A 4th US citizen detained in North Korea

North Korea detained US citizen Kim Hak-song on Saturday on suspicion of acts against the Pyongyang regime, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday.

Kim is believed to be the fourth US citizen currently detained in North Korea.

In April, KCNA said Tony Kim — also known as Kim Sang Duk — was detained for “hostile acts” toward the North Korean regime.

Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2016 for removing a political sign.

And Kim Dong Chul, the president of a company involved in international trade and hotel services, was arrested in 2015 and is serving 10 years on espionage charges.

[CNN]                                                                                 Related

Top North Korean defector disowned by his family in Pyongyang

Thae Yong Ho, the former deputy ambassador at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom, became the highest-ranking defector in nearly 20 years when he left his post last year.

Thae, who fled with his wife and children, worried about his family back home. Relatives of defectors are often sent to prison camps or used by the regime as propaganda tools.

But back in North Korea, Tae Ok Ran, Thae’s sister, calls that answer “100% evil propaganda.” Not one person in the family has been punished, the 57-year-old housewife said. His sister says it makes him a “rotten scumbag… not even an animal.”

Thae’s brother and sister spoke to CNN for their first-ever interview, which was organized by the government. “It’s good to be able to show how we are living,” Tae Ok Ran said. “I want to warn him the whole family won’t forgive him.”

Tae and her brother, Tae Yong Do, say they believe their brother is now a propaganda tool for South Korea and has brought shame upon their family.

Thae’s name has been erased as a caretaker on the family tombstone and he has been disowned. “If I don’t wash this sin away by myself, my sons and generations will have to work harder to pay for this,” said Tae Yong Do, 53.

Thae’s siblings spoke with a fervor that would have been expected of them, by a government that demands loyalty. North Koreans are often encouraged to report their neighbors for lacking patriotism, defectors say. The Tae siblings expressed a resolve and reverence to their leader that’s common among those on Pyongyang’s streets.

[CNN]

How defectors see change coming to North Korea

Cha Ri-hyuk, who defected from North Korea in 2013, still remembers what it was like after his country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011: Trains stopped running, customers were kicked out of hotels and the price of a kilogram of rice soared from 5,000 North Korean Won to more than 30,000 Won, said Cha, a former North Korea artillery corps officer.

After managing to buy and cook a kilogram of rice for the women and children in his friend’s family, Cha and his friend survived for three days on nothing but 10 litres – more than four gallons – of potent North Korean alcohol.

“There were many people like us who were drunk during the period and they were covering their faces with newspapers with the news of Kim Jong-il’s death, pretending they were mourning,” Cha told listeners at a forum about regime change sponsored by the Defense Forum Foundation. “If they were found to be drunk during the period, they would be sent to the political prison.”

Cha joined 11 other defectors at the forum to discuss weakening the North Korean regime through informing ordinary North Koreans of its realities. He and others pointed out that the difference in mood among North Koreans could eventually be a key to dealing with the current North Korean regime, led by Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un.

Hope for change resides with possible future resistance from North Korean citizens and the military, rather than military threats from the President Donald Trump’s administration, Cha said. Read more

Chilling challenges faced by 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 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.

Grace Jo who also fled North Korea adds, “We went to China to survive, but because of the Chinese government’s brutal treatment we lived in fear.”

[South China Morning Post]

Human Rights Watch urges China to release North Korean refugees

China should immediately reveal the whereabouts of eight North Koreans it detained last month, Human Rights Watch said Monday, adding they risk severe torture if they were returned to North Korea.

“By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong-Un’s administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” and repatriates them based on a border protocol adopted in 1986.

The group it highlighted — which includes at least four women — was detained by Chinese officials in mid-March after they were stopped for a random check in Shenyang, in northeastern China. Human Rights Watch said that on the basis of information from sources it considers usually reliable, the group was still believed to be jailed in China. But it feared they may soon be returned to the North since “most repatriations happen two months after detention”.

“There is no way to sugar coat this: if this group is forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk,” Robertson said.

Seoul’s foreign ministry did not confirm the HRW account, saying its protocol was not to publicly comment on individual refugee cases for their own safety and to protect diplomatic relations. “But we closely coordinate with a nation involved when a problem involving North Korean refugees arises,” it said in a statement, and was in general “doing our best to ensure the safety and safe transfer of those who wish to come to the South”.

More than 40 North Koreans, including children and pregnant women, have been held by China over the past nine months, Human Rights Watch said, and at least nine forcibly returned to the North.

[AFP]

American professor detained in North Korea

North Korea detained a US citizen for unknown reasons as he was planning to fly out of Pyongyang International Airport on Saturday morning.

The detained American is a professor, the South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported, Kim Sang Duk. He is also known as Tony Kim, according to the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). The school said he was detained by authorities at the airport “after several weeks of service, teaching at PUST.”

The detention was confirmed by Martina Aberg, deputy chief of mission at the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang. The embassy represents US interests in North Korea, since Washington and Pyongyang do not have direct diplomatic relations.

The US State Department on Sunday said it was working on the case.

At least two other US citizens are known to be in North Korean custody:
– Otto Warmbier, 21, a student at the University of Virginia, was detained at Pyongyang airport on January 2 last year after visiting the country with a tour group. He has since been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly removing a political sign from a hotel wall.
– Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized US citizen of Korean origin, was arrested on October 2015. Last year, North Korea sentenced him to 10 years of hard labor on espionage charges.

[CNN]

Life under Kim Il-sung better than under Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un

Over the rabble of tourists at Dora Observatory, a lookout in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, the sound of a rousing opera can be heard. Propaganda and music is broadcast by the north from across the border; slightly further west, the south plays their reply: Celine Dion and Kpop.

Kim Hwa (not her real name) is looking back at the country she fled in 2009. Hwa feels duty-bound to educate the public about North Korea, and volunteers part-time to take day trips to the DMZ with tourists, answering their questions on life in the north and her escape from the regime.

The daughter of a schoolteacher and military officer, she and her two brothers grew up well fed, in the “happiest household”. In North Korea there’s a lot of desert, she says, and “it’s difficult to farm so we import food”: “When the imports stop we starve, but army officers’ families were still given white rice so when I took lunch to school, others were eating rice mixed with corn and vegetables but I was eating white rice … Even though I didn’t grow up eating meat soup [regarded as somewhat of a delicacy in North Korea] I wasn’t starving … looking back it’s sad, but at the time I felt happy.”

She has fond memories of the Kim Il-sung era, when she says there was no economic difficulty, free medical service, free education and the food supply was consistent. The shift begins, for her, in the second era, that of Kim Jong-il, when she saw the nation’s budget move towards nuclear development and military spending, and away from food distribution and energy supply.

The crumbling of the Soviet Union as well as environmental factors led to a massive famine in North Korea from 1994-1998, in which about 3 million people lost their lives. At the time Kim Hwa was a lieutenant-colonel in the navy, with 700 soldiers under her.

She lost 50 troops to the famine and was denied help by the government. This was the first time she thought the government would crumble, and the first time she “started having doubts about North Korea”.

To feed her troops, she decided to sell a car on the black market to buy proper food such as goats and rabbits. One of her colleagues reported her and she was discharged in 1999. Spending 20 years in the military meant she had been somewhat sheltered from general society and thought the worst of famine was confined to the armed forces. She was greatly surprised when she returned home.

“When I got home to the station … I saw all the beggars and dead bodies [and] I realized the country had regressed since the last time I came home on a holiday. … There were two- and three-year-olds begging. I teared up. I thought, ‘Why do we live like this? … I felt bad for them, but the people in the village said it was something they see all the time. They said, ‘You go inside the train station and there are dead bodies everywhere underneath the benches’. At that time I felt a sense of resistance.”

On her return [home] she found her father was absent on a work trip, according to her mother. Hwa pressed the matter with her mother and was told he had actually died nine months previously. Falsely accused by a colleague, he had committed suicide rather than face labor camps, imprisonment or potential execution. “When I heard that I felt hostility grow… towards the party [Workers Party of Korea].”      Read more

[AFR Weekend]

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]