It has been less than a month since Matthew Todd Miller was sentenced to 6 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison. The 24-year-old joins two other Americans detained there; Jeffry Fowle and Kenneth Bae both of whom were arrested for proselytizing Christianity. Miller’s crimes, however, seem less conclusive. He was convicted in Pyongyang on September 14th as a spy attempting to undermine the DPRK on behalf of the United States. Whilst this may appear straightforward, this conviction contradicts several reports made by the nation’s media. These claims are as follows: he was arrested in April of this year after tearing up his tourist visa and supposedly seeking asylum. In September, Miller and the three other detained Americans gave an interview accepting their guilt in unspecified crimes and pleading for diplomatic assistance in their release. This was followed by his subsequent conviction later in the month. It was also after this that North Korean media outlets claimed that Miller acted in order to serve as a “witness” to the human rights violations prevalent in North Korean prisons. This stands as the most thought provoking of all the updates given. If indeed Mr. Miller went with this intention, it is important to question why.
Two months before Miller’s arrest, the United Nations released their investigative report on the state of human rights in Pyongyang. This report was compiled from first hand experiences, and the tale they told was haunting. Specifically, “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” These violations were extensive as investigators revealed accounts of execution, rape, forced abortions, torture, and enslavement. Prevalent crimes include mass starvation, torture, arbitrary arrest, discrimination, denial of fundamental freedoms, free speech, and enforced disappearances. However, it is important to note that their greatest concern was North Korea’s “crime against humanity”- their treatment of prisoners. This process begins with the arbitrary detention of a convict, imprisoned without a fair trial, or indeed any trial at all. This was the case for Matthew Todd Miller, who was given no defense, persecuted with poor evidence, and seemingly forced into admitting he was guilty of his ‘crime’. Other unfair trials and persecutions are the results of dissenting political views, religion, race, gender and the seemingly obscure “crimes by association” or “subversive influences”.
The report on the actual treatment of the estimated 120,000 prisoners placed in camps was dire. Evidence of torture, rape, forced labor, deliberate starvation, and frequent public executions was rife. Along with that list of abuses there were first hand accounts of famished children beaten to death by guards and mothers forced into infanticide. The report concluded that the North Korean regime was guilty of “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations’ against its own people.” The case was then referred to the International Criminal Court, where it is expected to lay untouched for as long as possible. Due to their similar ideological background, China uses its role as a major world power and permanent member of the UN Security council to defend North Korea, which makes the ICC hesitant to take on the case. This leaves the verdict without its punishment for as long as the DPRK has continued Chinese support.
After quickly dismissing the UN’s report as “wild rumors”, the DPRK followed up with it’s own report claiming that as a society in transition, there “may be an occasional hiccup in [a] country’s human rights record.” This may be true to some degree, however, does this necessarily justify crimes against humanity? Unfortunately, the ICC is not likely to hold a court case, which leaves North Korea in desperate need of further human rights investigation and intervention. It would seem that by ensuring his arrest and conviction (according to DPRK media claims), Matthew Todd Miller is the perfect man for that job.
Miller would not be the first man to boldly, perhaps foolishly, sacrifice his own well being to expose a violation in human rights. These persons frequently include investigative undercover journalists like Gunter Wallraff, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Carmelo Abbate. The most famous and perhaps most similar case was that of Nellie Bly whose infamous book, published in 1887, Ten Days in a Mad-House, detailed her days undercover in a women’s lunatic asylum. Her recollection of those ten days presented society with a reflection into its treatment of those it deemed insane. Her tale revealed poor diagnoses for patients, harsh living conditions, abusive nurses, and the general faults of the system all together. Her book was met with resounding reception and outrage. Bly’s actions may have subjected her immense physical and mental abuse but they were instrumental in the reform of mental institutions and how we perceive those who are afflicted with such ailments. Her incredible risk proved to be successful despite. Will Mr. Miller’s be the same
Matthew Todd Miller’s most recent interview gave the Associated Press a chance to talk with the young American after only ten days of imprisonment. Already observations were made depicting concern for his physical appearance and weary disposition. As opposed to Nellie Bly’s ten-day undercover work, Miller’s sentence is 6 years. He is nearly 30 days into a sentence 2190 days long. Do Miller’s benefits outweigh his costs? In his own words, “I deliberately committed my crime” and we must wait and see what happens next. My final question is: How far do we go to expose human rights violations?