North Koreans in Russia and other countries earning cash for regime

Human rights groups say North Korea workers in Russia are little more than slaves, subjected to everything from cruel and violent acts to ruthless exploitation at the hands of corrupt officials, while being forced to turn over large chunks of their pay to the North Korean government.

One Russian boss was quoted as saying, “They don’t take holidays. They eat, work and sleep and nothing else. And they don’t sleep much. They are basically in the situation of slaves.”

A report issued earlier this year by the Seoul-based Data Base Center for North Korean Human Rights estimates that about 50,000 North Korean laborers are working low-paying jobs in Russia. They send at least $120 million every year to the regime in Pyongyang.

“The North Korean government maintains strict controls over their workers’ profits, in some cases probably taking 90 percent of their wages,” Scott Synder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council of Foreign Relations, told Fox News.

Even so many North Korean laborers are willing to pay bribes to be sent to Russia given the dire economic and political situation at home.

The U.S. State Department issued a report on human trafficking last month that concluded that North Korean workers in Russia had been subjected to “exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions.”

Such North Korean laborers work in other countries besides Russia. China uses large numbers of them, and Qatar has North Korean laborers helping build its World Cup stadium.

[Fox News]

North Korean defectors point out locations of mass graves using Google Earth

Commercial satellite imagery and Google Earth mapping software are helping a human-rights organization take inventory of the worst offenses of the North Korean regime and identify sites for future investigation of crimes against humanity.

A new report from the South Korea-based Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG)—a non-governmental organization that tracks human-rights abuses and crimes against humanity by the world’s most oppressive regimes—details how the organization’s researchers used Google Earth in interviews with defectors from North Korea to identify sites associated with mass killings by the North Korean regime. Google Earth imagery was used to help witnesses to killings and mass burials precisely point out the locations of those events.

“Although it is beyond our current capabilities to investigate and analyze the sites due to lack of access,” the researchers noted, “this research is a crucial first step in the pursuit of accountability for human rights crimes. It is also designed to serve first responders [NGO workers, forensic scientists, journalists, and others] who may enter North Korea in the future.”

Efforts to bring charges against North Korea’s regime in the International Criminal Court have been held up by resistance in the United Nations from China and Russia. However, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea (UN COI) continues to bring attention to abuses by the North Korean regime, and it has called for measures to be taken to end human rights abuses and hold those responsible for the abuse accountable. And the UN COI continues to gather evidence in a repository for use in a future process.

While the Mapping Project is still in its early stages, TJWG released the report to “attract wider participation from both informants and technical practitioners with expertise and knowledge that will advance the project,” the researchers said.

[Ars Technica]

North Korean insider on why sanctions fail to work

American and multilateral efforts to sanction North Korea into submission won’t work because there are too many ways around them, Ri Jong Ho says.

He should know. For about three decades, Ri was a top moneymaker for the Kim regime, sending millions of dollars a year back to Pyongyang even as round after round of sanctions was imposed to try to punish North Korea for its nuclear defiance.

Ri said North Korea has repeatedly found ways to circumvent whatever sanctions are imposed on it. “North Korea is a 100 percent state enterprise, so these companies just change their names the day after they’re sanctioned,” he said. “That way the company continues, but with a different name than the one on the sanctions list.”

Ri’s Chinese counterparts weren’t bothered, either, he said. “My partners in China also want to make a profit, so they don’t care much about sanctions,” he said. “When the Chinese government orders them to stop, they stop for a few days and then start up again.”

He described being able to send millions of U.S. dollars to North Korea simply by handing a bag of cash to the captain of a ship leaving from the Chinese port city of Dalian, where he was based, to the North Korean port of Nampo, or by giving it to someone to take on the train across the border. In first the nine months of 2014 alone, Ri said he sent about $10 million to Pyongyang this way.

For more than two decades, the United States has been trying to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, alternating between inducements and punishments. In both cases, American policy has relied on China, North Korea’s erstwhile patron, using its economic power over its cash-strapped neighbor. But Beijing’s implementation of sanctions, even those it backed through the United Nations, has been patchy at best. China’s overwhelming priority is ensuring stability in North Korea.

China’s interest in North Korea is well known, but Russia’s role in supporting the former Soviet client state is often overlooked. Amid calls for China to limit oil exports to North Korea, Russia has dramatically increased the amount of oil it has sent–some reports suggest exports have quadrupled–to North Korea this year.

“Unless China, Russia and the United States cooperate fully to sanction North Korea, it will be impossible to hurt them,” Ri said.             Continue reading


North Korean defectors down as border tightened

The number of North Koreans escaping to the South declined sharply in the first half of this year as Pyongyang strengthened controls on its border with China, officials said Wednesday.

Since the DMZ dividing the Korean peninsula is one of the most heavily fortified places in the world, almost all defectors go to China first — where they still risk being repatriated if caught — and then on to a third country before traveling to South Korea.

In the six months to June, 593 Northerners entered South Korea, down 20.8 percent from the same period in 2016, statistics compiled by Seoul’s Unification Ministry showed.

As usual most — 85 percent — were women. North Korean men who try to leave are likely to be rapidly identified as absent by their work units.

Pyongyang’s “tightened grip on the population and strengthened border controls add to the risks for potential defectors to take the plunge”, a ministry official told AFP.

The Seoul-financed Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report that since late 2015, the North has been bolstering border controls and installing high-tension electric fencing along the Tumen River that forms the border with China.

A total of 30,805 North Koreans have fled to the South, many of them leaving during the famine years of the 1990s. Arrivals peaked in 2009, but numbers have fallen more recently, with leader Kim Jong-Un reportedly ordering crackdowns on defectors and tightened border controls after inheriting power from his father in 2011.


Christian and non-faith-based groups rescue trafficked women in China

Several Christian and non-faith-based groups work to rescue women and girls from sex trafficking along China’s border areas, in Yunnan and Henan provinces, and in northern China.

In 2006, I witnessed the beginning of a small grassroots movement of Christians from the house churches joining the fight against human trafficking in China – a radical concept, since women in prostitution were traditionally treated with contempt and not welcomed into churches.

Ai Jin, one of the outreach leaders, said that before she began to rescue women from sex trafficking. “I didn’t want to shake hands with prostitutes, thinking their whole body was dirty. Now I can treat them like my own family,” she said.

Dan Chung of Crossing Borders, a NGO that provides humanitarian support for trafficked North Korean women, said this past January that several arrests have been made of missionaries who had been simply helping North Korean refugees in China with counseling and spiritual support.

“That’s alarming to us,” he said. Apart from the government crackdown, these rescuers also face the danger of being killed by gangsters behind the trafficking networks.

[South China Morning Post]

North Korea a society where all anger must be suppressed

Missile launches have galvanized world attention again on the strange isolated country of North Korea. But scant attention is paid to the trickle of defectors who escape the country’s hardships, and then, basically drown in new freedoms.

Lee Sang-jun is one of tens of thousands of defectors who have settled in South Korea, and most struggle to adjust.

“They lived in an environment where they had to suppress their anger,” says counselor Kim Young-in who works in a government support service. She says many of them suffered a traumatic past.

For Lee, pangs of hunger sear his memory: of being aged seven and surviving on his own as famine gripped North Korea. “I used to just stare at people eating. We’d wait until people threw scraps of food on the ground,” he says. “I spent more than four years living on the streets, hungry and alone. I was literally skin and bone.”

Lee’s mother had fled to China to survive, abandoning her family. His siblings had died or gone far away. Tragically, Lee witnessed his father take his own life. “I had seen people executed by a firing squad since I was little, so it wasn’t really a big deal that everyone in my family had died or left me,” he says matter-of-factly.

After four years his mother made contact through a broker. “It was good to hear she was alive, but it also hurt me a lot,” he says. “I wanted to tell her off badly.

An escape plan was hatched — for Lee to make the perilous journey across the Tumen River into China. Suddenly he was surrounded by plentiful, succulent food. He devoured fried chicken feeling like he’d never stop. But his reunion with his mother was difficult. “She was crying a lot … but I just felt nothing and numb,” he says.

Lee felt overwhelmed by South Korea when he finally arrived in 2006. “I couldn’t believe I’d arrived in this unbelievably perfect place where freedom and happiness were guaranteed,” he says.

But he soon struggled to cope. “I was very aggressive and just had the worst personality. I upset my mum and a lot of people along the way. .. She wasn’t there for any of [my struggles]. So, I don’t see why I need her in my life.”

[Australian Broadcast Corporation]

Experts say North Korean ICBM has at least 4100 mile range

North Korea is reporting that their missile test launch early Tuesday was a success, marks their first successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a significant milestone in a missile development program.

US military analysts expressed “high confidence” that the report of an ICBM launch was correct, and private scientists said the missile, which is being dubbed the Hwasong-14, demonstrated a range of at least 4,100 miles, which would allow it to reach any spot in Alaska.

As tested, the missile flew some 578 miles, landing in the sea just west of Japan, with Japanese officials complaining that it landed in their exclusive economic zone.

Officials say this is sooner than they expected North Korea to have such a delivery capability by a couple of years, though it is still generally accepted that North Korea does not have the capability of miniaturizing their nuclear warheads to launch them from such a missile.

Still, the launch earned rebukes from Russia and China, who are trying to talk down the risk of a US attack on North Korea, and led to a new push by President Trump for China to put “a heavy move” on North Korea, or risk having the US make its own move.


North Korean refugees bought and sold as wives to Chinese men

Due to the gender imbalance created by China’s having millions more men than women, and the migration of poor women from rural areas, bride trafficking of women and girls has been occurring for years.

Ji Hyun Park, a North Korean defector based in the UK, and coordinator of the non-profit, European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, said Chinese men consider their purchased North Korean “wives” as merchandise which they can resell.

Park should know, as she was sold to a Chinese farmer for 5,000 yuan ($750) in 1998 and eventually escaped.

Most trafficked women, after crossing the Tumen River into China out of extreme desperation, continue to live in extreme fear and loath their husbands. Some were even sold multiple times.

Su-jin, for instance, was lured by a trafficker who promised her a job and a better life. She was sold for 1,000 yuan (US$150) to her first “husband”.

[South China Morning Post]

How North Korean women and their children become victims of human trafficking

North Korean refugee women fleeing their country are all too often trafficked as soon as they cross into China, sold as brides to poor farmers or forced into cyber pornography that caters to South Korean men, according to frontline workers.

Dan Chung of Crossing Borders, a non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian support for trafficked North Korean women and their children of forced marriages, says there’s not enough resources to help care for traumatized children born to North Korean refugees with a Chinese father. Many of these children do not have citizenship and, as a result, are unable to attend school.

“They’re all born into poverty,” Chung said. “Most of them have witnessed their mom abandoning or disappearing or getting arrested by Chinese police and never to be heard again. [There’s] immense trauma from losing your mother. They also hear how ruthless North Korea is.”

Some of these trafficked women are even sold multiple times.

Ji Hyun Park, a North Korean defector based in the UK, and coordinator of the non-profit, European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, said if the Chinese men considered the North Korean women they purchased as “wives” as damaged or useless, they would immediately “resell” them, like merchandise, to other people.                      Read more

US singles out China for trafficking North Korean refugee women

Last week the US State Department singled out China as one of the worst offenders for human trafficking globally, downgrading the nation to Tier 3 – the lowest level, on par with Sudan, Iran and North Korea.

Tim Peters, a prominent advocate of Helping Hands Korea said: “Such a downgrade is richly deserved in my view. There has been a virtually lawless environment in China’s three northeast provinces adjacent to the DPRK [North Korea] with respect to widespread sex trafficking of North Korean women. Hundreds of thousands of women border-crossers have been funneled into ‘red light’ districts but especially into illegal ‘brides for sale’ networks.”

In a televised speech, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pointed out the United States’ concerns over forced labor, forced begging and sex trafficking in China and forced labor involving North Korean migrants whose salaries go directly to a North Korean government that is hard pressed for cash due to international sanctions.

The report called on China to stop forcibly repatriating North Koreans back to North Korea “without screening them for indicators of trafficking” and instead offer them humanitarian assistance and legal alternatives. According to several frontline groups, North Koreans who are sent back to the isolated state face forced labor and execution.

However, in past years, a secretive network of operators who rescue North Koreans who have fled into mainland China has helped take them safely along the 3,000-mile long “underground railroad” to a third country like South Korea where they get automatic citizenship.

[South China Morning Post]