My older cousin Michael, now long gone above to the final court of no appeal, was a judge: a very good one. The job suited his keen mind and mordant wit. But he knew his boundaries, as I once learnt the hard way. Meeting up at a family wedding, I congratulated him for one case which had made the papers, where he’d sent down a neo-Nazi for some nasty act of thuggery.
I meant it as a compliment, but he took offense. How dare I suggest politics came into this? Most improper. A clear case of grievous bodily harm, sentenced accordingly. That was all.
Given his principles, my cousin would have been astonished – and even crosser than he was with me – at comments made by Marzuki Darusman, the UN Special Rapporteur for DPRK human rights, on February 2 to Eric Talmadge, who heads the Associated Press (AP)’s not wholly uncontentious Pyongyang bureau. Needless to add the interview wasn’t held in North Korea, where one can safely predict Darusman will never be allowed to set foot, but in Tokyo.
Was there sake on the table? At all events, as widely quoted, Darusman said the following:
“It would be, I think, the first order of the day to get these 80,000 to 100,000 (prisoners) immediately released and these camps disbanded. … But that can only happen if this cult leadership system is completely dismantled. And the only way to do that is if the Kim family is effectively displaced, is effectively removed from the scene, and a new leadership comes into place.”
RAPPORTEUR RAPS KIMS: REMOVE THEM ALL!
Wow. A UN rapporteur talking regime change: not the slightest doubt about that. Darusman said he is not advocating military intervention, so this is all somewhat hypothetical. But his meaning is clear. The ultimate goal of his office’s remit – closing down North Korea’s gulag and releasing all its innocent inmates – is impossible under the existing DPRK government. So to achieve this, not only Kim Jong Un, but his family too, must be “effectively removed.”
As Talmadge notes, “such blunt words from a high-ranking UN official are unusual, although common among American officials.” UN/U.S.: That’s a key distinction. And actually, as to the U.S. view, common does not mean universal – as witness Daniel Russel. On February 4 the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State offered journalists in Washington a comparison with Myanmar (Burma), whose content and tone differed sharply from Darusman’s (and indeed from the President Russel serves, who recently came out as a North Korea collapsist). Here’s Russel:
“A change in North Korea does not mean (sic) to be regime change, as the example of Burma shows … The transformation in the … economy, the transformation in the lives of Burmese people, the opportunities that have opened and the scope of international cooperation has not come at the cost of a revolution.”
Change in North Korea could come not through revolution, but rather via peaceful evolution
That makes much more sense. There are several levels to all this: what’s true, whose job it is to say what, and more. If Russel is right, it means Darusman’s extreme prognosis is wrong. Change in North Korea could come not through revolution, but rather via peaceful evolution.
Regardless of that, Darusman’s remarks were wholly improper given his position, for reasons that hardly need spelling out. For anyone in a judicial role, at national or international level, it is essential to be, and be seen to be, above politics. Conversely, any hint that someone in a judicial capacity is subject to political influence, or playing politics himself, must undermine the independence and trust in the law on which democracy and due process alike depend.
I’m not naïve, nor disingenuous. You don’t need to tell me, a sociologist of the class of 1968, that at some level everything is political. Yet that truth makes it all the more vital to preserve the tripartite separation of powers – executive, legislative and judicial – which we have learnt the hard way is essential to avoid executive abuse or, worse, tyranny. In a word, those tasked with judicial functions should be, at all times, judicious – and stay well away from politics.
JUDICIAL SHOULD MEAN JUDICIOUS
Marzuki Darusman’s UN-mandated remit is North Korean human rights. Like his predecessor Vitit Muntharborn – a distinguished but modest Thai law professor, the first such rapporteur on the DPRK, who did the job scrupulously for six years – he is tasked with ferreting out the facts so the UN can take appropriate action. Darusman too has contributed enormously to that task, as one of three members of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) which reported a year ago.
But now he has blotted his copybook. Some, not I, would say he has given the game away. It has been North Korea’s constant shrill refrain that the whole COI process is an American plot whose real agenda is regime change. We have to tirelessly counter that canard, insisting that no, the real issue is the facts on the ground. Does the DPRK state commit vile human rights abuses? Do they violate international law? Are these indeed perhaps crimes against humanity?
…serving as the duly appointed UN Special Rapporteur, he has absolutely no business to be uttering those private thoughts out loud
Those are the issues Darusman should be focusing on. As an individual, widely experienced in both law and politics in his native Indonesia as well as internationally, of course he will have his own views on the political aspects. But serving as the duly appointed UN Special Rapporteur, he has absolutely no business to be uttering those private thoughts out loud. To do so, as he has done, undermines the impartiality of his office and his own reputation.
Nor is that only my opinion. Experts whose views NKNews sought were almost all critical of Darusman’s intervention. The DPRK regime has few fiercer foes than Joshua Stanton; his rapier-sharp blog’s name, One Free Korea, is also its mission statement. Yet even he notes that “it would be an error to foreclose even a slim chance of a negotiated release of those prisoners by demanding the dismantling of North Korea’s political system as a precondition.”
Regrettably, Darusman has also given ammunition to Pyongyang, which gleefully pounced on his remarks. On Feb. 4 the DPRK Foreign Ministry said that he had “fully revealed his true colors as a dirty stooge under the veil of human rights champion who acts a shock brigade in implementing the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK” – and much more in similar vein.
The fuss may soon die down, but the damage is done. Marzuki Darusman should at the very least apologize for his highly injudicious comments. In my view he should go further than that and resign, making way for a successor who will stick to matters legal and the job in hand. There is plenty for a DPRK rapporteur to do without wading into the swamps of politics.
Picture: UN Geneva, Flickr Creative Commons