Female North Korean defectors detail stories of sexual violence

Female North Korean defectors have revealed the scale of abuse they have suffered inside the hermit kingdom in a shocking new report about the sexual violence perpetrated against women of every class, age and status. Accounts of prisoners having their vaginas forcibly searched for money by guards, rape victims being banished from cities and politicians exchanging houses for sexual favors detail a country in which women are routinely subjected to the most harrowing forms of abuse at all levels of society.

Following two years of research and interviews with more than 40 female exiles living in London and Seoul, conducted by the Korea Future Initiative, the report aims to shed light on the systemic rape culture of North Korea.

Interviewees hailing from geographically and socially diverse locations had all either personally experienced sexual violence; had known of a family member, friend, or colleague who had experienced sexual violence; or knew exiled countrywomen who were survivors.

One woman, who the report identifies as Ms Kim, was imprisoned in the Sinuiju labor camp. “The guards called girls into a room and ordered them to take off their clothes. There were girls who were fifteen or sixteen years old and they started to cry,” she said. The guards would put on rubber gloves and push their hands inside the girls’ vaginas to check if they had money. “The girls were still virgins and had not even started their menstrual cycles,” she said. “They would bleed and cry. The guards kept doing this even though they did not find any money.”

Ms Gil was similarly abused when she approached her town’s mayor to ask for somewhere to stay. “I was raped in his office and received a house in return. I could not tell anyone about what happened. What I want to say is this: In North Korea, a woman’s dream cannot be achieved without being raped or without selling her body.”

Even more financially secure women regularly found themselves at the sexual whim of their male bosses. Ms Wi explained how officials from the Ministry of Public Health abused her friend at a hospital in Pyongyang. “If they saw a young nurse or employee they admired, they would whisper in the ear of the chief hospital official who accompanied their inspection,” she said. “The woman would then be taken, sometimes forcibly, to a secluded room and abused by the officials. My friend told me that she was sedated on one occasion, but after that she stopped resisting. She could not tell me what the officials did to her.”

[Yahoo UK]

North Korea’s propaganda victory at the Winter Olympics

The Olympics has been a PR dream come true for the murderous Kim Jong Un dictatorship. South Korea’s Moon administration claims to be using the games to foster goodwill, but the reality is that the Hermit Kingdom has taken this opportunity to stage one of history’s great whitewashing operations, where the breathless focus is on the fashion style of the Dear Leader’s sister instead of his forced labor camps and police state.

North Korea is the worst human rights violator on our planet. Its leaders — including the smiling Kim Yo Jong — are active participants in a totalitarian state that starves, abuses and brainwashes millions of people. The Kim regime keeps tight control over its population through outright violent oppression, but also relies heavily on an elaborate system of censorship, propaganda and indoctrination. North Koreans grow up hearing creation myths about their godlike rulers alongside a warped version of history that places North Korea as both the strongest and most noble nation in the world, and as a victim of “American bastards.” According to Jieun Baek, author of “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution,” “children learn to add and subtract by counting dead American soldiers” and learn to use rifles “in case the ‘Yankee imperialists’ attack.”

The brainwashing works. As defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park explains, before she decided to defect, she “was not aware, like a fish is not aware of water. North Koreans are abducted at birth, so they do not know the concept of freedom or human rights. They do not know that they are slaves.”

For decades, the regime has tried to maintain a strict censorship of all foreign news, books, movies, TV shows and more, and imposes severe punishments on anyone found consuming forbidden media. Individuals found consuming outside media can face long stints in the country’s reeducation centers, where they are worked nearly to death, tortured and abused by guards and underfed to the point of eating locusts and rats found on prison floors. In some cases, those caught with prohibited media are executed and, typically, such events are done in broad daylight with the local population forced to attend.

[From Washington Post Opinion piece by Garry Kasparov]

What will be next for North Korean athletes who attended Winter Olympics?

For North Korean athletes, the prospect of failure on the big stage carries a punishment far worse than a damaged ego. Having failed to land a single medal in South Korea so far, its Winter Olympic team could suffer the same fate as previous under-performing athletes – imprisonment in one of the country’s gulags.

The most infamous case is that of the North Korean football team which made history for reaching the second round of the 1966 World Cup. Former leader Kim Il-Sung is widely believed to have ordered them to be arrested and sent to prison after they lost to 5-3 Portugal days after they were seen drinking with local women in public.

North Korean defector Kang Chol-Hwan claims he met some of the team while they were being held in Yodok prison, or Camp 15, usually reserved for political prisoners. In his tell-all book The Aquariums of Pyongyang, he asserts that footballer Pak Seung-Zin became infamous for his ability to endure torture.

After the 2010 World Cup, FIFA was forced to investigate claims another North Korean football team were “punished” after being thrashed 7-0 by Portugal.

North Korea expert Toshimitsu Shigemura said of the North Korean Olympic team who traveled to Rio 2016 and came back with just two gold medals: “Those who won medals will be rewarded with better housing allocations, better rations… and maybe other gifts from the regime,” adding that athletes who “disappointed” the leader would likely be punished with a downgrade in housing, reduced rations and even “being sent to the coal mines”.

Defector Kim Hyeong-Soo, who fled the country in 2009, has also said both athletes and coaches were punished to months of hard labor if they did not live up to expectations.

[The Sun – UK]

The three Americans who remain detained in North Korea

Just miles from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — where some observers continue to fawn over Kim Jong Un’s sister and North Korea’s “smile diplomacy” — a trio of Americans remain detained in the Hermit Kingdom.

Concern has only grown for the three Korean-Americans — Kim Hak Song, Kim Dong Chul and Tony Kim — since the death of American college student Otto Warmbier last June after the he spent 17 months locked away in North Korea. The State Department noted that Ambassador Joseph Yun, the special representative for North Korean policy, met with the three Americans in North Korea last June, when Warmbier was released. No U.S. representative has seen them since.

The three detained Americans, ranging in age from 55 to 64, are being held on a variety of vaguely described offenses:

Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang Duk, 59, was detained by North Korean authorities at Pyongyang International Airport on April 22, 2017. Kim was teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Tony also engaged in humanitarian work in the North, helping orphanages. In May 2017, Tony Kim was allegedly accused of “committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn [North Korea].”

Like Tony, Kim Hak Song, 55, also worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology before his detention on May 6, 2017 over unspecified crimes. The school is the only privately funded university in North Korea and is unique for having a large number of foreign staff. He was detained on suspicion of committing “hostile acts” against the country’s government. Pyongyang University of Science and Technology said Kim was doing agricultural development work with the university’s agricultural farm.

Korean-American, Kim Dong Chul, 64, was arrested in October 2015 and is now serving a 10-year term with hard labor for alleged espionage. It’s been reported that Chul was a pastor, and in his public “confession,” Kim said he was a spy for the South Korea intelligence service and was trying to spread Christianity among North Koreans.

[Fox News]

Pence presence to counter South Korean warming to North Korea

Vice President Pence is heading to South Korea, where — in addition to representing the U.S. at the Olympics — he plans to counter North Korea’s media messaging and push allies to maintain pressure on the rogue nation, according to multiple reports.

As NPR’s Elise Hu reports, the VPs aides have said that he wants to use the time in Korea to remind the world that just because North Korea will have a visually appealing cheering squad and an impressive figure skating duo, the regime running the country is brutal and totalitarian.

“One obvious sign of that is going to be who Vice President Pence is with,” Elise says. He’s expected to attend the opening ceremony with the father of deceased American college student Otto Warmbier, who died after being imprisoned in North Korea. That’s going to be a public reminder of that secrecy and brutality— at the same time that North Korean dignitaries will be in the same audience.

An Axios reporter and a Washington Post columnist both say they spoke to an unnamed White House aide who told them the White House won’t allow North Korea to “hijack the messaging of the Olympics.”

North Korea is sending its ceremonial leader, King Yong Nam, to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, where he will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.


North Koreans can’t escape human rights abuses even after fleeing to China

The majority of North Koreans who attempt to escape the repressive regime cross the Yalu River from Korea into either Jilin or Liaoning provinces in Northeast China. From there, they commence an arduous 3000-mile journey south ― commonly known as the “underground railway” ― through China, Vietnam and Laos until they “safely” arrive in Thailand. Sadly, throughout their whole journey in China, these refugees are considered by the Chinese government to be “illegal economic migrants,” and if caught, are arrested and routinely forcibly repatriated to North Korea.

Over the years there have been thousands of documented accounts of refugees being arrested by Chinese authorities and being sent back to North Korea, a country that is widely recognized as being devoid of basic rights and freedoms. Upon return, they face serious human rights abuses including jail, internment in re-education facilities and even death ― tactics used by the Kim government to intimidate other North Korean citizens from attempting their own escape.

In addition to the unknown number of refugees that are caught by Chinese authorities each year, it is estimated that there are a further 50,000 to 200,000 North Koreans residing in China. Forced to live in the shadows, they have no social or legal protections, no support, no rights and no hope. This population includes a large number of women who face heightened vulnerabilities, including being trafficked into the sex trade or sold as wives to local Chinese men.

The decision by the Chinese government to continuously return refugees to North Korea seriously calls into question China’s credibility as a member of the international human rights community. While it might not be common knowledge, China did in 1982 sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. This treaty contains a series of international legal obligations, including the fundamental tenet of non-refoulement: not sending someone back to a country where their life or liberty may be threatened. Despite this, China continues to proclaim that its national asylum legislation is “under development.” As 36 years have passed since its original signing of the Convention, it is safe to say that refugee protection is not a government priority.

The failure of China’s international commitments was again highlighted in the 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on the human rights situation in North Korea, which condemned Beijing for not only repatriating North Koreans but also for failing to protect them from falling into the hands of human traffickers. [However, China] dogmatically continues to arrest and deport North Koreans, citing them exclusively as “illegal economic migrants.”

[Excerpts from Opinion by Evan Jones, program coordinator at the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network]

China stepping up repatriation of North Koreans who have attempted to escape

This year China has increased the arrests and repatriation of North Koreans attempting to escape the poverty and repression at home. According to the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, 41 North Koreans were arrested in July and August alone, compared with 51 arrests documented for the entire year before.

Analysts attribute the rise in border arrests to efforts by China to discourage a possible flood of refugees as tougher economic sanctions imposed for Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and missile tests increases poverty and food scarcity among ordinary North Koreans.

Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch has criticized China for violating the U.N. Refugee Convention by designating North Korean refugees as illegal “economic migrants,” and forcibly repatriating them despite the likelihood they will be imprisoned and likely subjected to inhumane treatment.

“This is condemning people to decades of forced labor, possible executions, certainly torture in every case,” said Robertson.

China has also reportedly blocked the United Nations Security Council from acting on a General Assembly recommendation to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, based on a 2014 Commission of Inquiry report documenting a network of political prison camps and systematic human rights abuses, including murder, enslavement, torture, rape, and other sexual violence.


North Korean defector speaks out after China repatriates his family

North Korean defector Lee Tae-won is still plagued with guilt over his failed efforts to bring his wife and child to South Korea, which resulted in their forced repatriation and the likely prospect of imprisonment and possible execution in North Korea.

Lee’s wife and four-year-old son were reportedly among a group of 10 defectors that were apprehended by China soon after they crossed the North Korean border in late October.

In November he last spoke with his wife by phone while she was in a detention center in China. “As soon as my wife told me she was being repatriated, the call was cut. I thought the call was cut because the police took the phone. It was devastating,” he said.

At the time Lee made a public video message appealing to both Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump to intercede and prevent the repatriation of his family, during the time the U.S. leader was visiting the region. His plea went unanswered. Lee was later told by a friend in North Korea that his wife and child were turned over to a North Korean state security department in late November.

There is concern among human rights advocates that North Korean human rights violations and China’s complicity are being downplayed by both the U.S. and South Korea. Focusing on human rights issues could complicate Washington’s efforts to persuade Beijing to enforce tough economic sanctions, and could also undermine Seoul’s efforts to increase cooperation and dialogue with Pyongyang.


North Korea again tops the list for Christian persecution

For the 16th year in a row, North Korea tops the list of 50 countries ranked for the worst persecution of Christians in the world, according to the Christian watchdog organization Open Doors USA.

At the top of the group’s top 10 countries where Christians face the most persecution is North Korea (94 points), citing Christians and Christian missionaries routinely imprisoned in labor camps.

A close second is Afghanistan, which jumped up one place since last year’s ranking. With the exception of North Korea, all the countries that cracked the top 10 are predominantly Muslim and most are in the Middle East and Africa.

Open Doors exists to support and to advocate for persecuted Christians where ever they may be in the world,” Open Doors USA’s CEO and president, David Curry, said in announcing the list in Washington on Wednesday (Jan. 10). “We are asking that the world begin to use its power and its influence to push for justice, that we would use the list to direct us where justice is needed most in the world today.”

[Religion News Service]

China prepares for North Korea crisis by building refugee camps on border

China has started construction on a network of refugee camps along its 880-mile border with North Korea, quietly preparing for the mass exodus of refugees that the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s regime could potentially cause.

Detailed plans for the camps, intended to house thousands of migrants who might flee a crisis on the Korean Peninsula, emerged after internal documents from a state-run telecom giant went viral on the Chinese social media site Weibo. The telecom company appeared to be tasked with providing the camps with internet services, and the document stated that camps were planned in three villages in Changbai County and two cities in the northeastern province of Jilin, on the border, on state-owned land.

The document, which Newsweek could not independently verify, said: “Due to cross-border tensions…the [Communist] party committee and government of Changbai County has proposed setting up five refugee camps in the county.”

In addition, The New York Times reported that centers for refugees were also planned in the cities of Tumen and Hunchun, citing a local businessman, who remained anonymous.

The secret construction of the camps reflects growing concern in China about the potential for political instability—or even regime collapse—in North Korea.