North Korean defectors to appear at UN Geneva Human Rights session

To respond to attacks from North Korea’s Foreign Minister, who last week called defectors “scum,” a delegation is visiting Geneva to participate at the Human Rights Council on March 16-17.

The delegation is headed by well-known defector Mr. Ahn Myeong Cheol, a former prison guard in North Korean labor camps who witnessed first-hand the regime’s atrocities, who is now the executive director of the organization NK Watch. Ahn has testified to the UN Commission of Inquiry about his personal experiences relating to human rights violations in North Korea, and he will also respond to recent attacks against the report’s credibility.

Another issue that the defectors will raise is that of the North Korean overseas workers, whose situation is a form of modern-day slavery. A former overseas worker will also be present and present his testimony.

[UN Watch]

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Bios of North Korean defectors attending UN Human Rights session in Geneva

Ahn Myeong Cheol was a prison guard in the North Korean regime’s brutal gulag, who escaped to South Korea and became a human rights activist. Born in North Hamgyong Province in North Korea, he was the only one chosen in his district, at age 18, to become a political prison camp guard. Throughout his service, Ahn was subjected to heavy brain-washing into believing that political prisoners were enemies of the state unworthy of sympathy. He worked for a total of eight years in four different camps. These camps were all designated as total control zones, which prohibit the release of prisoners under any circumstances. Since his escape, Ahn has become a North Korean human rights activist. He has provided testimony at the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK and is now the executive director of the organization NK Watch.

Gim Gyumin was born in Hwanghae Province in North Korea in 1974. In North Korea, he witnessed many human rights violations such as public executions, arbitrary detention, sexual violations, famine, etc. He fled North Korea in 1999 but was arrested in China and repatriated to North Korea. He escaped from North Korea again in 2000 and finally entered South Korea in 2001. In South Korea, he majored drama and film in Hanyang University and started his career as a film director. He directed many films about North Korean human rights. Since he is an eye-witness and victim of human rights violations in North Korea, he has integrated these real tragedies into his movies.

Mr. Kim was dispatched to Russia as a North Korean overseas worker in 2000. While he was working at the logging site in Russia, he received only $130 as a monthly salary since the North Korean government took almost 95% of his salary for the state fund to strengthen the dictatorship. He worked every day from 8am to 12am or even to 3am without having any breaks or rest. The only holiday he could have was the New Year’s Day. Since he could not endure this inhuman treatment by the North Korean authorities any more, he escaped the work site in 2002 and finally entered South Korea in 2013.

[UN Watch]

North Korean military, even Special Forces, suffering hunger

On March 10, 2015, The Washington Free Beacon reported that a defecting career officer from the North Korean People’s Army divulged that not only are the people starving, but the nation’s armed forces, including the elite Storm Corps Special Forces, also face food shortages that have been described as “severe.”

With his identity kept secret, the defector was described only as a career military officer in his 40s. According to the defector, “Kim Jong-un repeatedly states that he will improve the livelihood of ordinary people but nothing has really changed. There have been no concrete actions to improve the livelihood of the people, so people no longer trust Kim Jong-un’s words and statements.”

Reportedly an officer in the much feared Storm Corps, the defector did state that officers in the military are usually much better off nutrition-wise than the general civilian population, as well as the lower ranks. The junior enlisted troops are reportedly “limited to meals of ‘corn rice’—ground corn fashioned into kernels of rice. … So some soldiers try to escape the military. Some steal food just to live.”

Painting an even bleaker picture, the officer added, “The food shortages are so severe soldiers cannot live on the rations provided by the military and must go outside of bases and steal food to survive.”

The lack of availability of food for the common people of the North is to such a degree that, according to South Korea’s JoongAng Daily, the growth of children in the North is stunted by decades worth of starvation. The Pyongyang government recently lowered the height requirement to be conscripted into the army to 4′ 7″ (142 centimeters). That’s the same height as the average American child at the age of 10 years, 3 months old, the average 4th Grader. Most North Korean teenage boys are less than 5 feet tall and weigh less than 100 pounds. In contrast, the average 17-year-old South Korean boy is 5-feet-8, only slightly shorter than an American boy of the same age.

[Examiner]

Kim Jong-un endorses International Women’s Day — sort of!

Kim Jong-un has put himself forward as an unlikely new leader in the movement for gender equality – marking International Women’s Day with a series of public events and speeches in North Korea.

The North Korean dictator referenced the 8 March celebration observed around the world – but not before he had hailed it as the 20th anniversary of his predecessor Kim Jong-il’s “scientific theory” on the role of women in “pushing ahead with the revolution and construction”.

It was the first in a series of incongruities surrounding the recognition of a day for women’s rights in a country where, according to a panel of female defectors in Seoul on Tuesday, women do not receive sex education, are subjected to forced abortions and in the military are required to perform sexual favors on their higher-ranking men.

The secretive state’s official KCNA news agency reported that a string of the regime’s most senior figures –all male – met with “exemplary women and women officials and members of the women’s union” at a cultural center in Pyongyang.

At a visit to an airbase, Kim Jong-un did not actually meet any women in person but asked commanding officers to pass on gifts of food and cosmetics, according to a state newspaper.

The report in the Rodong Sinmun paper came as one of a series putting forward North Korea’s feminist credentials while criticizing the “discrimination against women workers protested in South Korea”, who KCNA said were unable “to live as human beings”.

KCNA’s main report on the anniversary of “Kim Jong-il’s work and International Women’s Day” said the country had “demonstrated its might as an example of the progressive women’s movement of the world under the wise guidance of peerlessly great men”.

[The Independent]

$1.4m in gold seized from North Korean official at Bangladesh airport

A North Korean official has had over £1 million worth of gold confiscated from his hand luggage by Bangladeshi airport officials.

Dhaka authorities have confirmed they intend to pursue charges against Son Young-nam, the first secretary at the North Korean embassy in Dhaka, after 59lb of gold was discovered in this luggage following a routine inspection at the city’s airport on Thursday night.

“He insisted that his bags cannot be scanned because he’s carrying a red passport and he enjoys diplomatic immunity,” the director general of the Custom Intelligence department Moinul Khan told AFP.

Surprised custom officials found and confiscated gold bars and ornaments, amounting to $1.4 million, roughly £1.1 million.

“What he did is beyond diplomatic norms,” Mr Khan said, adding that the situation was a “clear case of smuggling.”

The customs department has initiated a process to file a criminal case against Mr Young-nam. Under the Vienna Convention the official was released on Friday evening.

[The Independent]

US, China, South Korea should prepare for North Korea’s collapse, American ex-envoy says

Former U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill said he doesn’t know when or how the demise of the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will come about, but he believes it is inevitable. When it happens, he said, “we need to make sure that China, [South Korea] and the U.S. all understand what we’re going to do.”

Mr. Hill spoke Wednesday at a regional security conference hosted by The Washington Times in Seoul, where officials from the South Korean government office for reunification say they are pursuing small steps and confidence-building measures with North Korea.

Relations between the two Koreas occur mainly through the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex, which is inside the demilitarized zone that has divided the two nations for more than 60 years. Lee Duk-haeng, a senior policy officer in the ministry, said, “Our view is that if we reconnect the ecosystem between the two Koreas, it will channel into peaceful exchanges.”

Kim Jong Un has made overtures in recent months suggesting an openness for diplomatic engagement with Seoul, but he has spent much of the past three years threatening the South militarily.

Mr. Hill said that Washington and Seoul should be finding ways to convince Beijing that its support of North Korea is a barrier to wider international integration. He also said efforts should be made to draw Japan into the conversation as well.

For some, the comments felt like a throwback to the late 2000s. As U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the time, Mr. Hill headed the Obama administration’s first effort to breathe life into stalled six-party talks aimed at steering North Korea away from developing nuclear weapons. The effort foundered in 2009 when Pyongyang carried out an underground nuclear test, defying warnings from the international community.

[Read more of this Washington Times article]

North Korea denounces UN criticism of its human rights record

North Korea’s foreign minister on Tuesday denounced criticism of Pyongyang’s human rights record, dismissing a U.N. report that concluded crimes against humanity were committed there and telling the top U.N. rights body that the United States is engaged in a “human rights racket.”

Last year’s report by a panel of U.N. experts detailed abuses including mass starvation and forced abortions. The panel, which interviewed hundreds of defectors, recommended that North Korea’s human rights situation be referred to the International Criminal Court.

The panel also sent a letter to leader Kim Jong Un warning he could be held accountable.

Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that “hostile forces are only interested to hear from such scum of mankind as the so-called defectors.”

“The act of cooking up the report of the commission of inquiry based on lies of a few such criminals is itself a misdeed which is completely against the aspiration of the U.N. for civilization and rule of law,” Ri said.

Pursuing human rights issues “is the stereotyped method of the U.S. … to smear the countries disobedient to it,” Ri asserted, adding that Washington has “started to desperately cling to the anti-(North Korea) human rights racket, particularly since the last year.”

Earlier Tuesday, Ri told the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva that annual U.S.-South Korean military drills launched this week “are unprecedentedly provocative in nature and have especially high possibility of sparking off a war.” The allies say the drills are purely defensive.

[AP]

Canadian pastor detained in North Korea?

A Canadian pastor is missing after going on a trip to North Korea in late January, says his family and church.

Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim, 60, went to North Korea on a humanitarian trip as he had done over a hundred times before, said Lisa Pak, a spokesperson for his church, based in Mississauga, Ontario.

On January 30, Lim traveled to North Korea from China with a companion from the church who last spoke with him the following day, on January 31.

Lim was scheduled to return on February 4 from what was described as a “routine” trip to Rajin, located northeast in the country, where his church supports a nursery, orphanage and nursing home, according to the Light Korean Presbyterian Church. However, so far he has failed to show.

The church has formally requested help in finding Lim from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, and has contacted the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which provides consular help for citizens of the U.S., Canada and Australia, which do not have diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Lim immigrated to Canada in 1986 from South Korea with his wife and son. He speaks fluent Korean and leads a 3,000-member church. The church’s spokesman, Pak said she doesn’t believe Lim would have engaged in any type of proselytizing, which is prohibited in North Korea.

“He knows the language, he knows the nature of the government, so we don’t see that as a legitimate reason that he would be detained,” Pak said. “We don’t believe that’s the way he would have behaved. He’s very wise about that.”

[CNN]