With human rights violations coming to light, the international community cannot remain passive.
The fragile rapprochement between the two Koreas was broken by a news conference in Pyongyang, at which an arrested South Korean missionary, Kim Jeong-wook, read out a statement in which he “confessed” to various anti-government activities. But he had reportedly entered the country to trace North Korean refugees who had escaped to China and then been repatriated.
Not long after the conference, Pyongyang test-fired four missiles. But the Hermit Kingdom’s military muscle-flexing shouldn’t deflect attention from the tragedy within its borders — massive human rights violations that are increasingly coming to light.
The report of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, released last month, has revealed the scale of these violations. It spoke of a regime that has used starvation as a way to control its population. It spoke of entire families disappearing into brutal detention camps for imagined political crimes. It spoke of torture, executions, rapes, forced abortions and complete control over information.
According to inquiry chairman Michael Kirby, the violations “revealed a state that has no parallel in the contemporary world”.
So far, the international community has limited itself to expressions of outrage. The UN’s bid to refer Pyongyang to the ICC has been foiled by China. Some have suggested financial sanctions and punishing banks that do business with Pyongyang. There’s also the softer option of diplomacy.
The US, for one, could climb down from its maximalism on North Korea’s nuclear status and bring it to the table for talks on humanitarian issues. Continued inaction in the face of such horrifying information would be unpardonable.