Can the UN Stop Kim’s Human Rights Crimes?

The hopelessly feckless United Nations Human Rights Committee has finally come up with a seemingly worthwhile project: A serious investigations of human-rights violations in North Korea.

When most people think of North Korea, the first problems that come to mind are nuclear weapons and long-range missile tests, or the bellicose threats against South Korea and the United States, or the country’s general hostility to the Western world.

Yet what lies behind that, seldom discussed, is a world of human-rights abuses. A new United Nations study finds that two-thirds of North Koreans have no idea where their next meal is coming from. About one quarter of the state’s children grow up stunted for lack of nutrition during the first year of life. (This under a regime that sends military aircraft to China to bring back take-out Big Macs and fries for government leaders.)

“Stunting, or chronic malnutrition, has an irreversible impact on children’s physical and intellectual development,” UNICEF reports. What’s more, just 40 percent of North Koreans have access to a toilet.

With all of that and so much more, the UN’s Office of Humanitarian Affairs urged the rest of the world to realize that humanitarian aid should be neutral, impartial “and should not be contingent on political developments.” (A worthwhile idea, certainly, but politically difficult.)

Reinforcing that, a few days ago Marzuki Darusman, the Human Rights Committee’s special rapporteur for North Korea, reported that “grave human-rights violations in prison camps or the mere existence of slave camps may amount to crimes against humanity.” He told the committee, in the words of one news report, of “mass starvation, prison camps, and no recourse or judicial system for people accused of crimes.”

Then he urged the committee to create an independent commission to investigate the terrible state of affairs in North Korea and make recommendations for possible action against North Korean officials, who authorize the lowest expenditures for health care, per capita, of any nation on earth. The same officials also oversee the state’s largest industry: military equipment. (The two smallest are food production and tourism.)

The problem is that North Korea will never cooperate with any UN investigation. In fact, during his years as rapporteur, North Korea never once let Darusman in the country. Most of the known information came from exiles who managed to flee—a challenge all by itself.

Earlier this year, Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, also called for “a full fledged international inquiry into serious crimes,” including “summary executions, rape, slave labor, and other forms of collective punishment,” constituting “the worst—but least understood and reported—human rights situation in the world.”

All of that is true, but there’s little reason to believe that, even with this new resolve, the UN investigators will have any more success investigating the problem now than they have in the past.


Photo Credit: Annalog

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