US government grants for promoting human rights in North Korea

The call by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) offers applicants grants of up to $350,000 to promote “human rights and democratic principles in North Korea”. Proposals are sought that promote “access to information into, out of, and within North Korea,” the call says, including those involving “the production of media, including visual/video content, for DVDs, USBs, and other methods to send information into North Korea.”

But while many oppose North Korea’s long-standing information blockade and strict censorship laws, several observers told NK News that there could be serious risks for those involved in the transport or consumption of US-funded information, with provisions in the call clearly implying activities that both North Korean and Chinese authorities may view as illegal.

“[The call] is encouraging people to break their country’s laws, with no consideration of the possible consequences,” said James Hoare, a former British Charge D’affaires to Pyongyang. “I doubt whether those who devised these policies have given much thought to the likely consequences.”

As shown in the case of Kenneth Bae, the US national currently serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor in North Korea, Washington’s North Korea policy is not often helped by the arrest of American citizens attempting to share information that Pyongyang views with suspicion.

The grant call welcomes proposals “that support recommendations from the recently released report from the (United Nations) commission of inquiry on North”. While the UN commission operated on a strict “first do no harm” basis to ensure the safety of contributors, the risks involved in moving information in and out of North Korea suggest a contradiction with the State Department’s own strategy to improve human rights in North Korea.

The report, which offers the most comprehensive account of human rights violations in North Korea, explained how local authorities have been known to execute vendors found supplying external media, or tortured or imprisoned end-users found with foreign materials in their possession.

It also referenced the North Korean criminal code, which says that those found “listening to hostile broadcasting and collect[ing], keeping and distribut[ing] enemy propaganda”, would be sentenced to hard labor.”

Because the trafficking of physical information takes place along the Chinese-North Korean border, it could require the illicit movement of individuals and materials, which is likely to break both Chinese and North Korean laws.

Despite the risks involved with getting information into and out of North Korea, two human rights activists said the dangers were worth the benefits. “Brave policies, activists and strong convictions have made progress in human history… Doing nothing for fear that such grants may irritate the North Korean regime is cowardly,” said Eunkyoung Kwon, of Open Radio North Korea, an organization that has received US funding.

Bada Nam, secretary general of the People for Successful Korean Reunification, an organization that helps North Korean defectors in China, said there was a net benefit to the process of getting outside information into North Korea. “Even though it is so dangerous to deliver information inside NK, it is worth it to change the people inside,” Nam said.

“If there is no one providing information into North Korea, the NK people will not gain any access to the real world. I think they have the right to know the truth,” Nam said, adding that “the future is made by the people who take danger together”.

[The Guardian] 

North Korea defends itself before UN Human Rights Council

North Korea defended its human rights record in a debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Rights Council examined the record of the DPRK as part of its scrutiny of each U.N. member state every four years.

Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, voiced concern at the commission of inquiry’s findings of “systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations” committed by officials and institutions. “We are alarmed by the widespread use of forced labor, including child labor in detention facilities, and we remain concerned about instances of violence against women, forced abduction of foreign nationals, and reports of torture and abuse in detention facilities,” King told the Geneva forum.

King called for Pyongyang to shut political prison camps and to release all inmates. Ri Kyung Hun of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly said: “I’d like to reiterate that there is no political prison camp in our vocabulary nor prison camp in law or in practice.”

The North Korea’s delegation also said that Christian groups were trying to recruit North Korean migrants along China’s border. “There are in the northeastern area of China so-called churches and priests exclusively engaged in hostile acts against the DPRK. They indoctrinate the illegal border crossers with anti-DPRK ideology and send them back to the DPRK with assignments of subversion, destruction, human trafficking and even terrorist acts,” it said.

King also called for North Korea to end what he called “state-sponsored discrimination” based on the “songbun” system, which rates citizens based on their family’s political background as “loyal”, “wavering” or “hostile”.

So Se Pyong, North Korea’s ambassador, said his country was taking positive steps, including improving legal guarantees, education, and the rights of women, elderly and the disabled.

China’s envoy, Chen Chuangdong, praised “progress” by North Korea in the human rights field, but urged its ally to construct more health facilities and housing in rural areas.

[Read full VoA article

North Korea releases human rights report on the US

In February, the United Nations released a remarkably comprehensive report on North Korea’s human rights abuses.

This week, North Korea released its own human rights reports on the United States. State news agency KCNA released an article titled “News Analysis on Poor Human Rights Records in U.S.” Here are the key points from the criticism:

  • “Under the citizenship act, racialism is getting more severe in the U.S. The gaps between the minorities and the whites are very wide in the exercise of such rights to work and elect.”
  • “52 percent of the Americans have said that racism still exists in the country while 46 percent contended that all sorts of discrimination would be everlasting.” 
  • “At present, an average of 300,000 people a week are registered as unemployed, but any proper measure has not been taken.” 
  • “The number of impoverished people increased to 46.5 million last year, and one sixth of the citizens and 20-odd percent of the children are in the grip of famine in New York City.” 
  • “The housing price soared 11.5 percent last year than 2012 and 13.2 percent in January this year than 2013, leaving many people homeless.” 
  • “All sorts of crimes rampant in the U.S. pose a serious threat to the people’s rights to existence and their inviolable rights.”
  • “The United Nations on April 10 put the U.S. on the top of the world list of homicide rates.”
  • “The U.S. also has 2.2 millions of prisoners at present, the highest number in the world.” 
  • “The U.S. government has monitored every movement of its citizens and foreigners, with many cameras and tapping devices and even drones involved, under the pretext of ‘national security.'”

[Washington Post]

China holds the key concerning UN North Korea Report

The report released by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea constitutes a clarion call to action. According to many analysts, it will also amount to little, unless China, one of North Korea’s few allies, gives its consent.

“So what is likely to happen? Nothing,” write the editors of New York Post. They argue that while the report exposes a slew of North Korean atrocities, it may be more eye-opening to see the extent of the UN’s failure to do anything about it.

The international community must hold China accountable for the role it played in facilitating North Korea’s abuses, writes Kenneth Roth of Foreign Policy: “No country has more influence over North Korea than China, which has long provided a lifeline of economic aid and political cover to the Kim dynasty of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and, since Dec. 2011, Kim Jong Un, while refusing to do anything about the horrendous cruelty being committed next door. If it wanted to, Beijing could use its considerable influence to press Pyongyang to curb its atrocities.”

If response from China is any indication, Beijing seems uninterested in pursuing the avenue opened up by the UN report. “China maintains that differences in human rights should be handled through constructive dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday, according to Beijing-based Global Times. “To bring human rights issues to the International Criminal Court does not help improve a country’s human rights conditions.”

Human rights lawyer Jared Genser thinks there are ways to pressure China to allow the Human Rights Council to act. “That said, the way forward will be exceptionally difficult,” he writes in The Diplomat. “Changing the conduct of the North Korea regime, let alone holding its members to account for the commission of crimes against humanity, will require a Herculean effort.”

Bloomberg View’s editors suggest that China may be ready to back away from Kim Jong-un. “China’s interests lie in a transition to minimally acceptable standards of behavior in Pyongyang, not in supporting the insupportable pending the outright collapse of Kim’s regime,” they write.

Even if the Chinese Security Council roadblock is overcome, however, that doesn’t mean that Kim Jong-un will ever face judgment. The editors of the Ottawa Citizen write that the Security Council has a bad record of actually catching those they refer to the ICC.

[BBC]

North Korean actions likened to Nazis and Khmer Rouge

Last September, Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge and leader of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, briefed the U.N. Human Rights Council on what it had heard so far in its dozens of interviews with North Korean refugees and defectors.

“We heard from ordinary people who faced torture and imprisonment for doing nothing more than watching foreign soap operas or holding a religious belief,” Kirby said of his team’s work. “Women and men who exercised their human right to leave the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and were forcibly repatriated spoke about their experiences of torture, sexual violence, inhumane treatment and arbitrary detention.”

“They had to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and on grass and they were subject to cruelty,” Kirby told the BBC World TV in September, speaking about children interviewed during the panel’s investigation.

“All in all it is a very horrifying story, the like of which I don’t think I’ve seen or read of since the Khmer Rouge [in Cambodia] and the Nazi atrocities during the second world war,” Kirby continued.

UN warns Kim Jong Un about human rights crimes

A U.N. panel warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he may be held accountable for orchestrating widespread crimes against civilians in the secretive Asian nation, ranging from executing and torturing prisoners to systematic abductions and starving mass populations.

It is unusual for a U.N. report to directly implicate a nation’s leader. But in a letter accompanying a yearlong investigative report, the chairman of a three-member U.N. commission of inquiry, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, directly warned Kim that that international prosecution is needed “to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity.”

“Even without being directly involved in crimes against humanity, a military commander may be held responsible for crimes against humanity committed by forces under the commander’s effective command and control,” Kirby wrote.

The investigative commission’s 372-page report is a wide-ranging indictment of North Korea for policies including political prison camps, state-sponsored abductions of North Korean, Japanese and other nationals, and lifelong indoctrination.

Kirby also wrote to China’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva saying there’s evidence that Chinese officials have in some cases shared with North Korean officials “information about the contacts and conduct” of North Korean nationals subject to repatriation. The ambassador, Wu Haitao, replied to the panel and denied that repatriated North Korean citizens from China face torture in North Korea. He added that China “will continue to prudently and properly handle” North Korean citizens who enter China illegally.

[AP]

Drawings reveal horrific scenes inside North Korean prison

Kim Kwang-il, 48, spent more than two years at a prison in North Korea where he was tortured, starved and witnessed the deaths of fellow inmates. Kim is one of the North Koreans who gave evidence in public hearings for the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.

The UN on Tuesday released a damning report on North Korea’s inhumane treatment of prisoners, likening it to Nazi-era atrocities. It includes the testimony from more than 300 North Koreans, many of whom gave their evidence in secret.

Mr Kim was arrested by North Korean police in mid-2004 and charged with illegally crossing the border and smuggling. He had crossed the border to sell pine nuts. For this he was sentenced to six years in prison.

He defected to South Korea in February 2009 where he published a book about his time in detention. The book contained drawings made by professional artists based on his recollections of the torture he was subjected to and some of the horrific scenes he witnessed. One such drawing and description follows.

north korean prison tortureDescription of illustration: “This position itself is the torture. And additionally you are beaten up as well. If you did not give the right statement during the preliminary hearing, you get this kind of torture. You are beaten up, which leads to vomiting because you feel very uncomfortable inside. Sometimes you would vomit blood. … I was told to be in that position until my sweat would fill that one glass, that glass in front of me. You will never imagine what that’s like. … We are bound to stay in that position until the jailer feels that you have been tortured enough. …This is the pigeon torture. Your hands are bound back and if they tie you like this, your chest comes out forward and in this position you are tortured.”

You can read the testimony of Kim Kwang-il in full, along with the report itself on the UN website.

[The Age]

Challenging North Korean human rights policy

There is no more vexing issue than the challenge of how to support the improvement of human rights in North Korea, a country that has consistently ranked at the bottom of international indices rating human freedom around the world.

The U.S. Congress passed the North Korea Human Rights Act almost a decade ago, the United Nations has appointed a rapporteur to examine the human rights situation inside North Korea for almost as long, and the Korean Institute for National Unification has published an ever-growing annual white paper on North Korean human rights since 1996.

This year the UN Human Rights Council appointed a Commission of Inquiry that has held public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London, and Washington, DC; the commission will report back to the UN Human Rights Council with its assessment and recommendations by spring of next year.

But the stream of North Korean refugee testimony to unspeakable atrocities and evidence of systemic abuses inside North Korea continues to grow.

[Council on Foreign Relations]

Stinging UN call for international inquiry into North Korean human rights

The U.N.’s top human rights official said Monday that as many as 200,000 people are being held in North Korean political prison camps rife with torture, rape and slave labor, and that some of the abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.

For that reason, said Navi Pillay, the world body’s high commissioner for human rights, nations must mount an independent probe into North Korea’s human rights record.

She said the political prison camp system involves “rampant violations, including torture and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment, summary executions, rape, slave labor, and forms of collective punishment that may amount to crimes against humanity.” Living conditions are reported to include scarce food, little to no medical care and inadequate clothing.

The U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly, which includes all 193 member nations, have condemned North Korea’s human rights record, but Pillay said stronger action is needed, including such a probe – one authorized by the United Nations but performed by experts independent of the U.N. system.

The stinging criticism and call from the world body’s top human rights official for “a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes” in North Korea comes a year after Kim Jong Un became the new leader of the nuclear-armed Asian country upon the death of his father.

“There were some initial hopes that the advent of a new leader might bring about some positive change in the human rights situation,” Pillay said. “But a year after Kim Jong Un became the country’s new supreme leader we see almost no sign of improvement.”

Pillay’s statement was based on extensive research submitted by a special investigator for the 47-nation Human Rights Council based in Geneva and meetings that she held there in December with two survivors of the prison camps, said Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville.

[AP]