The shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent standoff between protesters and police in Ferguson made headlines around the world, with allies treating it like a war-zone and despots using it to voice their considerable schadenfreude about America's place in the world.
North Korea, however, had remained silent on the subject – until today.
In an article titled "DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman Terms U.S. Human Rights Abuser," North Korea state news agency KCNA has taken the U.S. to task for the problems that led to Ferguson and the police response to it. Here's how KCNA describes the case:
Some days ago, a black teenager was shot to death by a white policeman in Ferguson City, Missouri State, the U.S. and police ruthlessly cracked down on protesters, leveling their rifles at them and firing tear gas and smoke shells. Against this backdrop, there occurred a shuddering incident in another city in which a policeman shot another young black man to death.
The U.S. is, indeed, a country wantonly violating the human rights where people are subject to discrimination and humiliation due to their races and they are seized with such horror that they do not know when they are shot to death.
After the initial criticism of the Ferguson situation, KCNA pulls back to a make a broader point about the United States: You have your own human rights problems, so stop criticizing us. The U.S. has "suffered disgrace" from Ferguson, KCNA says, and become "a laughing stock of the world."
The U.S. had better honestly accept the unanimous accusations of the broad international community and mind its own business, instead of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.
It's a damning statement, but not an entirely unique one: China, for instance, made similar comments regarding the U.S. in an editorial published by state news agency Xinhua.
Nor is it unexpected. In February, a United Nations report on human rights in North Korea concluded that the country was committing human rights violations “without any parallel in the contemporary world.” Months later (as with the Ferguson coverage, there was a significant lag), KCNA released its own list of "human rights abuses" by the United States.
Many of those abuses listed by KCNA also dealt with U.S. race issues. For example, it clearly referred to the 2013 death of Trayvon Martin, though the details appeared to be slightly off:
The U.S. true colors as a kingdom of racial discrimination was fully revealed by last year's case that the Florida Court gave a verdict of not guilty to a white policeman who shot to death an innocent black boy.
Other critiques were more broad:
The U.S. is a living hell as elementary rights to existence are ruthlessly violated.
Of course, this all seems like a big case of "whataboutism" – an appeal to hypocrisy designed to undercut a critic's argument by pointing out that they have too done things they should be criticized for. It's a "Tu quoque" or "you, too" argument, and ultimately a logical fallacy, designed not to address the criticism but distract from it. Pointing to Ferguson clearly doesn't negate the allegations about North Korea's notorious political prison system, for example.
Still, that doesn't mean that the criticisms of America's human rights record are without merit. This may be one rare instance where many people in the U.S. actually agree with North Korea.