements.

You can call the Korean left many things, but “liberal” isn’t one of them.

At times, I’ve wondered what effect Park’s leaflets could possibly have, especially when most of them probably aren’t even found, much less read. One thing that Pyongyang’s reaction to Park tells me is that he must be having some effect. It wouldn’t issue threats like these and send assassins to kill Park if it wasn’t afraid of his message.

LiNK Fundraiser in Long Beach on Oct. 25: 5K for Freedom

From LiNK’s site:

5K for FREEDOM is an all ages event raising funds for Liberty in North Korea.

You are welcome to walk, run, bike, rollerblade, jog, push a stroller, or whatever you’d like! This is a non-competitive 5K designed to encourage fun while raising money for a good cause.

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is a non-profit working with North Korean refugees in hiding in China. These are families, grandmothers, children, daughters, etc. They risked their lives escaping North Korea and now live in fear of being sent back by the Chinese police.

LiNK helps these brave souls down to Southeast Asia and then on to safety.  This process is long, hard, costly, and dangerous.  It takes $3,000 per person to complete this journey.  Our goal is to raise enough at this event to rescue one person.  We can do it together!

Congratulations to Shin Dong Hyok

Mr. Shin is the winner of Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award. The award is a triumph for Shin, and a redemption for Human Rights Watch.

Fifty a day, every Tuesday. Men. Women. Children.

“These days, China trucks about 50 North Korean defectors from its immigration detention center in Tumen to North Korea’s Namyang city just across the border every Tuesday,” an activist said, citing an unidentified Chinese official familiar with the matter. He did not elaborate on the official’s identity for fear of possible reprisal against her by the Chinese government. [Yonhap]

Update: The title of this post was edited after publication, adding the words “every Tuesday.”

Self-described feminist Christine Ahn was not available for comment

”A deadly motorcycle accident involving drunken female college students linked to gambling and drugs in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang has led to a government campaign to promote ‘woman’s morality’ in the reclusive nation, according to sources.” [Radio Free Asia]

That seems rather … patriarchal, if not sexist. But then, when it comes to North Korea, this is still low on the hierarchy of indignities, burdens, and horrors that women endure.