North Korean defectors becoming social media stars in South Korea

There’s a new kind of social media star in South Korea: North Korean defectors, whose videos get tens of millions of views.

The South Korean capital city of Seoul lies only 30 miles from the North Korean border, but South Koreans, like everyone else, don’t know much about their neighbors to the north. Now, some defectors are becoming internet famous by shedding light on the most mysterious country in the world.

There is no internet in North Korea, but many young defectors learn to use social media within a few months.

“If I appeared in ordinary media outlets, I’d be edited,” said North Korean defector Eunhee Park, who wants to teach South Koreans about North Korea with the hope of reunifying the countries one day. “So what I needed was a platform that would allow me to talk freely.”

Watch VICE News video clip


Defector: “North Korea won’t change its repressive ways”

In North Korea’s “utopian society”, the very words “human rights” do not need to exist — because it’s so perfect, the regime maintains!

The concept is not even taught. I had never even heard of the term “human rights” when I was in North Korea.

It also strongly denies the existence of the political prison camp system throughout the country.

It maintains this position even though I was born in the most infamous, political prison camp in North Korea: Camp 14.

Only recently did North Korea concede that “labor detention centers” exist, but solely for the incarcerated to have their lives improved.

North Korea also denies committing human rights violations, threatens and intimidates defector activists working to raise awareness of human rights issues, and attacking and criticizing those who have testified during the United Nations Commission of Inquiry’s investigation, calling these defectors “human scum.”

The dictatorship in North Korea has never been honest or truthful for more than six decades it has been in existence.

[Excerpt of CNN article by North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk]

North Korean diplomat says more diplomats poised to defect

More high-level North Korean diplomats are waiting to defect to South Korea from their overseas posts in Europe, Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador to London said on Tuesday, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

Thae Yong Ho defected to South Korea in August last year and since December 2016 has been speaking to local media and appearing on variety television shows to discuss his defection to Seoul and his life as a North Korean envoy.

“A significant number of North Korean diplomats came to South Korea recently,” Thae said, according to Yonhap. “I am not the only one from Europe. There are more waiting to come,” Thae said, speaking at an event held in South Korea’s parliamentary building.

Thae, 54, has said publicly that dissatisfaction with the rule of young leader Kim Jong Un had led him to flee his post, but he also had two university-age sons living with him and his wife in London who were due to return to isolated North Korea.

He is the highest-ranking official to have fled North Korea for the South since the 1997 defection of Hwang Jang Yop, the brains behind North Korea’s governing ideology, “Juche”, which combines Marxism with extreme nationalism.

“Of all the recent high-level defectors, I am the only one to have gone public,” said Thae.


North Korean defections could swell as political elite look south

More North Koreans are fleeing their country for political reasons, rather than economic reasons, and an increase in defections by Pyongyang’s elite will ultimately weaken Kim Jong Un’s regime, South Korea’s unification minister said in an interview.

Hong Yong-pyo, who heads the Ministry of Unification, expects to see more defectors like Thae Yong Ho, the North Korean deputy ambassador in London, whose defection to Seoul last year was the most high-profile in nearly two decades.

A crippling famine triggered the first major wave of defectors from North Korea about 20 years ago, but many now say that they are leaving the country “not just because they are starving, but for a better life, and for freedom and for their children’s education,” Mr. Hong said.

Mr. Thae, the North’s former deputy ambassador to the U.K., defected not for economic reasons, but “for his son’s education,” Mr. Hong said. The rising number of elite defectors, including more than a dozen workers at North Korea’s overseas restaurants who arrived in South Korea last year, “shows how unsettled the Kim Jong Un system is internally,” Mr. Hong said.

[Wall Street Journal]

North Korean refugees struggle in South Korean schools

With the increase in North Korean defectors reaching the South, the number of North Korean refugees in elementary and junior high schools in Seoul nearly doubled from 1992 to 2012. In fact, more than half of North Korean refugees are “school-aged.”

According to 2004 Unification Ministry data, it takes roughly three years for North Korean refugees to get to South Korea after leaving North Korea. Their experiences during this period can have a profound effect on the psychological and emotional state of North Korean children and adolescents.

Migrating from North Korea is hard: there isn’t a wide range understanding and tolerance about North Koreans in South Korean society. Many defectors feel that they will be discriminated against because they came from North Korea, and many hide their true background. However, 81.8% polled were outed as defectors through a teacher’s introduction as soon as they entered school, with only 18.2% of the respondents saying they voluntarily revealed their background.

Stress in hiding one’s identity can act as a psychological block in making friends, with anxiety that his or her true identity will be revealed. As a result, it can be very difficult for North Korean teens to form relationships with peers in South Korea. Since they have difficulty studying and making friends in school, many teenage North Korean refugees drop out of school.

According to data from the Ministry of Education, the defector enrollment rate for middle school is 57.9%, while the enrollment rate for high school is only 10.9%. (For South Koreans, high school enrollment rate is 98%, and the university admission rate is close to 80%.)

Given that South Korea is such a scholastically centered society, the low educational status of North Korean defectors will become a big obstacle to their future social life. Read more

South Korea addressing North Korean defectors’ school problems

The South Korea government has established a number of alternative schools as a new policy project to help North Korean teenagers who have difficulty in adapting to school.

The most well-known of these is the Hankyoreh High School, a high school specializing in helping North Korean adolescents, founded in 2006 by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development. The Hankyoreh School teaches the national common curriculum, but individual classes are conducted according to the level of each student.

One North Korean settler whom we spoke with is now in college in Seoul. He escaped from North Korea in his mid-teens, was caught by Chinese police and sent back to North Korea, lived in a detention camp, and escaped again in five years. It then took him about three years to make it to South Korea through China and Central Asia. When he arrived, it was difficult to start regular school.

He studied for two years at the GED Academy and later entered one of the well-known colleges in Korea and studies Political Science.

For North Korean refugee students, the GED route is sometimes a more efficient approach in preparation for college admission than public school.

[NK News]

North Korea: A problem without a solution

Since the end of the Cold War, paradox has characterized the United States’ perception of North Korea. Pyongyang is at once a constant threat and a continual joke, its leaders a source of as much fear for the American public as derision. North Korea’s missile and nuclear program is presented simultaneously as a dangerous example of the failure of nonproliferation regimes and as a duct-tape-and-bailing-wire operation, notwithstanding the flurry of missile tests and accomplishments that Pyongyang has touted recently.

Yet the dual view of North Korea as fearsome and farcical — as a present danger and a recalcitrant remnant of a bygone era — endures. More and more, this contradictory assessment seems to reflect the lack of viable options that Washington has for dealing with Pyongyang. Despite the power disparity between the United States and North Korea, Washington has little ability to alter Pyongyang’s behavior without accepting significant political or military repercussions in return.

And because of this disparity, North Korea does not feel that it can abandon its nuclear and missile program and still be secure from the United States’ whims. Each side has its own viewpoint and its own legitimate concerns, making compromise difficult if not impossible. Herein lies one of the dirty secrets of international relations: Rarely do countries achieve all their imperatives, and when interests clash, the solution is often managing the reality, not resolving the conflict.  Read full Forbes article

Diplomat defector confirms North Korean Army Chief executed after wiretap

A high-profile North Korean defector has offered support for theories that a former North Korean military chief, missing since 2012, was executed after being wiretapped.

Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho was chief of the general staff of the North Korean army from 2009 to July 2012, when he was suddenly stripped of his North Korean Worker’s Party duties, ostensibly due to an unspecified “illness.” South Korean and Western media later reported that Ri was likely under house arrest; then that he had been executed.

Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat, has told the Yonhap news agency that Ri was executed in 2012 — though there has been no official announcement.

The former army chief Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho was caught on tape complaining about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in particular criticizing Kim’s promises to reform and liberalize the country. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, also knew reforms would help the country, but wasn’t able to implement them; the younger Kim was foolish to think he could, Ri is thought to have said, Thae reported.

There appears to be a pattern of executing army chiefs under Kim Jong-un. Though none have been confirmed, the past three army chiefs have been sacked and killed: Ri in 2012; his successor, Hyon Yong-chol, in 2015; and Hyon’s successor, Ri Yong-gil, in February 2016.

None of the executions have been confirmed by the North, however.


US ability to shoot down North Korean missile not guaranteed, report says

The U.S. has a “limited capability to defend” its homeland from a small number of “simple” intercontinental ballistic missiles launched by countries like North Korea or Iran, the Pentagon’s weapons testing office said in its latest annual report.

The report said that the U.S. maintains ground-based interceptors based in Alaska and California, but they cannot be counted on with any degree of certainty due to “lack of ground tests,” according to Bloomberg.

Vice Admiral James Syring, the director of the missile defense agency, responded to the report and told Bloomberg he has a “high confidence” in the system in place.  “I am very confident in the systems and procedures [the U.S. Northern Command] will employ to intercept a North Korean ICBM were they to shoot it toward our territory,” he said.

North Korea is talking about launching a newly perfected intercontinental ballistic missile. Kim Jong Un announced in his annual New Year’s address that the country had reached the “final stages” of ICBM development. Upping the ante, the state’s KCNA news agency quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Sunday that Pyongyang reserves the right to conduct a test whenever it sees fit.


Witnessing a public execution in North Korea

As a young child in the capital of North Korea, Sungju Lee lived a pampered life. But by the time he was a teenager, he was starving and fighting for survival in a street gang. It was one of many twists of fate on a journey that has led him to postgraduate studies at a British university.

In the early 1990s, Sungju Lee was living comfortably with his parents in a three-bedroom apartment in Pyongyang. Although Sungju did not know it at the time, his own father, who had been working as a bodyguard, had fallen out of favor with the regime.

His family moved into a tiny, unheated house in the north-western town of Gyeong-seong.

One morning his teachers marched the children to an outside arena where they were told to sit and watch. Three police officers with guns appeared and a man and woman were led out and tied to wooden poles. The crowd was told the man had been caught stealing and the woman had tried to escape into China. They had both been convicted of high treason, and this was a public execution.

“Each of the police officers shot three bullets for each person. Bang, bang, bang,” Sungju says. “Blood came out. There was a hole in their forehead, and at the back of their head there was nothing left.”

[Read more about Sungju Lee]