Global Independent Analytics

North Korea Sanctions Pose Human Rights Dilemma

Activists are supporting the new international sanctions imposed on North Korea to restrict its nuclear program, even though the economic measures would violate human rights

Brian Padden for Voice of America reports: The United Nations measures adopted in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch in February placed trade and financial restrictions on Pyongyang to cut off funding to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The U.N. sanctions, however, did not mention the 2014 U.N. resolution to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, or the extensive U.N. human rights report that documented ongoing and systematic atrocities, including a network of political prisons, murder, enslavement, torture and rape. Despite the fact that the U.S. and China developed the international sanctions in collaboration, the vote in U.N. on the human rights measure is likely to obtain veto from Russia and China, North Korea’s closest allies.

“I think the whole idea of pressure on North Korea is something that is important because it actually makes the government recognize that it can no longer live outside of international law,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, a non-profit civil rights advocacy organization.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused North Korea of intentionally violating international laws by expanding its nuclear weapons program to its own citizens’ detriment. The sanctions imposed by the U.S. unilaterally on March, 2, also included North Korean human rights abuses as justification for the punitive measures.

Some analysts say that the economic sanctions were, either way, inevitable but still essential to pressure Kim Jong Un to end his authoritarian government. “The sanctions from the international community will have an economic impact on North Koreans, but on the other hand, the North Korean regime will clearly feel the impact as well,” said Choi Yong-sang, with the Network for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul.

It is quite likely that the sanctions will harm the mine workers since the export of North Korea minerals is banned from March, 2. Since Korea and China advocated against humanitarian exceptions that could have allowed for the trade of iron and coal, the economic blow will not be softened. Financial regulations that stop banking transactions outside the country and blacklist some individuals and corporations could also discourage potential investors.Those connected to the labor export program would be targeted by the U.S. sanctions too, and the state will be deprived of billions of dollars more. And finally, the shutdown of Kaesong Industrial Complex, which was cooperatively run by with South Korea, will leave more than 54.000 North Korean unemployed.

“The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a February report that the North Korean people are already suffering a significant food shortage. The FAO said the North needs 440,000 tons of food from abroad this year, but so far international donors have only provided 17,600 tons.

North Korea’s state media recently warned that the sanctions may cause another “arduous march,” referring to the famine in the 1990s that killed over three million people,” continues Padden.

Also, most private aid programs of South Korea have been discontinued after the sanctions were imposed. For instance, the Eugene Bell Foundation providing tuberculosis medications to North Korea was stopped early March; however, later exceptions for humanitarian aid were applied. Human rights activists argue that innocent people suffer from the international standoff.

However, Pyongyang has a story of diverting aid for different political purposes and many countries, discontinuing its assistance programs.

“Our view on humanitarian aid is that we don’t agree to have restrictions on humanitarian aid and we do support for instance, support for food aid and other basic humanitarian materials for North Korea, but we believe also that these need to be strictly monitored,” said Robertson.

“If the international community can closely inspect the distribution process, it can assist the people without helping the regime, but we are not sure if North Korea would accept such a condition,” said Choi.

However, the growth of private markets could possibly reduce the adverse effect of the sanctions for many North Koreans. The citizens have already gotten used to receiving no help from the Communist government in Pyongyang, but as long as the sanctions will tighten, the more of the ordinary people will experience greater economic pain that the elites in Pyongyang. But even human rights advocates are willing to take such a risk in order to hold the administration accountable.

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

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