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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog: Man Bites Dog Edition

by | November 7th, 2013 | 06:32 am

A quick review of some recurrent stories, and at the end, the man bites dog tale. First up, food aid. I had the honor of being invited to testify at the recent UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korean human rights hearings, specifically being asked to address the right to food (hopefully the video will soon be posted on the Commission’s web site). While it was sadly easy to document North Korean actions to hinder the aid relief program, I mentioned in passing that from a donor’s perspective, there was also room for improvement in both the US and South Korean aid programs.

One aspect is the legal requirement that the US purchase its food aid here in the US and transport it to where it’s needed on US ships. This policy means that the commodity composition of what we provide is often non-optimal (we send what we grow rather than what the recipient needs), it’s more expensive than necessary, and critically, procurement in the US and shipping via the US on US bottoms greatly delays the timeliness of the response. As my co-panelist at the CoI, Andrew Natsios, once observed, by the time the aid gets there the people are dead. Andrew tried to reform the system when he was the Administrator of USAid, but ran into an unholy alliance of farm groups, NGOs, shippers and their associated unions. There have been intermittent attempts to reform the system since, and farm group opposition has died down somewhat.

Last week, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) introduced the standard package of “common sense” reforms. I often disagree with the positions advocated by Congressman Royce, but on this one I think that he has it right.

Our man in Jo’burg, Brooks Spector gave me the head’s up that South African Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim will undertake an official visit to North Korea. South Africa maintains relatively close relations with North Korea as a legacy of the North’s support for opposition forces in the struggle against apartheid. At times the rhetorical support from some quarters, such as the ANC Youth League, has reached absurd and embarrassing levels. But South Africa is a country that has voluntarily de-nuclearized and so feels that it has some special moral weight on this issue.  Unfortunately, the press release put out by the Foreign Ministry could be construed as implying that they believe that North Korea is still part of the NPT. Or maybe that is a tricky negotiating tactic on their part.

Japanese pro-wrestler turned parliamentarian Antonio Inoki former Sports for Peace Party standard bearer and Iraqi hostage release negotiator (Rodman could learn something from him) is almost as fun as the ANC Youth League. He was back in North Korea this week in complete contravention of a slew of Diet policies and procedures. Unlike Jonathan Martin, if any of the parliamentary leadership try to bully him upon return, he just might punch them in the face. Thanks to Maeve Whelan-Wuest for flagging this one.

Finally, North Korean man bites Canadian dog. The headline from Toronto’s  Globe and Mail says it all: “North Korea denounces Canada’s human rights record.” They claim that it is in retaliation for the Harper government’s criticism of the North’s human rights record and its support for sanctions. Personally, I suspect that if McGill would just offer Kim Jong-un an honorary degree, in say, culinary arts, the North Koreans would pipe down.