Friday, November 25, 2011

Desperately Disappointing Darusman

Maruzki Darusman gave a press conference this morning to convey the results of his six-day trip to South Korea. The contents of my report on the event were published by Daily NK at the time, and are also republished below;

Maruzki Darusman, the UN’s special rapporteur on North Korean human rights issues, believes there has been no improvement since he took on the role in 2010, and has once again urged Pyongyang to take action to remedy its multitude of human rights failings.
Darusman, who gave a press conference at a Seoul hotel this morning, wrapping up a six-day visit to South Korea, noted that the only area in which any progress at all has been made with North Korea in the recent past is in terms of “cooperation with other UN entities, for instance the World Food Programme.”
Conversely, he slammed North Korea’s human rights record yet again, commenting, “The DPRK is perhaps the only country in the world today that does not recognize that non-cooperation with the human rights mechanism is not an option.” 
Darusman’s criticisms of North Korea, derived from the fact-finding trip, include the prevalence of human rights abuses in the testimony of new defectors at Hanawon, the resettlement center for defectors south of Seoul, a 17% year-on-year increase in defector numbers reaching Seoul, the current separated family reunions freeze and the ongoing stonewalling by North Korea of calls for the repatriation of more than 500 South Korean abductees still thought to be being held in the country. 
He also agreed to look into the case of Shin Suk Ja, saying, “The case of Oh Gil Nam is an emblematic case that illustrates the seriousness and magnitude of the problem and reminds us of the need to resolve the issue of abductions urgently." It is the internment of Dr. Oh’s wife Shin and their two children in a North Korean political prison camp which forms the inspiration for the ongoing ‘Save the Daughter of Tongyeong!’ movement in South Korea. 
However, disappointingly for the supporters of the movement, Darusman did so by saying that he plans to collect information on the case before “engaging the UN human rights mechanism, including the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in Geneva,” rather than lending his voice to calls for Shin and her daughters to be released. 
“I will continue to be in touch with this matter on occasions” so as to “bring it forward to its resolution, hopefully in the near future,” he added. 
Darusman also initially refused to cite China directly for its role in repatriating defectors to face torture and imprisonment inside North Korea, instead noting simply that many defectors are “forcibly refouled or returned by the neighboring countries.” However he did, responding to a later question, note that “China would certainly be one of those countries.”

But I don't think the original content really represents the nuance of the event. Although my headline was soft around the edges for reasons of unity with Daily NK's Korean page, I personally believe the core of the story actually lies in the last two paragraphs.

For me, it is wholly indicative of the failure of the UN as it pertains to North Korea that the organization's own special rapporteur on North Korean human rights would be able to talk about the repatriation of defectors for five full minutes without mentioning China, and then not even mention the abductions issue in his recommendations despite having met Oh Gil Nam during the trip. Any headline on this press conference that you have read will have led with the contents of the post-press conference Q&A, and as such we should remember; if the press had not pushed Darusman on these two points, there would have been no mention of China at all and almost none of Shin Suk Ja.

I was not a huge fan of Darusman's predecessor Vitit Muntarbhorn, but that may have been simply because acting as the UN special rapporteur for this issue is such a thankless task in so many ways. However, to his immense credit, Muntarbhorn seemed clued up on the problems which he was required to address from the beginning. Darusman does not. He seemed uncomfortable to be responding to a question about Oh Gil Nam, at one point even seeking clarification of the question, and didn't even appear all that sure how many children Oh and Shin Suk Ja actually have. He then tried quite hard to avoid namechecking China. 

It was not an encouraging scene.

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