The Right To Leave

Nothing demonstrates the impotence of the United Nations quite so starkly as the long suffering of the North Korean people.  Living in wretched conditions and subjected to ongoing famine, North Koreans are two inches smaller than their South Korean cousins.  One in three North Korean children is chronically malnourished.

This has been going on since 1953.  North Koreans living today were born into suffering, and have never known any other life – even though South Korea, across the border, is one of the world’s most affluent nations.

Article 13.2: Everyone has the right to leave any country

A better life for these people is literally within walking distance, but they are imprisoned by their own leaders – a dynasty of brutal dictators who build monuments to themselves while the people starve.  The previous dictator, Kim Jong-Il, died of old age, blissfully untouched by the world’s opprobrium.  If the United Nations had any purpose at all, it would be to end such regimes.

We might as well say the same about Cuba and, in its time, the Soviet Union.  In an international context, the most fundamental right is the right to leave a bad country.  Properly enforced, this would limit the amount of suffering any dictator could impose, and ultimately compel some of the higher order human rights.

The United Nations has a lengthy declaration of human rights, including health care and free education, but it lacks a mechanism to enforce – or even encourage – its principles.  One of these is, in fact, the right to leave.

The U.N Security Council regularly votes against interference in the “internal affairs” of any country.  However much we might criticize China for human rights abuses, this is a gray area.  The Chinese could point back at Guantanamo or race relations.  No one wants the U.N. to be the arbiter of how well a country treats its people – certainly not China, and they’re a permanent member.

Whether the people are free to leave, however, is completely objective.  They’re either free, or they’re not.  The United Nations could, with perfect clarity, make Article 13.2 the acid test for human rights.  Resolutions should follow, with sanctions including military intervention.  The North Koreans are prisoners, and the world has a duty to free them.

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Filed under Civil Rights, Foreign Policy

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