North Korea's Unsuccessful Charm Offensive

The country may avoid indictment by the International Criminal Court, but its efforts to distract the world from human rights abuses have failed.

The UN General Assembly will vote this week on whether to refer Kim Jong Un to the International Criminal Court. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

This week, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on a resolution to submit Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, to the Security Council for a referral to the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses. The presence of Russia and China, veto-wielding permanent members, means that the odds Kim Jong Un goes to court are very small. But the possibility of international action—a UN inquiry first floated the idea in February—has prompted a scurry of activity from the hermit regime.

Already this year, Pyongyang has achieved debt relief and investment from Russia, and this week dispatched Choe Ryong Hae, a high-ranking diplomat, on a visit to the country. Japan has eased sanctions and Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, is exploring direct talks with the regime over the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. In September, Hwang Pyong-so, the regime's number two, traveled to Incheon, South Korea for the Asian Games. North Korea has released three Americans held captive in the country: Jeffrey Fowle, Matthew Miller, and Kenneth Bae, the latter two given up following an appearance by James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and the only American intelligence official to ever visit the country. North Korea even organized an art exhibition at its embassy in London.

But these moves all ignore the problem that got North Korea in so much trouble in the first place: Its abominable human rights record. On this score, Pyongyang hasn't improved at all. Around 120,000 North Koreans remain imprisoned in gulags for political crimes. An estimated 84 percent of the population is malnourished. North Koreans have no individual rights, and the country's citizens are even punished for crimes committed by their relatives. (For a full accounting of North Korea's human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch has you covered.)

North Korea has also refused to compromise on its other point of contention with the international community: Its nuclear weapons program. But the country's charm offensive this year seem to reflect that human rights, rather than weapons, is the issue that most elicits a reaction from the hermit regime. Could this be a lesson for Washington?

"Our U.S. policy has been too myopic and ineffective just focusing on the nuclear issue," Sue Terry, a North Korea analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm, told Fox News.