by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS—In a stern and sweeping rebuke to North Korea’s human rights abuses, a UN Committee has slammed the repressive communist regime in an annual report on “The Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” In a vote of 112 in favor, and 19 against, with 50 abstentions, the Third Committee (political) passed a resolution which once again keeps international pressure on Pyongyang in the midst of an impending visit to the reclusive country by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The report “condemns the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights” in the quaintly titled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Countries supporting the resolution included the USA, Canada, Japan and South Korea along with the members of the European Union and large majorities in Latin America. The nineteen member opposition to the resolution included the usual suspects ranging from Cuba and Mainland China to Russia, Sudan and Venezuela and of course North Korea. Among fifty abstentions were Ethiopia, South Africa and Singapore.
“Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including inhuman conditions of detention: rape, public executions, arbitrary detention, the imposition of the death penalty for political and religious reasons, collective punishment extending up to three generations; and the extensive use of forced labor,” are among the findings of the UN most recent survey.
The document underscores the DPRK’s “extensive system of political prison camps, where a vast number of persons are deprived of their liberty and subjected to deplorable conditions.” Human rights campaigners have documented a large number of labor and detention camps similar to the former Soviet gulag system.
The survey equally underscores a unique feature of the DPRK, the songbun system which categorizes citizens by the State assigned, “social class and birth, and also includes consideration of political opinions and religions.”
In addition, people with disabilities are targeted by the regime which uses forced relocation, and often “collective camps” for disabled people.
Equally, the document decries the increasing use of human trafficking as well as “forced abortions and other forms of gender based violence.”
As part of the wider focus on the DPRK human rights situation, the resolution encourages the UN Security Council to keep its consideration on the referral of the regime to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Significantly the document welcomes the opening of a field office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul, South Korea. The Seoul office aims at “enhanced engagement” and advocacy for human rights cases.
Naturally while most of the international community presses for an opening or even a glimmer of good news on the human rights situation in North Korea, it’s highly unlikely that the hermetically sealed country is about to allow many forms of openness as it fears the contagion of cultural and media contact with neighboring South Korea’s democracy. In a sense, contemporary North Korea resembles Mainland China into the 1970’s when the undertow of the radical Maoists and so called Cultural Revolution had created a totalitarian nightmare which still haunts China.
The New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF) recently launched an international coalition to support the North Korea Human Rights Act, a bill which when passed by national parliaments promotes greater awareness of North Korean human rights abuses to “create a specific North Korean human rights archive to collect, record, and preserve cases of human rights violations; and most importantly, authorize material and monetary support for South Korean civil society groups who tirelessly support victims of the North.”
The legislation is now set to pass the South Korean parliament in Seoul where the bill has “sat in political limbo for the last ten years,” according to HRF.
North Korea’s system remains frozen in a bizarre Marxist monarchy of the Kim Family rule, now under Kim Jong-un, and views any openness or glimmers of political light as a profound danger to regime survival. When challenged by the successful example of South Korea, literally next door, the threat becomes all the more acute.
So while the majority of UN member states call upon North Korea to open up, Pyongyang pushes back with a sullen indifference and hiding behind its nuclear arsenal. The visit to Kim’s reclusive hermit kingdom by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a fellow South Korean, may offer just the right inducement to break the humanitarian logjam.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He’s the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China