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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

State of paranoia

Update : 18 Nov 2015, 06:02 PM

One of the most complex stories in the world today is that of East Asia, with the growing influence of China’s 1.3 billion people on one side, the “Hermit Kingdom” of North Korea on the other, and numerous contentious relationships throughout the region. It is, however, most agonising to watch how Kim Jong-un, immediately after taking over power in 2011 after his father Kim Jong-il’s death, became a ruthless and paranoid ruler.

He punished dissidents, including his own uncle Jang Song Thaek, with capital punishment and executed by a special military tribunal. Indeed, his provocative attitude and use of state institutions transformed North Korea into a rogue state and a threatening nuclear power while a huge number of people continued to starve for want of food and denied basic human rights and dignity. The US and its allies have for years been unable to find a solution except for applying sanctions and appealing to China. Obviously, the recommendations of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) remain as moral force

The COI of the UN Human Rights Council, established in March 2013, documented “unspeakable atrocities” and “systematic, widespread, and gross human-rights violations” committed by North Korea, its regime, state institutions, and officials. The Commission accused the regime of six main human rights abuses: Arbitrary detention and torture, starvation, denial of freedom of thought, denial of freedom of movement, foreign abductions, and discrimination.

The strategic environment that has complicated international nuclear non-proliferation efforts in North Korea also makes it difficult to enforce any indictment of the North Korean leadership for crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations.

There has been no discernible improvement in human rights in the Democratic Republic of Korea or North Korea since Kim Jong-un assumed power.

Although North Korea has ratified four key international human rights treaties and technically possesses a constitution with some rights protections, in reality, the government represses all forms of freedom of expression and opinion and does not allow any organised political opposition, independent media, free trade unions, civil society organisations, or religious freedom.

The government also imposes collective punishment for supposed anti-state offenses, effectively enslaving hundreds of thousands of citizens, including children, in prison camps, and other detention facilities with deplorable conditions and forced labour.

Torture and inhumane treatment

North Korean refugees living in exile -- some of who fled after Kim Jong-un took power -- told Human Rights Watch that people arrested in North Korea are routinely tortured by officials seeking confessions, bribes, and obedience. Common forms of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings with iron rods or sticks, kicking and slapping, and enforced sitting or standing for hours. Guards also sexually abuse female detainees.

Executions

North Korea’s criminal code stipulates that the death penalty can be applied for vaguely defined offenses such as “crimes against the state” and “crimes against the people.” A December 2007 amendment to the penal code extended the death penalty to additional crimes, including non-violent offenses such as fraud and smuggling, as long as authorities determine the crime is “extremely serious.”

Political prisoner camps

North Korean refugees also confirm that persons accused of political offenses are usually sent to brutal forced labour camps, known as kwan-li-so, operated by North Korea’s National Security Agency.

Modern slavery

North Korean workers party cadres collect a big portion of wages earned by North Korean workers working abroad, and those foreign currencies are used for bribes and buying supportive technology of nuclear weapon, an investigation report said. With the money accumulated through such a method, North Korean senior officials abroad bribe their way to success and contribute to the Kim Jong-un regime’s governing funds. And the rest are used to purchase gifts for their families.

Poverty

The North Korean government spent an estimated $1.34bn on its rocket program last year. An official with the ministry stated these resources could have taken care of food shortages within the country for “four to five years.” Recent missile tests have taken place at a time when North Korea’s famine is reportedly at one of the worst points in the nation’s history.

An October report from the International Food Policy Research Institute indicated that North Korea’s hunger situation is at the “serious level,” with its Global Hunger Index at 19 points, substantially higher than that of 15.7 in 1990. This is very alarming news, especially since the famine in the 1990s claimed the lives of between 2 to 3.5 million people. 

Mass atrocity

North Korea’s mass atrocity situation continues annually to be the subject of a vast and growing body of documentation. In recent years, the North Korean state has been found to be comprehensively violating the UN genocide convention by targeting for destruction every group protected by the international treaty while also employing every method defined as genocidal in Article 2.

Genocide Watch, a non-partisan NGO that exists “to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide” and whose board of advisers includes respected anti-genocide activists such as the retired Canadian general Roméo Dallaire and Samantha Power (current senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights for the US National Security Council), published a report on December 19, 2011, that determined conclusively that North Korea has committed genocide as defined by Raphael Lemkin’s 1948 convention, stating that there is “ample proof that genocide has been committed and mass killing is still under way in North Korea.”

Paranoid leadership

The bizarre mind of Kim Jong-un can be explained through his still-immature state where he orchestrates temper tantrums and threats of punishments to get his way in the international world.

It was agonising to watch how Kim Jong-un, immediately after taking power, punished dissidents, including his own uncle -- executed by a special military tribunal. Indeed, his provocative attitude and use of state institutions transformed North Korea into a “rogue” state and a threatening nuclear power while a huge number of people continued to starve for want of food and denied basic human rights and dignity.

The US and its allies have, for years, been unable to find a solution except for applying sanctions and appealing to China. Obviously, the recommendations of the UN Commission of Enquiry remain as moral force. The lack of enforcement mechanism has been a serious blow to the UN resolution.

The COI recommendation that the North Korean leadership be referred to the International Criminal Court remains an empty threat. The past examples in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia suggest that high-level officials charged with crimes against humanity are generally untouchable until they lose power or the regime falls. 

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