North Korea to try two American tourists

North Korea said Monday it is preparing to try two Americans, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, who entered the country as tourists for carrying out what it says were hostile acts against it.

KCNA said North Korea is making preparations to bring them before a court. It did not specify what the two did that was considered hostile or illegal, or what kind of punishment they might face. It also did not say when the trial would begin.

Fowle arrived in the county on April 29. Diplomatic sources said Fowle was detained for leaving a Bible in his hotel room. But a spokesman for Fowle’s family said the 56-year-old from Miamisburg, Ohio, was not on a mission for his church.

KCNA said Miller, 24, entered the country April 10 with a tourist visa, but tore it up at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum. A large number of Western tourists visited Pyongyang in April to run in the annual Pyongyang Marathon or attend related events. Miller came at that time, but tour organizers say he was not planning to join the marathon.

North Korea has also been separately holding Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae since November 2012. He was convicted by a North Korean court and is serving 15 years of hard labor, also for what the North says were hostile acts against the state.

The latest arrests present a conundrum for Washington, which has no diplomatic ties with the North and no embassy in Pyongyang. Instead, the Swedish Embassy takes responsibility for U.S. consular affairs in the North. State Department officials say they cannot release details about the cases because they need a privacy waiver to do so.

[AP]

Swedish diplomats push for Americans’ release from North Korea

Swedish diplomats acting for the U.S. have visited an American man detained by North Korea weeks ago. Sweden handles consular matters for Americans in North Korea because Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says the Swedish Embassy had consular access Friday to Jeffrey Fowle.  Psaki urged North Korea to release Fowle and two other Americans it currently holds so they could return home to their families.

The detention of the 56-year old Fowle, who is from Ohio, was made public two weeks ago, when North Korean state-run media reported he was detained for acts inconsistent with a tourist visit. It hasn’t provided details about the accusations against him.

Activists push before Congress for awareness of North Korea human rights abuses

In a hearing before members of Congress, victims of North Korea’s human rights abuses and experts on the dictatorship’s harsh practices asked for support in bringing an end to the country’s harsh treatment of political dissenters.

Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the House subcommittee on global human rights, explained in a June 18 hearing that “in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we see a state that seeks to control all aspects of the lives of its citizens, not only their political lives, but also that innermost sanctuary we call conscience as well,” using starvation, torture, imprisonment and death against political and religious dissidents of the totalitarian, atheistic stance of the North Korean government. “Enough is enough. We need to do far more,” Smith urged.

The hearing, entitled “Human Rights Abuses and Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea”, featured testimony from Lee Jong-hoon, South Korea’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights; Andrew Natsios, co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea; Shin Chang-Hoon, director of the Center for Global Governance Asian Institute for Policy Studies; and Shin Dong-hyuk, a survivor of a North Korean prison camp.

Shin, who escaped from the North Korean prison camp he was born in, spoke of a life “not fit for human beings or even for animals”, where his first memories were of guards in uniform carrying guns, and being taught by those guards to distrust his parents, who were political prisoners.

“I was rewarded with terribly indescribable and cruel torture,” Shin said, and his mother and brother were publicly executed. The torture I bared, the scars I earned from that time, I still bear today.”

He said that specifically, the international human rights community should focus on increasing awareness about North Korea’s relationship with China. North Korea, Lee said, is “very dependent on China” for financial support, resources and food, and has the power to change the regime.

In addition, he noted, Chinese youth are starting to question their country’s support “of this state that’s an embarrassment to the world,” and the international community has a strong evidence to support saying that on the Korean Peninsula, a “peaceful and free unification is beneficial to China.”

Smith praised the accuracy of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report on North Korea, adding, “We must summon the necessary conviction to address the sufferings of the people of North Korea.”

[Catholic News Agency]

North Korea holding fewer political prisoners?

The number of political prisoners in North Korea is significantly lower than previously thought, according to South Korea’s latest white paper on the Stalinist country’s human rights situation.

The Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), South Korea’s state-run research institute, estimates the number of political prisoners in the North to be somewhere between 80,000 and 120,000. That is a drastic drop from previous estimates of 150,000 to 200,000.

Based on in-depth interviews of some 240 North Korean defectors, the white paper noted that one of the six prison camps in the North, Camp 22 in North Hamgyeong Province, was shut down in May 2012. In addition, Camp 18 in South Pyongan Province downsized from holding some 190,000 prisoners to around 4,000 after being relocated to North Pyongan Province.

The institute indicated, however, that the shrinking number of prison camps and prisoners is due to rise in the death toll from forced labor and rules that ban childbirth inside the camps, not because of shift in Pyongyang’s stance.

The white paper said public executions of those charged with drug-related crimes increased in 2012 and the following year. The North Korean government reformed its criminal codes two years ago and stipulated those involved in drug trafficking and smuggling would face the death penalty.

The report comes as the special U.N. investigator for human rights in North Korea said Thursday that the world body must do more to hold Pyongyang accountable for abuses of its own citizens. Marzuki Darusman said the U.N. Security Council is the only body that can refer perpetrators to the International Criminal Court.

[VoA]

UN monitor urges China to bring North Korea to heel

UN monitor Marzuki Darusman on Wednesday urged China to bring ally North Korea to heel over its record of systemic human rights abuse, likening Beijing’s clout to that of Washington with Israel.

He told reporters, “This is the kind of denial that the United States has, that it has no hold on Israel,” said Darusman, a former chief prosecutor of Indonesia.

Darusman was part of a UN-mandated inquiry team that earlier this year issued a damning 400-page report detailing endemic abuses by North Korea. It spotlighted rape, torture and enslavement, saying they could amount to crimes against humanity and comparing them to the actions of Nazi Germany.

The inquiry team has called for North Korea to be hauled before the International Criminal Court — potentially to prosecute dictator Kim Jong-un and other regime figures. But referral to the ICC requires approval by the UN Security Council, where China wields a veto.

Barred from North Korea by Pyongyang, the UN monitors have interviewed defectors in South Korea and other countries, and used satellite imagery to build an idea of North Korea’s network of concentration camps.

North Korea has dubbed the witnesses “human scum” and, in regular attacks at the UN Human Rights Council, charged that probes are part of a “vicious, hostile policy” piloted by Washington.

Darusman blasted that position. “It’s a convenient facade that the North Koreans are adopting, by continuing with their denials but at the same time seeming to engage by being present at the UN Human Rights Council sessions and responding to the findings by continuing with the theme that all the findings are fabricated,” he said.

[AFP]

US Special Envoy attending North Korean Human Rights meetings in Europe

The US Dept of State announced that Ambassador Robert King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, will travel to Brussels June 16-17 for meetings with officials from the European Parliament, European Union, and countries which share deep concerns about the deplorable human rights situation in the DPRK. He will be joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Scott Busby.

Ambassador King will then travel to Geneva on June 18 to participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s 26th Session. Ambassador King will deliver U.S. remarks in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, following the official presentation of the Special Rapporteur’s report.

The North Korean dictatorship of the mind

Excerpts of “Dear Leader” by Jang Jin-sun, a North Korean poet who caught the eye of Kim Jong Il, and was eventually invited for a private audience with him; then later defected.

As I progressed through school, … I had no choice but to immerse myself, like everyone else, in the Supreme Leader. … Even when I turned to novels or poetry, whatever book I opened, it was the same: the Korean language served to tell the story of two protagonists alone, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

In North Korea, gaining access to any foreign culture is a crime of “revisionism”, but there is a “hundred copy collection” (each book limited to a hundred copies) available to the elite, so that they might receive a cultural grounding to help them carry out their jobs as leaders, diplomats and propagandists. … In the strict apartheid of North Korea, the use of language is tightly controlled across different classes of people. Above all, the language used for reference to the Supreme Leader is set apart in its grammar and vocabulary. Kim Il-sung is always “great”, and “greatness” must always belong to the Supreme Leader alone; but Byron taught me that the word could be used to describe any one of us, and that every one of us could dare to partake in such qualities.

I know that no dictatorship can be successful merely by force. A dictator may use a form of religious cult to demand an unquestioning and heartfelt obedience from each individual, or a myth of racial superiority to bind the loyalty of many to one selfish cause. North Korea is no exception in the modern history of totalitarianism. There are the brutal political camps that physically shut away the lives of North Korean people; but there is also a dictatorship of the mind, the political prison where thought and expression are stifled. North Korea’s dictatorship of force over its people – its police-state system, the inescapable surveillance, the party’s invocation of the “Supreme Leader’s will”, overruling even the national constitution – cannot end while the dictatorship of the mind prevails.

The only power that will undermine the dictatorship of the mind is the realization that it is possible not only for the regime to lie to its people, but that it has done so, deliberately and constantly. My people cannot be free until each of us acknowledges that the Revolutionary History of the Leader is not the true reality of North Korea.

[New Statesman

The North Korean Gulag

In February, an unprecedented United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) released a report that exhaustively documents the scope of North Korea’s repression. In uncharacteristically blunt language drawing in part on hours of testimony from North Korean refugees and defectors, the COI laid out the systemic and unparalleled horrors of human rights abuses in the country. It concluded that North Korea’s government was committing crimes against humanity against its own people and called on the nations of the world to act.

Foremost among these crimes is the continuing existence of political prison camps that share many attributes of the Nazi concentration camps or the Soviet gulags. While hard numbers understandably vary widely, most experts agree that between 100,000 and 200,000 North Koreans are currently held in a network of vast camps, some of which are the size of small cities. Maintained separately from the prisons for ordinary crimes, North Korea’s gulags subject prisoners to appalling conditions. Torture and public executions are commonplace. Prisoners lack adequate food, clothing, healthcare, and housing. And under North Korea’s ruthless system, three generations of families are punished for the so-called offenses of a single person.

Read more    

North Korea warns against UN human rights office in South Korea

North Korea warned of “strong” action against a UN office which will be set up in South Korea to monitor human rights violations in the communist country.

The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea slammed South Korea for accepting a request from the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to open a field office in Seoul, which a spokesman labeled “an anti-DPRK (North Korea) plot-breeding organization aimed at launching aggression and bringing down the social system” in the North.

Seoul decided in late May to allow the establishment of the UN office, a move welcomed by rights bodies as a public manifestation of international concern over the state of human rights in North Korea. In a resolution following a report by UN investigators, the council in March condemned “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” in the North.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has expressed hope that the new office will improve the efficiency of investigations into human rights violations in the North, and could even reduce their frequency and intensity.

[AFP]

The long route from North Korea to South Korea

Two days back, a combined force of Thai Navy, police and local Task force came across a group of 15 North Korean refugees during a routine patrol in northern Thailand, as the North Koreans were walking from a Mekong river bank.

North Koreans typically use the border area in Chiang Rai as a base for entering Thailand. More than 5,000 North Koreans have been arrested in Chiang Rai over the past five years and charged with illegal entry.

north korean defector route

These refugees escape North Korea and enter China where they may stay for a week to 6 months while they gather sufficient funds from various help organizations and then get onto the waiting list. It’s then about a ten day trip down through China and Laos. Then a short overnight 5 hour minivan ride through Laos and then smuggled across the Mekong and into Chiang Khong, where they cross the river.

If they are caught in either China of Laos they are deported back to North Korea. But once the North Koreans make it across the river they are usually eventually transported to the South Korean Embassy in Bangkok. Once into the South Korean Embassy in Bangkok, they may ultimately be provided air transportation to Seoul.