The End of Charm II: The Human Rights Dance



Yesterday, we wrote on the end of North Korea’s charm offensive. In less than a week, Pyongyang has cut off whatever slim hopes were left for North-South talks and issued a strongly-worded Foreign Ministry statement (reproduced in full yesterday) saying “no” to the Six Party Talks, “no” to any human rights dialogue with the U.S., and “no” to denuclearization. The Foreign Ministry statement held out one slim hope, however: that North Korea was drawing a distinction between the US and Europe and that it might follow through on its offer to initiate a human rights dialogue with the EU and allow a visit by UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman.

Yesterday, however, we also received a press statement by the DPRK’s permanent mission that lays these hopes to rest. As we suspected in an earlier post, the statement confirms that the purpose of the DPRK’s efforts at the UN was either to encourage the EU and Japan to withdraw the draft resolution altogether—virtually impossible given the tabling of the Commission of Inquiry report—or at least to remove any references to individual culpability and referral to the International Criminal Court. Japan and the EU were unmoved by this effort to make a trade. With the tabling of the resolution (.pdf here), North Korea “will suspend overall consultations with the EU with regard to the ‘draft resolution.’”

The interpretations of this diplomatic flurry will no doubt reflect priors. The easiest interpretation is that the North Korean efforts were disingenuous from the start. Pyongyang’s “magnanimity” (their term) in agreeing to discuss human rights was designed to derail, conveniently confirming the country’s victim narrative.

But even if true, those with an interest in human rights in North Korea now need to think of the way forward. The CoI report walks a delicate and perhaps untenable line: to document, condemn and hold accountable; but at the same time to engage and coax changes of policy. We cannot walk away from the findings of the CoI, but we simultaneously need to underline the CoI’s willingness to talk seriously about what credible progress on human rights would look like. Europe is still in the best position to carry this ball and should continue to work the proposal for EU-DPRK and UN dialogues.

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