NYT: Human Rights Violations in North Korea are “Large-Scale” and “Shocking”

Posted: Sep 18, 2013 12:30 PM

Dennis Rodman, the former NBA all-star and proud lackey of the Kim regime, has traveled twice to North Korea in the past year. And each time he returns, of course, he lavishes excessive praise on his “friend for life” the “Supreme Leader.” But what he never mentions is that the enigmatic dictator is ordering (or at least permitting) his henchmen to commit unspeakable human rights atrocities. In fact, human rights experts concluded on Tuesday that, based on testimony from prisoners lucky enough to escape North Korea with their lives, living in the DPRK’s gulag system is not unlike living in a 1940s, German-run concentration camp. The New York Times has the details:

GENEVA — The United Nations experts investigating human rights conditions in North Korea said Tuesday that the “shocking” evidence they had collected from defectors and others suggested “large-scale” patterns of abuse that demanded an international response.

The Human Rights Council pushed for the investigation in an attempt to bring new attention to allegations of horrifying abuses at the North’s infamous gulags that have been trickling out for years as more people have escaped the brutal police state. Until now, world powers including the United States had focused instead on attempts to dismantle the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The chairman of the three-member Commission of Inquiry, Michael Donald Kirby, told reporters that

the testimony he had heard in recent months evoked reactions similar to the discovery of concentration camps in Europe after World War II.
He cited the statements of a former prisoner who said she had seen another woman forced to drown her baby in a bucket, and the account of a man who said he had collected and burned the bodies of prisoners who had died of starvation. Experts say the number of prisoners in gulags has dropped in recent years — to an estimated 120,000 or fewer from a possible high of 200,000 — but that might be partly because so many had died from forced labor and a lack of food.

Despite these revelations (and building evidence) that human rights abuses are in fact taking place, it remains to be seen what, if anything, the United Nations will do about it:

It remains unclear what actions the United Nations might take. Any referral to the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses would need to be approved by the Security Council, which includes North Korea’s longtime ally, China.

Although China did not actively oppose the investigation, a senior Chinese diplomat in Geneva on Tuesday criticized the interim findings. “Politicized accusations and pressures are not helpful to improving human rights in any country,” Chen Chuandong said, according to Reuters. “On the contrary, they will only provoke confrontation and undermine the foundation and atmosphere for international human rights cooperation.”

Mr. Kirby said the panel had submitted several requests seeking cooperation and access to North Korea, including a letter to the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, but the North Korean government said it “totally and categorically rejects the Commission of Inquiry.”

Of course they do. The less the world knows, the better. But the report does have some important implications for world leaders. The president famously drew a “red-line” in the sand over Bashar al-Assad acquiring and using chemicals weapons against his own people. (Which the government now believes he did). This meant at the time that the U.S. would intervene militarily if the line was crossed. But now, apparently, the U.S. is not going to act -- and Assad will stay in power and presumably keep at least some of the chemicals weapons he’s pledged to give up. But I must ask: What is the moral difference between a dictator gassing his own citizens and one starving and executing them? Quite rightly, the international community has long been concerned about North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons. But the human rights atrocities in North Korea are undeniable. Surely I’m not suggesting we should involve ourselves in North Korea -- or even in Syria, for that matter -- but why is one type of violence and barbarism acceptable and another is not?

These are the questions world leaders will be forced to grapple with as the carnage in North Korea becomes increasingly impossible to ignore.

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