North Korean defector the lone survivor of five siblings

Jae-un is the lone survivor in a family of five siblings. Her father was taken to a labor camp in North Korea when she was 2 years old, and never heard of again. During the Great Famine in the mid-1990’s, her only brother died of malnutrition. Her mother died on the road while trying to find food to bring back to her starving family.

Jae-un, vividly recalled in tears, the hardship they went through. “During the famine, we only got rice once in three days. When my mother died, we did not have the strength to bury her. My older sister went to China to earn a living for the family. She sent money once to buy rice but I never heard of her after that. I learned that she was sold as a slave. My other sister engaged in smuggling, got caught, and was sent to a labor camp where she also died.”

Out of desperation, Jae-un decided to escape from North Korea. One night in December of 1999, she crossed the Yalu River and swam for the Chinese border. The water was freezing and the current was so strong but she was determined to survive.

After arriving in China, she was sold to a man who she ran away from because he did not treat her well.

It was then that Jae-un joined a Bible study group in China. She remembered the woman she met prior to her escape who spoke to her about God. Jae-un said she was impressed with the woman’s kindness. “She gave me money to buy three months’ worth of rice and she told me that God is alive and is with me since He is the Father to the fatherless and the defender of the widows. I had heard of God in North Korea but I was also aware that believers are taken to prison.”

Jae-un married a North Korean man she met in church and they eventually made it to South Korea.

[CBN News]

The hermit kingdom’s economic outlook

Recent negotiations between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump have provided a glimmer of hope for the hermit kingdom’s economic outlook. Markets are now watching to see whether the North Korean leader follows through with his pledge to denuclearize.

The next step will be policy reforms, which will open North Korea’s economy to foreign investors. Credit Suisse analyst Trang Thuy Le estimates North Korea could become a $100 billion economy within 10 years if it takes a path towards modernization.

And Le cited another interesting fact about North Korea: some industry experts speculate that it may be sitting on a vast amount of untapped natural resources. “South Korea’s state-owned mining company Korea Resources estimates that North Korea’s mineral reserves — coal, iron ore, zinc, lead, copper and rare minerals — could be worth in excess of $6 trillion,” Le said.

That amounts to 190 times North Korea’s 2016 GDP of around $32 billion.

To gauge how North Korea’s growth projections would look if it opens its economy, Le compared it to three other countries that went through a similar modernization process. “We take the experiences of South Korea in the 1970’s, China in the early 1990’s and Vietnam in the late 1990’s as guides to the potential for North Korean growth to rise,” she said.

Based on the experiences of those countries, Le said North Korea could generate real GDP growth of 7-8% per year in local currency terms. At that rate, the economy would grow to around $100 billion in size, which would see per capita income would rise from $1,258 to around $4,000.

[Business Insider]

Trump releases letter from Kim Jong Un, touts “great progress”

President Trump released a letter he recently received from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The letter is dated July 6 and was given to Secretary of State Pompeo delegation to deliver to Trump while the group was in Pyongyang last week to continue talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, senior administration officials tell CNN.

“A very nice note from Chairman Kim of North Korea. Great progress being made,” Trump said in a tweet that also included a copy of the correspondence from Kim.

While lacking in specifics about the status of diplomatic talks between the US and North Korea, Kim’s letter lavishes praise on Trump, repeatedly referring to the President as “Your Excellency.”

“I firmly believe that the strong will, sincere efforts and unique approach of myself and Your Excellency Mr. President aimed at opening up a new future between the DPRK and the US will surely come to fruition,” Kim writes. Kim says the Singapore summit and the letter both leaders signed during that meeting are “indeed the start of a meaningful journey.”

Trump also touted his meeting with the Kim Jong Un while at NATO, calling it “an amazing meeting” and saying the two “established very good relations.”

Trump’s release of the letter comes amid growing skepticism around Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize as North Korean officials continue to use typical tactics to stymie talks following Pompeo’s overnight visit to Pyongyang last week. Although the top US diplomat was promised a meeting with the Korean leader, Kim did not meet with Pompeo.

North Koreans also did not show up to a meeting planned for Thursday to discuss the return of remains of US service members killed during the Korean War. Trump had held the return up as one of the successes of his June 12 summit in Singapore with Kim.

 [CNN]

Trump’s battle of wills with North Korea and China

The Trump message to Kim Jong Un was direct and blunt: You, your father, and your grandfather have all touted your nuclear program as a guarantee of regime security. Policies of previous U.S. administrations allowed you to persist in that delusion. Not this one.

President Trump used a two-track approach to drive the threat home. First, his “fire and fury” rhetoric was accompanied by credible, calibrated leaks of administration preparations for kinetic action that, depending on Pyongyang’s response, could readily escalate to destruction of the Kim government.

At the same time, the president seized on an even more plausible and readily available instrument of regime change: North Korea’s internationally-condemned crimes against the humanity of its own population. With the proper mix of covert action, strategic communications, and coordination with North Korean defectors, the despised Kim machine could be effectively dismantled without the massive carnage inherent in major military conflict.

To China’s Xi Jinping, Trump was equally clear: You will no longer be able to garner undeserved international prestige as a responsible and moderating force while duplicitously enabling and protecting North Korea’s mounting existential threat to South Korea, Japan and the United States. Chinese entities, both official and commercial, which subvert international sanctions against North Korea, will pay an increasingly heavy price.

These indicators of Trump’s seriousness brought Kim Jong Un to agree to meet with President Trump in Singapore.

Presently, It is clear there is now a test of political will between Washington and Beijing on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea.

[The Hill]

North Korean defector filmmaker making movies that expose human-rights abuses

Gim Gyu Min is a filmmaker dedicated to making movies that expose the human-rights abuses in his native North Korea.

His movies are based on events that he witnessed during the North Korean famine. In the late 1990s, he watched a woman being arrested for cannibalism after she resorted to eating her own son. Gim’s 2015 movie “Winter Butterfly” was sparked by her story.

Today Gim is openly decrying South Korea and the US for not publicly condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s human-rights abuses. “It is wrong not to make North Korean human-rights abuses an issue,” Gim emailed from his office in Seoul shortly after the June 12 summit. “Peace that excludes the human rights of North Koreans cannot be a genuine peace.”

“Since the June 12 summit, we know the North’s propaganda machine has been working flat out to portray it as a success for their ‘Great Leader.’” The harsh realism of Gim’s films contrasts sharply with the glitzy meeting in Singapore, where the dictator posed for selfies and was generally feted like a rock star. Is it any wonder that defectors are worried their concerns will be lost in the diplomatic shuffle?

“It may be nostalgia and revenge for my family that’s driving me to make films about human rights,” Gim said.

[New York Post]

Donald Trump’s favorite North Korean defector urged president not to forget human rights

The North Korean defector whose harrowing story was used by Donald Trump to highlight the brutality of Kim Jong-un’s regime during his State of the Union address has urged the US president to hammer home the issue of human rights. Ji Seong-ho, 35, who lost his leg and hand in an accident before escaping North Korea in 2006, is among thousands of defectors who anxiously hope human rights will not be sidelined in the race to abolish Kim’s nuclear weapons.

President Trump had described how Mr Ji was a “starving boy” 22 years ago when he tried to steal coal from a train to barter for food. “He passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs,” said Mr Trump.

Mr Ji lost his left leg above the knee and his left hand at the wrist, enduring “amputations without anything to dull the pain.” He was later tortured by the regime to find out if he had met any Christians during a short trip to China. “He had – and he resolved to be free,” the president said.

Despite his disabilities, Mr Ji still managed to flee North Korea across the Tumen river, and made his way across China on crutches, before reaching the safe haven of South Korea via Southeast Asia. Most of his family followed, but his father was caught and killed.

Ji has little faith that Kim will be willing to contemplate improving his country’s dire human rights record. “The reformation of its society is not the main agenda for Kim Jong Un. I believe his main priority is to keep his regime in order and to be recognized by the international community,” he said.

[The Telegraph]

As North and South Korea cosy up, human rights groups struggle for cash

Human rights and North Korean defector groups in South Korea say they are struggling to raise money, cutting jobs and programs, and facing pressure to avoid criticism of Pyongyang as Seoul and Washington focus on diplomatic outreach to the isolated country.

Activists say they were disappointed but unsurprized that human rights has seemingly disappeared from the agenda as South Korean and American leaders met with Kim Jong Un in recent months.President Moon Jae-in’s administration has moved away from criticism of Pyongyang’s rights record in favor of engagement. Senior aides to Moon have said they believe confronting Pyongyang could be counterproductive and possibly harmful to North Korean citizens, who will continue to suffer if their government remains isolated.

The South Korean government recently closed the office of a human rights foundation, and representatives of several non-governmental organizations said they have struggled to secure funding. The government ended nearly 20 years of funding for the Association of North Korean Defectors in December, forcing the organization to end most of its programs. South Korean citizens have also told the group to stop launching propaganda leaflets into North Korea because it would “throw a wet blanket on improving inter-Korean relations.”

Citing a lack of financial backing, as well as recent clashes between police and groups trying to send leaflets into North Korea, Kim Tae-hee, a defector who heads the Coalition for North Korean Refugees, said she feels the government is undermining the work of human rights and defector NGOs. The Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights said their organization had also seen donations from South Korean corporations dry up over the past year.

Officials with the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), which is affiliated with international organizations like Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, said they have struggled to win new government grants.

UN investigators have reported the use of political prison camps, starvation and executions in North Korea, saying security chiefs and possibly even Kim Jong Un himself should face international justice.

[Asahi Shimbun]

For North Korean defectors, escape is ‘like jumping 50 years into the future’

When Jung-ae Gwak, 64, arrived in South Korea, she was often afraid to leave her apartment. “When I was in North Korea, so many things were restricted,” Gwak said. “When you were outside, you weren’t sure who was spying on you, so you always had to be conscious.”

Gwak’s husband died during “the Arduous March”—the famine that killed between 1 and 3 million North Koreans in the years after Kim Il-Sung’s death in 1994. In those years, Gwak sometimes crossed North Korea’s border with China to get food for her starving family. Her trips across the Tumin River raised suspicions, and in 2002 she slipped across the border to escape the regime; she was sent back to North Korea several times and spent time at a detention center for defectors before escaping for good in 2007.

The distance between North and South Korea may be less than three miles, but the Korea societies are decades apart. South Korea is a frenetic hub of modern technology and giddy consumerism; across the most heavily militarized border in the world, North Korea is a undeveloped country whose citizens suffer from intermittent power outages, widespread malnutrition, and a dearth of information about the outside world.

“One way of framing this is that coming from North Korea to South Korea is like jumping 50 years into the future in a day,” said Sokeel Park, a director at Liberty in North Korea, a defector assistance organization in Seoul.

The leap into modernity can be jarring when you’ve come from a place where public transportation can mean flagging down a tractor pulling a trailer. Negotiating the ever-expanding Seoul Metropolitan Subway, which has nine lines in the city and more spreading out to the region, can be a bewildering adventure. The system carries more than 7 million passengers a day, making it one of the busiest and best public transportation systems in the world. In North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang, the nation’s first and only subway system has only 16 stations, two lines. Most North Koreans have never set foot in it.

Gwak is particularly grateful for consistent, hot running water. “All of it feels like a dream really,” Gwak said. “When I think how good it would be if many people in North Korea could come to South Korea and all live well, I feel so bad for North Koreans. Worse than animals, compared to life here.”

[CityLab]

Red Cross tackles humanitarian needs in North Korea

The Red Cross is one of few humanitarian organizations working in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as North Korea is formally called. Their work is based on its seven fundamental principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.

One of the challenges the country is facing is access to clean water. Many people fetch water in the river or struggle with shallow wells. Overall, there are six million people who suffer from a lack of clean water and improved sanitation.

“The humanitarian situation is worrying with over ten million people in need of humanitarian assistance. As political processes continue, we hope there is space for discussions to include the importance of improved humanitarian cooperation,” says Åsa Sandberg, Head of Desk at the Swedish Red Cross.

Åsa was moved by the kindness extended to her wherever she went. “I sat down with people in the villages to better understand their needs. They get by with very few means, but possess such resilience and dignity. … An elderly couple that I met had difficulty getting access to safe water from the well near their home, and for years they struggled with buckets, sometimes finding only a few drops of water. Now we have installed a water management system in their house, and they won’t have to worry about clean drinking water anymore. It was a joy to hear how well it works,” adds Åsa.

Another challenge for people living in the country is food insecurity and lack of a varied diet. “The Red Cross is keen to help in a long-term and sustainable way. That is why we support greenhouses where both vegetables and tree plants are cultivated. The vegetables are nutritious and will make the diet more varied for the vulnerable groups that we support. The tree plants will be used to build up protection of land, reduce soil erosion and prevent floods.”

[International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies]

Running afoul of the North Korean state

For many years, Heo Yeong-hui and her husband, Choi Seong-ga, and their son, Choi Gyeong-hak, lived in relative comfort in Hyesan near the Chinese border. Heo, a talented singer, was a professor at the city’s University of Arts. Her husband played trombone in the Ryanggang musical performance group.

Heo recalls: “To others it probably seemed like I was living a comfortable life while there were people starving around me,” she said. Her life took a sharp turn five years ago. The Ministry of State Security asked her to monitor one of her students, a young woman who came under suspicion. Heo balked.

“They tried to scare me,” Heo said. “They said, ‘Is your son more important than a student?’’’

Heo was shaken. She pulled the student aside and suggested she try to flee North Korea, that it was only a matter of time before authorities arrested her. Security agents found out, and Heo and the student were sent to a detention facility.

When Heo was released, her mind was made up. “Even after I made the decision to defect, I thought it over a lot,” she said. “I couldn’t tell my son and I couldn’t tell my husband. That’s the type of country that North Korea is . . . So I thought, ‘Let me do it first. Let me go through the dangerous journey first and, if South Korea is a place that is worth it, I will bring them over.’”

Heo and the student jailed with her waded across the Yalu River on Sept. 26, 2014, into China. They managed to reach Thailand and boarded flights for Seoul, arriving on December 18, 2014.

Heo’s planning to bring her husband and son began at once. Brokers wanted $20,000 each to bring her husband and son out of North Korea, and another $12,000 to get them to Thailand. Friends agreed to lend her the money. Read more