Finger Pointing

05.03.14

Now It’s North Korea’s Turn to List U.S. Human Rights Abuses

Never mind the obvious hypocrisy from the ruthless regime. On some points, Kim Jong-un’s state-owned media is unnervingly accurate about America’s problems.

The country that boasts arguably the world’s worst human-rights record is attempting to bequeath its title upon someone else.

“The U.S. is a living hell as elementary rights to existence are ruthlessly violated,” reads an article titled “News Analysis on Poor Human Rights Records in US” that was published Wednesday by North Korea’s state news agency. Putting aside an inexhaustible list of ironies, some of the accusations from supreme leader Kim Jong-un’s propaganda arm provide an unnervingly accurate overview of some of America’s most pressing social and economic issues.

The KCNA news agency report backs up its assertion that “the U.S. is the world’s worst human-rights abuser,” with a dozen fiery accusations and a handful of statistics that cite racial disparity, misuse of political funds, gun violence, and widespread unemployment and poverty. These are bold statements for a country with a record so bloody that an official United Nations inquiry recently compared its practices to Nazi war crimes.

Perhaps feeling cornered by the UN report, North Korea launched a blame game of its own. A day before its U.S. report published, Pyongyang had another target: its southern neighbor. A KCNA headline cited South Korea as holding the “world’s poorest human rights record,” topping an article that deduced the poor situation was “a product of the U.S. colonial rule,” in which “its people languish in unemployment and poverty.”

Of course, some of North Korea’s allegations call to mind certain outspoken American conservatives. “Its chief executive, Obama, indulges himself in luxury almost every day, squandering hundred millions of dollars on his foreign trip in disregard of his people’s wretched life,” KCNA states.

Glenn Beck has been saying identical things for years. On Thursday, his website published an article headlined, “Seriously?! Obama-Biden vacation tab reaches a whopping $40 million,” about the amount spent on Air Force One trips in the past five years. In 2010, Beck fueled conservative fervor via a sketchy (and false) Indian news report that President Obama’s visit was costing $200 million a day and utilizing a fleet of 34 warships.

Beck’s not the only one making regrettable comparisons with the Hermit Kingdom. “I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told a summit in mid-April—a viewpoint that he quickly regretted but KCNA would surely agree with.

Beck, too, has occasionally compared the U.S. under Obama to North Korea. In February, after a solemn promise to be less divisive, Beck suggested that “those who disagree with [Obama] on issues such as global warming, Obamacare, or abortion rights are bound to be thrown into internment camps.”

It’s disturbing that Pyongyang felt little need to load up a report on the U.S. with hyperbole or farce. The words may be overwrought, but the facts are plainly, and uncomfortably, laid out.

On Wednesday’s list of accusations against the United States, North Korea does manage to hit on the country’s most vehemently discussed hot-button topics, and not just those with fringe backing. And the criticism leveled at America wouldn’t be entirely ridiculous if it wasn’t coming from the mouth of an accuser with much worse charges on its rap sheet.

“The U.S. government has monitored every movement of its citizens and foreigners, with many cameras and tapping devices and even drones involved, under the pretext of ‘national security,’” KCNA writes in reference to the NSA surveillance scandal.

It doesn’t mention, of course—nor would ever report—that North Korea has apparently purchased more than 100,000 closed-circuit surveillance cameras to monitor its citizens with over the past few years. As the recent UN assessment notes, access to information technology in the notoriously insular country is severely restricted and censored.

Some of the statistics are surprisingly accurate. “The number of impoverished people increased to 46.5 million last year, and one-sixth of the citizens and 20-odd percent of the children are in the grip of famine in New York City,” KCNA correctly charges. The figure aligns with 2012 U.S. Census findings, and an estimate that one in five New York City children struggle to afford food.

And who knew North Korea was watching the Trayvon Martin trial as closely as Americans were? The article bizarrely uses Martin’s case as an example of how “racialism is getting more severe in the U.S.” Getting the details slightly muddled, it writes, that America—described as the “kingdom of racial discrimination”—showed its true colors during “last year’s case that the Florida court gave a verdict of not guilty to a white policeman who shot to death an innocent black boy.”

The irony of this all is obviously great: In February, the United Nations released 400 pages in findings denouncing that “systematic, widespread, and gross human-rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” and noting that the country is committing these abuses “without any parallel in the contemporary world.” Just Thursday, the UN launched a working group with representatives of 80 countries to review North Korea’s treatment of its citizens.

The North Korean report goes on to cite other miseries, spanning from gun control to unemployment to world-high incarceration rates. It cites 300,000 Americans registering as unemployed per week, which is on par with the Labor Department estimates for April. And so is the line about 2.2 million kept as prisoners in the U.S., “the highest number in the world,” KCNA accurately cites.

“Meanwhile, bills on easing arms control were adopted in various states of the country, boosting murderous crimes,” KCNA writes, reflecting recent changes in legislation—so far this year, 21 states have proposed bills to allow guns in or around schools. While violence crime has gone down, The Washington Post notes, mass shootings have risen. But, KCNA also reports that the U.S. boasts the world’s top homicide rate, a slot that, in fact, belongs to Honduras.

In North Korea, where accurate depictions of human rights never make it into the state-crafted news, the press doesn’t exist to focus investigations inward. But it’s also disturbing that Pyongyang felt little need to load up a report on the U.S. with hyperbole or farce. The words may be overwrought (“Such poor human rights records in the U.S. are an inevitable product of the ruling quarters’ policy against humanity,” one line reads), but the facts are plainly, and uncomfortably, laid out. Something’s off when the most notoriously abusive country in the world has the material to level criticism, even if it has no credibility to do so.