The assertion by North Korea on Wednesday that American soldier Travis King fled racism and abuse in the country comes as Pyongyang responds to criticism of the North’s human rights record from Washington.
In a state media report, North Korea broke its nearly month-long silence on King, a Black man, claiming that King had admitted to deliberately and illegally entering the country out of “resentment against inhumane treatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army” and “disillusionment with inequality in American society.”
King hasn’t been quoted directly, but his uncle in the US informed the media last month that his nephew claimed to have encountered prejudice while serving in the military.
The official media report is released the day before the UN Security Council is scheduled to convene at the request of Washington to investigate North Korea’s human rights violations.
For years, Pyongyang has used the United States’ racial discrimination as an example of Washington’s duplicity, and many predicted that North Korea would use King’s case to defy international pressure on human rights.
“North Korea will likely highlight racism in the United States and use it as a means to counter the United States’ criticism of North Korea’s human rights situation, rather than engaging in negotiations with the U.S.,” said Lim Eul-Chul, a professor of North Korean studies at South Korea’s Kyungnam University.
North Korea Accuses US of Hypocrisy on Human Rights
The United States’ decision to call Thursday’s discussion on human rights was denounced by the foreign ministry of North Korea as a “mockery of human rights and deception on the international community” in a statement released on Tuesday.
The statement said that the United States had placed unethical human rights standards on other countries and stoked internal turmoil and confusion. “Not content with conniving at and fostering racial discrimination, gun-related crimes, child maltreatment, and forced labor rampant in its society,” the statement added.
White supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, was cited in Pyongyang’s “White Paper on Human Rights Violations in the U.S.,” which was published in 2018. It accused the Trump administration of escalating “racial discrimination and misanthropy” that was already “inherent to the social system of the U.S.”
North Korean officials mentioned “extreme racists” in America during the demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. They criticized American authorities for threatening to “unleash even dogs for suppression” in retaliation.
C. Harrison Kim, a professor at the University of Hawaii, stated in a report that Pyongyang’s “alliance with the Black Power movement was a very real thing” despite the relationship having dwindled. NK News, a Seoul-based website that tracks North Korea.
Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Party’s (BPP) head of international affairs, visited Pyongyang in 1969 and claimed that North Korea and its “great leader” had “heightened our consciousness to a level that makes us equal to the task of dealing with our number one enemy, the U.S. imperialist aggressors.”
State-run media in North Korea has a history of making racially inflammatory statements.
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Obama was referred to as a “monkey” in an article published in 2014 by the state news agency.
One North Korean was reported in the Korean-language story as saying, “He looks like an African native monkey with a black face, gaunt grey eyes, caveat nostrils, plump mouth, and hairy rough ears.” Obama had a “disgusting monkey look even though he is wearing a fancy suit like a gentleman,” a senior official claimed.
The North Korean security leaders, and potentially even leader Kim Jong Un himself, should face prosecution for supervising a state-controlled system of atrocities akin to those committed by the Nazi regime, according to a key 2014 U.N. study on North Korean human rights.
That report included allegations that North Korea conducts forced abortions on women suspected to have been impregnated by men in China, driven by an underlying belief in a “pure Korean race” in North Korea to which mixed-race children are considered a contamination of its “pureness.”
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