Friday, November 18, 2005

Abstention makes the North grow fonder?

As predicted, Seoul went ahead and voted against the EU-sponsored UN General Assembly resolution expressing "serious concern at continuing reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights," which include torture, public executions, imposition of the death penalty for political reasons, and the extensive use of forced labor.

The resolution also expressed "deep concern at the precarious humanitarian situation in the country, particularly the prevalence of infant malnutrition, which still affects the physical and mental development of a significant proportion of children."

Beijing did Seoul one better, voting against the resolution. But is that any surprise? (No, definitely not.) Actually, the number of votes against (22) and the number of abstentions (62) was considerably higher than the number of votes in favor. At least the abstentions didn't end up torpedoing the resolution.

Seoul says it has reasons. This what South Korea's UN delegate Shin Kaksoo had to say:
The Republic of Korea shares the serious concerns of the international community regarding the human rights situation faced by the people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea... At the same time, my government has other crucial objectives in our policy towards the DPRK, which are in our view, vital for peace and security in the Korean peninsula.
The Roh administration's position is that voting for the resolution would hurt warming North-South ties and endanger talks aimed at ending the nuclear crisis. It would be nice to think that President Roh and Unification Minister Chung Dong-young have a workable plan, but so often, as critics inside and outside of South Korea point out, it seems that they are undermining others' efforts to take responsibility and make changes.

Young South Korean women protest against human rights abuses in North Korea outside the North Korean embassy in Warsaw, in 2004.

For example, the UN resolution called on Pyongyang to ensure that humanitarian organizations, including NGOs and UN organizations, "have full, free, safe and unimpeded access to all parts of the country" so they can deliver aid impartially. But with Seoul reportedly giving food aid without such controls, Pyongyang has effectively booted out other international organizations that make nosy demands. [See the long quoted section at the end of this post for what kind of effect that might have.]

What does Pyongyang have to say about all this? Their UN envoy, Kim Changguk, said the resolution was based on "fabrications and distortions all concocted by the US, Japan and certain EU countries" with the aim of toppling the DPRK regime.

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