February 19, 2014
By emphasizing China’s complicity in the unparalleled atrocities by the North Korean regime of its people, United Nations investigators have doubtless ensured Beijing will use its Security Council veto to block further action.
Beijing has reacted angrily to the commission’s findings and recommendations, which are highly critical of China’s treatment of North Korean refugees who have fled across the border.
Chinese authorities regularly forcibly return these people, knowing they will be mistreated, tortured or killed. Beijing’s actions, says the commission, could be called “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.”
Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the contents of the UN report “unreasonable criticism.” The border-crossers, estimated by Beijing to number 30,000, but more likely to be about 200,000, “are not refugees,” she said. “We term them illegal North Korean migrants.”
So it is highly unlikely that action will be taken on the recommendations in the 372-page report that the UN enforce targeted sanctions against key figures in the Pyongyang regime of Kim Jong-un, including the new young leader himself. Also falling by the wayside will be the recommendation that the evidence of massive abuse gathered from refugees in a year-long series of interviews be passed to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution.
But it was probably worth risking the fate of the report in order to put Beijing on the carpet. Every now and then the world should be reminded that while the modern Chinese Communist Party government may be rich and powerful, it remains an abusive authoritarian regime which does not hesitate to use violence against its own people or anyone else who challenges its interests.
For years Beijing has played a duplicitous game over North Korea, for which it is the only international support and ally. While publicly joining international concern over the ruling Kim family’s development of nuclear weapons, Beijing has made itself the indispensable intermediary and used that position to effectively block any vigorous efforts to bring Pyongyang to heel.
China may be genuinely concerned about the acquisition of nuclear warheads by the unpredictable and often crudely violent North Korean regime. But Beijing would rather live with that uncertainty than have the Kim regime collapse with the probability that the peninsular would be reunified under South Korean leadership.
For Beijing, North Korea is a useful buffer state, keeping United States ally South Korea from its borders.
From the start of the work by the UN commission, led by retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, Beijing made clear its disdain for the whole process. This week Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua summed it up by saying: “We believe that politicizing human rights issues is not conducive towards improving a country’s human rights. We believe that taking human rights issues to the International Criminal Court is not helpful to improving a country’s human rights situation.”
So it was not surprising that when the UN commission tried on several occasions last year to arrange an invitation to China, it got nowhere. The report details the commission’s efforts to travel to the area of northeastern China to where most of the North Korean refugees have fled, to interview defectors there, and to talk to Chinese officials and experts dealing with North Korea. All these requests were turned down.
That rejection seems to have irked the UN commissioners. In the past, UN reports on human rights in North Korea have shied away from fingering China and referred only to problems for refugees in “neighbouring states.”
This time there is no such courtesy. There are six recommendations – one could almost call them demands – leveled squarely at Beijing.
China is called upon to stop forcibly repatriating North Korea refugees, unless their safety can be guaranteed by international human rights monitors. Beijing should offer proper asylum to the refugees and stop giving information about individuals to North Korea’s State Security Department.
China should also stop North Korean security agents from crossing the border to abduct refugees, who are then tortured or killed. Beijing should give special protection to North Korean refugee women who have established relationships with Chinese men. If these women are repatriated it is common for them to be given forced abortions by North Korean security agents or have their children killed in the name of preserving racial purity.
The commission insists China should give the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to the North Korean defectors. Beijing should also seek advice and assistance from the UN to ensure it is meeting its obligations under international refugee law.
It is a damning indictment of Beijing, especially in the context of the evidence of the appalling abuses heaped on the people of North Korea by the Kim regime. The commissioners say the evidence of systematic starvation, torture and killings by the regime are without “any parallel in the contemporary world,” but are reminiscent of genocide in Germany under the Nazis and the “killing fields” in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot.
It would be encouraging to be able to believe that China will take this report seriously and recognize that if it wants to be a global player, it must play by global rules.
But unfortunately, the evidence is that one of the current Beijing regime’s ambitions as a global power is to make its own rules.
Copyright © Jonathan Manthorpe 2014