north korea torture un report china media

Despite claims to the contrary, some Chinese news outlets this week have filed in-depth reports on a 400-page UN report accusing North Korea of crimes against humanity. The UN report drew on witness testimonies to catalogue widespread and systematic human rights abuses in North Korea, and recommended officials from the country be tried before the international criminal court (above, a drawing submitted to the UN by an eyewitness illustrating torture techniques).

In The Guardian on Tuesday, Jonathan Kaiman wrote that:

China's media coverage of the report underscores its unwillingness to change the status quo. Mainstream news websites re-posted an article by the state-run newspaper Global Times suggesting a high-level order to refrain from independent reporting. It reviewed the UN's conclusions while neglecting to cover the grim details that gave the report its weight, including detailed firsthand accounts of starvation and torture.

While it is true that the Global Times article to which Kaiman refers was reposted on a number of state news sites, some media did present an (almost) objective take on the report's grim findings. The Global Times questioned the validity of the report; others didn't. 

Southern Weekend, a newspaper known for its investigative reporting and liberal leanings, ran with the UN Report as its lead website article for a full day. Its 1600-character analysis included the report's conclusion that policies established by the top leadership of the DPRK have resulted in a wide range of crimes against humanity.

The Southern Weekend piece goes on to detail many of the report's more harrowing stories from eyewitness accounts, including that 'Many people who flee (mostly to China) are likely to be arrested and forcibly repatriated, after which they will likely by persecuted, tortured and subject to prolonged arbitrary detention.' The author adds that 'Pregnant women who are repatriated are often forced to have abortions.'

Caixin Online, another widely read news portal, also filed an independent report on the UN findings. It detailed many of the alleged crimes, including 'the killing off of entire families, murder, slavery, and state abductions.' It noted that those responsible for the crimes in North Korea – and possibly even Kim Jong-un – 'will be held accountable in the international criminal court.'

An article originating from the state-run news agency Xinhua and widely reposted also detailed many of the alleged crimes. Xinhua didn’t question the validity of the UN report.

With these articles online, and links to them on Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent, remaining intact, it would seem unlikely that there was a high-level order for news outlets to refrain from unquestioning coverage of the UN report.

That said, the report's criticism of China's forced repatriation policy was nowhere to be found, despite the fact that China was heavily condemned in the UN report. Its drafters noted that the country may be 'aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.' Southern Weekly came the closest to criticism when it noted that North Koreans repatriated from China faced persecution.

In this case, it seems that acknowledging the crimes committed by the North Korean state and its top leadership has been allowed on the mainland. Reporting on China's role in aiding the regime's criminality, however, remains taboo.