Judged on performance, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has probably lived up to expectations handed down by his father and his father’s father.
He has dealt with his dislikes with a ruthless abandonment. That included the execution of Uncle Jang Song Thaek, who he reportedly once liked and then went on to describe as “despicable human scum.”*
Then he ordered the execution by anti-aircraft fire of his defense minister Hyon Yong-chol, caught dozing-off during a rally. That also won many a international headline for Kim, whose loathing of the West seems at odds with his penchant for Disneyland and boxer Mike Tyson.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Nevertheless, prominent Indonesians have ranked the North Korean leader alongside Myanmar’s pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi and India’s pro-independence leader Mahatma Gandhi by honoring him with an award for his statesmanship.
Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung also won the award posthumously, issued by the the Bali-based Sukarno Education Foundation for “peace, justice and humanity”.
The prize was widely ridiculed, particularly on social media, and came despite warnings from the United Nations that Kim could face prosecution for some of the worse human rights abuses since World War II, with his prisons winning comparisons with Nazi death camps.
The UN Commission of Inquiry also found Kim’s government had committed systematic human rights abuses on a scale without parallel in the contemporary world.
This list includes extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and sexual violence.
But the chief instigator behind the prize, Rachmawati Sukarnoputri, was standing firm. The daughter of Indonesia’s founding president dismissed criticism of the award as “Western propaganda” and remained full of praise for the 32-year-old North Korean leader.
In reference to her own father, Rachmawati offered the international wire service AFP this comforting thought: “Sukarno was also accused of being an evil dictator who violated human rights, but this was proven otherwise over time.”
Sukarno, a self-anointed dictator until he was ousted by his own military in 1967, established ties with North Korea in 1961.
Both countries were a part of the non-alignment movement and Sukarno even named a flower – Kimilsungia – after the North Korean founding father during a visit in 1965.
There has also been a push on in recent years to improve ties between the the two countries after two official visits were cancelled by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2006.
Rachmawati’s sister is former president Megawati, who is also the head of the ruling Indonesian Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and has reportedly attempted to reassert her influence over the current president, Jokowi Widodo.
However, any push to revitalize ties between the two countries remains hopelessly out of step with international contemporary thought, despite protests from Rachmawati to the contrary, as noted by Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch (HRW).
He said earlier this year – following the release of the HRW World Report – that Kim Jong-Un’s power was built on the continued abuses inflicted on the North Korean people because he sat at the helm of a central government that uses public executions, extensive political prison camps, and brutal forced labor to maintain control.
“What’s changed is the international community has now finally recognized the need to bring him before an international tribunal to address those unspeakable crimes,” Robertson said.
Rachmawati won’t be backing that tribunal and her prize will undoubtedly please her departed father and the handful of closest North Korean supporters left in Jakarta who should be passing out the Kimilsungias on awards day. As they smell the flowers, one hopes Rachmawati and friends can spare a thought for Kim’s victims.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt
*To avoid confusion, removed a section mentioning the satirical accounts of Jang being fed to dogs.