At the best of times, North Korea’s regime ranks among the most vile on the planet, and this past week has not been the best of times. The totalitarian Kim dynasty carries on, and on, from grandfather to father to son — a brutal regime sustained by proliferation, extortion, and counterfeiting rackets abroad, and grotesque repression at home. This is the regime that targeted an estimated one million or more North Koreans for death by famine in the 1990s, and continues to eradicate dissent by means of such atrocities as incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people in Stalinist prison camps, as described in the recently updated report on “The Hidden Gulag.”
With the late Kim Jong Il now exalted as “general secretary for eternity,” his son, new ruler Kim Jong Un, has just reaffirmed the regime’s “military first” policy, and celebrated the advent of the 100th birthday of Kim Junior’s dead totalitarian grandfather, Kim Il Sung, by conducting a ballistic missile test — which North Korea’s propaganda organs dutifully translated for us as being an attempted satellite launch. There are signs that another North Korean nuclear test may be right around the bend, and this one may be uranium-based, which would be potentially more helpful to North Korea’s business pals in Iran than North Korea’s previous plutonium-based tests, in 2006 and 2009. North Korea’s regime collaborates with Syria and Iran on weapons development. And for its record of kidnapping alone — many of its victims never returned or even fully accounted for — North Korea deserves to be put back on the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Yet, even beyond Tehran and Damascus, Pyongyang’s regime has its fans, and receives its share of tribute, including floral wreaths and letters, which the state’s Korean Central News Agency loves to report. For instance, KCNA tells us this week that the communist parties of Peru and Norway sent delegates, bearing gifts, to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung (what the gifts are, KCNA does not explain).
Curious to see who else was sending tribute to the Kim dynasty during this fraught week, I was scrolling through the KCNA site, and lo! What to my wondering eyes should appear but a KCNA report that on Friday — the same day as the missile test (which United Nations sanctions forbid) — “The dear respected Kim Jong Un received congratulatory letters from the offices of the World Food Programme and the United Nations Development Programme.”
Congratulatory letters? For what?
KCNA does not elaborate. To be fair, we can reasonably assume that the World Food Program and UNDP were not congratulating Kim on the missile launch (which was in any event not a successful launch, though such are the hazards of missile tests). And, of course, this is a report from KCNA, a state propaganda organ, prone to such paroxysms as its description Friday of Kim Jong Un as “a great statesman of literary and military accomplishments, who is possessed of outstanding wisdom, distinguished leadership ability, matchless pluck and noble revolutionary comradeship.” It would be unwise to trust entirely to KCNA’s reports.
Except I can find no account of either the World Food Program or the UNDP hustling to deny any such congratulatory letters. If they would like to do so, I would cheerfully write that up. In the meantime, here they are, both these august UN agencies, described by KCNA as orbiting the firmament of Kim Jong Un, the man of matchless pluck and noble revolutionary comradeship. Were they perhaps congratulating him on pioneering a third generation of totalitarian dynastic rule in North Korea? Or applauding the accomplishments of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in founding this family enterprise?
It gets worse. Scrolling further down the KCNA roster of Friday’s doings in North Korea, there’s a more detailed account of UNDP “staff members” laying “a floral basket before the equestrian statues of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.” Apparently, after the UNDP staffers laid the floral basket before the statues of the two dead totalitarians, they “paid tribute,” according to KCNA.
Tribute? What does that mean? Did they bow? Toss coins? Drop off a few dual-use items, of the kind the UNDP got caught in 2007 importing into North Korea? Both these UN outfits have a troubling record in North Korea. The UNDP pandered so shamelessly to Kim Jong Il — dispensing cash, buying him dual-use equipment, and storing counterfeit U.S. $100 banknotes in its office safe — that in 2007 it was forced by the revelations of the Cash-for-Kim scandal to close its Pyongyang office for a while. And according to a report this past December by George Russell of Fox News, the World Food Program “may be helping the Kim regime stay afloat” — allowing the North Korean regime to insert itself as overpaid middleman in the supply chain of relief cargoes, with numerous “lapses” and “anomalies” turning up once the aid arrives in North Korea.
Whatever the World Food Program and the UNDP just wrote, or did, to congratulate Kim Jong Un, or pay tribute to his monstrous ancestors, one might have hoped the UN officials running these organization would have more sense. No doubt while operating in North Korea the UN comes under constant pressure from the regime to bow down, pay tribute, and thank the Kim dynasty for the privilege of sending other people’s money and goods its way. But surely we should also expect from the UN at least some slight grip on a basic moral compass.
For that matter, both the World Food Program and the UNDP are entrusted with taxpayer dollars meant to provide resources for helping hungry and impoverished North Koreans — not to be spent buying flowers and writing letters to glorify mass-murdering tyrants. Would the UN condone sending flowers to honor the memory of Hitler, or Stalin, or Mao?
And if the KCNA reports were dead wrong, if the World Food Program sent no such letter, if the UNDP did not purchase flowers and pay tribute to Kim Il Sung, it should not require the questions of a reporter to persuade them to issue a public denial of these KCNA stories. They should be calling press conferences at their headquarters, in Rome and New York, to explain they would never engage in such acts. Swathed as they are in diplomatic immunity, they might even try calling a press conference to this effect in Pyongyang — provided they’re not too busy penning love notes and buying bouquets for this third generation military-first regime still starving its people while readying its next nuclear test.