Sunday, August 11, 2013

Continuity of Denial: Kim Jong-un’s Succession and North Korean Human Rights by Robert Collins

This short piece provides more insight into the north Korean regime, the system and nL human rights that you can find in any essay from a think tank or academic institution.  I am of course biased because the author is one of my mentors, particularly on north Korea.

Sunday, August 11, 2013
Continuity of Denial: Kim Jong-un’s Succession and North Korean Human Rights

by Robert Collins

          Few countries base their self-sustainment on the concept of denying human rights to its populace. That is, if they are not authoritarian dictatorships, which historically see internal enemies in a far more immediate context than foreign ones.  History has seen plenty of these dictatorships in the 20th Century and before.  But the 21st Century has its fair share.  And perhaps there is no dictatorship more totalitarian than that of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Regime. 

          North Korean society is characterized by the values of the collective over the individual, the priorities of a dictatorship, and the denial of human rights to any and all citizens.  Led by a regime that overwhelmingly employs pervasive tools of political terror, North Korean society is designed from the top to focus on collective support to the supreme leader through revolutionary thought and constant political indoctrination.  

Contrary to early predictions of economic reform, Kim Jong-un has sustained and promoted the policies of his father and grandfather.  The human rights plight of the North Korean citizen has worsened as those in Pyongyang continue to gain privileges and opportunity for financial success, so long as they work to promote all current regime policies, while those outside Pyongyang continue to work in a feudal system where daily survival is very difficult at best.  The gap between the haves and have-nots, more accurately described as the gap between the privileged and suppressed, continues to widen. 

          Inheriting a dictatorship is risky business, to be sure.  Threats abound and plenty of challengers would be ready to step into the leadership position if it were not for the political terror network so prevalent in dictatorships.  The inheritor of dictatorial power, whether he or she had reasonable morals in the first place, must put those morals aside to manage the volatile institutions, personnel and policies implementing human rights as they are until succession is secure.  That means a new dictator must grasp control of the current political structure as it is before considering how to institute any kind of reform—economic, human rights or otherwise.  So after securing the Kim Family Regime and after gaining confidence in his ability to control threats to his position as the North’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un basically has three choices regarding the regime’s human rights policies: improve them, leave current human rights practices as they are, or increase denial and suppression of those rights. From the looks of it, Kim Jong-un has chosen the latter course of action.

          Certainly, denying human rights does not happen in a vacuum of security policy.  Indeed, there are many cornerstones to Kim Jong-un’s hold on power, just as there were for his father and grandfather:  political terror, ideological indoctrination of the populace, social classification of each citizen, resource control, border security, and personnel purges on the domestic front, as well as increasing military capabilities for both internal and external defense and to heighten peninsular and regional tensions on the international front.  All of these contribute in some way, directly or indirectly, to Kim Jong-un’s ability to deny human rights to every North Korean. 

            The greatest challenge Kim Jong-un faced in the succession process was securing control of the military.  The casual observer of North Korea would think that the North Korean dictator need not regard the control of the military as a component of change in the North’s human rights policy.  However, without control of the military, there is no guarantee of succession and no anticipation of human rights improvement. 

After Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke in August 2008, he began laying the foundation for Kim Jong-un’s succession to replace him.[1]  For Kim Jong-un’s transition to greater and greater authority, Kim Jong-il did not have the 30 years he was given by Kim Il-sung to secure power. As it turned out, he only had three years.

          After returning from his secondary education in Switzerland, Kim Jong-un attended a three-year artilleryman course at the Kim Il-sung Military Academy and then a two-year graduate course for regimental and division commanders at the same institution.  His first assignment was in General Political Bureau’s (GPB) division of the Korean Workers’ Party Organization and Guidance Department, a position that taught him how to gain control of the Korean People’s Army through the GPB political commissar system.[2] 

          From that point on, Kim Jong-un has used GPB personnel[3] as his means of controlling internal security agencies, the core institutions of human rights denial.  For example, Choi Yong-hae[4]was appointed the new GPB Director in April 2012[5] from one of North Korea’s premier families whose dedication to the Kim Family Regime is total.  After Lee Chin-su died in 1987 as the Director of the State Security Department (SSD), Kim Jong-il did not appoint a new director through the end of his life in 2011. Essentially, that meant Kim Jong-il himself was the SSD Director and lead implementer of human rights denial.  But within a short time after assuming power, Kim Jong-un appointed General Kim Won-hung to be the SSD Director, moving from the position of vice-director of the GPB.  Kim also promoted another GPB senior officer, Colonel General Cho Kyong-chol, to the position of Commander of the Military Security Command, the SSD’s military counterpart, and lead institution of human rights denial within the Korean People’s Army and defense industries.[6]  These actions followed the dismissal of two SSD Deputy Directors in 2011 (Ryu Kyong) and 2012 (U Dong-chuk).  Loyalty to Kim Jong-un is the supreme requirement of the regime’s lead human rights henchman.  There have been plenty of military personnel purges after Kim Jong-un’s assumption of power.  Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho was purged from his position of Chief of the KPA General Staff; Admiral Kim Chol was purged from his position of Deputy Minister of People’s Armed Forces; and six of nine KPA corps commanders were replaced, the first time in North Korean history that has happened in such a short period of time.  Indeed, since Kim Jong-un was designated successor in 2010, a total of 32 elite personnel have been purged, a solid indicator of no changes in the North’s human rights policies.[7]  To reinforce this approach of loyalty first, Kim Jong-un gave a speech on October 29, 2012, at Kim Il-sung Military Academy where he stated, “We do not need people who are not devoted to the Party and Suryeong (supreme leader), no matter how militaristic their disposition or excellent their tactical ability.”[8]

          As for Kim Jong-un himself, his first military appointment was as the Deputy Chairman of the Party Central Military Committee on September 28, 2010.  Within days after his Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011, and as an indicator of power priorities, Kim Jong-un was appointed the by Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) Politburo Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army on December 30, 2011. This was based on Kim Jong-il’s wishes dating from October 8, 2011.[9]  Kim Jong-un was then appointed at the 4th Party Representatives Conference on April 11, 2012 as the Party’s First Secretary[10] and then appointed the Chairman of the National Defense Commission at a meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly meeting on April 13, 2012.[11]

          Another connection between the military and human rights denial are North Korea’s asymmetric military capabilities development and its impact on resources.  The successful long-range missile test in December 2012[12] and its third nuclear test,[13] along with subsequent threats against President Obama, the United States, and South Korea, were effective in raising military tensions across Northeast Asia to the U.S. homeland.  But these capabilities were and are a major contributor to the denial of the right to food as described in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[14] The December missile launch was estimated by the South Korean Government to cost US$1.3 Billion, enough to purchase 4.6 million tons of corn to feed its people.[15]  The failed missile test of the previous April cost the Kim Regime US$850 Million, enough to feed 80% of all North Koreans for a year.[16] These expenditures could have easily relieved food security problems in North Korea where, according to the latest quarterly report from the World Food Programme, 81% of all households are at the poor or borderline level in food consumption.[17]  Missiles and nukes before feeding the populace is obviously the priority of the Kim Jong-un Regime, as evidenced by a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report that the North only purchased 57% of the grain necessary to feed its population.[18]
(Continued at the link below)

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