Enquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK?


Anybody interested in the Korean Peninsula and following a bit the western media must of necessity have heard talk over the last few days about the Commission of Enquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK which was set up by a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council dated 21 March 2013. Published on 17 February 2014, the Commission’s findings are devastating for the DPRK because the report calls for north Korean leaders to appear before the International Criminal Court – which is highly unlikely to happen in view of opposition on the part of China, a member of the UN Security Council.

What then is the real purpose of this report which, as often happens when north Korea’s human rights are concerned, just happens to have been published at a time of relative détente in the peninsula, more than a month earlier than scheduled?

In fact, the works of the Commission of Enquiry are for the most part a rehash of those produced by a collective of some forty organisations, including in pride of place the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). HRNK’s investigations are largely undermined by their lack of verifiability, since the DPRK is not a judicial organ that undertakes any guarantee of the objectivity and thoroughness that would be expected of a tribunal (even if private), but is merely one of many mouthpieces for US neo-cons carried away by George Bush’s speech about the ‘axis of evil’ and seeking tirelessly to bring about the downfall of governments judged to be enemies of the US.

Having worked hand in glove with the HRNK, the UN Commission of Enquiry has naturally adopted its conclusions, written in advance and therefore requiring neither face to face hearings involving people claiming to be victims of acts of the north Korean authorities, nor to allow the north Korean authorities to defend themselves, which any authentic judicial organ would have to do.

Enquiry into the provenance of this organisation could prove painful. The noisily-proclaimed satisfaction on the part of the HNRK – a self-proclaimed US organisation for the promotion of human rights in north Korea (actually a neo-con lobby) – at findings its work and its conclusions vindicated in the report of the Commission of Enquiry into Human Rights in the DPRK amounts to a shameful confession that the UN Commission on Human Rights is, like its predecessor, a plaything of the States and its lobbyists. The Council has exposed itself as a tool of US imperialism to be used to justify, in the case of north Korea, a regime of sanctions that hit mainly, or even solely, the people of the country.

The human rights issue is only ever one-sided and is used solely to justify the recourse to all methods, legal and illegal, against certain states whose main crime is not to bend to the US diktat – while other countries (such as Saudi Arabia, or not so long ago Pinochet’s Chile) are happily exempt from all criticism by these so-called defenders of human rights. Given that this procedure is as old as diplomacy, it is strange to see a journal such as the French communist daily ‘L’Humanité’ endorsing the views of these US neo-cons without any critical consideration of the trustworthiness of its sources. [ L’Humanité‘s British equivalent, the Morning Star, also published an uncritical news report of the UN Commission of Human Rights ‘findings’ (‘UN seeks to bring North Korean leaders to justice’, 17 February 2014)].

Having fully achieved its objectives, the HNRK no longer needs to conceal the efficiency of its lobbying. It should be remembered that one of the 2001 founders of HRNK was Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, the neo-con think-tank which invented the notion of the axis of evil so beloved of George W Bush. One HRNK co-director is Suzanne Scholte, a Ronald Reagan fan, member of several neo-con organisations, and founder of the Defense Forum Foundation, an NGO which was financed up to 2001 by Donald Rumsfeld. The first Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea nominated by the UN Commission on Human Rights (the predecessor of the UN Council of Human Rights) appointed in 2004, Vittit Muntabhor, later became a leading member of HRNK. And it was HNRK who pleaded for years that the UN Council for Human Rights set up a UN Commission of Enquiry on Human Rights to which it furnished most of its materials recycled without any challenge to their probative value. Even the name of the commission is practically identical to that of the NGO, which introduces some intentional confusion as to the official nature of the said NGO.

HNRK is the pivot of some forty organisations forming the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK). ICNK is very active in publishing new ‘reverlations’ concerning human rights in north Korea every time that dialogue becomes possible with the DPRK that could lead to it coming out of its isolation, something which is unacceptable for all the neo-con militants of the ICNK who have adopted George W Bush’s axis of evil as their credo. Thus did one ICNK operation take place in the spring of 2012 at the time of political change over in France. ICNK met up with President François Hollande and socialist leaders, as well as with diplomats linked to the Socialist Party in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the time of publishing in great haste two shock-horror books about human rights in north Korea whose publication received strong support in France ‘Escape from Camp 14: From North Korean hell to freedom’ and ‘Nine years to escape hell’. Their aim was to counter the improvement in the DPRK’s image that had come about as a result of the Unhasu orchestra’s appearances in France and also to prevent any eventual sympathy developing in the socialist government for North Korea as had happened in 1981 following the election of François Mitterand, which is something the south Korean government had expressed its anxiety about.

To return to the question of the major scientific lacunae in the way the research was carried out, in particular the doubtful nature of the testimony of Shin Dong hyuk in ‘Escape from Camp 14′, which the UN commission simply adopted as it stood directly from ICNK and HNRK activists: Konstantin Asmolov, a Russian researcher at the Centre for Korean Studies at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies has the following observations to make:

“How did the commission carry out its work? The north Koreans did not allow them into the country. When it arrived in south Korea, instead of having face to face conversations with witnesses, it organised public hearings. At these public hearings at which 30 people told horrible stories. These included Shin Dong hyuk who does not have a north Korean accent, and whose hands are those of an intellectual rather than of a person who has spent his life in a camp. The commission did not undertake a sufficient number of private interviews to justify accusing the north Korean government of war crimes and famines. It was all showmanship.”

In an interview given to the daily La Croix, Jean Vincent Brisset, a researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations equally emphasised the serious scientific shortcomings of the report published by the Commission of Inquiry into human rights in the DPRK:

“This report raises serious questions concerning its scientific basis. It has been drafted without going to north Korea and solely on the basis of testimony given by people who claim to have been victims of the regime. It is completely one-sided.

For instance, with regard to the satellite images which are supposed to prove the existence of the camps, I remember having seen a few years ago a certain number of other satellite images which were supposed to prove that north Korea had carried out a nuclear test and which were either fake or were interpreted in a false manner.

We share the view that the report has nothing to do with the promotion of human rights, since if that were the case it would have identified precise issues to discuss with the north Korean authorities with a view to engaging in constructive dialogue… Instead these pseudo-humanitarian activities (which have done nothing at all to assist people in the DPRK) are entirely aimed at supporting the most vicious embargo in the world, with all its deleterious effects on the wellbeing of the population, in particular the right to food security.