Laughing at North Korea's Dictator Helps Mask His Brutal Human Rights Record

For a while, North Korea's state-approved haircuts, insanely archaic Internet and it's use of faxes to threaten its neighbors solicited a chuckle out of even the most serious political analysts. I mean, can we really take Kim Jong-un seriously if he's hanging out with NBA star Dennis Rodman? For a while, the leader's stunts with Rodman had the public thinking that maybe this whole "basketball diplomacy" could work. It hasn't. 

Pickup games with Rodman or another ridiculous fax can no longer hide the supreme leader's crimes against humanity. A special report issued this week by a United Nations panel details crimes categorized as "Nazi-like" and "unparalleled."

The findings include North Korea's systematic abduction of citizens, unspeakable torture practices, rape and denial of women's rights, starvation, murder and executions. On Tuesday, it released a statement that "categorically and totally" rejected the findings. China's leadership, accused of aiding North Korea, also rejects the report. 

Afraid of bullying (or evoking) the quiet, brooding country, the public has tried to steer clear of Kim Jong-un, underwriting his actions as just ridiculous. Painting Kim Jong-un as simply misunderstood or labeling criticism of him an "act of capitalist propaganda" is simply not an option for the American public. Like portraying Syria's President Bashar al-Assad as a "regular" man who uses an iPad and sends friendly emails, identifying normalcy in evil is not only a waste of the media's time, but it's also destructive. Exhibiting "normal" human qualities and committing crimes against humanity - these things are not mutually exclusive.

For far too long, we haven't taken North Korea seriously. Another nuclear threat? Come on Pyongyang, we've been dealing with your testing since 2006. Prison camps? Sure, but what about his recent outing with Dennis Rodman. It's high time we do away with the tongue-in-cheek way we talk about North Korea. A glance at the UN's findings of the country's methodic crimes against humanity is sure to silence any laughter and erase all smiles. The findings are enough to make us question whether the focus on Kim Jong-un's oddball character enabled him (until now) to get away with murder?

A former inmate described the gruesome practices the to which the government subjects its prisoners. These included a systematic use of "pigeon torture" in which a prisoner's hands are handcuffed behind his back and the prisoners are from there, the prisoners are hung. 

North Korea is not alone in it's systemic use of torture. World leaders like the United States and the UK have also been accused of using barbaric (and ineffective) torture practices. So, why gang up on Kim Jong-un? While we cannot write-off the wrongdoings of our own countries, we have to consider the extensive findings on North Korea's abuses. The international UN investigation declares that the level of crimes against humanity committed by North Korea is unparalleled in the world. Laughing about the country's tacky hairdos can't mask this. 

"These are not the occasional wrongs that can be done by officials everywhere in the world, they are wrongs against humanity, they are wrongs that shock the consciousness of humanity," said Michael Kirby, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry and a former chief justice of Australia. 

Focusing on the obvious crimes committed by North Korea may shed light on crimes happening closer to home, this inspiring more international investigation and legal action.

Dennis Rodman may soon have to find another international friend to pass time with. Kim Jong-un and his political clan could face trial. The investigation urges legal action, but North Korea won't go down without a fight.

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Marguerite Ward

Marguerite Ward is a journalist and editor based in New York. Connect with her @forwardist.

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