For the second year in a row, the United States has prevented the United Nations Security Council from scrutinizing North Korea’s abysmal human rights record, sending a clear message to Pyongyang and other abusive governments that the US is prepared to look away regarding rights violations.
The special Security Council meeting was set to convene today, to coincide with Human Rights Day. Earlier this month it appeared the Council had the minimum number of member votes – nine, including the US – for the meeting to happen. But on December 6, US Ambassador Kelly Craft told reporters her delegation had not yet decided whether to go ahead with the meeting.
According to Foreign Policy, the about-face was an attempt by President Trump to preserve efforts to persuade Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons ahead of next year’s US presidential election.
The move signals the Trump administration doesn’t consider North Korea’s human rights violations to be a big deal.
The Council plans to hold a different meeting on North Korea later this week, focused on the country’s weapons proliferation activities. While some delegations may raise Pyongyang’s rights record in their speeches, that is no substitute for a meeting devoted to human rights.
North Korea has always hated the annual Security Council meetings focused on its widespread use of arbitrary detention, starvation, torture, summary executions, sexual violence and other crimes against the North Korean people. Last year, North Korea’s UN envoy called the meetings, held annually between 2014 and 2017, an attempt to “stoke confrontation.”
That message was apparently received, as the Council abandoned the annual meeting last year. That inaction sent a message to North Korea’s leadership that human rights had become a second-tier issue.
In 2014, a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea said in a report that Pyongyang’s abuses were so severe the Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The UN Human Rights Council mandated a UN office to collect evidence of abuses for possible use in future prosecutions.
Kim Jong Un and other senior North Korean officials will undoubtedly be elated they can duck US criticism of their human rights record once again this year. In the meantime, the rest of the Security Council should find a way to resume the North Korea human rights meetings even without the Trump administration’s support.