North Korea is in the news again, with reports that its supreme leader Kim Jong-un is suffering from ill health. Media reports have speculated that the 31-year old dictator could be suffering from gout, diabetes, and high blood pressure. His ill health pales in comparison to the starvation and gross human rights violations that the people in North Korea have suffered through successive Kim regimes for over six decades. The atrocities are of such magnitude that a UN Commission of Inquiry concluded in February that there was evidence of crimes against humanity, and urged referral to the International Criminal Court.
Canada has steadfastly provided moral clarity and action in condemning the regime in Pyongyang:
• Since 2009, there have been approximately 50 ministerial level references to North Korea in formal press releases or formal speeches by the minister of foreign affairs.
• In 2010, following the sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan by a North Korean torpedo, Canadian naval experts assisted with the investigation.
• In 2010, Canada imposed the toughest sanctions in the world against the North Korean regime, banning all exports and imports (albeit, actual economic activity between Canada and North Korea was extremely limited). Exceptions exist for humanitarian goods. For example, since 2008, Canada has provided over $11M in aid (primarily in food assistance through the World Food Programme) to feed vulnerable women and children in the DPRK. In addition, a Canadian NGO continues to send soymilk and baby blankets to help orphans in North Korea.
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• In 2010, then foreign minister Lawrence Cannon announced a formal Controlled Engagement Policy towards North Korea, limiting official bilateral contact to security concerns, human rights, humanitarian situation, inter-Korean relations, and consular matters. The only other country whereby Canada has a formal Controlled Engagement Policy is with respect to Iran (brought forth by Lloyd Axworthy in 1997).
• In 2011, the first recipient of Canada's John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award was the Citizen's Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.
• In 2011, Canada boycotted the Conference on Disarmament after North Korea became its chair.
• Canada continues to co-sponsor resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly and at the Human Rights Council condemning the North Korean regime.
• In 2013, Canada was an early supporter of an international commission of inquiry into the situation of human rights in North Korea.
• Also in 2013, Canada's House of Commons passed a unanimous motion, brought forward by Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, condemning North Korea for its violations.
• In February 2014, foreign minister John Baird announced Canada's endorsement of the UN Commission of Inquiry's call for accountability, including with regard to any potential crimes against humanity.
In addition, the Government of Canada commemorated September 28th as a day to recognize those denied human rights in the DPRK by releasing a statement from Minister Jason Kenney.
Tragically, the Korean peninsula remains divided -- a visible scar of the Cold War. It remains a lasting hope for many that Koreans living north of the Demilitarized Zone will one day be able to live in freedom. Until then, as re-iterated most recently by Minister Kenney, we can expect that the Government of Canada will "continue to speak out against North Korea's tyrannical regime."
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