So, the next step in the promotion of “human rights issues in North Korea” has been taken. On November 18, 2014, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly recommended that the UN Security Council refer the matter on the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and to explore the possibility of introducing “effective and targeted sanctions” against those who bear the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity. The resolution condemns the systematic human rights violations in North Korea, reminds of the findings of the special commission of the UN Council on Human Rights, and supports the willingness of Pyongyang to cooperate with the international community in resolving the issues related to human rights.
One hundred eleven UN member states voted for the corresponding resolution, 19 countries, including Russia, Belarus, China, Cuba, and Syria, voted against. Another 55 states abstained. The Cuban delegation proposed an amendment which, instead of recommendations to transfer the case of crimes against humanity in North Korea to the International Criminal Court, recommended to apply a “new approach based on cooperation”, but only 40 states voted for the amendment, and it was not accepted.
The US and RK regard this event as a victory. The South Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement that “the UN resolution on human rights in North Korea reflects the concern of the international community over the situation in North Korea and the utmost desire to correct it.”
US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke also noted that Washington has always supported the adoption of annual resolutions on the issue, pointing to “the convincingness of the recommendations and the results of a special UN commission to investigate human rights violations in North Korea.”
China, however, is against. This was stated by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei. “We believe that the UN Security Council is an unsuitable platform for discussion of human rights issues,” he emphasized. “The transfer of the case to the International Criminal Court will not help solve the problems, so China has voted against the resolution proposing this.”
The reaction of North Korea is also predictable. The tone of North Korean statements may even be called hysterical, and the Permanent Representative to the UN Cha Song Nam called the document “confrontational” in his speech after the vote,. Cha emphasized that the West is pursuing “mean political goals for the destruction of the ideology and political system” of the DPRK, Pyongyang therefore intends to “protect the socialist system by any means”.
A restrained position was also taken by Russia. “The document submitted to our attention cannot be called balanced and non-politicized,” said the director of the Department of Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Anatoly Victorov. This assessment is fair when this resolution is compared with the one adopted a few days later, on November 22, 2014, which urges countries to take more effective measures to combat the glorification of Nazism and other forms of racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance. One hundred fifteen out of one hundred ninety-three UN member countries voted for the document. Three countries voted against: Canada, the US, and Ukraine. Another 55 delegates, including countries of the European Union, abstained.
However, it should be noted that the transfer of the North Korean dossier to the International Criminal Court, if it occurs, could seriously discredit the topic of international influence on rogue states for human rights violations.
Firstly, the bias of the charges is visible to the naked eye. We discussed this in our previous articles, and the point here is that 30 open witnesses is very few in order to seriously support accusations of genocide. Evidence of crimes of this kind should be backed up with a large amount of evidence and facts, not with arguments of the category “we will only learn the full truth after regime change”, we have been through this before in Iraq and Yugoslavia. It became clear that a key witness in the case lied, and the event starting an invasion was misinterpreted, but it was too late to turn back the clock.
The quality of witnesses is clearly shown in the key figure of Shin Dong-hyuk. It’s hard to imagine any other high-profile case in the modern West in which the main witness turned out to be a man accused of paedophilia. Against the background of hysteria that surrounds the topic of violence against minors, such a person would hardly have become a media persona and it is even less likely that his testimony would be taken into account. But Shin, who escaped from North Korea after raping a 13-year-old girl, is “a lucky exception”.
Secondly, the proceedings are completely transforming not into proceedings against individual perpetrators of human rights, as they should be, but rather against the regime as a whole. Nobody cares that from the point of view of international law Kim Jong-un is only responsible for the crimes that took place during his reign. Moreover, it is now considered good form to prove the existence of a direct order or the real possibility of the accused to prevent something from happening. The story of two Croatian generals who were acquitted on charges of genocide confirms this. It turned out they could not have prevented the situation on the ground. Such a precedent means that the same logic can be applied to the leadership of the DPRK and that they cannot be stuck with symbolic responsibility for absolutely everything that happens during their reign. Or else we will be talking about double standards, when for the same types of crimes Serbian generals are held accountable and Croatian generals are not.
Thirdly, it would be nice to compare the tendentious report with the human rights situation in those countries that are apparent “friends of democracy”. If the same methods are applied against them (selection of specific witnesses or the use of partisan experts who gloss over the presence of other interpretations of events or points of view better supported by the facts), then another “state of evil”, the regime of which would need to be immediately destroyed at any cost, would be Saudi Arabia.
Another example – does anyone remember the active steps to restore order in Haiti, where people were being burned alive en masse (both political opponents of the regime, as well as those accused of witchcraft), which was very well described and documented, despite the fact that it was the same Darusman who was investigating whether everything was in order there.
Fourthly, even if the case is referred to the International Criminal Court, the process can take years and has a chance to get stuck or fall apart because during the proceedings the charges still need to be proven as well. Yes, of course, in certain clusters of public opinion the defendant has already been convicted, just as “everyone knows who shot down the Malaysian Boeing”, despite the fact that the official investigation is dragging on for a long time and has been extended the other day, and the results have yet to be seen. Therefore, the trial in the International Criminal Court has a chance to cause North Korea only reputational harm, becoming a long-term spectacle. And even if a verdict is handed down, we recall that the speculations of Kim Jong Il’s gold in European banks remain speculations, and the status of a rogue state, oddly enough, protects Kim against possible consequences of the verdict of the International Criminal Court. It is unlikely that he will be in a country that will attempt to arrest him. It is more likely that he will share the fate of the head of Sudan Omar al-Bashir, in respect of whom such a sentence has been imposed, but it does not pose any particular problem for him.
Fifthly, it should be noted that the discussion of human rights, which, judging by the tone of North Korean statements, has been very painful for Pyongyang, coincides with the periods of inter-Korean and regional relations, when North Korea is trying to establish a dialogue and achieve economic well-being. One gets the feeling that in this way they are trying to pigeonhole the North into a niche of a poor, inadequate and aggressive country, thereby hindering by any means its attempts to change its image and pushing it toward certain actions.
How dangerous is this pandemonium, not only in relation to the DPRK, and why do we need to expose such encroachments to merciless criticism? By rocking the boat in similar situations, the “adherents of democracy” look like the boy who cried “wolf!” and made sure that when the real wolves came, everyone thought he was joking again. They start casually throwing around words like “genocide”, “organization of hunger”, etc., and this is bad, because the international community must respond to a real threat if something like that were to happen in the world. So I hope very much that some of the countries understand the priority of strategic thinking on tactical advantage, and impose a “veto” on these proceedings before they lead to very unpleasant and unexpected results.
Konstantin Asmolov, Cand. Sc. (History), is a senior research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.