Analyst: North Korea mentions Black Lives Matter as distraction

North Korea‘s rare mention of Black Lives Matter protests in the United States has no relation to authentic concern for basic human rights of marginalized groups, a North Korean analyst from a Japanese university said Thursday.

Pyongyang could be trying to distract from its own record of rights abuses, Sandra Fahy, an associate professor of anthropology at Sophia University in Tokyo, said during a webcast hosted by The Korea Society.

North Korea has used movements like Black Lives Matter to blame the United States for Pyongyang’s setbacks, she said.

“North Korea does not believe in Black Lives Matter,” Fahy said. “North Korea is interested in operationalizing the movement of Black Lives Matter” to bring attention to its own position.

The Kim Jong Un regime wants the world to believe they are in the predicament they are in, because of “U.S. imperialism,” Fahy said.

Last month during a regular evening news program, North Korea’s KCTV reported a “murder of a black person by a white police officer” in Minneapolis.

State media also said protests had erupted to condemn the police’s “racist behavior against black people,” and that as protests grew in size the governor of Minnesota had declared a state of emergency. North Korea, a country where ordinary people are not given opportunities to demonstrate against the state, has not referred to the protests again.

North Korea “needs human rights violations” to sustain itself, Fahy said.

“Violations are intrinsic to the state.”

Fahy’s latest book, Dying for Rights: Putting North Korea’s Rights Abuses on the Record, comes five years after the publication of the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry report into North Korea human rights.

The report concluded Pyongyang systematically violated people’s rights and that ordinary North Koreans were unprotected from crimes against humanity, including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence; persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds.”

Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said Thursday the scope of North Korea’s crimes has “no parallel in the contemporary world.”

North Korea is unique, Lee said, because it is the only country that claims no human rights violations within its borders.

Fahy, who interviewed North Korean defectors and viewed hours of North Korean videos and speeches at institutions like the U.N., said her findings were “enraging, depressing.”

As North Korea launched a “campaign of denial” despite evidence of systematic abuses, defectors told Fahy of what she describes in the book as the state’s ongoing campaign of terror against its own citizens.

Ordinary North Koreans are summoned to witness events like public executions such that they feel disempowered and unable to mobilize against authorities, according to Fahy.

“Children are [also] drawn to bear witness to these horrific scenes,” Lee said, referring to a chapter in Fahy’s book.

North Korea is able to engage in rampant human rights abuses for other reasons. Its citizens are “quite unaware their rights are being violated,” even when they are denied access to food or banned from moving to a different part of the country, Fahy said.

“Even though they claim to have laws, you can’t really live and survive according to the law.”

Fahy, who launched bottles of rice into waters near the Korean demilitarized zone with defectors before the practice drew intense scrutiny, said recent pressure from Pyongyang to end the distribution of leaflets and other material across the border reflects North Korea’s insecurities.

“North Korea doesn’t fear information. They fear the truth.”

Fahy also said the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in is violating the rights of defectors by prohibiting freedom of expression. Seoul said this week it is moving forward with charges against defectors for leaflet distribution and related activities, following complaints from Pyongyang.

“The fact that the Moon administration is bowing to the wishes of Kim Jong Un and [his sister] Kim Yo Jong must make them react with such glee, as well.”

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