Archive for Human Rights

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

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

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

Self-described feminist Christine Ahn was not available for comment

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

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

Australian MP calls for divestment from mining venture in N. Korea

To maintain its iron-fisted hold over the North Korean population, the Pyongyang regime needs hard currency, and it is clear that these projects could provide billions of dollars to the North Korean leadership.” [Michael Danby, MP]

It won’t surprise you that I oppose any investment in an unreformed North Korea that continues to slaughter its own people and menace its neighbors. I believe that those who justify investment as a driver of reform have it completely backwards, that investing in the status quo only perpetuates and reenforces it, and that denying the regime the hard currency that sustains it is the only way to force change. As the North Korea human rights movement gains strength, I hope it will catalyze a divestment movement like the one that helped destroy apartheid.

But that’s not the only question I have about this particular investment. The Australian concern peddling this project is a British Virgin Islands-registered company called “SRE Minerals Limited,” which is doing so as part of a joint venture with a North Korean entity known as the “Natural Resources Trading Company of the DPRK,” or alternatively, as “Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation.” North Korea watchers know that as a general matter, “North Korea’s mining resources are a major source of revenue for its nuclear and missile programs.” But what about this specific entity?

As the U.N. Panel of Experts recently reminded us, North Korean entities are notorious for their use of multiple similar aliases. Recalling something familiar about the name of that North Korean entity, I checked the SDN list and found several entities designated under executive orders 13382 or 13551 that have suspiciously similar names:

KU’MHAERYONG COMPANY LTD (a.k.a. CHO’NGSONG UNITED TRADING COMPANY; a.k.a. CHONGSONG YONHAP; a.k.a. CH’O’NGSONG YO’NHAP; a.k.a. CHOSUN CHAWO’N KAEBAL T’UJA HOESA; a.k.a. GREEN PINE ASSOCIATED CORPORATION; a.k.a. JINDALLAE; a.k.a. NATURAL RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT AND INVESTMENT CORPORATION; a.k.a. SAENGP’IL COMPANY), c/o Reconnaissance General Bureau Headquarters, Hyongjesan-Guyok, Pyongyang, Korea, North; Nungrado, Pyongyang, Korea, North [DPRK].

NATURAL RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT AND INVESTMENT CORPORATION (a.k.a. CHO’NGSONG UNITED TRADING COMPANY; a.k.a. CHONGSONG YONHAP; a.k.a. CH’O’NGSONG YO’NHAP; a.k.a. CHOSUN CHAWO’N KAEBAL T’UJA HOESA; a.k.a. GREEN PINE ASSOCIATED CORPORATION; a.k.a. JINDALLAE; a.k.a. KU’MHAERYONG COMPANY LTD; a.k.a. SAENGP’IL COMPANY), c/o Reconnaissance General Bureau Headquarters, Hyongjesan-Guyok, Pyongyang, Korea, North; Nungrado, Pyongyang, Korea, North [DPRK].

CHANGGWANG SINYONG CORPORATION (a.k.a. EXTERNAL TECHNOLOGY GENERAL CORPORATION; a.k.a. KOREA KUMRYONG TRADING COMPANY; a.k.a. KOREA MINING DEVELOPMENT TRADING CORPORATION; a.k.a. NORTH KOREAN MINING DEVELOPMENT TRADING CORPORATION; a.k.a. “KOMID”), Central District, Pyongyang, Korea, North [NPWMD].

To be clear, neither the “Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation” nor the “Natural Resources Trading Company of the DPRK” is on the SDN list, but can anyone establish whether it is or isn’t an alias or subsidiary of one of the listed, blocked entities? I’ve put the question to Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control; in the end, it’s their job to clarify that.

Perhaps one of my journalist friends can pursue this further.

John Kerry was right about North Korea (and so was John Bolton)

More than six months after a U.N. Commission of Inquiry found Kim Jong Un responsible for crimes against humanity, our State Department has offered no credible or coherent policy response to that report. At least it hadn’t until last week, when our Secretary of State, John Kerry — no doubt, after much agonizing deliberation — finally authorized the deployment of precision-guided tactical ballistic words:

“But make no mistake, we are also speaking out about the horrific human rights situation,” Kerry said. “We strongly supported the extraordinary United Nation’s investigation this year that revealed other grotesque cruelty of North Korea’s system of labor camps and executions.

“Such deprivation of human dignity just has no place in the 21st century. North Korea’s gulags should be shut down, not tomorrow, not next week, but now, and we will continue to speak out on this topic,” he said.

Kerry also said that the U.S. “will continue to promote human rights and democracy in Asia without arrogance but also without apology.” [Yonhap]

North Korea’s reaction to this was predictable and characteristic. It accused John Kerry of being a neocon pursuing a regime change agenda through fabricated accusations.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry let loose a spate of invectives against the DPRK over its “human rights issue” in a speech on the U.S. “Asia policy” held in Hawaii recently.

Unfit for his position, Kerry pulled up the DPRK, telling sheer lies and citing groundless data. This is the most undisguised expression of the U.S. inveterate repugnancy and hostile policy toward the DPRK. [....]

Lurking behind this is a sinister political aim to tarnish the DPRK’s image at any cost and stir up the international understanding that its social system is the object to be removed by force of arms in a bid to justify the U.S. and south Korean warmongers’ military threat. 

In recent years the U.S. has become noisy in its anti-DPRK “human rights” racket not because of any sincere interest in improving “human rights” but in pursuance of its design to bring down the social system of the DPRK under the pretext of “human rights issue”. [....]

In the DPRK the popular masses enjoy genuine rights as true masters of the country and human rights are strictly guaranteed by the state law. [Korean Central News Agency (Pyongyang)]

In a separate Korean-language piece, which did not translate into English very well, North Korea called Kerrya wolf with a ‘hideous lantern jaw.’” North Korea’s derogation of the appearance of foreign leaders is odd, given that its propagandists have inadvertently acknowledged their absolute monarch’s resemblance to a post-op Chaz Bono.

Still, let’s at least be objective enough to acknowledge that both Kerry and the North Koreans make valid points. Our Secretary does look a bit like Jay Leno — if Harry Reid had embalmed him — and such a fearsome mandible might just be capable of masticating unshelled Brazil nuts. I could go on, but I’ve done enough work for the North Koreans for one night.

Of course, it is Kerry who speaks the greater part of the truth. Not only were his assertions true, but it was important for him to make them, because by failing to make them, he would have acceded to one of the greatest outrages of our age. I don’t think John Kerry has been a very good Secretary of State — for example, I’m skeptical that he’ll execute a North Korea policy that goes beyond talk — but differences of policy shouldn’t divide us so much that they blind us to what is true and what must be said, no matter who says it, and regardless of one’s party affiliation, preference, or bias.

Mr Bolton said that while Kim Jong-il lived like royalty, for millions of his people, life was a “hellish nightmare”. “While he lives like royalty in Pyongyang, he keeps hundreds of thousands of his people locked in prison camps with millions more mired in abject poverty, scrounging the ground for food,” he said. [BBC]

Naturally, Kerry was statesmanlike enough to join with his colleague across the aisle and associate himself with this necessary denunciation. Right?

At a critical moment with North Korea, in a speech that he gave in Seoul, that he attacked Kim Jung-Il, whom we all attacked, we all dislike, we all recognize is, you know, someone we’d love to see removed or in a different–you know, not leading that country; but, on the other hand, at this critical moment, to almost 50 times in one speech personally vilify him, was to almost guarantee the outcome of the diplomatic effort that he was engaged in. [Sen. Exec. Rept. 109-1, May 18, 2005]

By now, you’ve guessed that the critic was then-Senator John Kerry, in a confirmation hearing on John Bolton’s nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Most of the news coverage of Bolton at the time largely mirrored Kerry’s criticism. It was cited as a reason for calling Bolton “controversial” and “an iconoclast” who “shattered diplomatic niceties and stirred anger.” Hardly a word was written about the temperamental immaturity of North Korea’s language.

There is, of course, no such reaction to Kerry’s tiff with the North Koreans in the newspapers today, nor should there be. So what justifies the distinction? If the moment (2003) when Bolton spoke those words was critical, the words themselves don’t seem to have spoiled the diplomatic ambience too badly. After calling Bolton a “scum and human bloodsucker” and refusing further negotiations with him, North Korea negotiated with another diplomat more to its liking instead. At the time, The New York Times said that Bolton’s absence was “to the relief of North Korean officials and not a few State Department colleagues” (colleagues of whom?). But let’s pick that back up again in a moment.

If we are not at an equally critical moment today, it is only because the Obama Administration’s North Korea policy — to the extent there is a policy at all — is so completely stalled, and North Korea has shown no interest in returning to the talks that our Secretary of State is waiting for it to show up for. Other than that, the clearest difference between Kerry’s statement and Bolton’s is that only one of them was made by the Secretary of State.

I don’t deny that the Bush policy on human rights in North Korea was also all talk, and I also recognize the Bush Administration’s responsibility for deepening the difficulty of Obama and Kerry’s position, if only because it eventually adopted a policy very much like the one that Kerry had advocated.

Ironically, the outcome that Kerry hoped for in May 2005 was North Korea’s signature on an agreement to disarm. The Bush Administration would not only achieve that very outcome four months later, it would also achieve it all over again in 2007! If that sounds like an outstanding record, it isn’t. Let’s just hope that Kerry isn’t vilifying Kim Jong Il’s son and heir today as part of his master plan to guarantee an equally successful outcome.

~   ~   ~

Update: The State Department declines to respond to North Korea’s comments.

First as tragedy, then as farce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must hear: Kurt Achin’s podcast from Hack North Korea

I think Thor Halvorssen is my new idol.

Most people believe that the North Korean government — and emphasis on government — is an issue that should be addressed by governments, or by a collection of governments. Well, we believe in helping people. We believe in peer-to-peer networks.

We are not interested in, you know, running to the U.N., which has been oh-so-extraordinary at stopping genocides from occurring — that’s dripping in sarcasm. We don’t believe the United Nations is going to be the place that’s going to bring about change. Neither do we believe that the U.S. State Department, by sending billions of dollars in cash to buy, you know, more Johnny Walker Blue or to hire more Swedish hookers is going to make Kim Jong Un change.

You’re dealing with a psychopath, and a family of psychopaths. They only respond to punishment. Psychopaths do not respond to incentives; they respond to disincentives. And the North Korean government, ultimately, is going to have to be overthrown by its own people, or by a collection of folks in the military.

No occupation army is going to succeed there. No war is going to be able to do this in a way that is more efficient, less problematic for the country in the long term, than an internal situation. And that internal situation will only come — a true revolution for liberty — will only come with information, and when people are inspired to do so. And we will, of course, do as much as our resources permits to hack North Korea and assist people inside North Korea who wish to be free.

How refreshingly relevant this is to the actual advancement of human rights, after years of watching the stuffy, politicized impotence of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. (It should not escape your notice that neither group has done anything of significance to support a credible response to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report. Maybe they’ve been too focused on shilling for Hamas, or hosting Kim Il Sung propaganda exhibitions.)

If you have some money to give, consider a donation to HRF.

Me talk pretty

A reader forwarded me this link of a speech I gave to members of the Korean Church Coalition at the National Press Club last month, and I thought I’d post it here.

Since that day, I’ve wanted to say just how impressed I was by the young, mostly Korean-American members of the KCC. If you watch this on YouTube, videos of their speeches are linked at the sidebar, or at the end of this video. Do yourself a favor and watch a few of them. There wasn’t a pierced eyebrow or tattoo in sight that day — just the sort of clean, poised, articulate, and confident young people the very sight and sound of whom can restore your faith in the future of your country.

It’s not just appearances, either. A few young Korean-American over-achievers — two of them from northern Virginia — have found a technological exploit around Pyongyang’s information firewall (second item).

Consider: we live in the kind of country that collects and incubates the best talent of Korea’s diaspora. No combination is as powerful as the combination of character and intellect. Put that combination into the ideal incubator and it exerts an irresistible liberating force on that diaspora’s ancestral homeland.

Wanted: Information about North Korea’s cell phone tracking gear

THE DAILY NK REPORTS that North Korean border guards are shaking down and extorting border-area residents suspected of making illegal cross-border phone calls:

Secret agents in border areas of North Korea are extorting payoffs from residents in exchange for keeping silent about illicit international phone calls, an inside source has reported to Daily NK. 

The source in North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on July 22nd,  “At the beginning of this year they installed radio wave detectors around here to pick up signals from illegal calls. Calling out from much of the Hoeryong region has become much more difficult.” 

This extortion is possible because the regime brought in new 24-hour radio wave detectors at the beginning of the year, which makes it much easier to detect the calls. I’d bet good money that someone in China (or some other foreign country) sold those detectors to the North Koreans, and I’d really, really like to find ouyt the name of that company. And rat them out.

However, security agents are often prepared to let the activity go on in exchange for a portion of any remittances residents may receive from family overseas, the source said.

She explained, “In areas like the Yuseon district of Hoeryong and Heungam in Musan the detection equipment exists but making calls isn’t a problem” as long as you “fork over 20% of the wired funds you received.”  [Daily NK]

Still, the fact that guards are taking bribes is worse than the alternative. It means that there are holes in the net.

Refugees, geeks to join forces at “Hack North Korea”

The Human Rights Foundation, “a New York-based group that focuses on closed societies,” will host a two-day “hackathon” this coming weekend to “harness the technical prowess of Silicon Valley to come up with new ways to get information safely into North Korea.” The event’s title is “Hack North Korea.”

Several prominent North Korean defectors will attend the event including pro-democracy activist Park Sang-hak, former North Korean child prisoner Kang Chol-hwan, media personality Park Yeon-mi and Kim Heung-Kwang, a former professor in computer studies in North Korea. They are expected to speak on the methods currently used to get information into the country, which include CDs and DVDs, USB sticks, shortwave radio, and leaflets dropped from balloons.

Organisers said they are not encouraging hacking in the sense of gaining unauthorised access to data, but is instead hoping to “spark better ideas for getting information into the world’s most closed and isolated society”. 

“Participants will become familiar with the various ways that information and truth are smuggled into North Korea today, and gain an understanding of the technology landscape inside the country. Then, guided by our North Korean guests, attendees will break into teams to come up with new ways to help end the Kim dictatorship’s monopoly of information on the 25 million people living under its rule,” HRF said. [The Guardian]

You can read about some of the specific questions the hackathon will explore here.

My friend, Kurt Achin, who has been interested in subversive technology for years, will be attending Hack North Korea, and I’m hoping he’ll bring back a good report of the ideas under discussion. (Incidentally, Kurt podcasts for NK News, and you can subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud. The interview with Justice Michael Kirby alone is worth the visit, and all the podcasts are free.)

Some of the materials HRF has launched into North Korea so far have been explicitly political and subversive, including “pro-democracy materials,” “DVDs with South Korean dramas,” and English-language versions of Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, the methods, including balloons, have been primitive. And while those things do teach North Koreans about how we earth people live, I think we overestimate their ignorance of us, and underestimate their ignorance of each other.

Look — I’m the last one to oppose against the idea of subverting North Korea, and I’ve long supported Park Sang-Hak’s balloon launches for their global propaganda value alone. But I don’t think our propaganda will be the thing that really destabilizes North Korea. The end will come because of a combination of North Koreans’ own sui generis grievances, and their acquisition of the means to express them collectively.

North Korea won’t fall because of what we tell them, but because of what they tell each other. The spark will be a popular backlash against prices, corruption, labor mobilizations, unsafe living and working conditions, a botched disaster response, ration cuts, land and crop seizures, wage stagnation, fiscal policy, or market restrictions. Or, all of those things. If we give them the means to talk about them, the rest is all inevitable and imminent.

When North Koreans can buy cheap smart phones in markets, and use them for texting, electronic banking, checking market prices, and emailing friends and co-conspirators, both domestically and internationally, and without fear of being monitored, that will cause a rapid shift in North Korea’s internal balance of power. That’s what I hope to see come out of Hack North Korea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’d be surprised how much tougher our Zimbabwe and Belarus sanctions are than our North Korea sanctions.

The Treasury Department has just tightened its sanctions regulations on … Zimbabwe, more than doubling the number of Zimbabwean entities on Treasury’s List of Specially Designated Nationals (called the SDN List) from 77 to 161, including “President” Robert Mugabe, his wife, and his son. The sanctions are largely directed at the Mugabe regime’s human rights violations, corruption, and subversion of the democratic process. Here, from Treasury’s Federal Register notice, is a summary of what those sanctions do:

Section 1(a) of E.O. 13469 blocks, with certain exceptions, all property and interests in property that are in the United States, that come within the United States, or that are or come within the possession or control of United States persons, including their overseas branches, of any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, after consultation with the Secretary of State: 

(i) To be a senior official of the Government of Zimbabwe;

(ii) to be owned or controlled by, directly or indirectly, the Government of Zimbabwe or an official or officials of the Government of Zimbabwe;

(iii) to have engaged in actions or policies to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions;

(iv) to be responsible for, or to have participated in, human rights abuses related to political repression in Zimbabwe;

(v) to be engaged in, or to have engaged in, activities facilitating public corruption by senior officials of the Government of Zimbabwe;

(vi) to be a spouse or dependent child of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13288, E.O. 13391, or E.O. 13469;

(vii) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, the Government of Zimbabwe, any senior official thereof, or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13288, E.O. 13391, or E.O. 13469; or

(viii) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13288, E.O. 13391, or E.O. 13469.

The property and interests in property of the persons described above may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in. [79 Fed. Reg. at 39313]

Read together, the old and new rules effectively block all of Robert Mugabe’s closest relatives and key minions out of the global financial system, and specifically penalize (and therefore, deter) activities in furtherance of stealing public funds or votes, censoring free expression, or abusing the human rights of Zimbabweans.

Treasury’s new amendments to the Zimbabwe sanctions regulations tighten existing rules against facilitating or evading the existing sanctions, including a new requirement to obtain an OFAC license before donating food, clothing, or medicine to an entity on the SDN list. They even take the extraordinary step of blocking the assets of family members of those designated. Implicitly, they allow for the designation of entities that use non-dollar currencies to evade these sanctions, allowing for those enablers to be barred from the dollar system as well.

Our North Korea sanctions authorities consist of Executive Order 13466, in which President Bush lifted most of our previous sanctions but preserved some restrictions and the blocking of certain property; Executive Order 13551, which blocks the property of named entities involved in proliferation, weapons trafficking, and money laundering in a non-comprehensive way; Executive Order 13570, which imposes import sanctions; and regulations at 31 C.F.R. Part. 510. Now, how many of the above sanctions from the Zimbabwe regulations appear in North Korea-specific sanctions authorities? If you answered “none,” go get yourself a cookie.

This comparison chart, now slightly outdated, should give you the general idea — our North Korea sanctions are some of the weakest that we bother to maintain against any country. Note the empty squares indicating the lack of “comprehensive” or “financial” sanctions against North Korea, despite everything we’ve learned about how well they worked.

At the top of this post, I told you that 161 Zimbabwean entities are sanctioned. Wanna know how many are designated under North Korea-specific sanctions authorities? Seven. An additional 11 individuals and 25 entities are designated under Executive Order 13382, a Bush-era executive order that isn’t specific to North Korea, but authorizes sanctions against entities trafficking in WMD components and technology. I didn’t count, but it’s likely that most of those entities were designated during Bush’s first term. (I’ve pasted the full list of 43 designated North Korean entities below the fold.)

In case you’re wondering, no, Kim Jong Un, his royal family, and his senior government officials are not listed. The only sanctioned entities of any national consequence are Bureau 39 and the Foreign Trade Bank. The others are largely front companies, minor government ministries, and officials that are as easily replaced as whacked moles.

We can extend this comparison further. Slobodan Milosevic — a dead guy — still appears on the SDN List years after his death (presumably, to prevent the misuse of his estate’s assets). He is one of 231 “persons”* still designated under the Balkans sanctions program, two decades after the end of the Balkans wars. Treasury was so thorough in its targeting that it named many individual alleged war criminals by their nomes-de-guerre.

Alexander Lukashenko, the President of the neo-Soviet fossil state called Belarus, is one of about 50 “persons” designated under the Belarus sanctions program, along with his Justice Minister, KGB head, and the officials in charge of Belarus’s media and “elections.” Let no one say that the targeting of a head of state or a state’s top officials is unprecedented because sensitivities to the state’s powerful sponsor are too great.

The SDN List designates 164 “persons” as part of the Burma sanctions program, including Beijing-based China Focus Development Company. Let no one say that China’s economic links to its oppressive satellites are inviolable.

A whopping 397* “persons” are designated under the Cuba sanctions program, including what must be every website domain name registered in Cuba, and curiously, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. (Oddly enough, Fidel and Raul Castro are not designated.)

[*It's likely that I counted a few aliases in these numbers.]

So many Iranian entities are listed — the number clearly runs into the hundreds — that I didn’t have the courage to count them all. Iran sanctions are clearly a small industry, but you can’t deny that Treasury’s focus has gotten results.

Hundreds of other targets are designated under Executive Order 13224, authorizing sanctions against terrorists, their sponsors, and their organizations.

Now, I’m no fan of Robert Mugabe, or any of these other regimes. I spent a few nervous days there in 1990 — and those were much better days for Zimbabweans — and the place certainly felt like a dictatorship. I don’t doubt that Mugabe deserves everything President Obama has dropped on him, but would anyone argue that Zimbabwe represents a strategic threat to the United States or to global peace? Or that its human rights abuses, however tragic, compare to the scale of those going on in North Korea?

When your list of sanctioned entities runs into the triple digits and you publish frequent updates to the list of Specially Designated Nationals, it means you’re serious about sanctioning your target. If, as in the case of North Korea, you’ve sanctioned a paltry three-and-a-half dozen over an entire damn decade, it means you aren’t. This, along with the Obama Administration’s utter inaction five months after the release of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report, can only mean that President Obama is either disinterested in or unserious about addressing North Korea’s proliferation, money laundering, threats to peace, or crimes against humanity — even as he sanctions serious but less severe violations in Zimbabwe, Belarus, and other places.

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Benefit concert this Sunday at the Kennedy Center

On Sunday, June 29th, 7:30 p.m., at the Kennedy Center, the lovely ladies of the Ahn Trio will perform in a benefit concert for Shin Dong-Hyok’s NGO, Inside NK:

Inside NK presents the Ahn Trio in a concert performance featuring works by Bunch, Piazzolla, and Balakrishnan. Hailed as “exacting and exciting musicians” by the Los Angeles Times, the three sisters of the Ahn Trio have earned a distinguished reputation for embracing 21st century classical music with their unique style and innovative collaborations. 

This special evening will be hosted by Washington reporter and news anchor Kathy Park. Special remarks will be offered by the Hon. Robert R. King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and Shin Donghyuk, Founder and Executive Director of Inside NK. [link]

Yes, the wonderfully named Dietlinde Turban—doesn’t it sound like the name of a woman who rides in the back of a Bugatti and uses a cigarette holder?—is the wife of Lorin Maazel, about whom I wrote some nasty things about here and here several years ago, none of which I regret. Let’s hope some of her good sense has rubbed off on him.

ROK Human Rights Ambassador uses “G” word at congressional hearing

You can watch yesterday’s hearing before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations at this link. I don’t have time to hit all of the main points, but broadly —

(1) I was astonished by the strength of Amb. Lee Jong-hoon’s remarks. Lee is South Korea’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights. Along with his prepared statement, he presented this report by the British law firm Hogan Lovells, which draws from the U.N. COI report’s evidence and concludes that, yes, in fact, the facts presented may indeed constitute genocide (the COI report itself stopped short of saying this).

Whether the selective starvation of the “hostile” class is genocide depends on which definition of genocide you use. One of them, as I wrote here years ago, is a narrow one that Stalin favored, to define the term below his own extermination of class enemies. But under any definition, the extermination of Christians and half-Chinese babies ought to count. If you’re reading, Samantha Power, open the link to the Hogan Lovells report, bookmark it, and read it when you can spare a moment. North Korea is your Rwanda.

In responding to members’ questions, Lee also proposed, among other things, a global campaign against North Korea’s human rights violations like the one against apartheid-era South Africa, and using sanctions to target North Korea’s foreign assets and enablers. I’m reliably informed that behind the scenes, however, not all parts of the South Korean government share Lee’s views about this. What South Korea says and what it does are often very different things. (It will be important for Korean-Americans to pressure the South Korean government, even as they also pressure the U.S. government.)

Maybe Ambassador Lee was given a script by someone in the Blue House who wants to pacify people like me, but whoever wrote that script has to know that people in Pyongyang read this site and watch congressional testimony. Or maybe, different parts of Park’s government are deeply divided about what to do about North Korea. If Lee’s statement is evidence of that, it would not be the first such evidence I’ve seen.

(2) How does Shin Dong Hyok do what he does? When he testified, he spoke rapidly, recounting indescribably horrible things, without showing any emotion. (Shin was described as the only person to escape from a total control zone; whether you agree is a matter of semantics.) I know he has recounted these things countless times, for countless audiences. Is there a point at which one develops a vocal muscle memory and ceases to think about what he’s describing? I’ve met and conversed with Shin several times, but I’ve never asked him about Camp 14.

When I met him, Shin made two main impressions on me. The first of these was his obviously high intelligence. Shin grasped the concept and potential significance of financial sanctions faster than most congressional staffers could. (Many of those who filled the hearing room to hear him yesterday appeared to be staffers). North Korea made a terrible mistake by letting someone this smart get away. My other impression of Shin was of his metabolism. Shin is a slender framework of tightly wound piezoelectric coils, with the darting peripheral vision of a Maus in the Black Forest.

(3) When I grow up, I want to be Andrew Natsios. I want his encyclopedic command of the facts, his easygoing sagacity, and his ability to command the thoughts of any audience. By now, I’ve been in several rooms full of highly intelligent people of whom Andrew was one, and I’ve left all of them believing that Andrew was the smartest of us.

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 7.26.34 AM

[tweet, tweet, little birdie]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 9.06.45 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 7.42.24 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh? Where?

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

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

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

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

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

HRNK to host address by Michael Kirby, other events next week

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea will host a series of events next week. From HRNK’s site:

Human Rights in North Korea: An Address by Michael Kirby. On April 14, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) will host an address by Michael Kirby, chair of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea (COI), to present its findings and recommendations. Following the keynote address, Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and an HRNK board member, will comment on the COI report and discuss policy implications for the United Nations and its member states, and possible impact on North Korea and its people.

Illicit Economic Activities of the North Korean Government. On April 15, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings will host the release of a report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), entitled “Illicit: North Korea’s Evolving Operations to Earn Hard Currency.” The report, authored by Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Sheena Chestnut Greitens, analyzes the history and current status of North Korea’s foreign currency earning operations, focusing on illicit activities. It discusses how these activities have changed in recent years and the implications for U.S. and international policies toward North Korea. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, both HRNK board members, will comment on the presentation.

Korea Club with Hye-Won Ko. April 15th at Woo Lae Oak Restaurant, in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. Hye-Won Ko is the Senior Research Fellow (former Director of Center for the Evaluation of Skills Development Policy ) in the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training (KRIVET) under the Korean Prime Minister’s Office. Dr. Ko will address the relationship between lifelong vocational education and training (VET) and social cohesion of North Korean defectors in South Korea. Lifelong VET develops human and social capital. In turn developed human and social capital leads to economic and non-economic achievements. The point that Dr. Ko has made in studies she authored is that greater economic and non-economic achievements would result in a higher level of social cohesion.

2014 Annual Conference of the International Council on Korean Studies. On April 17, 2014, from 8:45 am to 6:00 pm, HRNK, KEI, and the International Council on Korean Studies (ICKS) will co-host the 2014 Annual Conference of the International Council on Korean Studies. The human rights panel discussion, held from 9:00 to 11:45 am, will be moderated by Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK executive director. The panelists will include: Roberta Cohen (HRNK co-chair and senior non-resident fellow, The Brookings Institution), who will address the forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees by China; Robert Collins (author of HRNK’s report “Songbun, North Korea’s Social Classification System”), who will address the human rights implications of the succession process in North Korea;  and Bruce Bechtol (Angelo State University), who will address the impact of proliferation and illicit activities on the North Korean human rights situation. The discussants will be Amanda Mortwedt Oh (HRNK) and Soon Paik (U.S. Department of Labor and ICKS).

Some of these events require an RSVP, so follow the links if you want to attend.

North Korea speaker series in Seoul, April and May

At the request of the North Korea Strategy Center (NKSC), a Seoul-based NGO run by “Aquariums of Pyongyang” author Kang Cheol Hwan (nksc.co.kr), I’m passing along this information about a speaker series on North Korea NKSC is holding in Seoul for the international community there.
Entitled “Strategies for Change: A Speaker Series on North Korea,” the three month long series features nine speakers talking on a range of topics, from “North Korea basics” (the country’s economy and nuclear issue) and North Korean human rights issues (political prison camps, refugees in China) to North Korea’s future. Our aim for this series is two-pronged: 1) increase the interest and understanding of North Korea-related issues in the international community; 2) provide concrete opportunities for the international community to get involved in North Korea-related activities.
Our plans for meeting the second goal include providing series participants with the opportunity to get involved in NKSC’s North Korea information dissemination activities and for expats to teach English and engage in cultural exchange with North Korean defectors in Seoul. As part of its information dissemination activities, NKSC sends thousands of USBs into North Korea each year filled with content varying from South Korean dramas and movies to an “offline Wikipedia.”  NKSC also runs a “Journalist Academy” for young North Korean defectors which focuses on improving their writing skills in Korean. We plan to allow participants the chance to get involved in both projects by: 1) sharing ideas for and creating content for our USBs, and 2) teaching English to defectors on a one-on-one basis.
As the manager of the project, I have been trying to spread the word to the international community through online and offline means. Our first month of lectures featured Dr. Andrei Lankov, Dr. Daniel Pinkston, and Mr. Kim Kwangjin. Our April lineup will focus on NKHR issues and feature former North Korean spy Mr. Kwak In-su, Mr. Ahn Myungchul, Mr. Peter Jung, and Ms. Joanna Hosaniak. Our May lineup will feature Mr. Sokeel Park and Mr. Kang Cheol Hwan. A complete picture of our lineup can be found here: http://bit.ly/1hcN9Uv.
I have attached a flyer for Mr. Kwak In-su’s talk, which will take place on April 2nd. A map to the venue has also been attached.
I know that interest in North Korea issues among the international community in Seoul is strong, and I believe that this speaker series will provide a basis to learn, network and ultimately increase participation in issues concerning North Korea.
I would greatly appreciate any efforts to spread the word about the event throughout your network in South Korea.
You’re most welcome.

Samantha Power, North Korea is your Rwanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Samantha Power bursts into tears while visiting Rwanda]

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

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

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

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

In more ways than one.