By Niklas Jakobsson
There is always something about North Korea in the media, whether it was the immortality of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong Il’s fear of flying or Kim Jong-un’s love of basketball. But within the last couple of months, and last week in particular, the human rights violations taking place in North Korea on a daily basis have been pushed into the limelight.
The UN is just a few weeks away from a vote that could seek to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court. So are we expecting Kim Jong-un to visit The Hague?
The ‘North Korea to ICC’ movement has been gaining traction because of a relentless push by the European Union and Japan. But what’s been even more surprising is the so-called ‘charm offensive’ that North Korea has been on since this movement really came to life. A UN investigator stated that there is more than enough evidence to hold leader Kim Jong-un accountable for human rights violations. Is the country which was previously afraid of no-one becoming scared of the ICC?
In a blog-post for Brookings, Paul Park and Katharine H.S. Moon argue that there is one major goal that emerges from the ‘charming’ side of North Korea.
“Easing international pressure on its atrocious human rights abuses is one major goal.”
History has shown us that North Korea can be more elusive than Joseph Kony, when it comes to commenting on its human rights abuses. But Koh Yoo-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University, who was quoted in the Korea Herald, believes that a new era lies ahead for the reclusive dictatorship.
“In the past, the North used to shrug off the international criticism of its human rights situation by denying any violations or turning a blind eye to it. But it has recently been very active in easing the pressure by publishing its official report on human rights and actively explaining its rights policy.”
Mark Kersten, the founder of Justice in Conflict, believes that it is not a fear of the international justice organ that has pushed Kim Jong-un to be more charming than his father and grandfather combined. Instead, the totalitarian leader is thinking strategically, fearing the political ramifications of a referral rather than the legal ones.
“Kim Jong-un fears the politics of the Court and, in particular, how referrals can tilt the international political landscape via selective enforcement and endorsement of the ICC by states.”
Voices have been raised that North Korea is approaching the situation in a frantic or even desperate fashion. But Clint Richards, in an article for The Diplomat, thinks we should give it a bit of time before calling North Korea’s actions ‘frantic’.
“It is perhaps too early to say Pyongyang’s actions are frantic, or that the resolution before the U.N. is giving the U.S. or anyone else unexpected leverage.”
So asking the question: ‘What drives the North Korean charm-offensive?’, Mark Kersten comes up with an interesting, and cheesy, answer.
“But this is a young leader who clearly cares about Swiss cheese, ski resorts and meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping one day. This is also a regime that needs Western states to continue the status quo song-and-dance of threatening nuclear action and then getting rewarded. All of the above becomes more difficult if the UN system staples the idea of an ICC referral onto the name of North Korea.”
But what if all this effort is completely unrelated to an ICC referral? In an article for Asia Times Online, Joseph R. DeTrani argues that Pyongyang is trying to charm the socks off the rest of the world for financial reasons.
“The North is more isolated now and is hurting economically from United Nations-imposed sanctions, some imposed in response to Kim Jung-un’s escalation of tension.”
Whether socks will come off ahead of the UN vote or not, we are writing a new chapter on North Korea and its relationship with the rest of the world. How this plays out, and the reasons behind it, are questions for historians to answer in the coming decades.
- Do you think North Korea is afraid of an ICC referral?
- Is the North Korean ‘charm offensive’ an act of desperation?
- How much is this a political issue rather than a legal one?
Sergii Fedko is a Ukrainian cartoonist who works for Cartoon Movement
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