Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping: “As Close as Lips and Teeth” on Human Rights Denial

By Amanda Mortwedt Oh



A commemorative stamp of Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping 
appeared in the Rodong Sinmunon April 20, 2018.[1]

"If the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold.” This Chinese proverb is frequently invoked to explain the interdependence of North Korea and China’s relationship with one another. Put another way, the two countries are “as close as lips and teeth,” which became more readily apparent when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and China’s Xi Jinping met in person last month. Nowhere is their interdependent bond more apparent than the countries’ policies of human rights denial,[2]seen most strikingly in their collusion to forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees back to Kim’s gulags.[3]And this is precisely why human rights issues must be part of the discussion in the upcoming two summits between Kim Jong-un and Presidents Moon Jae-In and Donald Trump, respectively. The North Korean people deserve to have leaders face the reality of the North Korean regime. Now is an opportunity for Presidents Moon Jae-In and Donald Trump to urge Kim Jong-un to improve the human rights of North Koreans.

Importantly, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK (UN COI) noted North Korea and China’s close relationship in 2014 after it concluded an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in North Korea. In addition to finding evidence to support the tragedy that is the North Korean people’s pervasive victimization by the Kim family regime, amounting to crimes against humanity in many instances, the UN COI warned China on supporting North Korea’s atrocities. It urged China to caution relevant officials that their conduct could amount to the aiding and abetting of crimes against humanity where repatriations and information exchanges are specifically directed toward or have the purpose of facilitating the commission of crimes against humanity in North Korea.[4]

As a result of the diligence of civil society organizations, governments, and the United Nations, we know the North Korean regime systematically oppresses its people in ways that violate international law and customs, are universally immoral, and have the potential to pose a security threat to South Korea, the United States, and the Asia Pacific region. Kim’s regime is unquestionably criminal and the United Nations Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.[5]Furthermore, North Korea’s collusion with other tyrants of the world, specifically its weapons (both chemical and conventional) support to Bashir Al-Assad in Syria,[6]demands discussion at these summits at a minimum.

Yet, Xi Jinping, now “leader eternal,”[7]took the opportunity, or perhaps succumbed to pressure,[8]to hold the first summit with Kim Jong-un ahead of the summits with Moon and Trump. This spells the worst for serious discussion of human rights with Kim going forward because of China’s terrible human rights record as well as China’s practice of repatriating North Korean escapees back to the North.[9]Nevertheless, perhaps there has never been a more important time and topic to discuss in the Moon-Kim and Trump-Kim summits. In a visit that took the international community by surprise, Kim traveled to China by armored train to meet Xi for the first time on March 25, 2018. Kim’s next summit is now set for April 27, 2018 with President Moon, giving China and North Korea about a month to continue to collude on negotiation strategy and cooperative practices.[10]

The Xi-Kim Summit confirms that people’s basic and fundamental human rights are in even more peril. Both regimes mercilessly repress human rights, and it doesn’t take much more than an internet search–not to be taken for granted in China–to read news about China’s “re-education” camps for Uyghurs, for example.[11]These camps are aimed at squashing political dissent for a leader who has, in effect, already removed voting rights from the people of China. The fact that Xi has clear influence over Kim, who traveled outside of his comfort zone of North Korea, means that human rights considerations are nonexistent, except for a policy of human rights denial, coined by North Korean leadership expert Robert Collins for HRNK.[12]

As a result, Presidents Moon and Trump should push back during the upcoming summits against this collusion to deny human rights. With that in mind, these are the top five human rights considerations for Presidents Moon and Trump to discuss with Kim Jong-un, all of which North Korea violates in contravention of its five international human rights treaty obligations:[13]
  1. North Korea’s system of political imprisonment, manifested in modern-day gulags, where crimes against humanity are occurring. At a minimum, families of prisoners must be notified of their loved ones’ whereabouts and when they are killed or die in detention.[14]Kim Jong-un must also be pressed to release the three Americans and six South Koreans in detention. While the regime acknowledges its long-term labor facilities (kyo-hwa-so) it still denies the existence of its political prison camps (kwan-li-so) despite continually mounting evidence.[15]
  2. North Korea’s and China’s practice of detaining North Korean escapees and forcibly repatriating them to North Korea, where they face torture and, at times, death in detention. Kim must not order the execution of those fleeing North Korea, as has been reported as the current practice and witnessed via video.[16]
  3. Separated families deserve to be reunited with their loved ones, intentionally separated by North Korea for sixty-five years. So many of these family members have died or are elderly now, and soon this basic human right to family will be denied forever with their passing.[17]
  4. The full return and accounting of prisoners of war and those abducted by the North Korean regime.[18]As an ally against the Kim regime, Japan has specifically requested this issue be a part of the summits as well.
  5. An assurance against the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of war, especially against innocent civilians. In line with this, Kim must end the reported practice of testing these weapons against prisoners.[19]
Ultimately, the Xi-Kim summit is an indicator that the near future of human rights progress in North Korea remains bleak. Despite and because of this, now is the time to be even more hardened in the commitment by the Republic of Korea and the United States to push for human rights reform in North Korea, as people’s lives depend on it.


[1]On April 20, 2018, Christopher Green (@Dest_Pyongyang) tweeted, “Nothing says lips n teeth’ like #NorthKorea issuing a commemorative stamp. From today’s Rodong Sinmun. pic.twitter.com/dKXMw3bVhW.” The picture shows the stamp above in the Rodong Sinmun
[2]In 2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK found that “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” perpetrated against the people of North Korea, pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the state, amount to crimes against humanity in many instances. Crimes include murder, enslavement, deliberate starvation, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, torture, and enforced disappearances, among other hardships.
[3]North Koreans forcibly repatriated by China systematically endure persecution, torture while being interrogated about their activities abroad, sexual violence, and imprisonment in North Korea’s inhuman detention system. Persons found to have contact with the Republic of Korea or Christian churches may be forcibly disappeared into political prison camps, imprisoned in forced labor camps, or summarily executed.
[4]UN Human Rights Council, Report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, UN Human Rights Council, A/HRC/25/63, February 7, 2014, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/ReportoftheCommissionofInquiryDPRK.aspx.
[5]See the International Bar Association and the War Crimes Committee’s report, “Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Political Prisons,” (December 2017) requesting “that the UN provide the ICC or a special tribunal with jurisdiction to appropriately investigate, punish and remedy the crimes against humanity” committed by the Kim regime. 
[6]See Robert Collins, “North Korea: Committing Crimes Against Humanity in Two Regions of the World,” HRNK Insider, April 19, 2018,http://www.hrnkinsider.org/2018/04/north-korea-committing-crimes-against.html?m=1.
[7]Tom Rogan, “Democracy Dies in Communism: Washington Post runs Chinese propaganda op-ed,” Washington Examiner, April 3, 2018, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/democracy-dies-in-communism-washington-post-runs-chinese-propaganda-op-ed.
[8]Yun Sun, “Kim Jong Un Goes to China: Mending A Weathered Alliance,” 38 North, April 3, 2018, https://www.38north.org/2018/04/ysun040318/.
[9]See HRNK’s Co-Chair Emeritus Roberta Cohen’s and Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu’s December 12, 2017 Congressional testimonies on China’s treatment of North Korean refugees: https://www.hrnk.org/events/congressional-hearings.php.
[10]“China received a warning by the UN COI in 2014 that its policy of forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees could potentially amount to aiding and abetting North Korean perpetrators of crimes against humanity. The UN COI urged China to caution relevant officials that conduct could amount to the aiding and abetting of crimes against humanity where repatriations and information exchanges are specifically directed toward or have the purpose of facilitating the commission of crimes against humanity in North Korea.” Statement of Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), on “Protecting North Korean Refugees” at the Hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, December 12, 2017, https://www.hrnk.org/events/congressional-hearings-view.php?id=12.
[11]HRNK’s Board Member Jerome Cohen, a pre-eminent scholar on China, has written about this issue in detail. See Jerome Cohen, “China sends Uyghurs to re-education camps as a “preventive measure,” Jerry’s Blog, March 27, 2018, https://www.jeromecohen.net/jerrys-blog/china-sends-uyghurs-to-re-education-camps.
[12]See Robert Collins, “Pyongyang Republic: North Korea's Capital of Human Rights Denial,” (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2016), https://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/Collins_PyongyangRepublic_FINAL_WEB.pdf.
[13]Of the ten “core international human rights treaties,” North Korea has signed, acceded to, or ratified five: the ICCPR, ICESCR, CEDAW, CRC, and most recently the CRPD. SeeOHCHR, The Core International Human Rights Instruments and Their Monitoring Bodies, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CoreInstruments.aspx.
[14]See Robert Collins and Amanda Mortwedt Oh, “From Cradle to Grave: The Path of North Korean Innocents,” (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2017), 47-50, https://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/Collins_Cradle_to_Grave_WEB_FINALFINAL.pdf.
[15]HRNK reports on North Korea’s prisons are available at https://www.hrnk.org/publications/hrnk-publications.php. Its most recent, “The Parallel Gulag: North Korea’s ‘An-jeon-bu’ Prison Camps,” provides satellite imagery of over 20 suspected kyo-hwa-sofacilities inside North Korea. See David Hawk with Amanda Mortwedt Oh, “The Parallel Gulag: North Korea’s ‘An-jeon-bu’ Prison Camps,” (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2017), https://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/Hawk_The_Parallel_Gulag_Web.pdf.
[16]Tweet by Jihyun Park (@JihyunPark7) showing “A #video shot by a #NorthKorean security guard #shot by two women trying to escape. Two women are #mum and #daughter. #YaluRivel [sic],” https://twitter.com/jihyunpark7/status/977827453954555904?s=21.
[17]See OHCHR, “Torn Apart: The Human Rights Dimension of the Involuntary Separation of Korean Families,” 2016,   https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Report_TORN_APART.pdf.
[18]See Yoshi Yamamoto, “Taken! North Korea’s Criminal Abduction of Citizens of Other Countries,” (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2011), https://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/Taken_LQ.pdf.
[19]Dr. Anthony Cordesman's testimony: 
There are indicators that North Korea has a biological weapons program well underway. Several North Korean defectors have claimed that the North tested biological and/or chemical weapons on mentally or physically deficient children and concentration camp prisoners.
Mr. John Parachini's testimony:
The evidence to date of a North Korean biological program is thus far not comparable to the evidence for NK’s nuclear, missile, chemical, and conventional weapons capabilities. Defector reporting presents the most worrisome picture of the North Korean biological weapons program, but most of these reports cannot be corroborated or have been proven false. During 2003–2004 and 2009, several defectors claimed that NK tested biological agents on political prisoners, but these reports are difficult to verify. Recent defectors have been reported to have been vaccinated for anthrax, which has led some to assert that the regime has anthrax in its arsenal and is prepared to use it.
See Joint Subcommittee Hearing: More Than a Nuclear Threat: North Korea’s Chemical, Biological, and Conventional Weapons | House Committee on Foreign Affairs: Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade and Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, March 23, 2018, https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing/joint-subcommittee-hearing-nuclear-threat-north-koreas-chemical-biological-conventional-weapons/.

1 comments:

Joe Ching said...

it's better than america and other west countries in their human wrongs violations.