Chilling challenge faced by female North Korean defectors in China

“In China, tens of thousands of North Korean women are hiding and living in fear of capture by the Chinese authorities,” said Lee So-yeon, a former soldier who fled her country in 2008 and is now a leading activist in South Korea.

Many of the women, she said, are sold to men in China with prices ranging from US$4,000 for women in their 20s, to US$2,000 for those in their 40s.

“The greatest fear for women who are forced to leave is deportation to North Korea,” she said. Those who are caught by the Chinese authorities and sent back face the prospect of punishment meted out in prison camps, correctional training centers or labor training camps.

Life is especially harsh for women who have become pregnant by Chinese men, with some of them facing execution, she said.

Lim Hye-jin left her country in 1998 during the famine crisis. Once she crossed into China with a broker she was forcibly married to his brother, before becoming pregnant and was later rounded up by Chinese officials while working at a market. After repatriation she escaped back into China, but was brought back to the North once again. Eventually, she made a third escape and arrived in South Korea in 2002, but without her daughter.

[South China Morning Post]

UN Human Rights Council opens door to prosecuting North Korea

The United Nations Human Rights Council has brought North Korea another step closer to accountability for human rights crimes, Human Rights Watch said Friday. A resolution, passed without a vote on March 24, 2017, strengthens the UN’s work to assess and develop strategies to prosecute grave violations in North Korea.

The resolution provides for strengthening the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul by including international criminal justice experts. The experts will be able to develop plans for the eventual prosecution of North Korean leaders and officials responsible for human rights crimes.

“The Human Rights Council spoke with one voice today by condemning North Korea’s horrific rights abuses and supporting efforts to bring leading officials in Pyongyang to account,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “The overwhelming support for this resolution shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.”

Tomás Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), underlined in his latest report to the council in February that the “investigation and prosecution of serious crimes are indispensable, as are measures to ensure the right of victims and societies to know the truth about violations, the right of victims to reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence of violations.”

“The Human Rights Council demonstrated with its new resolution what can be achieved when member countries stand behind their promises to hold to account recalcitrant, rights-violating governments,” Fisher said. “This not only brings North Koreans one step closer to justice for human rights crimes they have suffered, but should also make North Korean government officials think twice before inflicting more abuse.”

[Human Rights Watch]

UN to step up against North Korean human rights abuses

The U.N. agreed to ramp up its investigations on crimes against humanity committed by North Korea for use in future prosecutions on Friday, on the final day of a four week session.

The U.N. office in Seoul currently employs six people to interview defectors about human rights abuses, as some 1,400 North Korean defectors arrive each year into South Korea, mainly via China, Reuters reported.

In 2014, Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N. Commission on North Korea said : “What we have seen and heard so far—the accuracy, the details and the shocking personal testimony—will beyond a doubt require follow-up measures by the world community, as well as consequences for those responsible on the part of the DPRK”.

In 2014, the International Society for Human Rights, (ISHR), stated that North Korea’s crimes are “without parallel” in the contemporary world, documenting examples of widespread torture recorded in North Korea, with orders for brutality often coming from the most senior members of society.

However, North Korea “ categorically and totally rejects” the resolution adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council, responding in a statement on KCNA—North Korea’s national news agency.

John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch said : “The overwhelming support for this resolution shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.”

[Newsweek]

Two South Korean pastors arrested in China for assisting North Korean defectors

Two South Korean pastors have recently been arrested by Chinese police for providing protection for North Korean defectors in China.

One pastor was arrested on Feb. 18 with his wife and two children at an airport in the northeastern Chinese city of Qingdao prior to a flight to South Korea, according to the activist group “Justice for North Korea.”

The other minister was arrested with his wife at a hotel in the city of Qinhuangdao in China’s northern province of Hebei, it said.

“The arrested pastors are known to have insisted that they helped North Korean defectors as they were at risk of being repatriated to the North where human rights violations are serious,” said an official in the group.

The ministers were detained for helping North Korean defectors leave China, though their families were all released after two days of interrogation, he added. They are currently being held at a detention center in Liaoning Province in the country’s northeast, an official at Seoul’s foreign ministry said.    See also

[Yonhap]

China arrests more than a dozen North Korea defectors

China may have arrested as many as 14 North Korean defectors in the last two weeks, according to multiple sources.

An activist who works with refugees told Yonhap news agency Friday that Chinese “traffic police” in the northeastern city of Shenyang detained seven defectors and one Chinese “broker” traveling in the same vehicle. They were arrested after an “inspection,” the activist said.

The arrests come at a time when China introduced a new requirement for intercity bus travelers, who must now provide their real names and proof of identification in order to purchase tickets, according to the source. The North Korean refugees were detained as they traveled in a small van and are at risk of being repatriated to their country of origin, the report stated.

A second source identified as a South Korean activist with a human rights group told Yonhap another group of three defectors was apprehended at the China-Laos border as they traveled in a private vehicle that may have been lent to them by South Korean missionaries. The activist said checkpoints beyond the immediate vicinity of the China-North Korea border have been “strengthened,” posing challenges for North Koreans who are trying to reach safety without proper identification.

A third source, who represents a North Korea defector group, said Chinese authorities arrested four refugees, including a child, at a city motel in Tianjin. “The police infiltrated their room, after tracking down their whereabouts, although it’s not clear how,” the source said.

In February, China may also have arrested two South Korean Christian pastors, according to Peter Jung, head of Justice for North Korea in Seoul.

[UPI]

UN urged to bring North Korea before International Criminal Court

A veteran investigator urged the United Nations to appoint an international legal expert to prepare judicial proceedings against North Korea’s leadership for documented crimes against humanity.

Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general who served on the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea, said the U.N. Human Rights Council must pursue North Korean accountability during its current session. His call came amid an international furore over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a 2014 report issued after it conducted interviews and public hearings with defectors, recommended North Korea be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).The landmark 2014 report, rejected by Pyongyang, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for crimes against humanity.

“If North Korea is able to do this to the older brother of Kim, to the uncle of Kim (Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013), and all the elite purging left and right, can you imagine what life might be like if you are a prisoner in a North Korean prison camp, with over 100,000 of them?” Lee Jung-Hoon, South Korean ambassador for North Korean human rights, said.

Evidence recorded over the past decade or more by U.N. investigators should be given to a new U.N. mechanism for prosecution, Darusman said, adding: “Let us prevail in the end-game.”

[Reuters]

North Korea defectors fear for their lives after Kim Jong Nam assassination

North Korea defectors who now live in South Korea are being warned against traveling overseas after the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the older half-brother of ruler Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam may have been killed on the orders of the North Korean leadership, and many defectors believe they could be next.

That’s according to Ahn Chan-il, a North Korea defector and president of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, who fled the regime in 1979 – and became the first North Korea refugee to earn a doctorate in the South.

Kang Chol-hwan, another prominent defector-activist who grew up in a North Korea prison camp and later wrote a memoir of his experiences, was originally scheduled to speak at a conference in the Philippines. But in the wake of the deadly chemical attack against Kim Jong Nam in nearby Malaysia, The Aquariums of Pyongyang author was advised to stay in Seoul, Ahn said.

[UPI]

North Korean defectors defy Pyongyang through writing

About 30 North Korean defectors are working to shed light on the communist state’s human rights situation through literature, seeking to prove that the pen can indeed be mightier than the sword.

According to a report by South Korean news agency Yonhap, the group is known as the North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Center. It has been part of PEN International, an association of writers promoting literature and freedom of expression since 2012.

The center is led by North Korean defector Lee Gie Myung, who wrote plays in the republic for 20 years before escaping to South Korea in 2004. He began writing for the group in 2008, working with other “defector-writers” to tell the world about the difficulties faced by North Koreans under the three-generation rule of the Kim family.

Following calls for the UN Security Council to refer North Korea’s “crimes against humanity” to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the defector-writers tried to assist by compiling testimonies of 20 individuals who had defected over Pyongyang’s abuse of rights. They also backed the request for ICC to look into the crimes of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“It is meaningful that defector-writers have begun to gain recognition,” Gie Myung told Yonhap. “They are the ones who can speak up against North Korea’s abject human rights situation in their own voices. … North Koreans will awaken and rise up if they get access to outside information.”

[Free Malaysia Today]

What can Trump actually do about North Korea?

Since becoming President, Donald Trump has, at times, looked like a wrecking ball to the international order. But when it comes to North Korea, he may be forced to operate within the narrow constraints of his predecessors.

Some members of the President’s Republican Party have previously argued for a more forceful response to North Korean aggression. Others have advocated the drawing of a red line, telling North Korea explicitly that any intercontinental ballistic missile would be blown up on the launch pad. Trump’s Twitter activity, prior to his inauguration, suggested that he was in agreement with this line of thinking.

But while taking such steps would be vigorous and decisive, it could possibly lead to a wider war.  Escalation can happen very quickly on the peninsula — as was the case in the summer of 1950, when a series of border clashes on the 38th parallel turned into an all-out invasion of South Korea. This context is important to remember when trying to understand the limits facing Trump in constraining North Korea.

The Obama administration pushed very hard for the inclusion of human rights and even International Criminal Court prosecution as a pressure point against North Korea, much to the anger of the regime.  The lack of criticism of North Korea’s many documented human rights violations from the State Department and new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is surely music to Pyongyang’s ears.

For all its reputation of being a crazed and irrational state, North Korea appears to be taking a rational approach to Trump and waiting to see what happens in Washington. North Korean state media is at present keeping its powder dry: it has not yet attacked Donald Trump by name or criticized him for anything.

It is doubtful that Trump will be able to change things. Short of sending Tillerson or traveling to North Korea himself, it seems unlikely that he will make a significant breakthrough.

[CNN]

North Korea purged and executed thousands after Jang Song Thaek was killed?

North Korea may have ordered a sweeping massacre of about 1,000 people after the execution of Jang Song Thaek, claims a defector activist in South Korea.

Kang Chol-hwan, president of the North Korea Strategy Center, said in addition to the mass slaughter a total of 20,000 people were purged under Kim Jong Un, South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported.

“In connection to the case of Jang Song Thaek, 415 cadres in the Korean Workers’ Party, more than 300 people in affiliated organizations, and 200 officers in the state security department were shot to death,” Kang said.

There have been previous reports in South Korea media that Jang’s death sentence in 2013 triggered the executions of other senior officials. But Kang’s assertions on Friday mark the first time an analyst has said the state executed 1,000 people in the case of Jang, who was Kim Jong Un’s uncle-in-law. Relatives were reportedly purged or sent to prison camps because of Jang, the activist said.

Kang said his information was drawn from the testimonies of six North Koreans who recently escaped the country, including statements from former diplomat Thae Yong-ho.

The North Korea Strategy Center, a non-profit organization that seeks to aid defectors with development programs and international support networks, is planning to bring the Jang Song Thaek case before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, South Korean news service Newsis reported.

[UPI]