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UN Moment of Silence Tribute to Kim Jong Il Defies Commitment to Human Rights

In an unusual, if not offensive, move, the United Nations General Assembly held a moment of silence on Thursday for the passing of Kim Jong Il. This move “paid tribute to the memory of the late Kim” and was boycotted by the United States, European Union members, Japan, and several other countries.

I believe that the UN is noble in purpose, even if it is not always the most effective in carrying out its own goals, but this recent move is simply offensive to everything the UN stands for and claims to defend. If the UN is to be remembering anyone, they should be paying tribute to the lives of millions of North Koreans that Kim cut short while living an extravagant lifestyle that ignored the human suffering under his regime.

While many nations rightly boycotted a tribute to a brutal dictator, how did the president of the general assembly justify such a reprehensible tribute? President Nassir Abudulaziz Al-Nasser claimed that he agreed to the North Korean request for the moment of silence because of “protocol” for the death of an acting head of state. His deference to protocol shows an utter lack of moral courage from the general assembly president, and in turn, the UN members who did not boycott the tribute.

Kim was the personification of a regime that knowingly defied the principles of the United Nation’s founding charter and Declaration of Human Rights. Especially egregious are his human rights violations. He violated nearly every article of the Declaration of Human Rights from Article 13, stating the right to leave and return to one’s own country, to starving his people in violation of Article 25, proclaiming the right to adequate food and social services. Kim led a regime that was a constant threat to stability in the Pacific and was reckless in his threats that were taken seriously because of his nuclear weapons.

Why get so upset over a seemingly minor tribute? Because it is a tribute to a man that instituted economic policies leading to the deaths of as many as three million people. When a man that ignored the pleas of suffering millions dies, the event should be a time to condemn such atrocities and make it known that such actions will not be tolerated. The UN is a body that represents the collective peaceful desires of “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms.” In paying respects for a man that was the antithesis of these desires, UNGA President Nasser proved to be weak and ineffective in upholding the moral authority that the UN is supposed to represent.

I hope that this is not representative of the UN as a whole. With actions like a moment of silence to a ruthless dictator, I can understand some of the harsh criticism that the UN garners in the U.S., especially among Republican candidates. Mitt Romney’s sentiment that the UN is often a forum for tyrants has proved true in this instance, even for a dead tyrant.

For the UN to be able to claim any moral legitimacy, it must commemorate the death of Kim with a denouncement of the atrocities that he oversaw and reaffirm an unwavering stance in the defense of human rights. Only then can I take this international body seriously and not right it off as some idealistic, ineffectual union.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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