Stop saying N. Korean overseas laborers aren’t slaves. They are, and here’s proof.

You absolutely must watch this extraordinary work of investigative journalism by Vice, exposing the North Korean slave labor racket in Poland. There are English subtitles available.

What is so exceptional about this reporting is that its detailed and careful investigation makes it immediately actionable. With a little googling, it’s possible to identify the names, position titles, and e-mail addresses of the Polish and North Korean companies involved.

That’s enough for the Treasury Department to add all of them to the list of Specially Designated Nationals for violating Executive Order 13722, which prohibits “engag[ing] in, facilitat[ing], or [being] responsible for the exportation of workers from North Korea, including exportation to generate revenue for the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea.”

The prime target of designation should be the Korea Rungrado General Trading Corporation, Segori-dong, Pothonggang District, Pyongyang, and the DPR Korea Chamber of Commerce, P.O.Box 89, Jungsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, for supplying the laborers. As Vice notes, Rungrado was also implicated in the U.N. Panel of Experts’ most recent report for selling missile parts to Egypt. The Polish nationals and companies that knowingly employ this labor under such exploitative conditions — and who lie about it so blatantly — should also be designated, to make an example for other users of North Korean labor.

Although North Korean laborers in Europe (chiefly, Poland and Malta) are smaller in number than those in Asia and Africa, they also earn the regime more funds per capita than their counterparts in poorer countries. And do you suppose the working conditions for North Korean workers are better in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East? If the Obama Administration is serious about enforcing its new authorities, it should start by watching this report and taking careful notes.

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Update: On a related note:

North Korean workers are toiling for Chinese factories that make clothes for global labels like Ralph Lauren and Burberry, Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday.

One of their employers is Mei Dao Garment in Hebei Province, a source told the radio station.

Mei Dao first employed 54 North Korean workers via a North Korean trading company from January to July 2012. In April last year it also established another firm in Dandong, Miryong Garment, as a joint venture with another North Korean company.

Mei Dao now employs hundreds of North Koreans, according to the source.

Garment maker Phoenix Gold in Dandong also employs about 1,200 workers, and 800 of them are from North Korea, the source added. [Chosun Ilbo]

That’s specific enough to investigate, either by an outside NGO, or by the retailers themselves.

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The North Korean Army’s rape epidemic

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 8.12.22 AMA few days ago, the Korea Times carried a profile of Lee So-yeon, a native of Hoeryong in North Korea’s far northeast, who defected to the South in 2008, did menial jobs for a few years, later earned her bachelor’s degree in social welfare from Gukje Cyber University based in Suwon, and then founded an NGO called the North Korea Women’s Union.

Founded in 2011, the group hosts talks at schools and other groups, and provides job training and psychological counseling to defectors as well. What makes Lee, a defector, stand out is that she comes forth to speak about the ordeals of women defectors from North Korea.

“Whether it’s in the restaurant business, in the radio industry or something else, I believe North Korean defectors groups all are working for unification, for the democratization of North Korea and for change in North Korea,” Lee said in a recent interview at her office in Dangsan-dong, western Seoul. [Korea Times]

By Lee’s reckoning, she endured far less than other women refugees whose accounts she’s heard: “[W]hen I hear the stories of other female defectors, I think they are the stuff for movies.” After all, Lee was only caught and sent back for one attempted defection, and only spent one year in a North Korean prison for it. The interview briefly mentions that Lee previously served in the North Korean army’s signal corps, but doesn’t mention what she endured during her service. But elsewhere, Lee talked about what army life is like for female soldiers in North Korea, and what she said was horrifying.

“Out of 120 soldiers in my unit, there were only 20 men, but they were all high-ranking officers. I was in the 1st squad, but a couple of squad leaders in the 2nd squad raped every single one of the low-ranking female soldiers,” Lee testified.

[….]

One defector, Kim Eun-mi, who worked as a railway attendant, said in the conference, “women crew members often fell victim to sexual assault and rape, which was common in trains carrying soldiers, especially in the evening when lights were turned off.”

Kim also mentioned that she worked under a squalid condition where female crew had to “reuse sanitary pads that were already solidified (with blood).”

Choi Su-hyang, a former nurse in the North Korean Army, left the country for the South in 2014. She pointed out that 30 to 40 percent of the North‘s military personnel are women, who are often raped and assaulted by superior officers.

Adding to the sexual assault, she added, most military soldiers, both males and females, suffer from malnutrition, and are at high risk of contracting diseases like hepatitis and tuberculosis. [Korea Herald]

A New York Times blog also took notice of the accounts, but could have found many other consistent ones. New Focus International has previously reported that North Korean soldiers commonly stalk and rape civilian women, often impregnating them or infecting them with sexually-transmitted diseases contracted from prostitutes. Women aren’t the only victims, either. Male soldiers also suffer frequent abuse, including sexual abuse, by their superiors.

To maintain such a large army in proportion to its population, the North Korean military has long terms of enlistment, often as long as ten years. Soldiers aren’t allowed to marry or have girlfriends, so rape and prostitution become outlets for their desires. The state and the command don’t punish rape or abuse — sexual or otherwise — thus creating an environment of impunity.

“Those who got pregnant were sent to a hospital in the city of Haeju, South Hwanghae Province, the only hospital in the vicinity of the military base,” Lee said, according to the report. “Medical personnel in the hospital who found out about the incident divulged the fact after two years.”

Rape targeting female soldiers is frequent at North Korean military bases and those responsible are rarely punished, she said. Victims are often dishonorably discharged from the military.

“Authorities, aware of time and money invested in nurturing high-ranking male officers, are reluctant to punish them, although they are responsible for the crime,” Lee said. [Korea Times]

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry found evidence of frequent rapes and murders of female inmates in its prison camps, and that violence against women both in public and in the home was commonplace.

I’ve prosecuted and defended multiple sexual assault cases in the U.S. Army (nearly all of them soldier-on-soldier, with an occasional civilian wife as the accuser), and it must be the case that sexual assault is a serious problem that every army has to confront. That’s just a demographic inevitability. What implicates a command as responsible for the problem is whether it investigates and prosecutes credible allegations, whether it maintains a fair process to try the accused, and whether it punishes the guilty. What’s clear is that the North Korean government appears to be doing none of those things. What’s less clear is why some self-described feminists in this country give the North Korean government a free pass for that.

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Radio Free Asia launches investigation of N. Korean forced labor

Radio Free Asia has launched an investigative reporting project into the use of North Korean labor on three continents, and the dangers those joint ventures pose not only to the North Korean workers, but to their customers abroad. RFA also published this infographic about where the North Korean workers are, doing everything from logging and construction to staffing medical clinics. No doubt, the conditions in which the North Korean workers labor also vary, which causes some to criticize the description of these workers as “slave” or “forced” laborers. But just try to rationalize this:

Desperate for hard currency, North Korea has been sending tens of thousands of its people abroad to earn cash for the state, dispatching lumberjacks to Russia, construction workers to the Middle East and medics to countries in Africa. Tanzania hosts as many as 12 medical clinics, including four in the capital Dar es-Salaam, that remit about $1 million a year to Pyongyang. The clinics, however, face growing criticism among Tanzanians for doctors who are unqualified and can’t communicate with patients, misdiagnosis of illnesses, unsanitary conditions and poorly labeled medicines that contain toxic metals. [Radio Free Asia]

Throughout history — including in the American South — slaves have always experienced variable degrees of brutality. Nat Turner and Sally Hemmings lived in different circumstances, but the forced servitude of both was disgraceful. The fact that the conditions of servitude for some North Koreans are relatively benign when compared to the conditions experienced by others (at home, or in Siberia) in no way excuses the evil of imposing the terms or conditions of labor on another person, regardless of her will.

The use of North Koreans as doctors and nurses in Africa is an aspect of the story I did not know much about. Given the deplorable state of North Korea’s own health care system, it seems criminal of Pyongyang to send its doctors and nurses abroad to earn cash, until you read the reports of the quack cures the North Koreans are foisting on their African patients. Viewed in that light, the quality of the services North Koreans are denied seems dubious. The crime is shifted to a different class of victims instead.

Legally, each of these reports is pregnant with legal significance. Any of these reports would be “credible information” that would trigger a mandatory investigation under section 102(a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act. Under section 104(a)(5), persons who knowingly engage in, are responsible for, or facilitate “serious human rights abuses by the Government of North Korea” are subject to mandatory sanctions, including the blocking of their assets and the denial of visas to enter the United States. Executive Order 13722, which implements the new law, blocks the dollars of persons determined by the Secretary of the Treasury to have “engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for the exportation of workers from North Korea, including exportation to generate revenue for the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea.” Note that the executive order does not specify “forced” or “slave” labor.

This means that any of these enterprises that run transactions through the dollar system are subject to severe sanctions.

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President Park demands end to North Korea’s “tyranny”

Park Geun-hye has a long and distinguished history of saying next to nothing about human rights in North Korea, so these remarks are another welcome step in the right direction:

“I will sternly and strongly deal with North Korea … until North Korea embarks on the path toward denuclearization and ends the tyranny of oppressing the human rights of North Korean people and pushing them to starvation,” Park said in an annual meeting with South Korea’s top envoys around.

A U.N. report showed last year that about 70 percent of North Korea’s 24 million people are suffering due to food shortages. It said 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutritional food supplies aimed at fighting malnutrition. [Yonhap]

With the U.N. increasingly calling for the prosecution of His Corpulency for crimes against humanity, South Korea risks being sidelined by foreigners as a force in its own history. Park’s words are welcome, but the ones who really need to hear them are the North Koreans themselves. South Korea could gradually, patiently, and clandestinely build a base of influence among them by helping to provide for the unmet needs that their own government refuses to meet.

 

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South Korean National Assembly passes human rights bill. Finally.

Last month, I leveled some bitter criticism at South Korea’s opposition Minju Party for blocking North Korean human rights legislation (ironically enough, “Minju” means “democracy”). This week, after an eleven-year battle, the opposition finally gave up its obstructionism, yielded to the tides of morality and history, and allowed the bill to pass the National Assembly. The final vote for 212 for and 24 abstentions (and none against?).

Belated as it was, this victory gives us some reasons to rejoice. First, it’s a hopeful sign that some in the Minju Party are breaking with their tradition of anti-anti-North Korean willful blindness to the horrors in the North. This is fresh evidence that South Korea’s political realignment on North Korea policy goes on.

Second, we finally get to see what the bill does in enough detail to see that it does some useful things, which I’ll discuss in ascending order of importance. It creates committees and commissions studies to keep human rights issues in the government’s policy and plans. As with the American analog to the South Korean bill, it is sometimes necessary to force diplomats not to forget such things. When it becomes law, the bill will also require Seoul “to seek human rights talks with North Korea.”

There will be needed reforms to humanitarian aid programs, prioritizing “children and pregnant women as being the main recipients of government humanitarian aid,” and mandating that aid “should be monitored for transparency in accordance with international standards.” This reflects concerns that, as Yonhap puts it, “past government food assistance ended up in the hands of the North Korean military and the ruling elites instead of helping ordinary people.”

Then there is the weighty question of accountability, which has been much on the mind of Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman and Justice Michael Kirby. One of the bill’s more controversial provisions was its creation of an archive of human rights abuses in North Korea. The opposition objected to the prosecutorial implications of housing this database in the Justice Ministry and wanted it kept in the Unification Ministry. In the end, the ruling Saenuri Party mostly got its way — the Unification Ministry will collect, archive, publish the information, but will also share it with the Justice Ministry.

The goal of establishing the human rights archive, inspired by the post-war German model, is to monitor and document the crimes of the North Korean dictatorship. It is vital to note that no such archive or record has ever existed in South Korea. [Human Rights Foundation]

The bill’s most consequential provisions direct a new human rights archive to collect and publish “information about human rights in North Korea,” to Korean audiences on both sides of the DMZ. That pleases some of us …

“We in the Global Coalition are delighted that the South Korean government will—for the first time ever—finance the defector organizations that send films, e-books, radio broadcasts, and educational materials to the North Korean people.”

The North Korean Human Rights Act also establishes a public campaign to raise awareness about North Korea’s human rights violations and takes steps to ensure that South Korean humanitarian aid is not misused by the Kim regime. The goal of establishing the human rights archive, inspired by the post-war German model, is to monitor and document the crimes of the North Korean dictatorship. It is vital to note that no such archive or record has ever existed in South Korea. [Human Rights Foundation]

… and makes other people deeply uncomfortable.

Some critics say the foundation may assist civic groups that send leaflets or make radio broadcasts to North Korea to provide information to people about their authoritarian homeland. [AP, Hyung-Jin Kim]

As if that’s a bad thing. As if North Korea doesn’t have extensive propaganda and influence operations of its own in South Korea. It’s not like the North Koreans have a legitimate complaint here, but legitimacy has never been an object for Pyongyang. Its state media says that enactment of the bill into law will result in “miserable ruin.”

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 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.

Of the many heroes in this story, none stands greater than former political prisoner, lawmaker, and Governor of Kyonggi Province Kim Moon-soo, whom I profiled here and here during the Paleozoic era of this blog. Kim sponsored the original form of this legislation back in 2005, near the height of the Sunshine Policy’s popularity.

“While its passage is long overdue, the country can now defect (sic: deflect?) international criticism for not approving a North Korean human rights law,” said Kim Moon-soo, who first submitted the law 11 years ago. “People inside the North will know about the law’s enactment and it will put considerable pressure on the political elite in Pyongyang.” [Yonhap]

One day, Governor Kim will make a fine President of a united Korea. Let’s also remember the hard work of Hwang Woo-yea, who fought for years to get this bill through the National Assembly.

Other proponents, including Kim Seong-min of Free North Korea radio and Park Sang-hak of Fighters for a Free North Korea, both refugees from North Korea who became dissidents in exile — and at least one of them, the target of an assassination attempt by North Korean agents — were more skeptical. Understandably, both complained about the long delay in the bill’s passage.

Kim Seong-min, head of Free North Korea Radio, based in Seoul, said it took too long for the bill to be passed, especially in light of the suffering endured by North Koreans all these years. The defector-turned-activist, who came to the South in 1999, voiced hope that the new law would give civic groups in the South championing North Korean human rights “big momentum” to speed their work and help get outside information into the North. [….]

Others like Park Sang-hak, head of a leading civic group that flies anti-North leaflets across the border, criticized the bill for having a clause that calls for improvement in inter-Korea relations. “I don’t see why the bill encourages dialogue with an evil-natured regime,” said the activist. [Yonhap]

Another reason to rejoice is that the hard work of NGOs like the Human Rights Foundation, among many others, paid off. Thor Halvorssen, Garry Kasparov, and the HRF had joined the push for the bill and were understandably pleased by its passage.

Last September, the Global Coalition visited Seoul to campaign for the Act and hosted a widely-publicized press conference that included Garry Kasparov, Serbian democracy advocate Srdja Popovic, North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho, and South Korean lawyer Kim Tae-hoon. Other members of the Global Coalition include Malaysia’s opposition leader Nurul Izzah Anwar, Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Stanford political scientist Larry Diamond, North Korean defector Jung Gwang-il, Peru’s former president Alejandro Toledo, Romania’s former president Emil Constantinescu, and Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yushchenko.

South Korea’s failure to pass the bill had become a global embarrassment.

“The Republic of Korea has taken its head out of the sand and has finally confronted the cruelty and horror of the North Korean dictatorship. It is a victory for all who support human rights and human dignity,” said HRF chairman Garry Kasparov. [Human Rights Foundation]

Oh, and this, via HRF:

Its North Korea program has resulted in multiple threats of violence emanating from the North Korean government including threats of assassination, bodily harm, and missile attacks on HRF staff, members, and associates. [Human Rights Foundation]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list … oh, never mind. Congratulations to all who fought for this soon-to-be law, and please donate your old flash drive to Flash Drives for Freedom.

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Of the North’s crimes against humanity, the world will ask, “Where was South Korea?”

South Korea’s political left, which has long been divided over whether to be violently pro-North Korean, ideologically pro-North Korean, or merely anti-anti-North Korean, has again blocked a vote in South Korea’s National Assembly on a North Korean human rights law that’s been languishing there since 2005. The law itself is weak bori-cha. It had been watered down until it did little more than fund NGOs seeking direct engagement with the North Korean people. But even as a symbolic gesture, as a beginning, and as a small preemptive apology to history, the bill deserved to pass.

The bill includes provisions to create a North Korean Human Rights Foundation that could fund non-governmental groups to conduct research and seek to improve the human rights situation in North Korea, educate South Koreans about rights conditions in North Korea, and provide humanitarian aid in line with international monitoring standards. The law would also establish a system to document and archive information about rights abuses by the North Korean government and its leaders that could be used for future efforts to pursue accountability for rights crimes, in line with similar international efforts.

The action by South Korea would help intensify international pressure on North Korea over its horrendous rights record, and would bring South Korea in line with other countries focused on rights concerns in North Korea. [Human Rights Watch]

On one hand, Korea’s left wants to use “quiet diplomacy” to address North Korea’s widespread, horrific, and present-day crimes against humanity — quiet diplomacy that in practice has never meant or accomplished anything. On the other hand, it fans the public and often hysterical rage against Japan over crimes against humanity that, as horrible as they were, happened 70 to 90 years ago in a world where mass murder and enslavement briefly became the global norm from Mauthausen to Babi Yar to Nanking to the Kolyma River.

There is no question that those past crimes justify rage. All the more so, when the Japanese government continues, incredibly, to say idiotic things like this. Although, it must be said, Japan has at least managed to pass a North Korean human rights law. That’s more than South Korea can say.

South Koreans’ rage against Japan’s past crimes is both sincere and justified. In the case of South Korea’s political left, it is also breathtakingly hypocritical when viewed alongside its culpable silence about Pyongyang’s present-day “crimes against humanity, arising from ‘policies established at the highest level of State,’” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Here is a dismal and undeniable fact: no amount of rage will save even one of the aging Korean women who suffered so much at the hands of the Japanese army so long ago. It may, with a generous assist from some influential idiots in Japan, mean that the last survivors among them die without the small and inadequate measure of compensation promised to them. But fanning anti-Japanese is a convenient way for some Korean politicians — and for the Chinese and North Korean governments — to exploit them for all their political value until the end of their days. And for good reason, at least for South Korea’s cynical politicians and rapacious neighbors: it may help them dissolve a nascent security alliance that every sober-minded observer knows both countries need, thereby endangering millions of people, both born and yet to be born. 

Meanwhile, the world is waiting for South Korea’s rage against what goes on today, even as I write, and even as you read:

• Mr Ahn Myong-chol explained that there is no designated burial spot for inmates or a Korean-style tomb. Instead, they were simply placed in shallow holes in collective burial sites: “They sometimes buried bodies over other bodies. As we are digging the ground and we sometimes found the bones, and so if there is a [prison] mine, then surrounding hills, and mountains would be something like a cemetery. There is no actual cemetery for political prisoners…”

• Mr Kang Chol-hwan remembered that he buried over 300 bodies during his 10 years in Political Prison Camp No. 15 at Yodok. Inmates assigned to bury the bodies stripped them of their clothes so as reuse or barter them. Eventually, the camp authorities simply bulldozed the hill used for burials to turn it into a corn field: “As the machines tore up the soil, scraps of human flesh reemerged from the final resting place; arms and legs and feet, some still some still stockinged, rolled in waves before the bulldozer. I was terrified. One of friends vomited.

The guards then hollowed out a ditch and ordered a few detainees to toss in all the corpses and body parts that were visible on the surface.”

781. Former prisoners and guards interviewed by the Commission all concurred that death was an ever present feature of camp life. In light of the overall secrecy surrounding the camp, it is very difficult to estimate how many camp inmates have been executed, were worked to death or died from starvation and epidemics. However, based on the little the outside world knows about the horrors of the prison camps, even a conservative estimate leads the Commission to find that hundreds of thousands of people have perished in the prison camps since their establishment more than 55 years ago. [U.N. Commission of Inquiry report]

What can still save Korean women, men, and children is for South Koreans to lead the world in speaking out against these crimes, and against the Chinese government for enabling them. That will not happen as long as South Korea is confused and divided, and as long as the rest of the world asks, “Where is South Korea?”

Germany 1945

[As the Germans and the Japanese did before them, they will say they did not know.]

Indeed, for generations, the world will ask, “Where was South Korea?” 

“South Korea arguably has the greatest interest of any country in improving human rights in North Korea, yet unlike some of its allies, it has made no legislative commitment to that task,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Passing this bill would ensure that human rights issues in the North are not pushed aside for political convenience on the Korean peninsula, now or in the future.” [Human Rights Watch]

Modern South Korea’s apathy to the mass murder of its countrymen in the North isn’t just an embarrassment to its own history. It is an embarrassment to human history.

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Update: The Korea Times is now reporting that the bill’s proponents will try again. Hat tip: Jonathan Cheng.

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Rev. Tim Peters is feeding N. Korea’s hungry, and showing us how to re-think food aid

The Rev. Tim Peters, a man who embodies everything I admire about the word “Christian,” leads the group Helping Hands Korea, which has been helping North Koreans escape for more than a decade. Now, he’s putting into action what I call “guerrilla engagement,” reaching inside North Korea covertly and helping its oppressed and starved classes achieve material independence. He’s doing it by harnessing the private sotoji farms that operate on the edge of legality, and which may have saved North Korea from famine last year.

Rather than just spiriting a trickle of refugees to freedom abroad, he is also smuggling nutrient-rich vegetable seeds into North Korea, in a bold effort to provide food security for the 24.9 million people still trapped behind its barbed wire borders.

This campaign comes at a critical time. Due to some minor land reforms in the North, rural families now are allowed to cultivate tiny plots of land privately. A China-based refugee explained to him: “We have the land now, but we don’t have seeds.” [….]

Reverend Peters recalled of that time: “We sent the first batches into North Korea using various networks. Soon after that, another Catacombs member, Ed, mentioned that his grandfather bequeathed to him a chestnut orchard some time ago. I half-jokingly said: ‘Ed, are all those chestnuts just rotting on the ground when you’re over here in Korea?’ The next thing I knew, his family had sent a big box of seeds from America as a donation to our initiative. That is how The Seed Project began.”

Catacombs volunteers — a motley assortment of graduate students, English teachers, military personnel, and local high school students — now gather weekly at a small art gallery. Their goal is to repackage high-quality vegetable seeds with Korean planting instructions, while keeping up-to-date on the latest North Korea headlines. This winter, they have prepped over one thousand units. [Rachel Stine, The World Post]

I’m proud to call Rev. Peters, and several other participants in this program, my friends:

Despite the religious nature of Peters’ approach, Catacombs enjoys significant support from human rights activists on the secular left. At any given meeting, a third of the attendees are atheist or agnostic. Included in this demographic is regular attendant Craig Urquhart. A Canadian activist, Craig recently donated approximately 100 packets of organic, heirloom seeds designed to grow well in frosty climates.

“It’s not like we’re sending Bibles North,” he said. “We’re sending seeds – food – and a path to a better future. Sending seeds North is one way to help North Koreans who suffer repression by their government. It slightly reduces their dependence on the state dictatorship and it fosters food independence. There’s no negative to this kind of engagement.”

Kurt Achin, a Seoul-based journalist and Catholic supporter of the program, remarked: “I met Tim in 2004 when I came over here to report on defectors and human rights. I am a huge supporter of his quiet approach.”

My only complaint about this otherwise groundbreaking article is that it cites low estimates of the percentage of food-insecure North Koreans. According to recent U.N. reports, that number is somewhere between 70 and 84 percent. Admittedly, U.N. assessments should be treated with skepticism; they may well be skewed by both regime manipulation and the hoarding of food, including sotoji-grown food.

The obvious challenge for this program will be to stay covert and avoid the state’s domination. After more than two decades of humanitarian aid from the U.N. and various NGOs — aid that has long been subject to diversion and manipulation — North Korea is still in a chronic food crisis despite being an industrialized society in a temperate zone with more than enough cash to feed every last North Korean. And after all, how different is the weather in North Korea (perpetual food crisis) from that in South Korea (no food crisis)?

Without a doubt, regime-sanctioned aid must have helped many (but certainly not most) needy North Koreans, but it has not solved the larger food crisis, and may even be contributing to it. As Benjamin K. Silberstein writes, “Humanitarian aid is given with the best of intentions, but in the long run, by helping the North Korean regime avoid necessary policy choices, it may be harming rather than helping the North Korean population.” Or, as Nicholas Eberstadt wrote recently:

There is one final, and particularly bitter, piece in the puzzle: the role of foreign aid in financing and ultimately facilitating North Korea’s ruin. Mirror statistics reveal that the DPRK has never been self-supporting. To the contrary, it has relied on a perennial inflow of foreign resources to sustain itself. Since 1960, North Korea has reportedly received more than $60 billion (in today’s dollars) more merchandise from abroad than it has shipped overseas. Nearly $45 billion of that came from Beijing and Moscow—a figure we can treat as a rough approximation of total Chinese and Soviet/Russian financial support.

Why didn’t these massive transfers result in any appreciable measure of long-term economic advancement? The work of economists Craig Burnside, David Dollar and Lant Pritchett, published in the late 1990s under the aegis of the World Bank, suggests an answer: Aid can have a negative effect on growth when a recipient state has a bad business climate, because foreign subsidies allow the regime, in the short term, to escape the consequences of its misrule. In such cases, the greater the volume of aid, the bigger the harm.

Unfortunately, North Korea’s horrific economic performance was enabled in part by leaders abroad who sent billions of dollars to Pyongyang. Those resources allowed the Kim dynasty to continue policies so patently destructive that they would have been forced to cease, or at least to moderate, them absent subsidy from overseas.

International aid workers and humanitarian policy makers have always feared that foreign assistance, through cascading mishaps, might leave recipients poorer and worse off in the end. [Wall Street Journal]

If Helping Hands can keep operating below the state’s radar, it can be a small beginning for a series of far greater things. With material independence comes intellectual independence. If you want to donate to Helping Hands Korea, here’s a link.

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At the U.N., China shields Kim Jong-Un from prosecution, but not isolation (updates)

In February, two years will have passed since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry released its historic report on human rights in North Korea, finding “human rights abuses on a scale ‘without parallel in the contemporary world,’ comparable to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.” The bad news is that we’re still just talking about this. The good news is that America, and most of the world, are uniting around the importance of holding Kim Jong-Un accountable for those crimes.

samantha power

[Samantha Power addresses the Security Council on North Korea last year. Via.]

Last December, the U.S., with support from the U.K., France, and Japan, succeeded in having the North Korea’s crimes against humanity added to the U.N. Security Council’s permanent agenda. Today, the U.S. leveraged its presidency of the Security Council to convene a meeting on that subject. There, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power gave an address whose words lived up to her name. You really should read it in full, but this will give you the flavor of it:

It is not only the blanket denial of enjoyment of freedom of expression and these infernal conditions in the prisoner camps that persist – but all of the grave human rights violations perpetrated by this regime: the summary executions; the use of torture; the decades of enforced disappearances with no accountability, including of citizens from neighboring countries, whose families continue to suffer from not knowing the fate of their loved ones. The list is long, the abuses vast, and the anguish profound.

The systematic human rights violations persist for a simple reason: the North Korean government wants them to. They continue because the State still seeks to intentionally dehumanize, terrorize, and abuse its own people. The regime depends on this climate of fear and violence to maintain its grip on power. [….]

We must continue to take steps that one day will help us hold accountable the individuals responsible for the horrors like those experienced by our guests today. We cannot let immediate obstacles to accountability undermine our determination to document atrocities and identify those who order and carry them out, so that one day the perpetrators will be brought to justice. [….]

Our continuing spotlight on this situation sends a clear message that we hope will reach the North Korean people, tight as the regime’s control over information may be: We will not turn a blind eye to your suffering. You, like all human beings, deserve to be treated with dignity. And we will continue to press for the nightmare you are living to end. To the regime, our message is just as clear: We are documenting your crimes, and one day you will be judged for them. [U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Dec. 10, 2015]

I’ve never heard an American diplomat denounce the tyranny in Pyongyang so … powerfully. The language is even more confrontational than that of a former U.S. diplomat who, in 2005, called North Korea “a hellish nightmare.” The former diplomat’s words caused a small uproar then, among politicians and members of the commentariat who thought this was an undiplomatic thing to say to a murderous despot. Shortly thereafter, this diplomat was also nominated to be our U.N. Ambassador. Then, the Junior Senator from Massachusetts opposed his nomination, in part because of the mean things he said about Kim Jong-Il.

Now, the ex-senator is our Secretary of State and the boss of the current U.N. Ambassador. Ambassador Power’s strong words just might give Kim Jong-Un’s minions reason to hesitate in the pursuit of their atrocities, so I hope there won’t be an uproar against her. If there isn’t, a charitable interpretation of the disparate reaction is that the global consensus has shifted.

~   ~   ~

Power also addressed North Korea’s threats against the U.N. itself:

North Korea continues to demonstrate that regimes which flagrantly violate the human rights of their own people almost always show similar disdain for the rules that help ensure our shared security. We see this in the DPRK’s flouting of prohibitions imposed by the Security Council on its nuclear and ballistic missile activities, including by undertaking launches. We see it in the destabilizing rhetoric the DPRK routinely uses to threaten the annihilation of its neighbors. And we see it in the DPRK’s aggressive response, as the High Commissioner has mentioned, to the opening of an office in Seoul by the OHCHR – an office aimed at gathering ongoing information on human rights conditions in the DPRK.

In March of this year, before the OHCHR office opened, the Pyongyang Committee for the Peaceful Unification of Korea – a DPRK-sponsored group, like every other group allowed to exist in the country – said that, “as soon as the nest for an anti-DPRK smear campaign is in place in the South, it will immediately become the first target for our merciless punishment.” In May, a DPRK-controlled newspaper issued a near identical threat. And in June, the regime issued a statement accusing “hostile forces” of using the UN office to “make confrontation under the pretext of protecting human rights.” It is hard to imagine another UN Member State making such threats against a UN office or staff; and we as a Council cannot take them lightly.

This is part of a well-established pattern of intimidation and escalation by the DPRK in response to criticism of its human rights record.

Hmm — a pattern of using threats of violence to intimidate non-combatants for political purposes. Someone should come up with a word for that sort of thing. Also, someone should teach it to Ambassador Power’s State Department colleagues in Washington.

~   ~   ~

China and Russia “worked behind the scenes to block the debate.” They convinced Angola and Venezuela to join them in voting against holding the meeting, but they were outvoted 9 to 4, with two abstentions. Before the meeting, a Chinese Foreign Ministry mouthpiece said, “We have always opposed the involvement of the U.N. Security Council in a country’s human rights issues.” (Has anyone in Beijing read the U.N. Charter? One of its first stated purposes is “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all.”) Power had an answer for this, too:

I would like to address those who believe that what is happening in the DPRK is not a threat to peace and security. I would like to ask whether those countries think that systematic torture, forced starvation, and crimes against humanity are stabilizing or good for international peace and security? I assume they don’t think that. So, could this level of horror be seen as neutral? A level of horror unrivaled elsewhere in the world. Is it neutral – have no effect at all on regional and international peace and security? Really? None? It stretches credulity and it sounds more like cynicism. These arguments – some of which we’ve heard here today – will not go down well in history, particularly when North Korea opens up. For those who have charged double standards, I would ask: where are there in the world conditions like these ones, like the conditions behind the lines of the DPRK? Where? This regime has no double.

The Commission of Inquiry Report itself said that the human rights situation in North Korea “does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” [….]

No member of this Council, or of the UN, can afford to ignore this situation.

Power also called on “UN Member States, and particularly members of this Council,” to “stop sending people who try to flee” back to North Korea, where “gruesome punishments” await them. Not much doubt about who she meant there.

In the end, China couldn’t shield North Korea from the bad publicity. Instead, it shared it.

~   ~   ~

For most of the journalists covering the meeting, the big headline was the call by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to bring North Korean officials responsible for these crimes before the International Criminal Court.

In a strong speech, Hussein called Pyongyang’s human rights violations dangers to “international peace and security,” and denounced its threats to the U.N.’s Seoul Field Office as “wholly unacceptable.” He spoke of the continued “vulnerabilities” of North Korea’s poor to hunger due to the “systemic failure” of state distribution system, and “social inequalities.” He cited widespread “gender-based violence,” which he attributed to a lack of “awareness that such violence is unacceptable.” (Gloria Steinem, take note.)

Hussein’s call for criminal accountability followed calls by both the U.N. Commission of Inquiry and the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights.

~   ~   ~

Depending on your perspective, the consequences of the Commission of Inquiry’s report have been either negligible or profound. True, neither the U.S., Japan, South Korea, or the EU has passed a resolution, imposed effective sanctions, or changed its policies materially. Chinese and Russian obstructionism has prevented the Security Council from acting, and there is little chance that Kim Jong-Un will face justice anytime soon. Our banks are helping His Corpulency fatten himself on foreign delicacies, and he continues to shore up the foundations of his palaces, if only by packing their crawlspaces with the corpses of those who once served his father.

But language like Power’s and Hussein’s can contribute to a crisis of legitimacy for Kim Jong-Un, a leader whose consolidation of power has shown some signs of unsteady progress. The COI report has cost him his international legitimacy by defining him as a mass murderer. It has also given an elucidating context to his nuclear tests, cyberattacks, and other provocations — after all, if he has so little regard for North Korean life, what regard could he possibly have for ours?

In 2012, a large share of the commentariat spoke of him as a Swiss-educated reformer; today, only a few sycophants and lunatics still do. This shift of perceptions will also have policy and financial consequences. It will transform North Korea into an international pariah, isolate it, and deny it access to hard currency it needs to survive. Eventually, the loss of that access will force Pyongyang to choose between reform and extinction.

~   Updates, Dec. 11   ~

In this video, Hussein answers reporters’ questions after the Security Council meeting. In response to Chinese arguments that the UNSC shouldn’t address human rights, Hussein argued, in effect, that North Korea’s defiance of standards is likely to engulf the region in war (and look no further than Syria or Libya for examples of how that could happen). He also made the point that a country that kidnaps the citizens of neighboring countries is a clear threat to international peace and security.

Hussein also reveals that the North Koreans invited him to visit, separately from the invitation they had extended to Ban Ki-Moon. This represents a change of strategy for the North Koreans, who denied or ignored repeated requests by the Commission of Inquiry and the Special Rapporteur to visit. Recently, after a General Assembly resolution called for holding the North’s leaders accountable for their crimes, the Rodong Sinmun called the vote a U.S.-orchestrated plot to use “the non-existent ‘human rights’ issue,” “fabricated with falsified data,” to “discredit the DPRK and ultimately bring down by force of arms the social system the Korean people chose themselves.” Naturally, they threatened to answer this “ill-intended inveterate repugnancy” by building more nukes.

There are still no details on the timing, agenda, or venues, and one wonders if this really will happen. I’ve long feared that the North Koreans would take a (another?) page from the Nazis’ book and “prepare” one of their camps for a guided tour — and later, a propaganda movie — the way the Nazis did with the Danish Red Cross at Theresienstadt. With the ruse successfully completed, the SS sent everyone who appeared in the film to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Indeed, despite the consensus that, overall, nothing has improved in North Korea, the Daily NK has reported that conditions do seem to have improved “marginally” for non-political prisoners in some of the “reeducation” camps, because of international scrutiny and the fear of accountability.

“Detailed instructions have been handed down, ordering officials not to torture those in for financial crimes, violence, and even narcotics,” the source added. “However, this is not the case for those in because of political offenses such as watching South Korean TV dramas and other ‘non-socialist’ acts, so beatings and violence against them continue.” [Daily NK]

Obedience to the new guidance appears to be uneven, and this report follows earlier reports that conditions had gotten much worse at one of the reeducation camps, at Cheongo-ri. (None of this concerns the much larger political prison camps, such as Camps 14, 15, or 16.) That’s why the Red Cross shouldn’t settle for anything less than a permanent presence at the camps.

~   ~   ~

I had intended (but forgotten) to mention in yesterday’s post that South Korea was recently chosen to lead the Human Rights Council for a year. Although I’d like to see South Korea amend its National Security Law to decriminalize non-violent speech, by almost any measure, South Korea is a much better choice than some of the other alternatives.

South Korea’s election is an inevitable appointment with history and destiny, but when South Korean officials say nonsensical things like this, I wonder if they’re about to flunk it. On the other hand, according to Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman, “It would seem that the government of (South) Korea has geared itself towards the eventuality that accountability will have to be taken within the context of the unification process.”

I guess we’ll see just what the South Koreans are prepared to push for. In the end, South Korea is the only country with a claim to jurisdiction over the entire Korean peninsula, which means it could, in theory, circumvent the Security Council and (with a mandate from the General Assembly) convene an independent international tribunal under its domestic laws. This has actually been done, in Cambodia, also due to Chinese obstructionism. Whether South Korea is prepared to defy China and anger North Korea that way is doubtful today, especially under a Park Geun-Hye presidency.

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Obama sanctions Syria’s Russian enablers (but not North Korea’s Chinese enablers)

Let’s resume this week’s “why not North Korea?” theme with a pithy summary of where we stand today. The Obama Administration has frozen the assets of SyrianIranian, and Sudanese (but not North Korean) officials for human rights violationsIt has frozen the assets of Iranian and Syrian (but not North Korean) officials and entities for censorship, and fined the enablers of censorship in Sudan, Iran, and Syria (but not North Korea). Treasury has frozen the assets of nearly all of the leaders of Belarus and Zimbabwe (but not North Korea) for undermining democratic processes or institutions. The administration has frozen the assets of Russian (but not North Korean) officials and financiers for aggression against a neighboring country. Until two weeks ago, it had frozen the assets of Burmese generals for buying North Korean weapons, but no North Korean officials for selling Burma the weapons.

And on Sunday, of course, I wrote about President Obama’s imposition of sanctions against human rights violators in Burundi, something it has not done to a single North Korean official.

More broadly, the Treasury Department has designated Iran and Burma (and previously, Nauru and the Ukraine) as Primary Money Laundering Concerns, threatening their very access to the financial system, but not North Korea, which counterfeits our currency. It lists Iran and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism, but not North Korea, which sponsored terrorist threats against American moviegoers one year ago, sells arms to Hezbollah, and sends assassins to murder defectors and human rights activists. 

Why not North Korea? Which of these targets is a greater danger to our security, to our freedomto our allies, or to its own people? But by now, you should know that this is no place to come for answers to that question. This is the place you come to watch the list of unanswered questions grow longer.

~   ~   ~

Last week, the Treasury Department added ten entities to its list of Specially Designated Nationals under its Syria sanctions program. Of these entities, four (including a bank) were based in Russia, three in Cyprus, one in Britain, one in Belize, and one in both Russia and Cyprus. The Treasury Department says it designated these targets — most of them bankers, financiers, and oil dealers — for “materially assisting and acting for or on behalf” Bashar Assad’s regime, thus helping him to continue his war against his own people.

Treasury’s new sanctions search tool shows a total of 209 Syrian entities designated, including Bashar Al-Assad, Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa, and most of the top officials and agencies in Syria’s security apparatus. (Not one senior North Korean official is designated.) There are also many Iranian, Lebanese, and Russian entities and individuals listed. Including the Iranian aircraft that are listed and blocked, there are more third-country entities blocked under the Syria sanctions program than there are total entities blocked (43) under North Korea-specific sanctions programs.

Now, using the sanctions search tool, highlight the two North Korea-specific sanctions programs, “DPRK” and “DPRK2,” and count the third-country entities designated. The good news is that it’s more than zero. The bad news is that it’s three. The list includes one Singaporean individual, one Singaporean company, and one Egyptian company, all designated within the last four months. I did not count vessels flagged by third countries, because these are mere flags of convenience for vessels that are owned or controlled by North Korea.

None of which is to argue against the need for financial sanctions against the Syrian government, and crucially, against the enablers that arm, support, and finance this horrendous, barrel-bombing recruiting machine for terrorists. There was a time when we used a similar strategy against North Korea, admittedly for different reasons. The strategy worked, even beyond Treasury’s expectations. We should be using it now. We should never have stopped using it at all. Instead, with its unserious approach to sanctions enforcement, the Obama Administration has declared North Korea a de facto free-fire zone for proliferation, terrorism, and crimes against humanity.

If the Obama Administration isn’t serious about sanctions, and if His Corpulency’s idea of a diplomatic solution is spurious to us, in what sense can anyone say that this administration has a plausible North Korea policy at all?

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Obama sanctions Burundi (but not North Korea) for human rights violations

Last week, President Obama signed a new executive order blocking the assets of four current and former officials of the government of Burundi for “killing of and violence against civilians, unrest, the incitement of imminent violence, and significant political repression.” The targets certainly seem deserving

On closer investigation, this turns out to be another case of the U.S. leading from behind; the EU designated an overlapping list of Burundian officials a month ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sanctions always work better when the U.S., the EU, and (hopefully) other nations cooperate to enforce them. One hopes that in return for U.S. support this time, the EU might also follow our lead on other important targets.

So while I take no issue with these designations, it’s absurd that no North Korean officials at all — not one! — have yet been designated for crimes against the people of North Korea analogous to these:

(1) actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Burundi;

(2) actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Burundi;

(3) human rights abuses;

(4) the targeting of women, children, or any civilians through the commission of acts of violence (including killing, maiming, torture, or rape or other sexual violence), abduction, forced displacement, or attacks on schools, hospitals, religious sites, or locations where civilians are seeking refuge, or through other conduct that may constitute a serious abuse or violation of human rights or a violation of international humanitarian law;

(5) actions or policies that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly;

(6) the use or recruitment of children by armed groups or armed forces;

(7) the obstruction of the delivery or distribution of, or access to, humanitarian assistance; or

(8) attacks, attempted attacks, or threats against United Nations missions, international security presences, or other peacekeeping operations;

[Executive Order 13712]

With the possible exception of (6), North Korea has engaged in conduct analogous to every item on this list. North Korea may also be contributing to Burundi’s human rights violations. In 2011, Burundi was found to have purchased a shipment of (defective) North Korean weapons through a Ukrainian arms dealer, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo. This month, Burundi was also one of just 19 nations to vote against a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning North Korea’s crimes against humanity.

So what principled explanation can the Obama Administration or its Special Envoy for Human Rights offer to explain why it has imposed targeted sanctions on human rights violators in Burundi, but not in North Korea? Who supposes that the human rights violations in Burundi, as bad as they are, are the equal of this?

Michael Kirby, the Chair of a U.N. Commission of Inquiry, has said, “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” The Commission’s report recommended that the Security Council “adopt targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity.” Given that China and Russia are complicit in supporting North Korea’s political system, and are almost certain to block any move toward accountability in the Security Council, the U.S., the EU, and other allied nations would be perfectly justified in saying, “Enough is enough,” and imposing sanctions as a coalition.

Certainly, given the many U.N. General Assembly resolutions condemning North Korea’s crimes and calling for accountability, the Obama Administration could find strong international support for imposing multilateral sanctions against the North Korean leaders who are responsible for crimes against humanity. And yet, inexplicably, it chooses not to.

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Video: N. Korea human rights conference at SAIS, with keynote by Hon. Michael Kirby

On Tuesday, I took a day off from the day job to attend an outstanding conference, organized by the International Bar Association, the Defense Forum Foundation, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the North Korean Freedom Coalition, and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Rather than describe it, I’ll just give you a little weekend viewing and post the whole thing.

The first video starts with introductions by Jae Ku of SAIS, and speeches by Sen. Cory Gardner, Amb. Ahn Ho-Young, and Amb. Lee Jong-Hoon. After this, there were five panels:

9:45am-11:15am Panel I: Human Rights in North Korea Today

  • Moderator: Greg Scarlatoiu: Exec. Director, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK); 
  • Robert Herman: VP for Regional Programs, Freedom House
  • Amb. Lee Jung-Hoon: Ambassador for Human Rights, Republic of Korea
  • Amb. Robert King: Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, State Department
  • John Sifton: Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch

11:30am-1:00pm Panel II: Sanctions

  • Moderator: Sung-Yoon Lee: Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • Frank Jannuzi: President & CEO, The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation
  • Bruce Klingner: Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation, Asian Studies Center
  • William Newcomb: Former Member, UN Security Council Panel of Experts on DPRK Sanctions
  • Joshua Stanton: One Free Korea

1:00pm-2:00pm LUNCHEON AND KEYNOTE SPEECH: Hon. Michael D. Kirby, Chair, U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of North Korea.

Special thanks to Shaquille for taking this photo:

IMG-20151027-00068

2:00pm-3:30pm Panel III: Accountability for Human Rights Violations

  • Moderator: Roberta Cohen: Non Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK)
  • Param-Preet Singh: Senior Counsel, Human Rights Watch, International Justice Program
  • Morse Tan: Associate Professor of Law, Northern Illinois University College of Law
  • David Tolbert: President, International Center for Transitional Justice

3:45pm-5:15pm Panel IV: Indigenous and Cross-Border Activities Aimed at Advancing Human Rights in North Korea

  • Moderator: Suzanne Scholte: President, Defense Forum Foundation
  • Jieun Baek: Fellow, Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
  • Scott Busby: Deputy Asst. Secretary, State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  • Kang Cheol-Hwan: President, North Korea Strategy Center
  • John Fox: Founder, I-Media
  • Kim Seong Min: Founder, Free North Korea Radio


The unsung heroine of the conference was a young woman named Sosseh, who works for the International Bar Association. Sosseh handled the organization, scheduling, and logistics of all of the events, and made it all run like clockwork.

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Ban Ki-Moon on N. Korea: U.N. must “hold perpetrators of crimes accountable” (updated)

The U.S., the EU, South Korea, and other “like-minded” governments are renewing their push for a U.N. Security Council resolution to refer “the highest official responsible” for Pyongyang’s crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court.

South Korea, the U.S., Britain and Japan have launched fresh efforts to adopt a similar resolution this year, the high-level source at the U.N. told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity, adding the countries have been drafting a resolution since last weekend.

The new resolution will include the ICC referral part just like last year’s resolution, the source said.

The countries have also begun collecting views from other U.N. members on what should be included in the new resolution, the source said.

“ICC referral resolutions that the U.N. has adopted so far usually don’t include the names of those responsible,” another source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “That’s because more people could be found responsible in the course of the ICC’s investigation.” [Yonhap]

The reports — from Yonhap, UPI, and the Voice of America — quote unnamed South Korean diplomatic sources. Although the new resolution dares not speak His name, Yonhap’s source confirms that “highest official” does, indeed, mean His Corpulency.

The new resolution is also expected to include calls for punishment of those responsible for human rights violations, resolution of abductions and kidnappings while voicing concerns about torture, public executions and other types of human rights abuses in the North, according to the sources. [Yonhap]

Yonhap’s source fully expects China and Russia to block the resolution at the Security Council, but the proponents plan to push on, if only to draw more international attention to the issue. This time, however, China and Russia won’t be the only obstacles. The UNSC’s non-permanent members now include Angola, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Venezuela, all of which have close commercial or diplomatic ties to North Korea, and some of which have been implicated in using North Korean slave labor.

These developments follow the recent opening (despite Pyongyang’s threats) of the Seoul Field Office of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights, and a very strong new report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur that repeated the Commission of Inquiry’s call to hold North Korean officials accountable. U.N. Member States are clearly under more pressure to answer the U.N.’s calls and lead. (In this case, however, Europe appears be doing most of the leading.)

Pyongyang responded by calling the U.N. reports “nothing more than lies from North Korean defectors, whose testimonies cannot be corroborated,” and threatening to take “the toughest counteraction” to “foil the hostile forces’ reckless ‘human rights’ hysteria.”

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 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.

Interestingly enough, however, despite the fact that Seoul’s diplomats are talking up this effort to the international press, Pyongyang still allowed its hostage meetings — the ones Michael Kirby called “barbarous” and “extremely cruel” — to proceed as planned.

There is reason to doubt that all of this talk will amount to anything. After all, back in JulyThe Washington Post’s Anna Fifield reported that the Obama Administration would focus “on human rights to further isolate North Korea.” But of course, as the General Accountability Office recently pointed out, at the stroke of a pen, President Obama could have reached the obvious conclusion that His Porcine Majesty and his top minions are officials of the government of North Korea for purposes of Executive Order 13687, and summarily blocked all of their assets, in full accordance with the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations. Just like Obama’s predecessor did to the top leaders of Burma, Sudan, Belarus, and Zimbabwe, and their top minions, years ago.

But if this resolution really does go forward, it would be immensely important. Not only are we having a global debate — at long last — about human rights in North Korea, but that debate is clearly building toward a global consensus that North Korea’s leaders must be held to account for their crimes. And as favorably astonished I am about this, nothing could have prepared me for what Ban Ki-Moon said yesterday:

Frankly, when I first read this Yonhap report of Ban’s words, I simply couldn’t believe that Ban Ki-Moon — the godfather of the Sunshine Policy and patron saint of fence-sitters, who has consistently said as little as possible about human rights in the North — said this. Unwilling to post it without confirmation, I emailed a contact at the U.N., who kindly and promptly did confirm it. Here’s the whole statement.

Just about everyone on Earth missed the seismic importance of Ban’s call, especially in the context of growing calls by U.N. Member States, the Special Rapporteur, and the Commission of Inquiry to hold Kim Jong-Un individually accountable. Yes, they’re just words — a few words buried near the end of a very long report — but they represent an important step toward international consensus. They mean that the price China and Russia will pay to keep covering for Kim Jong-Un will rise. They’re an embarrassment to every government that stands in the way of action or makes itself complicit. Furthermore, I doubt that Ban would have said them if he thought it would diminish his chances in the next South Korean presidential election. Ban’s words are sure to put him strongly at odds with the Democratic Party’s hard left, at a time when the DP’s leaders are already struggling to keep them under the porch.

The mills grind slowly, but they are picking up speed.

~   ~   ~

Update, October 25, 2015: Wow:

Navi Pillay told an audience in Seoul that North Korea’s caste system discriminates against its own population and is a new example of apartheid, Voice of America reported. Pillay said North Korea should eliminate its “Songbun,” or caste system, and release the tens of thousands of political prisoners who are serving sentences after receiving unfair trials. [UPI]

Despite what these resorts say, a well-informed friend tells me that for now, the resolution is only headed for the Third Committee for now, but with the Security Council being the eventual destination. It was, indeed, Japan that has joined up with the EU to draft the resolution.

Despite protests from Pyongyang, member states of the European Union said Thursday they plan to present a draft resolution on North Korean human rights to the U.N. General Assembly by the end of October. South Korean outlet Newsis reported the announcement offers a preview of the extensive discussion of North Korea human rights abuses expected to be held before the end of the year.

The Austrian foreign ministry told press that the European Union and Japan submitted a draft resolution in September, during the 70th annual U.N. General Assembly. The ministry said it recommends the referral of the North Korea human rights situation to the International Criminal Court.

There is some question, however, whether the resolution will target Kim Jong-Un individually:

Kim Jong Un, however, would not necessarily be the target of any cases brought before the International Criminal Court. A U.N. source who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity said that the purpose of any court case would not be to pin blame on Kim Jong Un. That would be an “unreasonable interpretation,” the source said.

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Congress to hold hearings on N. Korea & terrorism, human rights, nukes this week

The first hearing, entitled, “The Persistent North Korea Denuclearization and Human Rights Challenge,” will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m., before the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The witnesses will be Sung Kim, the State Department’s Special Representative For North Korea Policy And Deputy Assistant Secretary For Korea and Japan, and Robert King, State’s Special Envoy For North Korean Human Rights Issues.

The second hearing will be before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, on October 22nd at 2 p.m. It will be entitled, “North Korea: Back on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List?” 

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 10.00.44 AM

(Coughs, clears throat, looks down at shoes.)

The witnesses will be Sung Kim and Ms. Hilary Batjer Johnson, State’s Deputy Coordinator for Homeland Security, Screening, and Designations. 

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U.N. report demands that N. Korean leaders be held accountable through prosecution, sanctions

marzukiU.N. Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman has issued another report on human rights in North Korea (or more accurately, the lack thereof). The bad news is that the situation hasn’t improved, and North Korea and China are still stonewalling:

Regrettably, the situation remains the same, despite the grave concerns reiterated by the international community in different forums. The Special Rapporteur also reflects on issues around accountability for those human rights violations, which should be addressed at an early stage, and on current efforts by the international community to address the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in general.

3. The Special Rapporteur wishes to highlight from the outset that in March and again in June 2015 he requested meetings with delegates from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to follow up on the discussions that he had with them in October 2014 in New York. He regrets that his requests were declined. He firmly believes in the value of dialogue and hopes that the authorities will answer his future request positively.

The good news is that the report itself is strong — exceptionally so. In clear and strong language, it recounts the reports of North Korea’s recent waves of purges and executions, its failure to make progress on the return of abductees, its refusal let divided families reunite, and evidence that North Korea and China systematically abuse North Korean women, including by forcing them into sexual slavery.

41. The Special Rapporteur notes with great concern from the data provided by the Ministry of Unification on arrivals of defectors in the Republic of Korea that more than 70 per cent of the defectors are women. A striking estimate of 70-90 per cent of those women reportedly become victims of human trafficking and are subjected to, inter alia, forced marriage and sexual exploitation in China and in other Asian countries.14 They are particularly vulnerable to actions by smuggling gangs, whose influence has significantly increased recently owing to the clampdown by Chinese authorities on charities and evangelical groups from the Republic of Korea that used to facilitate their escape through China. 

42. Female overseas workers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sent to China have also fallen victim to sexual exploitation. It was reported that, in June 2014, the Government of China deported a group of female workers in a food factory because they were forced into prostitution at night, upon instructions from an executive of the factory and with the complicity of the security personnel from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in charge of their surveillance. The latter was also forcibly repatriated.

The report also denounced China’s inhumane repatriation of refugees, including children, to an uncertain fate in North Korea.

36. In that regard, the Special Rapporteur is strongly concerned by reports indicating that a group of 29 citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including a 1-year-old child, were detained by the Chinese authorities in Shandong and Yunnan provinces between 15 and 17 July 2014 and subsequently forcibly returned to their country of origin.12 Their whereabouts were unknown at the time of writing. In addition, in October 2014, the Chinese authorities reportedly arrested 11 individuals (10 adults and 1 child aged 7) from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who were seeking to enter Myanmar in the southern region of Yunnan province.13 Their whereabouts are also unknown.

37. The Special Rapporteur notes that the Committee against Torture included that case in its list of issues in relation to the fifth periodic report of China. It sought information about their fate upon return and enquired, inter alia, whether there were “post-return monitoring arrangements in place to ensure that those returned to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are protected from the danger of being subjected to torture” (CAT/C/CHN/Q/5/Add.1, para. 9). He hopes that the Government of China will clarify the matter during the fifty-sixth session of the Committee, in November 2015.

38. The Special Rapporteur regrets that his requests to meet representatives of the Permanent Missions of China in Geneva and New York in March and May 2015, respectively, were unsuccessful. He remains available to engage in constructive dialogue with the Government of China to find a sustainable solution to that pressing issue.

Some of the report’s best language, however, dealt with North Korea’s exports of forced labor for hard currency. Its choice of words in this context — “forced labor,” “slave labor,” “contemporary forms of slavery” — deserves to draw greater global attention and action. And it names names:

26. According to various studies, it is estimated that more than 50,000 workers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea operate abroad. 8 The vast majority are currently employed in China and the Russian Federation. Other countries where workers operate reportedly include Algeria, Angola, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Oman, Poland, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

27. The overseas workers are employed mainly in the mining, logging, textile and construction industries. Their conditions of work have been documented by civil society organizations that conducted interviews with former overseas workers.

They found that:

    (a) The workers do not know the details of their employment contract;

    (b) Tasks are assigned according to the worker’s State-assigned social class (songbun): the lower classes are reportedly assigned the most dangerous and tedious tasks. Workers with relatives in the country are preferred, to ensure that they will fully comply while abroad;

    (c) Workers earn on average between $120 and $150 per month, while employers in fact pay significantly higher amounts to the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (employers deposit the salaries of the workers in accounts controlled by companies from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea);

    (d) Workers are forced to work sometimes up to 20 hours per day, with only one or two rest days per month. In some instances, if they do not fulfil the monthly quota imposed, they reportedly do not get paid;

    (e) Health and safety measures are often inadequate. Safety accidents are reportedly not reported to local authorities but handled by security agents;

    (f) Workers are given insufficient daily food rations;

    (g) Freedom of movement of overseas workers is unduly restricted. Workers are under constant surveillance by security personnel from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in charge of ensuring that they comply with the Government’s rules and regulations. Those agents confiscate the workers’ passports. The workers are also forbidden to return to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea during their assignment;

    (h) Workers are threatened with repatriation if they do not perform well enough or commit infractions. Defectors apprehended are sent back to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

28. It is alleged that the host authorities never monitor the working conditions of overseas workers.

29. It is worth noting that the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is paying increased attention to the scrutiny by foreign media and organizations on its overseas workers. In April 2015, it issued instructions to overseas workers and supervisors to prevent anyone from reporting human rights abuses in the workplace. Workers and supervisors have reportedly been ordered to destroy any recording equipment, confiscate the memory cards and even assault the person documenting the abuses. Failure to do so would result in the worker or supervisor being punished, although it is not clear what type of punishment would be applied.

30. The Special Rapporteur notes (with satisfaction) the decision in May 2015 of a construction company in Qatar to dismiss 90 employees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (nearly half of the workforce employed) for alleged repeated violations of domestic labour legislation. According to the company, “supervisors responsible for the well-being of their workers have been continuously forcing them to work more than 12 hours a day. The food provided to their workforce is below standards. Site health and safety procedures are ignored regularly”.

10 One of the workers reportedly died as a result of such treatment. The company agreed to keep the remaining workers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under the condition that they no longer breach any rules. 

31. The Special Rapporteur takes all such reports very seriously. He intends to pay close and sustained attention to the issue in future, with the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) office in Seoul. To that end, he calls upon the Member States concerned to grant him, his successor and OHCHR staff access to verify all of the allegations.

32. The Special Rapporteur reminds the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea of its obligation under article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights not to engage in forced labour. He stresses that companies hiring overseas workers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea become complicit in an unacceptable system of forced labour. They should report any abuses to the local authorities, which have the obligation to investigate thoroughly, and end such partnership.

In other places, the Special Rapporteur’s report shows why his office needs investigative support to keep up with the evidence. Paragraph 16, for example, cites unverified reports that Camp 15 was being dismantled, but we’ve since seen reliable reporting, backed by satellite imagery, that refutes this claim. The report also cites reports that nine North Korean children repatriated by the Laotian government might have been executed or sent to Camp 14, but fails to note that Pyongyang, no doubt mindful of the attention they’ve attracted, later showed (at least some of) the children on television. These are distracting errors, but now that the Seoul field office has started its work, we can expect to see the quality, length, and frequency of the Special Rapporteur’s reports improve.

It’s equally apparent that the Seoul field office, which is working under threats of violence by Pyongyang, needs the Special Rapporteur to offer it some protection from those threats. After all, the Reconnaissance General Bureau is both willing and able to carry out assassinations inside South Korea. Marzuki denounced those threats at length:

65. In relation to the third point, the Special Rapporteur notes with deep concern the series of threats issued by the authorities and media of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea against the Seoul office. On 23 June 2015, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea issued a statement accusing the “hostile forces” in the international community led by the United States of America of using the field presence to plot against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and “incite confrontation under the pretext of protecting human rights”. On 30 March 2015, the Pyongyang Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea released a statement threatening an attack against the then forthcoming office and accusing the Republic of Korea and the United States of orchestrating a human rights plot against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The statement specifically said: “we will never sit back and watch as South Korea hosts the United Nations office on human rights of DPRK in Seoul. As soon as the nest for an anti-DPRK (North Korea) smear campaign is in place in the South, it will immediately become the first target for our merciless punishment.” In May 2015, the newspaper Minju Joson stated that “[the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will never pardon but mercilessly punish those hell-bent on the anti-DPRK ‘human rights’ racket, whether they are the puppet forces or their masters or those going under the mask of any international body”. 18

66. This is not the first time that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has issued a threat. On 9 June 2014, a spokesperson for the Pyongyang Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea released a statement protesting against the OHCHR field office in the Republic of Korea, threatening punishment and attacks at those involved in the plan, as well as staff in the office, referring to the plan as a scheme led by the United States and the Republic of Korea. 

67. The Special Rapporteur urges the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to cease issuing such threats. He believes that it is totally unacceptable for the Government of a United Nations Member State to issue a statement that blatantly threatens punishment and attacks on a United Nations office and its staff members. He stresses that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as a member of the United Nations, has a responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations to protect the United Nations, its staff and its assets.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 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.

Clearly, then, this Special Rapporteur will not let the world forget what the Commission of Inquiry told us about crimes against humanity in North Korea. He repeated his call to hold the responsible North Korean officials accountable:

49. The Special Rapporteur remains convinced that the accountability track must be pursued urgently, in parallel with sustained efforts to seek engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It is an irreversible process that the authorities will have to face sooner or later.

50. In his view, issues around accountability should be addressed at an early stage and with long-term strategies in mind. A process of reflection and discussion on possible accountability mechanisms and processes should start as soon as possible. This should not be done, as in previous instances with other countries, at the last minute of a change process.

Both Pyongyang and Beijing have ignored the Special Rapporteur’s attempts to engage them, and to cooperate with an investigation of the allegations. Beijing still intends to block any attempt by the Security Council to hold Kim Jong-Un accountable. Yet the Special Rapporteur did not yield on the urgency and importance of accountability. In addition to repeating the Commission of Inquiry’s call for a referral to the International Criminal Court, it called for establishing an ad hoc tribunal, and a human rights contact group of member states. Which sounds a lot like what S. 2144, a bill introduced by three Republican U.S. Senators, also called for (see, e.g., sections 302 and 305). The report also called for financial accountability through targeted, bilateral sanctions. 

55. In addition to a possible referral to the International Criminal Court, the Security Council, as encouraged by the General Assembly, should consider the scope for effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for acts that the commission deemed to constitute crimes against humanity. While the Council has yet to consider taking action on the matter, the Special Rapporteur welcomes the steps that some Member States have begun to take on a bilateral basis in that direction.

I don’t know what states other than the U.S. the Special Rapporteur might have had in mind. The logic is clear: if the Security Council won’t act, then it’s up to member states to use their national laws, and to mobilize world opinion, to force Pyongyang to change. And thankfully, that’s exactly where things seem to be headed. Indeed, one sees an almost unprecedented convergence here between a U.N. report and a Republican-led Congress. Meanwhile, President Obama sits passively, like the king of an ancient Asian vassal state, deferring to the emperor in the Forbidden City.

The U.N. has not shown itself to be an effective agent for action, but at least reports like these, and the excellent reports of the U.N. Panel of Experts monitoring sanctions compliance, show that the U.N. can still be an effective fact-finder. Eventually — though too late for far too many North Koreans — better facts will make better policies.

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The U.N. will just go on talking about Kim Jong-Un’s crimes against humanity, and that’s still better than nothing

Since July, when the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights opened its new field office in Seoul, the office has hired a six-person staff and gotten to work. Last week, The Wall Street Journal‘s Alastair Gale spoke to the office’s Representative, Ms. Signe Poulsen of Denmark, who clarified that the field office will carry on the work of the UNHCHR’s Commission of Inquiry, investigate new reports of human rights abuses, and keep those reports in the public eye.

“We’re looking to bring more depth to the report. Seoul is the best place to be for that,” Signe Poulsen, representative for the office, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. Ms. Poulsen arrived in South Korea in August and will coordinate information gathering from North Korean refugees, activist groups, academics and other North Korea-related parties. [Wall Street Journal, Alastair Gale]

Poulsen explained to Yonhap, the official news service of a government that represents South Korea’s largely apathetic people, why the rest of the world cares about this.

“Many of these violations are so systematic and so widespread that they constitute crimes against humanity,” Poulsen said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. “That’s a high threshold. That’s not business as normal. That’s really very serious.” [….]

“The scale of violations against people living in North Korea is so large that it concerns all of us,” she said. [….]

Poulsen said that public executions have continued for a long time as a “pattern” of the North’s serious rights violation.

The office will mainly collect relevant information from North Korean defectors, experts and civic groups. It will later report its findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council. [Yonhap]

Poulsen, apparently a person with a predisposition for optimism, also told Gale that Pyongyang’s “strong response” to the opening of the office a sign that “it is taking the issue very seriously.” I suppose that depends on what one means by “seriously.” If she means that the office’s opening has clearly touched a nerve, there’s little doubt about that. But instead of offering a serious and substantive response, Pyongyang has adopted a diplomatic strategy of denial, disruptions, racial slurs, homophobic slurs, threats against both witnesses and the U.N. office itself, and Halloween candy. To be specific:

“Anyone who challenges our dignity and social system and agrees to go ahead with the establishment of the office will be ruthlessly punished,” the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement. [….]

South Korean president Park Geun-hye and others from international human rights organizations would “pay the price”, the statement, carried by the official KCNA news agency, said.

The planned office was a “hideous politically-motivated provocation”, and an “anti-North Korean plot-breeding organization,” led by South Korea and the United States, it added.

North Korea “categorically and totally” rejected the accusations set out in the report, saying they were based on material faked by hostile forces backed by the United States, the European Union and Japan. [Reuters, James Pearson, June 9, 2014]

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

The Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK), a state body handling inter-Korean affairs, said late Monday that the office was an “unforgivable provocation” and would become a “first-strike target.” [….]

As soon as the nest for an anti-DPRK (North Korea) smear campaign is in place in the South, it will immediately become the target for our merciless punishment,” the CPRK said in a statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency. [AFP, March 30, 2015]

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.

PoulsenMs. Poulsen, whose photograph does not evoke my stereotype of a neocon conquistadora, nonetheless answers the threats bravely:

Poulsen said she is not afraid of the North’s threat, saying that there are many field workers and rights advocates who are putting their lives at risk every day. [….]

Poulsen said that she will ramp up efforts to gather information on the North’s rights abuses in a “comprehensive and accurate” manner despite limitations, as she cannot visit the North for her assignments.

“My expectation and my strong hope is that I will be able to fulfill the mandate to the satisfaction of all U.N. member states,” she said. [Yonhap]

Of course, the field office will not satisfy all of the member states, but if it can eventually produce reports as detailed as this new report from the Korea Institute for National Unification (hat tip and thanks to a reader) it will succeed at fulfilling its mandate and keeping the issue in the public eye. Whatever you may think of the U.N. as an institution, reports that carry its imprimatur carry more global credibility. The U.N. almost always fails as an agent of international action, but the U.N. Panel of Experts and the U.N. Commission of Inquiry have shown us that it can be an effective fact finder, and facts change policies.

For the foreseeable future, then, the dying will continue, and the U.N. isn’t about to do anything concrete about that. China has blocked any move toward accountability in the Security Council, although the issue remains on the Security Council’s permanent agenda. Poulson also notes that the General Assembly will take up the issue again this month. That means that for now, all the field office can really do is to “keep the issue of North Korean human rights on the U.N. agenda.”*

Beyond that, as Christine Chung writes at HRNK insider, there is little agreement about what to do next. Japan says it wants its people back, but suggests that it might normalize relations after that. The EU calls on Pyongyang to close the gulag, but threatens no consequences if it doesn’t. France called for an ICC referral, which China and Russia have blocked, and the U.S. won’t push for. China wants a peace treaty, which would amount to de facto recognition of Pyongyang’s nuclear status and crimes against humanity. The usual rogues’ gallery of Pyongyang’s allies criticizes the critics. Other well-meaning observers, including Michael Kirby himself, call for more of the “dialogue” and exchanges that have never gotten us anywhere, and never will, unless they’re backed by tougher policies that persuade Pyongyang that it must change or perish.

Of the incoherence of South Korea’s policy, little more needs to be said, although one can at least hope that the U.N. office will begin to change minds and awaken some level of consciousness — the prerequisite to a more coherent policy. That may be the best we can hope for from the U.N. for the foreseeable future, but if it’s enough to shift public opinion, and enable a coalition of member states to form a consensus for more effective action, it might, in a few years’ time, be just enough.

~   ~   ~

* Quote is from Gale’s report, paraphrasing Poulsen’s words.

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Twenty women Senators do what @GloriaSteinem and @WomenCrossDMZ won’t: Stand up for women in N. Korea’s gulag

With the possible exceptions of Mosul and Raqqa, there may be no worse place on earth to be a woman today than inside North Korea’s prison camps. There, according to a U.N. Commission of Inquiry, “the conditions of subjugation of inmates, coupled with the general climate of impunity, creates an environment, in which rape perpetrated by guards and prisoners in privileged positions is common.” The Commission found that “[w]ithout exception, pregnant victims are subject to abortion or their child is killed at birth.” High percentages of female prisoners die of starvation, disease, torture, and arbitrary execution.

One former prisoner, a woman named Kim Hye-sook, told the Commission of Inquiry that “the women who worked in the mines of Political Prison Camp No. 18 feared assignment to the nightshift, because guards and prisoners preyed on them on their way to and from work and rape them.” Another witness “reported that the guards of Camp No. 18 were especially targeting teenage girls.” A former guard told of “how the camp authorities made female inmates available for sexual abuse to a very senior official who regularly visited the camp,” and that “[a]fter the official raped the women, the victims were killed.” One former guard recalled that after the commander of his unit raped a woman, who subsequently gave birth, “[t]he mother and her child were taken to the detention and punishment block, where the baby was thrown in the feeding bowl for the dogs.” (U.N. Commission of Inquiry, Full Report, para. 766) Another former guard at Camp 16 told Amnesty International that “several women inmates disappeared after they had been raped by officials,” and concluded “that they had been executed secretly.” 

Especially beautiful women suffered the most. It has been known that Kim Byeong-Ha, who was the Bowibu director and set up political prison camps in 1972, selected pretty women and slept with them in an inspection visit to the camps. Then those women were transferred to the director of the 3rd Bureau (Pretrial Examination Bureau) of the Bowibu and used as an experiment subject and killed. [….]

There is a “Cadre Guest House” at No. 14 Political Prison Camp. It is a special building where ministers or deputy ministers from Pyeongyang stay. When senior officials come from Pyeongyang, pretty maidens aged 21 to 25 are selected among female inmates, bathed and then sent to them. After the officials make a sexual plaything of those females, they charge the women with fleeing and kill them to keep secrets. [Korean Bar Association, 2008 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, page 165]

To this evidence, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea adds a new report on the expansion of Camp 12, Chongo-ri (opens in pdf), to include a special women’s section.

chongo-ri-72-mi

According to HRNK:

Sometime after 2008, however, a women’s section was added to Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, reflecting the huge increase of refouled (forcibly repatriated) North Korean women from China. Five additional former prisoners from Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 Jongo-ri interviewed in Seoul in March 2015 update this enlargement of the Jongo-ri prison. This reflects North Korea’s ongoing policy to wrongfully imprisoned persons for reasons not permitted under contemporary international law. Many of the North Koreans who are deprived of their liberty and subjected to forced labor and inhumane conditions suffer this punishment for having taken actions that are explicitly provided for and protected in international law, including conventions that North Korea has acceded to.

It would be fair to call Chongo-ri a “death camp.”

The first edition of Hidden Gulag (2003) cited the testimony of a former prisoner on the deplorable conditions and high rates of death in detention at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. Between December 1998 and July 1999, “Out of twenty-three prisoners who entered on the same day… only two survived. The rest died within eight months of arrival, from hard labor and sub-subsistence food rations–small mixtures of corn and beans, with rice added only on holidays.” A former prisoner interviewed for that report believes that eight hundred prisoners died while he was there; so many, according to what another prisoner told him, that the guards had to burn the corpses.

This former prisoner reported that he weighed 50 kilograms (kg) (110 pounds (lb)) prior to his arrest and only 30 kg (66 lb) upon his release from Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. This was fifteen years ago during North Korea’s “great famine.” Reportedly, not all that much has changed in this regard at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. Tudor and Pearson, publishing in 2015, wrote that “it is common for men serving time there to lose 30 kilograms [66 lb] in body weight. Many end up starving to death.”[*] One of the former women prisoners at Jongo-ri interviewed for this present report in March 2015, Ms. Kim Min-ji, reported that during her time in Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 from 2009 to 2011, nearly all people lost weight and many died of malnutrition and related diseases.

Images of Chongo-ri were first published at this site in 2009.

Screen-Shot-2014-01-28-at-9.03.56-PM-700x509

In January 2014, two OFK readers first brought the expansion of the camp to my attention, and I published this image of the expanded camp.
Screen-Shot-2014-01-28-at-9.03.32-PM-700x511

The new women’s section was added sometime between 2009 and 2013. HRNK’s report contains the first accounts of the women who were held there:

Another former female prisoner at Jongo-ri interviewed for this report in March 2015, Ms. Choi Min-gyang, went from 57 kg (125 lb) to 27 kg (60 lb) during her time at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 Jongo-ri (mid-2008 to September 2010). She was put in the ho-yak-ban (severely sick) unit and lost consciousness. Her condition was so severe that prison officials called her family to come get her rather than deal with her death. It took her a year to regain her health, after which she fled to China and on to South Korea.

Another woman prisoner interviewed for the present report stated that she weighed 79 kg (174 lb) while in China, but her weight during pre-trial detention in North Korea dropped to 34 kg (74 lb). She arrived at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. Jongo-ri in 2010 already so weak that the prison authorities initially did not want to accept her. Nonetheless, even though she was clearly weak and sick, she was assigned to the logging work unit and fed only rotten corn. She never regained her weight until she was released in 2012.

Two male former prisoners at Jongo-ri interviewed for this report in March 2015 indicate that, for men, Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 has operated almost the same for several decades.

The vast majority of the women who live and die at Chongo-ri have been “convicted” in five-minute sham trials of nothing that any other country recognizes as a crime — fleeing across the border to escape starvation and earn a living. The women prisoners of Chongo-ri aren’t even defectors; if they were, they’d end up in far worse places. Many of the women at Chongo-ri were forced to make wigs, presumably for export, to earn hard currency for the regime. Let us not forget the men of Chongo-ri, who worked in an unsafe mine, or a furniture factory, where deadly accidents were common.

What is most maddening about all of this is that it isn’t the cause celebre of Hollywood stars, famous activists, or the big names of the Human Rights Industry, because in terms of numbers and depravity, it deserves to be. That’s why it adds just a drop of hope to a sea of despair when all 20 female U.S. Senators, Republicans and Democrats, take a moment to remember North Korea’s female political prisoners in this resolution.

(16) serving as a composite for prisoners of concern worldwide, an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, including men, women, and children, who are detained in the brutal political prison camps of North Korea where starvation, forced labor, executions, rape, sexual violence, forced abortions, and torture are commonplace and whose offenses, according to defectors, include—

(A) burning old currency or criticizing the currency revaluation of the Government;

(B) sitting on newspapers bearing the picture of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il;

(C) mentioning the limited formal education of Kim Il Sung; and (D) defacing photographs of the Kims;

It merits mention that the resolution was in support of the Samantha Power-led #Freethe20 campaign. No, words and hashtags will not free any prisoners. The hard truth is that few of the women in Chongo-ri or the other camps today will ever get out alive. But words can build a consensus toward policies that can free the next generation of prisoners.

And what of the world’s most famous women’s rights activist, Gloria Steinem? A woman who is rightly remembered both for her activism for the rights of women, and for human rights globally? Today, she has cast her lot with the notorious North Korean sympathizer Christine Ahn and Code Pink, opposing the very pressure that can force Pyongyang to end its atrocities against North Korean women. Instead, a woman who was once arrested for blocking the street in front of the South African Embassy, and who supported the sanctions and isolation that forced the end of apartheid, when asked about sanctions to force change in North Korea, answers: “The example of the isolation of the Soviet Union or other examples of isolation haven’t worked very well in my experience.”

~   ~   ~

The book cited is “North Korea Confidential,” by James Pearson and Daniel Tudor. It’s one of several books I’m reading, as scarce time permits. So far, I’ve found it well researched and interesting.

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Obama Administration plans N. Korea human rights push at U.N., but is it too late?

Had you asked me two months ago how a deal between the Obama Administration and Iran would affect North Korea policy, I’d have answered that it would preoccupy Congress through September, and that after that, things would pick right up where they left off.

How wrong I was. The Iran deal continues to dim the odds of another Agreed Framework with North Korea by drawing so many unflattering comparisons to the 1994 Agreed Framework as to destroy its legacy. Republicans hold up the 1994 deal as a paragon of diplomatic malpractice and say the Iran deal is 1994 all over again. John Kerry, cognizant that the results of the Agreed Framework speak for themselves, is trying to uncouple this analogy by conceding its failure, and insisting that the State Department has learned its lesson. (Support for the Iran deal is dropping anyway.) One can only hope Democrats will remember to throw George W. Bush’s equally disastrous Agreed Framework of 2007 in the face of a future Republican president who tries to repeat it. This history doesn’t give us much confidence in State’s capacity to learn from its errors, but it would take some chutzpah for Kerry to grasp for Agreed Framework 3 anytime soon.

A second unexpected consequence of the Iran deal is the provocation of an unforced (and potentially decisive) error by the Pyongyang regime — a series of public declarations that it doesn’t want a denuclearization deal. The North Koreans may be accomplished and compulsive liars, but they aren’t always sophisticated ones. Smarter tyrants would have milked this administration for more aid and sanctions relief in exchange for a freeze deal, and cheated their way to Inauguration Day. Kim Jong-Un probably doesn’t feel the need to do that, as The Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale explains, because he isn’t feeling much pressure to. My special commendation to Mr. Gale for getting this part right:

Some observers say that the lack of leverage is because sanctions on North Korea are far weaker than those imposed on Iran. Chun Young-woo, a former South Korean negotiator at the six-nation talks process that for several years tried to coax North Korea into giving up its nuclear ambitions, says there’s plenty of room to tighten the screws, such as further “secondary sanctions” on companies that do business with the country.

“If we are going to try diplomacy again it’s necessary to change North Korea’s strategic calculus with biting sanctions,” he says.

U.S. officials say that they are working on increasing pressure on Pyongyang through a range of measures designed to stem money flows to the regime, such as cracking down on illegal shipping and seeking to tighten controls on North Korea’s exports of laborers that work in near slave-like conditions around the world. North Korea sanctions enforcement bills have also been submitted to the U.S. House and Senate. [Wall Street Journal, Alastair Gale]

Let’s return to that topic later in this post. First, however, let’s turn to Anna Fifield of The Washington Post, who has published an important story for purposes of the next 18 months. Fifield reports that six years and two nuclear tests after President Obama’s inauguration, the administration has finally had an epiphany — that Kim Jong-Un isn’t interested in negotiating his nuclear disarmament after all. (South Korea may have reached the same epiphany.) This epiphany has caused the administration to consider a new strategy.

The Obama administration is instead focusing on human rights to further isolate North Korea, encouraged by the outbursts this approach has elicited from Kim’s stubbornly recalcitrant regime — apparently because the accusations cast aspersions at the leader and his legitimacy. [Washington Post, Anna Fifield]

Fifield then quotes Andrei Lankov, who characterizes human rights advocacy as “the next political infatuation.” It’s the sort of statement that causes me to wonder, as do more than a few of my friends, what has come over Andrei lately. It’s a statement that offends those of us whose infatuations are anything but transitory, and who’ve done years of hard work to keep this issue in the public’s eye.

This [pressure] is likely to increase as a U.N. committee reports back in October on a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights violations and seeking to refer its leaders to the International Criminal Court. It comes after a U.N. Commission of Inquiry released a landmark report last year, detailing abuses including torture and imprisonment in labor camps for political crimes, forced abortions and infanticide.

The administration intends to push for a Security Council resolution to “keep the issue alive” and “continue the drumbeat of criticism” despite its expectation that China will veto it.

“I think this focus on human rights is beginning to get their attention,” a senior State Department official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules imposed by the department. “We’ve been able to push on [the Commission of Inquiry report], and we are continuing to keep these efforts going.”

Unfortunately, however, China and Russia won’t be the only obstacles our diplomats will face this year. The current membership of the Security Council includes Angola, a customer of North Korea’s banned arms exports; Malaysia, which has commercial ties to North Korea and uses its slave labor; Nigeria, which recently signed an economic cooperation agreement with the North; and Venezuela (enough said). Worse, most of these problem states will be members of the Security Council through 2016. Beyond this, there is the awkwardness of pushing for an ICC referral when the U.S. hasn’t signed the Rome Statute itself. These aren’t reasons not to continue to press North Korea at the U.N., but they are substantial enough obstacles to give us pause about the strategy. Had we pressed for a Security Council vote last year, when the membership of the Security Council was more favorable, we would have at least isolated and shamed China and Russia. Today, it’s hardly assured that we’d win an absolute majority of the votes.

On the other hand, Pyongyang does seem genuinely worried about how the Commission of Inquiry’s findings affect its legitimacy.

“That’s what caused them some real concern. For the North Koreans, legitimacy is a big deal. It’s a question about the leader and his dignity,” Kirby said.

Fifield’s report points out that Pyongyang “has been engaging energetically” in the face of criticism of its human rights record, which is a gentle way of putting it. After one meeting, a North Korean diplomat was overheard calling a diplomat from Botswana (which cut its ties to Pyongyang over the COI report) a “black bastard.” At the Council on Foreign Relations, Pyongyang’s U.N. Ambassador Jang Il-Hun engaged in a bizarre dialogue with the unctuous Don Gregg, in which Jang denied the COI’s findings and boasted that the regime’s construction of water parks and ski resorts proves how much Kim Jong-Un has done for human rights. And there was this episode:

At a human rights panel in April hosted by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, North Korean diplomats mounted a noisy demonstration that led to their microphones being cut off. They were escorted from the hall by security officers.

As Fifield’s report notes, correctly, Pyongyang used to simply ignore criticism of its abuses. Now, it can’t. Hardly a day passes in which the Korean Central News Agency doesn’t publish a denunciation of the U.S. or South Korean “human rights racket.” It may or may not be true that Pyongyang has ordered the assassinations of the North Korean refugees who denounced the regime’s abuses, but Pyongyang is clearly shaken. This causes Bill Newcomb — formerly with the CIA, State, Treasury, and the U.N. Panel of Experts — to recall the last time the U.S. had a strategy that seized Pyongyang’s undivided attention:

Pyongyang’s reactions to the human rights push have been similar to its visceral reaction to American financial sanctions in 2005, said William Newcomb, a former Treasury official who served on a special U.N. panel of experts on sanctions against North Korea.

By sanctioning Banco Delta Asia, a small bank based in Macau that handled North Korean money, the United States effectively cut off North Korea’s access to the international financial system. That brought Pyongyang back to the nuclear negotiating table.

“I perceive their response as being similar to how they reacted once they realized what had been done to them via BDA — and that took a while to sink in,” Newcomb said. “Even then, they really didn’t understand how BDA could be leveraged to have lasting negative consequences on their access to the international finance system.

Those who oppose sanctions for policy reasons often deny that financial pressure worked against Pyongyang. Professor John Park, for example, argues that sanctions have only made Pyongyang more resilient, which is like advocating the use of aromatherapy to treat TB because some strains of TB have become drug-resistant. Of course, some strains of TB have become drug-resistant — either because doctors administer low doses of antibiotics, or because patients don’t finish the doses doctors give them, which allows mycobacterium tuberculosis the opportunity to survive, adapt, and replicate in resistant forms. In the same manner, our current weak sanctions against Pyongyang have allowed it to adapt and resist.

It is time for stronger medicine. History has shown us that when sanctions are concerted and strong, North Korea’s isolation becomes its greatest vulnerability. The regime (unlike its downtrodden subjects) remains dependent on hard currency and imported luxuries. According to those who were inside the Bush Administration at the time, and those who covered the BDA story, the pressure was extremely effective. Newcomb sees comparisons between Pyongyang’s stunned reaction to the actions against BDA and denunciation of its crimes against humanity.

Now, imagine the effect on Pyongyang if financial sanctions were our mechanism for sanctioning its crimes against humanity. There is ample precedent for this. The Treasury Department has blocked the assets of Sudanese officials for human rights violations in Darfur. It has blocked the assets of senior Iranian officials for “perpetrating human rights abuses” and Iranian companies for “activities that limit the freedom of expression or assembly.” It has blocked the assets of the leaders of Belarus for “undermining democratic processes or institutions.” It has blocked the assets of the leaders of Zimbabwe (search “mugabe”) and their third-country enablers and cronies for “undermining Zimbabwe’s democratic processes and institutions or facilitating public corruption.” Following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, it blocked the assets of more than a dozen men simply because they are “officials of the Russian government.” Until recently, it had sanctioned members of Burma’s ruling junta for human rights violations and for “military trade with North Korea,” meaning that the administration had sanctioned senior Burmese officials for (among other reasons) buying arms from North Korea, but no senior North Korean officials for selling them to Burma.

To this day, the U.S. government has not made a serious or sustained effort to block the billions in misspent assets of Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Un, or any senior North Korean official — not one. The legal authority to do this, Executive Order 13687, is already in place. It would allow President Obama to sanction every member of the National Defense Committee and the Organization and Guidance Department at the stroke of a pen.

There is no question that sanctions are most effective when we invest diplomatic resources in getting other countries to enforce them. If the U.N. is temporarily hostile and congenitally paralyzed, there is fresh evidence that Europe may be willing to work with us to tighten sanctions against Pyongyang. Viewed in this light, might our limited diplomatic resources be better spent on a campaign of progressive diplomacy that begins with our friends in Europe and Japan, then South Korea, and other wavering states? The combined economic power of these states alone might be sufficient to pressure North Korea to either change or collapse. They could also combine their economic power to force China and Russia, whose economies are both reeling today, to enforce the sanctions they’ve already voted for in the Security Council.

Whatever the strategy, it is important to keep pressing the issue at every U.N. forum where we can continue to publicize Pyongyang’s crimes. It is important that we do this, not because it makes a good bargaining chip for some other purpose, but because it is important to achieve improvements in human rights in North Korea. After 20 years and countless deaths, vague strategies of “engagement” and “dialogue” toward that end will no longer do.

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Can the UNHCR address North Korea’s human rights crisis, despite Ban Ki-Moon?

At long last, the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights has opened its new field office in Seoul. Its mandates will be as follows:

  • Strengthen monitoring and documentation of the situation of human rights as steps towards establishing accountability in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Enhance engagement and capacity-building with the Governments of all States concerned, civil society and other stakeholders
  • Maintain visibility of the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea including through sustained communications, advocacy and outreach initiatives

The U.N. picks up this work after a lost year, in which China and Russia prevented the Security Council from acting on the February 2014 report of a U.N. Commission of Inquiry, finding the North Korean government responsible for “crimes against humanity, arising from ‘policies established at the highest level of State.’” Those crimes include “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” All of these crimes went unanswered because no one made China and Russia pay a political price for shielding their perpetuation, least of all the nominal of leader of the U.N. itself.

If the UNHCR takes its mandates seriously, it still could do much to attach political, diplomatic, and eventually, financial costs to Pyongyang’s crimes against humanity. UNHCR investigations could help to separate established fact from rumor and disinformation, test the credibility of claims and counterclaims, report on and publicize the facts it establishes, humanize the victims, and keep the rights of the North Korean people in the public eye and on the diplomatic agenda. Ultimately, its findings could build support for an international movement, along the lines of the movements that isolated South Africa and Sudan.

Judging by its reaction, Pyongyang also recognizes this potential. It has called the opening of the field office an “unpardonable hideous politically-motivated provocation and an open declaration of a war,” threatening “revenge” and “harsh punishment,” and written that the field office “will be the first target of its merciless punishment and strike immediately the office is set up in south Korea.”

Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry also threatened Seoul for hosting the field office, calling it a “hideous politically motivated provocation challenging [the North’s] the dignity and social system.” Its counterpart to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, has threatened to “mercilessly punish” South Korea, and threatened “‘catastrophic’ consequences” in relations between the Koreas. But then, Pyongyang says that the human rights issue in the North is “non-existent,” which unwittingly validates the need for the office.

High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein hasn’t escaped Pyongyang’s charm offensive, either. Uriminzokkiri recently called him “a mediocre peddler of cheap goods.”

Hussein responded to at least some of this, calling the “threats from a member state” of the U.N. “deeply regrettable and unbecoming of that member state.” (What’s really unbecoming of the U.N. is that North Korea is still a member at all.) Threats notwithstanding, Hussein promised that “the U.N. will continue to work to highlight the dire human rights situation in North Korea and pressure the Kim Jong Un regime to change.” He added, “The fact that this U.N. human rights office in Seoul is now a reality and will start fully operating in a month or so is a sign that the commission’s work is starting to bear fruit.”

(Similarly, Pyongyang has also threatened the United States last month with “tougher countermeasures” over a new State Department report criticizing its human rights conditions as “among the worst in the world.” The North Korean threat came just a week after another State Department report concluded that North Korea is not known to have supported an act of terrorism since 1987, which is a lie. Also last week, South Korean police stated that a pro-North Korean attacker who slashed the face of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert—for which North Korea almost immediately expressed its approval—was inspired by North Korean propaganda. Discuss among yourselves.)

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U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki Moon was a no-show for the office’s opening, although just three weeks earlier, he tried to visit Kaesong, North Korea, only to be turned away by the North Koreans. But despite Ban’s absence, the field office has had a modestly good beginning. The office’s publicity, and its bilingual posts and tweets, are finding their way into the newspapers. As such, they will force a younger generation of South Koreans to pay some attention to issues their elders spent the last two decades ignoring.

“Less than 50 miles from here lies another world marked by the utmost deprivation,” Hussein said in a statement to mark the opening, referring to the North.

“The Seoul office will monitor and document human rights issues in (North Korea), building on the landmark work of the commission of inquiry and special rapporteur. We firmly believe this will help the basis for future accountability,” he said.

Many North Koreans have escaped to find a new life in the South, but millions remain “trapped in the grip of a totalitarian system which not only denies their freedom but increasingly their basic survival needs”, he added.

Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson described the new UN office as a “critical step forward” in the campaign to end North Korea’s “systematic and pervasive human rights abuses”. [AFP]

There is much work for the UNHCR to do. A new report from the Korean Institute for National Unification alleges that North Korea carried out 1,382 known public executions since 2000, the year Kim Jong Il met Kim Dae Jung, although the “actual number of public executions is presumed to be higher.” This figure certainly excludes many more hidden executions, deaths in labor camps, and culpably preventable deaths due to starvation and disease.

Shortly after the field office opened, some of the 27,000 North Korean refugees living in the South presented it with a list of 180 of their countrymen whom they believed were held at Camp 15, one large camp within North Korea’s gulag, as of 2000. Some estimates hold that 20% of the prisoners die from starvation, disease, torture, and arbitrary execution each year. And soon, a defector’s evidence may confirm whether there is a modern-day Mengele at work inside North Korea.

~   ~   ~

It’s also worth noting that 20 “activists” of another kind protested against the opening of the office, “saying it would be used to ‘bring down’ the North Korean government”—as if that would be a bad thing—and “aggravate strained inter-Korean relations.”

To be sure, there is a hard core of North Korean sympathizers in South Korea, but many other South Koreans will be ambivalent about the UNHCR’s work, and will eventually be tempted to throttle it. If North Korea’s most successful political strategy has been its appeal to ethnic nationalism, its most successful diplomatic strategy has been to lure governments into commercial ventures that never quite transform the North, and talks that never quite disarm it, but which keep them too conflicted to choose between their principles and their own short-term interests. Consequently, many South Koreans in the squishy center share Pyongyang’s view that any inter-Korean contact is a privilege—for the South, that is.

Pyongyang is already linking the establishment of the field office to inter-Korean contacts, such as a sporting event in Gwangju, to pressure Seoul. Pyongyang’s strategy appears to be to force the South Korean government to choose between abolishing (or more plausibly, muzzling) the field office, or going without the pleasure of its company.

North Korea reiterated its strong opposition against the opening of a U.N. human rights office in Seoul via its state-controlled media, warning that the move has made the possibility of improved bilateral ties “hardly imaginable.”

[….]

The Rodong Sinmun, an official newspaper of the North’s ruling Communist Party of Korea, slammed the South for establishing the office.

“The puppet forces’ hosting of such ‘office’ for confrontation in Seoul which no country in the world dared do is as a foolish an act as planting a time bomb in their house,” the paper was quoted as saying in the English dispatch of the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“Dialogue and improved relations between the north and the south can hardly be imaginable,” it said, adding, “It is the steadfast will and determination of the DPRK to mercilessly punish those who are keen to hurt its dignity and social system.” [Yonhap]

That strategy is likely to have some success during Park Geun-Hye’s administration, which has always seemed ambivalent about pressing the human rights issue. It would almost certainly be even more successful under a left-leaning South Korean government, and the law of pendulums suggests we’ll soon see one of those.

It is particularly likely to succeed if the next President of South Korea is the current U.N. General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon. It is one of Washington’s worst-kept secrets that Ban intends to run in South Korea’s 2017 presidential election. As Foreign Minister under Roh Moo Hyun, Ban was the executor of Roh’s appeasement policies. For a more detailed criticism of Ban’s record in office in South Korea, I’ll refer you to this 2006 post.

As Foreign Minister, Ban was architect and executor of a no-questions-asked appeasement policy toward North Korea. During those years, North Korea’s human rights record was the worst on earth, and probably the worst since the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Kim Jong Il’s absolutist regime, supported by $7 billion in South Korean aid since 1994, stands accused of racial infanticide, the use of gas chambers for horrific chemical weapons on entire families, and a politically selective famine that “cleansed” North Korea of millions while the regime went on an arms-buying spree. North Korea’s forced labor camps are estimated to hold as many as 250,000 people,* including thousands of children.

Ban and his government had little to say and nothing to ask as these atrocities went on, and go on to this very day. When resolutions condemning these crimes came before the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and later, the General assembly, South Korea’s ambassadors were instructed to either refuse to vote or abstain. Publicly, Ban’s government failed to raise more than one mild, belated, token call to improve human rights in the North, and then, only in the most vague and general sense and in response to withering criticism from abroad.

As General Secretary, Ban validated my worst suspicions by devoting token attention, at best, to the North Korean human rights issue. He continues to prioritize appeasement over human rights.

Consider, for example, Ban’s recent comments about the Kaesong Industrial Park, despite long-standing criticism from human rights groups that it violates the labor rights of the workers, and despite the Treasury Department’s long-standing concerns about how North Korea spends the money it earns from Kaesong. Ban, however, sees no down-side to Kaesong, nor any need to bound it with any principled conditions:

“All parties would benefit from renewed engagement and commitment to genuine dialogue. It is essential for building trust and promoting inter-Korean relations,” Ban said at an education forum in the South Korean city of Incheon, adding he aimed to make the visit on Thursday.

“The Kaesong project is a win-win model for both Koreas,” he said.

“I hope my visit will provide a positive impetus to further develop it and expand to other areas,” he said. [Reuters]

But as I argued here, engagement programs like Kaesong haven’t raised North Korea’s standards; they’ve lowered South Korea’s standards, and diluted the pressure needed to force North Korea to disarm–pressure that is the logical basis of five U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Perhaps I fret too much over the electoral hopes of Narcolepsy Patient Zero. But Ban–and the many other Koreans who share his world view–can still do plenty of damage to the UNHCR’s work. By extension, they can also damage the argument for a world where institutions preempt violence by addressing the humanitarian crises that inevitably lead to war. I would argue that Ban’s failure to speak up for his countrymen in North Korea is an exemplar of his tenure at the U.N. Among the following international crises that occurred during Ban’s tenure, how many have the U.N. or Ban himself addressed effectively: (a) Syria, (b) Ukraine, (c) Ebola, (d) climate change, (e) the South China Sea, or (f) the disintegration of Iraq and the rise of ISIS?** Not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’re fundamentally opposed to a strong, activist United Nations. But what a shame if you still think the U.N. might have played a useful role in any of these crises.

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* More current estimates range between 80,000 and 120,000.

** Or, I might have added, Iran’s Green Revolution, Boko Haram, Sudan, Libya, or Yemen.

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