It is common for China to stand by North Korea, its communist ally, in the international arena. Yet its move to block the latest U.N. action against human rights abuses perpetrated by the leadership in Pyongyang has the international community concerned.
The U.N. Human Rights Council, which had drawn up the most comprehensive report yet on human rights violations in North Korea, plans to adopt a resolution and send it to the U.N. Security Council. It hopes the Security Council will take up the resolution, which includes a recommendation that North Korean leaders be held accountable.
But China, which has veto rights in the Security Council, has strongly indicated that it would block any such action. This dims the hope of the Human Rights Council to take the case to the International Criminal Court.
The UNHRC report, based on an investigation conducted by a probe panel, laid bare the horrible human rights abuses in North Korea, which it compared to atrocities committed by the Nazis. For its scope and detailed findings, some of which are based on interviews with North Korean victims, the 372-page report is said to be the most wide-ranging, comprehensive report on what it called “crimes against humanity” in the repressive country.
The landmark report also includes unprecedented recommendations to refer the case to the ICC, which could set the stage for the indictment of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other senior officials for human rights violations.
As expected, Chinese diplomats came forward to publicly oppose U.N. action. Asked whether China would veto a U.N. Security Council resolution, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said early this week that Beijing would “oppose politicizing the issue of human rights and intervening in the internal affairs of a country.” He also said bringing an issue to the International Criminal Court would not help improve a country’s human rights conditions.
In Geneva, Chinese delegates to the UNHCR meeting went so far as to criticize the report for “failing to meet the standards of fairness and objectivity.”
They specifically disputed the report’s recommendation that Beijing stop sending North Korean defectors back to the North. A Chinese representative said the charge of forced repatriations was “close to nonsense” and based on “unconfirmed claims.” He claimed that the report lacked objectivity since it did not have the cooperation of related countries.
This is nonsense and a clear self-contradiction: China is definitely one of the related countries. Why didn’t it allow the UNHCR’s Commission of Inquiry to conduct investigations near the China-North Korea border, where many North Korean defectors are hiding in the fear of being caught by Chinese authorities and sent back to the North?
One knows that besides its crackdowns on North Korean defectors, China has a poor record of human rights for its own people, which is why Beijing is sensitive whenever human rights issues are raised. Nevertheless, ignoring human rights abuses in North Korea is truly unbefitting for a country that wants to exercise global leadership commensurate with its growing economic might.
In reality, it will not be easy to make North Korean leaders stand trial at the ICC. Nevertheless, China must stop shielding the most brutal regime in the world and not stand in the way of the U.N. mechanism to take steps to improve the human rights situation in North Korea.
Chinese leaders would do well to heed these remarks of the head of the COI: “Great nations had had the courage to tackle the crimes of Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and apartheid in South Africa. They must now act on North Korea.”