Archive for Activism

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.

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.

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.

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).

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 8.32.50 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 8.37.01 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 7.13.45 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 7.17.51 AM

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.

Upcoming Events: “The Defector” Screenings, and EAHR’s online round table

I’D PREVIOUSLY POSTED ABOUT two new documentaries about how the real North Korea — the one behind the facade — is changing. One of these, The Defector, will be screened this week at two separate events in Washington. If you’re in the area, I hope you can make it.


I OWE AN APOLOGY to the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, which asked me to post about their online seminar on advocating for human rights in North Korea, and which I then completely forgot to do. Fortunately, their previous December 2nd event is on YouTube, and a second seminar is coming up next week.


Genius: HRNK’s Project ChocoPie

A Message from HRNK: Join Us for Project Choco Pie

Dear Friends,

Thank you for supporting HRNK’s mission to promote human rights in North Korea. For 65 years, North Korea has been theheart of darkness, under the three-generation rule of the Kim regime. In the 1990s, as millions starved, North Korea’s leadership spent billions on nukes and ballistic missiles. Despite the regime’s crackdown, small, but resilient markets have since developed, fending off another famine. The smuggled South Korean choco pie has become the symbol of North Korea’s black markets.

As part of our mission, we invite you to partake in “Project CP” in Farragut Square on October 30th, 2013 from 12-1pm.  HRNK will give away free choco pies to promote awareness of the current situation in North Korea, as well as discuss the upcoming visit of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in North Korea.

Today, the Kim regime continues to ban all freedoms, and up to 120,000 political prisoners remain detained in North Korea’s gulags. Please support HRNK in any way you can–by participating in Project CP, reading our publications, staying informed through our social media platforms, attending the COI hearings on Oct. 30th and 31st at the Kenney Auditorium – Johns Hopkins SAIS, or donating to us–to dismantle North Korea’s system of political oppression and protect those who are seeking to escape it.

More here, and see also Yonhap.

I used to love these things when I lived in Korea, back when I could still eat things like ChocoPies. Liked ‘em even better than Moon Pies.

The Daily NK: Keeping the promises that the Sunshine Policy couldn’t

In a land of scarcity, North Korea’s scarcest commodity is truth, and it is truth that is transforming North Korea.  In the last ten years, North Korea’s death-grip on the flow of food, consumer goods, and information across its borders was fractured, and probably for good.  This change is enormously consequential to how we ought to approach North Korea.  Even as inter-governmental “Sunshine” and engagement failed decisively–and probably exacerbated North Korea’s brutality–market-based engagement and information flows have been profoundly transformative.  The Daily NK was one of the first to tell of that change, and one of the key engines that drove the flow of out-bound information.  It was among the first to help the North Korean people tell us their story–to cry out to us for help.

Truth placed in the hands of its people will eventually cause the decay and downfall of this regime’s power structure, and truth in our hands will catalyze policy changes that will finally put an end to discredited policies that only prolong North Korea’s suffering.  The first ones to give practical effect to this concept were the Daily NK’s editors, reporters, and courageous sources–who risk their lives every day because of their compulsion to speak the truth.  The Daily NK is, in other words, the opposite of everything that I find so despicable about the Associated Press’s sellout to the North Korean regime.  You don’t have to share that contempt to agree that the Daily NK provides valuable information, even that it is a necessary counterweight.  I wish that a well-funded wire service would partner with them and make better use of its network of clandestine correspondents.

North Korea’s hacking of the Daily NK tells you that it has been effective.  It was the Daily NK, after all, that broke the story of North Korea’s currency revaluation, an incident that disillusioned (perhaps permanently) thousands of members of North Korea’s nascent middle class.

One of my personal regrets is my own failure to submit columns to the Daily NK recently, but I count myself as one its strongest supporters.  I hope you’ll consider supporting them at this link.