Archive for Human Rights

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 (, 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:
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.

For China, holocaust denial substitutes for diplomacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Event tomorrow on the COI report

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

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

Open Sources, March 6, 2014

~  1  ~

THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO CAME to this event on Capitol Hill yesterday and helped make it a huge success. We filled the room well beyond its capacity. There was an energy in the room that went beyond the question of numbers. It was who was there — young, old, in-between, conservatives, liberals, and a variety of ethnicities, including a very sizable Korean-American contingent. I don’t have words to express my admiration for the leadership of Suzanne Scholte, Greg Scarlatoiu, and Judy Yoo of the Federation of Korean-Americans. Human Rights Watch also made a very welcome contribution to the discussion.

~  2  ~

ADRIAN HONG, in The Christian Science Monitor:

We teach our children the heavy legacies of humanity’s grave past injustices: Nanjing. Auschwitz. The Killing Fields. Rwanda. Srebrenica. Darfur. Implicit in such education is the belief that had we been alive, or had we been in positions of influence while the great atrocities of the past century had been perpetrated, we would’ve acted decisively to stop them.

But the moral clarity with which we judge those who preceded us is elusive when we see our world today. Museums and memorials to the fallen victims of yesterday’s tyrants are meaningless if they do not translate to stands against the perpetrators of brutality today.”

~  3  ~

ANDREW W. KELLER, an American lawyer in Korea, writes in The American Thinker:

The United States Congress should pass H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, which is currently in committee.  Sanctions restrict the export to and import from North Korea of goods and technology for the use, development, or acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  Sanctions also ban the export of luxury goods to North Korea, a tactic that could help undermine the North Korean regime, which bribes its VIPs in Pyongyang with imported luxury goods while people in the countryside starve. 

~  4  ~

THE WASHINGTON POST writes a strongly worded denunciation of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, and of the isolationist escapism of too many Americans recently:

The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, “Maximalist.” There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.

The White House often responds by accusing critics of being warmongers who want American “boots on the ground” all over the world and have yet to learn the lessons of Iraq. So let’s stipulate: We don’t want U.S. troops in Syria, and we don’t want U.S. troops in Crimea. A great power can become overextended, and if its economy falters, so will its ability to lead. None of this is simple.

But it’s also true that, as long as some leaders play by what Mr. Kerry dismisses as 19th-century rules, the United States can’t pretend that the only game is in another arena altogether. Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not. While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. In the long run, that’s harmful to U.S. national security, too.

These isolationist interludes are a feature of our history, just like our interventionist excesses. They remind me of Trotsky’s adage that you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you (hat tip). These interludes eventually end with unpleasant awakenings, and I worry that we haven’t seen the last of those yet.

While this certainly counsels against the dramatic reduction in our armed forces that the President has proposed, I also wonder when we’ll realize that the best way to protect U.S. interests abroad is often to ally ourselves with the people of the affected country who share our interests and values, arm them to the teeth, and train them well. If the Russian experiences in Finland, Afghanistan, and Chechyna tell us anything, it’s that the Russians are especially bad at fighting determined opponents who use unconventional tactics. If a messy border war eventually forces Putin out of power, Russia gaining control of the historically and ethnically Russian Crimea would be a small price to pay.

~  5  ~

I AM IN RARE AGREEMENT WITH JOHN KERRY when Kerry says that North Korea is “an evil place,” but then, there isn’t much we know about North Korea now that we didn’t know in 2003, when John Bolton made substantially similar comments about the North, and the North Koreans went histrionic on him. Now it’s Kerry’s turn. Does this disqualify Kerry as an effective diplomat?

“This is another vivid expression of the U.S.’ hostile policy toward the DPRK,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kerry’s remarks “are no more than a manifestation of his frustration and outbursts let loose by the defeated as the DPRK is winning one victory after another despite the whole gamut of pressure upon it over the nuclear issue,” the spokesman said.

“Before blaming others, Kerry had better ponder over what to say of the U.S., a tundra of human rights, as it commits horrible genocide in various parts of the world in disregard of international law under the signboard of ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy,’” the spokesman said.

Kerry should “bear in mind that no pressure is workable” on the North, he said. [Yonhap]

What’s dramatically different, of course, is that when Bolton said it, it was more evidence that Bolton was “a crazy neocon” and further reason to derail his nomination as U.N. Ambassador. Since Kerry said it, and since the North Koreans went histrionic on Kerry, there’s been almost complete media silence. Some of this is certainly because the consensus on North Korea has shifted, but the consensus has shifted because (quelle surprise) North Korea kept right on being North Korea after January 21, 2009. Bolton was right all along, but too many of us allowed our political polarities to blind us to the truth he spoke.

Update: The North Koreans make a similar comparison.

~  6  ~

NOW, THE U.N. PANEL OF EXPERTS is investigating Dennis Rodman’s gifts to Kim Jong Un.

~  7  ~

THE PANEL MAY ALSO DESIGNATE two more North Korean companies over the Cuba MiG-21 smuggling deal, which will eventually result in the blocking of their assets once Treasury and the EU get around to listing them:

The two include Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a Pyongyang-based company with links to the North Korean government that is also the registered manager of the Chong Chon Gang. The other is Chinpo Shipping Co., registered in Singapore, allegedly used for the payment of costs for the Chong Chon Gang’s operation.

Chinpo Shipping? Really? So I take it the Urban Dictionary is blocked in North Korea. Pity.

I often ask myself why North Korea goes to so much risk and expense to buy up equipment that hasn’t had a combat advantage since the Johnson Administration. I often worry that North Korea’s doctrine for the use of these aircraft concentrates on low-altitude, one-way missions. After all, it’s clear that some of their airfields are fit for take-offs, but not really fit for landings.

~  8  ~

OVERALL, SANCTIONS ENFORCEMENT has a mixed record since the approval of UNSCR 2094, and my lapse of optimism about sanctions enforcement last summer was probably premature. First, via Yonhap and IHS Janes, we learn that North Korea is still able to trade in weapons, exporting $11 million and importing $63 million in weapons last year (that we know about). Admittedly, this isn’t very much, and some of these imports are probably pursuant to a loophole in the Security Council resolutions allowing North Korea to import light weapons from China. It isn’t clear whether that sum includes technology transfers and technical assistance, or North Korea’s recent acquisition of six road-mobile ICBM transporter-erector-launchers.

Second, and more worrisome, we see that despite signs of a banking crackdown last spring, trade between North Korea and China continues to increase. Obviously, the North Koreans have (1) found Chinese banks willing to accept their deposits and handle their financial transactions, and (2) avoided any significant financial disruption of their network of commercial agents in China after the Jang Song -Thaek purge.

This sort of rope-a-dope game is typical of China. They pretend to comply with sanctions for a few weeks, and go right back to the same old dirty business. That’s why we need H.R. 1771.

Events in Seoul about human rights in North Korea, March 6th and 15th

If you’re in Seoul, there are two upcoming events about human rights in the North. The organizers asked me to get the word out, and I’m glad to oblige.

First, Justice for North Korea will hold a special screening of “Apostle,” a film about human rights in North Korea on Thursday, March 6th, at 7:30, to mark the UN COI’s recent report. After the screening, Peter Jung, director of Justice For North Korea, will present his book “Persecution,” which discussed the repression of Christians in North Korea.  The event will be held at the Mega Box 8 theater. COEX Mall B1, 524 Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (if you’re taking the subway, take the green line to Samsung station, exit 6).

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The organizers encourage you to show up early — at 6:30, and to RSVP by before close of business on March 4th (I realize that’s not a lot of notice). For more info, you can contact Anna (010-4884-8263) or email

Then, on March 15th, Freedom Factory will host an event called “Don’t Ask My Name: North Korean Women Today,” on Saturday, March 15th, at 2 p.m. The event will feature a discussion with Andrei Lankov, and these three women (two of them sisters) who escaped from North Korea recently.

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Click here for directions, a flyer, and more information. Casey Lartigue, a rising star in the North Korea human rights movement, is the organizer of the event.


Please attend next Wednesday: House Foreign Affairs Committee to host event on U.N. Commission report

On March 5th at 3 p.m., the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold an event with a panel discussion featuring leaders of prominent human rights NGOs, including Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and Human Rights Watch. The Federation of Korean Associations in the U.S.A. will also participate — they’ve emerged as strong and highly effective advocates for the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act this year.

Also present will be Suzanne Scholte, head of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, who, by the way, is running for Congress in Virginia’s 11th District. Not all of the panelists have been finalized yet, but I’ll update this post as they are. (Yes, events hosted by Congress after often scheduled on very short notice. They’re driven by events and public interest.)

The discussion will focus on the findings of the COI report, and will also discuss policy responses to it, in light of China’s certain opposition to any action in the U.N. Security Council, including targeted sanctions or a referral to the International Criminal Court. (It’s good that the ChiComs timed the announcement of their obstructionism almost contemporaneously with the report’s release. That way, the focus immediately shifts toward other options designed to bypass China, minimize its influence, and shame its leaders.)

The event will take place in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building, which may be the most confusing building in the entire city.

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See you there next week.

As long as we’re on the topic of the COI, and reactions to it:

 ~   ~   ~

FORMER GUARD AHN MYONG CHOL, on the fate of children in the camps:

Speaking of an attack on children who were returning from the camp school, the former guard said: “There were three dogs and they killed five children. They killed three of the children right away. The two other children were barely breathing and the guards buried them alive.” [The Express]

~   ~   ~

Elliot Engel, the (Democratic) Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called for a referral of the U.N. Commission’s report to the International Criminal Court. Samantha Power was not available for comment, but John Kerry did call North Korea an “evil place” before changing the subject back to nukes. But the administration has not taken a position on whether it will push an ICC referral in the Security Council, or do anything else of significance:

“This is an evil, evil place. And it requires enormous focus by the world in order to hold it accountable. And I think every aspect of any law that can be applied should be applied,” he added.

The top American diplomat said he and Chinese leaders had in-depth talks on ways to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. He traveled to Beijing two weeks ago for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other top officials.  “We had very serious discussions there about the options available to us. And we are continuing to press for action,” he said. He did not elaborate.

Rhetorically, Kerry has now caught up with where George W. Bush was a decade ago. Both men have an equal record of success in doing anything about it. The State Department still appears to be paralyzed in formulating a policy response to the COI’s report:

“We’re still in the processing of reviewing the recommendations,” Zeya said. “We would like to see the U.N. Human Rights Council, working with our like-minded partners, like South Korea, adopt a resolution to implement and follow up on this groundbreaking report.”

The career diplomat, meanwhile, urged China to alter its view on North Korean defectors and discontinue its practice of sending them back to their homeland. “We certainly believe that they should not be forcibly returned to North Korea. They deserve protection as refugees fleeing an absolutely deplorable regime,” she stressed.

They manage to call North Korea’s human rights record “deplorable,” as if we didn’t already know that. I have to think that if they were serious about this and had a coherent policy vision, they’d have consulted with Kirby in advance of the report’s release, and Treasury would already have drafted an executive order to block the assets of known human rights violators — Kim Jong Un, and the members of the National Defense Commission and the Organization and Guidance Bureau of the Korean Workers’ Party. Like this one, maybe, in effect against Iranian and Syrian officials. The President could sign it with much fanfare. Vision! Action! Global leadership!

Instead, the administration appears to be (a) caught off-guard; (b) passive, directionless, and visionless; (c) outsourcing our North Korea policy to China, as if China shared any of our interests in North Korea, or (d) stalling, in the hope that things will just blow over, and that this will become just another foreign policy issue they won’t have to think about. As it stands, they’re not even able to say whether they will push a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, which would at least force China to veto it.

The good news is that a serious response to Kim Jong Un’s crimes against humanity has won over a critical mass of classical liberals and Democrats. This is no longer a partisan issue, particularly given George W. Bush’s abdication of credibility in 2008. It’s now a battle between conscience and the absence of conscience — between a rump faction of a foreign policy establishment that hasn’t had an original idea since 1994 and whose record speaks for itself, and the rest of us. The rest of us are winning. We just aren’t winning fast enough.

Boston Globe endorses the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act

The Boston Globe, a newspaper with “a long and proud tradition of being a progressive institution,” writes:

Nevertheless, there is much the United States can do unilaterally to step up the pressure on this irresponsible regime. Passing the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013 is a logical step that would ensure that bad behavior faces consequences.

Much as Iran was confronted with crippling financial sanctions, the act would punish international financial institutions that do dirty work for North Korea. Under the act, the president of the United States would have the power to take action to deny the regime funds for serious human rights abuses, as well as nuclear proliferation, arms trafficking, kleptocracy, and imports of luxury goods by government officials. Banks that do business with Pyongyang would be faced with a choice: Risk being cut off from the US market, or stop doing business with North Korea. The act also stipulates that cargo that moves through ports that regularly fail to inspect North Korean cargo would face long delays entering the United States.

While no sanctions regime is perfect, Congress already knows that this one works. From 2005 to 2007, the United States imposed similar sanctions on North Korea. The Treasury Department designated Banco Delta Asia, a Macau-based bank, as a “primary money laundering concern” and cut it off from the US financial system. The result was devastating for the North Korean regime. Macau banking authorities froze 50 North Korean accounts worth $24 million, severely hampering the regime’s ability to access cash and purchase goods. Foreign businesses and banks shied away from doing business with North Korea — even from legal business ventures. The effect was so crippling that in 2008, North Korea agreed to destroy some of its nuclear technology and return to international talks. As a reward, President George W. Bush lifted the sanctions. [Editorial, Boston Globe]

More Reactions to the N. Korea COI report, including our latest in The Washington Post

~  1  ~

Nicholas Eberstadt has written something for The Wall Street Journal that is so cogent, so poetic, that I envy him for writing it (hat tip: Sung Yoon-Lee).

Never again should Western humanitarian aid be given to North Korea to hand out at its own discretion, as if Pyongyang were a government like any other.

Never again must Beijing—which like Pyongyang refused to cooperate with the U.N. investigation—be given a free pass for financing, enabling and protecting this most odious of all regimes…. 

Never again must South Koreans avert their eyes from the catastrophe that is befalling their compatriots across the demilitarized zone. And never again must Seoul forget that it is legally bound to grant citizenship to refugees from the nightmare to the North.

Never again must the rest of us live comfortably with the knowledge of what is happening right now to ordinary people in North Korea.

 ~  2  ~

The Washington Post, in an editorial:

North Korea’s repressions and killings have been ignored by too many for too long. The Kirby report says “the gravity, scale and nature” of these human rights violations have no parallel in the world today.

Perhaps the time has come to make this Topic No. 1 when we think about North Korea. We must take seriously our responsibility to protect as long as there is still something resembling Buchenwald or Perm-36 on the face of the planet.

~  3  ~

The Simon Wiesenthal Center:

“The key question remains, however, when will the world powers led by the United States and China take practical measures to stop a regime whose serial inhumane treatment of innocent people conjures up the Soviet Gulag and the Nazi regime of the 1930’s?” Rabbi [Abraham] Cooper asked, adding, ‘”It’s time for the civilized world to respond to the silent cries of the North Korean people.”

Rabbi Cooper also urged private firms, including banks and travel agencies, to choose to stop doing business with the North Korean regime even when such activities are not technically illegal.

 ~  4  ~

USA Today, also in an editorial:

Perhaps there’s not much that can be done short of regime change, but the civilized world should do what it can. That means continuing to document the horrors, denying international legitimacy to the regime through economic sanctions and other means, and calling out its enablers. At some point, the tide of history will turn against Kim and his murderous thugs.

I suspect this is where a lot of people are now — wondering what, short of war, we can really do about any of this.

~  5  ~

Which is why the good professor Lee and I make our own contribution to the discourse in the pages of the Washington Post, in an effort to explain how the COI report can be a first step toward forcing change in North Korea, even if China blocks the path to the ICC:

Financial sanctions should aim to force the regime to make better decisions about North Korea’s wealth, to add an additional deterrent to protect the United States and its allies and to present Kim with a clear choice between reform and collapse.

I hope my friends who are struggling with the question of the COI’s relevance will give it a read. China clearly hopes that in a few weeks, we’ll forget all about it and the border guards will just keep right on shooting, out of sight and out of mind.

~  6  ~

NORTH KOREA JUST STOPPED BEING FUNNY, writes a former editor of The Economist. That’s a welcome change, but it’s going to make my work here much more difficult.

~  7  ~

THE WHITE HOUSE, WHICH HAS HARDLY UTTERED A PEEP about human rights in North Korea since 2009, wants you to know that it is “extremely critical” of Kim Jong Un’s crimes against humanity. Duly noted, White House.

~  8  ~

SOMEONE AT REUTERS IS, to borrow Brian Myers’s phrase, stuck in the 90s:

The unprecedented public rebuke and warning to a head of state by a U.N. inquiry is likely to further antagonize Kim and complicate efforts to persuade him to rein in his isolated country’s nuclear weapons program and belligerent confrontations with South Korea and the West. [Reuters]

Aww … and we were this close, too! The same story carries a great quote from Myers himself:

“The world is finally waking up to the fact that North Korea is a far-right state, in that the regime derives its right to rule from a commitment to military might and racial purity,” said Brian Myers, a South Korea-based North Korea expert. “But for that very reason, the regime has never felt very embarrassed by criticism of its human rights record, and has reported sneeringly on that criticism to its own people. Perhaps it will realize that it cannot keep attracting investors and collaborators without making more of a pretence to progressive or leftist tendencies.”  [Reuters]

We should all make a note to ourselves to get past this outdated left-right spectrum some day. As a practical matter, statist regimes always migrate toward totalitarianism, militarism, war, mass murder, and famine, just not necessarily in the same order. Another pattern history confirms is that states that begin as at least nominally socialist invariably develop yawning economic and class disparities. It’s depressing to consider that the natural state of modern could be fascism.

~  9  ~

My favorite reaction, however, has to be that of the Government of Botswana, which severed diplomatic relations with North Korea over the report:

“The deplorable acts catalogued in the United Nations’ report are startling and warrant strong condemnation by the international community. As a member of the international community of nations, North Korea has the responsibility for the welfare and wellbeing of its people and respect for human rights which have unfortunately for too long been seriously lacking in that country,” it said.

“Botswana wishes to convey its heartfelt sympathies to the people of North Korea who are currently subjected to inhuman treatment under the leadership of Kim Jong Un.” [Kyodo News]

It’s both wonderful to see Botswana taking this brave stand, and sad to see faraway little Botswana so far ahead of the world’s great and middle powers on this important issue. If you read KCNA regularly, you’ve no doubt seen the large number of tributes to North Korean leaders from African nations it publishes, but I doubt KCNA will print this one.

I drove across Botswana a little more than 20 years ago, and thought it was a lovely place. The people were proud but friendly, the countryside dry and stark (if a bit monotonous after a few hundred miles), with many upscale safari parks and resorts and all the baobab trees you care to see. The main roads were mostly good, and the currency was very strong (thanks to huge diamond and platinum mines), and no one assigns you a minder. Please slow down — the roads are full of kids and goats.

~  10  ~

I close by offering you this translation of a German-language piece written by Felix Abt, a Swiss businessman who is heavily invested in North Korea, and who has emerged as one of the regime’s more shameless apologists. Abt argues that the COI report is all a big exaggeration, because (1) he never saw anything that bad, (2) defectors all lie, and (3) oh, by the way, America has prisons, too. I won’t even graf it for you — I’m just going to paste the whole thing below the fold.

Every place and time, unfortunately, has enablers like this. I’m sure that in 1942, there were equally ethical men stalking Eichmann on the very steps of Wannsee, hoping to ink the first contract to sell him crystallized prussic acid. If you have something to say to Mr. Abt, here’s his Facebook page. Fisk away, but please abstain from threats and profanity. (Hat tip to a reader for the screenshot and the translation.)

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