North Korean maternal mortality rate 15-times higher than previously thought

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Healthcare for women and babies in North Korea is far worse than international research has previously shown, according to new evidence from hundreds of defectors.

North Korea’s maternal mortality rate is 1,200 deaths per 100,000 births, 15 times higher than what had been reported in UN data and nearly five times above the global average, according to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, a Seoul-based non-governmental organization.

“Women don’t die right after they give birth. They go home because there are no conditions for postnatal care [in the hospital],” said a doctor who fled North Korea in 2016. “There are cases in which they start bleeding walking home, and after continuously bleeding for two to three days at home they die.”

Interviews with defectors also uncovered anecdotal evidence of barbaric treatment of infants born with disabilities and deformities. “Many women have their pregnancies terminated midterm, and those who don’t have money keep the baby and give birth. If the babies have a disability, they are either not given food until they die or are put face down to suffocate,” the doctor said. “It was like they never existed.”

The NGO (NKDB) puts North Korea’s neonatal mortality rate at 46 deaths per 1,000 births, a nearly fivefold increase from UN estimates and more than double the world average of 18.

NKDB said North Korea’s free healthcare system is “defunct” for many of its 25m people, plagued by a lack of medicine, facilities and equipment, as well as corrupt officials who divert humanitarian aid for their own profit. There is also insufficient electricity to power devices. Only 65 per cent of births were attended by skilled medical staff, NKDB found, compared with the near 100 per cent claimed in the country’s official data.

Despite greater availability of medicine at local markets, called jangmadang, and more privately run pharmacies in recent years, there are many areas where people do not have the financial means to afford even basic medicine, researchers said. NKDB’s estimates of incidences of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria, were higher than the UN’s. The NGO’s findings for non-communicable diseases, however, were lower.

Reliable statistics on North Korea are scarce as international efforts to gather data, including by the UN, are restricted by officials. But experts say defector testimonies provide some of the most trustworthy insights into the country. NKDB surveyed 503 North Koreans who resettled in South Korea between March and August this year, including more than 400 women. Longer interviews were conducted with defectors who had worked as nurses or doctors.

[Financial Times] Related article

High-level, North Korean defector tells President Trump he’s been duped

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A high-level defector from Kim Jong-un’s regime has sent a letter to President Trump warning that he has been “tricked” into believing the North Korean leader will ever denuclearize and that Washington should instead ramp up a “psychological warfare campaign” aimed at inspiring North Korea’s elites to replace the young dictator from within. The U.S. should simultaneously impose “all-out sanctions” against Pyongyang and be prepared to carry out a “preemptive strike” against Mr. Kim’s nuclear sites, according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

“As long as Kim Jong-un remains in power, denuclearization of North Korea is permanently impossible because [Kim] regards nuclear weapons as the last means to defend his survival,” the defector warned Trump. “You have stopped Kim Jong-un from launching missiles and conducting nuclear tests, but he is still mounting nuclear threats behind the scenes of dialogue and is attempting to take advantage of the relationship with you.

“The most effective way to resolve the North Korean issue is to conduct psychological warfare operations,” the letter continues. “It can have the same power as a nuclear bomb. It is also an ideal way to get North Koreans to solve their own problems by themselves.”

The White House declined to comment on the defector’s appeal. Two sources verified that the defector’s letter was delivered to two of Mr. Trump’s top North Korea policy advisers: Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger and acting National Security Council Asia Director Allison Hooker.

[The Washington Times]

Trump officials block UN meeting on North Korean human rights abuses

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The U.S. is trying to preserve a diplomatic opening with Kim Jong-un, even as North Korea dismisses President Trump as a “heedless and erratic old man.” The Trump administration has refused to support a move by members of the United Nations Security Council to hold a discussion on North Korea’s rampant human rights abuses, effectively blocking the meeting for the second year in a row. The American action appeared aimed at muting international criticism of Pyongyang’s human rights record in the hope of preserving a tenuous diplomatic opening between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

A proposed meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday had been intended to put a spotlight on North Korea on Human Rights Day, which is held every Dec. 10 to mark the day in 1948 when the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight of the council’s 15 members had signed a letter to schedule the meeting but needed a ninth member — the minimum required. United Nations diplomats, confirming a report in Foreign Policy, said the United States had declined to sign.

The absence of American support for a discussion of human rights in North Korea is a conspicuous change under the Trump administration. In 2014, after a United Nations commission released a report on widespread rights violations in North Korea, the Americans supported an annual meeting on the council devoted to the subject. The North Korean government was infuriated. But last year, the Americans withdrew its support for such a meeting as Mr. Trump made diplomatic overtures to Mr. Kim.

Mr. Trump’s critics say the action is consistent with what they regard as a transactional approach to foreign policy that diminishes concern for human rights. The president has embraced authoritarian leaders who oversee widespread abuses in their countries and rarely talks about rights violations. Mr. Trump has blocked sanctions on Chinese officials for running internment camps holding at least one million Muslims, for example, to try to reach a trade deal with China.

“North Korea and other abusive governments that the United States is going easy on are undoubtedly elated that the days of U.S. criticism of their human rights records appear to be over for the time being,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations officer at Human Rights Watch.

[The New York Times]

South Korea intelligence officers accused of raping defector from North

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Two South Korean intelligence officials have been accused of raping a North Korean defector, with one said to have abused her dozens of times. The officials, a lieutenant colonel and a master sergeant, have been suspended and an investigation is underway.

The Defense Ministry’s intelligence command is tasked with investigating North Korean defectors and gathering intelligence. The two suspects were assigned the woman’s custody, law firm Good Lawyers told BBC Korean. According to the law firm, the first time the woman was raped she was unconscious as a result of drinking alcohol.

The officials, a lieutenant colonel and a master sergeant, have been suspended while an investigation is underway. The master sergeant is accused of raping her dozens of times while the lieutenant colonel is accused of raping her once. The alleged victim was forced to have two abortions, her lawyers say.

North Korean women who defect are more vulnerable to sexual assault than South Koreans, human rights activists say, and difficult economic circumstances can make them reluctant to speak out.

A human rights activist who advises North Korean women told BBC Korean that “many North Korean defectors experience sexual violence in China before coming to Korea. … They endured it and when they come to South Korea some have this notion that they are already defiled.” When the activist asked North Korean women what they thought of the MeToo movement in South Korea back in 2018, some replied by saying: “What good will it do?”; “It only brings humiliation”; or “They should just endure it.”

“They’re not used to speaking out, being educated about sexual violence, and demanding their rights,” the activist says. “They don’t know that when they are sexually assaulted it’s a crime and that people can be held accountable or be compensated.”

In fact, the biggest reason North Korean women keep quiet, human rights experts say, is because making a living is their foremost priority. “They tell me: ‘I need to survive. I need to eat and I need to live. That comes first,'” the activist said.

 [BBC]

North Korea insults President Donald Trump as a “heedless and erratic old man”

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North Korea insulted U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, calling him a “heedless and erratic old man” after he tweeted that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wouldn’t want to abandon a special relationship between the two leaders and affect the American presidential election by resuming hostile acts.

A senior North Korean official, former nuclear negotiator Kim Yong Chol, said in a statement that his country wouldn’t cave in to U.S. pressure because it has nothing to lose and accused the Trump administration of attempting to buy time ahead of an end-of-year deadline set by Kim Jong Un for Washington to salvage nuclear talks.

In a separate statement, former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong said Trump’s comments were a “corroboration that he feels fear” about what North Korea might do when Kim’s deadline expires and warned Trump to think twice if he wants to avoid “bigger catastrophic consequences.”

Kim Yong Chol said Trump’s Sunday tweets clearly show that he is an irritated old man “bereft of patience.” Kim Yong Chol traveled to Washington and met with the U.S. president twice last year while setting up the summits with Kim Jong Un.

“As (Trump) is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time when we cannot but call him a ‘dotard’ again may come,” Kim Yong Chol said. “Trump has too many things that he does not know about (North Korea). We have nothing more to lose. Though the U.S. may take away anything more from us, it can never remove the strong sense of self-respect, might and resentment against the U.S. from us.”

In his statement, Ri, currently a vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, said Trump would be well advised to stop using “abusive language” that may offend Kim. “Trump might be in great jitters but he had better accept the status quo that as he sowed, so he should reap, and think twice if he does not want to see bigger catastrophic consequences,” Ri said.

[AP]

Trump warns Kim Jong Un on hostile actions

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U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un against hostile military actions, even as Pyongyang announced it had conducted “a very important test” at a satellite launching site.

“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump said on Twitter. “He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States, or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November. North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised. NATO, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!” 

Trump’s remarks came after North Korea’s state media said the test was conducted Saturday at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station 7, a long-range rocket launching site station in Tongch’ang-ri, a part of North Pyongang Province located near the border of China. Saturday’s test comes as North Korea continues to emphasize its declared end-of-year deadline for the United States to change its approach to stalled nuclear talks.

This year has been one of North Korea’s busiest in terms of missile launches. Pyongyang has carried out 13 rounds of short- or medium-range launches since May. Most experts say nearly all of the tests have involved some form of ballistic missile technology.

Earlier this month, Trump, in answering reporters’ questions about North Korea at the NATO summit in London, said, “Now we have the most powerful military we’ve ever had and we’re by far the most powerful country in the world. And, hopefully, we don’t have to use it, but if we do, we’ll use it. If we have to, we’ll do it.”

North Korea responded in kind. “Anyone can guess with what action the DPRK will answer if the U.S. undertakes military actions against the DPRK,” Pak Jong Chon, head of the Korean People’s Army, said on state media. “One thing I would like to make clear is that the use of armed forces is not the privilege of the U.S. only.”

[Voice of America] 

The challenges of a half-North Korean, half-Chinese offspring in South Korea

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Song Hong Ryon’s mother fled North Korea in the late 1990s in search of food and work in China, like tens of thousands of other North Korean women did to avoid a famine at home. Many women ended up being sold to poor Chinese farmers as brides, before fleeing again and moving to South Korea, which considers the North part of its territory and therefore embraces North Korean refugees. Many of the children of these marriages, if they’re able to reunite with their mothers in the South, are then alienated and frustrated as they struggle to navigate a strange culture, cut off from friends and many of their relatives.

North Korean mothers lived in China in constant fear of being captured and repatriated to the North, where they could face torture and lengthy detention. When they made the risky trip to South Korea, they often left their children behind in China. The lucky ones, after getting jobs and saving money in South Korea, arranged for their children and husbands to travel to the country. But some children were abandoned, or their fathers refused to leave their hometowns and move to a place where they had no relatives or friends.

Three years after her arrival from China, Song Hong Ryon a half-North Korean, half-Chinese 19-year-old has made only two South Korean-born friends and says she’s often been hurt by little things, like when people ask if she’s from China because of her accent.

Song said she was 10 when her mother left their home in the northeastern Chinese city of Yanji in 2010. A year later, her father also went to South Korea, leaving her with her grandparents. She only reunited with her parents in 2016 in South Korea after a six-year separation.

Last December, her mother died of lung cancer. “I came to blame God,” said Song, a devout Christian. “I asked why this had to happen to me.”

Song’s bilingual ability helped her receive special admission to a university near Seoul. Her first semester starts in March, and she’s excited and nervous about meeting her mostly South Korea-born classmates.

[AP]

Half-North Korean, half-Chinese kids miss out on refugee benefits

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A half-Chinese, half-North Korean young woman — who wishes to be identified only by her family name, Choe, because she worries that media publicity could damage her life in South Korea – told AP her story.

Years before, brokers had lured Choe’s mother to cross the border into China with the promise of a job — before selling her to her husband for $710. In early 2017, her mother fled their home in Dunhua city in northeastern China after witnessing a fellow North Korean woman in their village being arrested and sent back to North Korea.

Last year, 20-year-old Choe came to Seoul from China to reunite with her North Korean refugee mother.  She speaks only a little Korean and has no South Korean friends. She has yet to travel alone beyond Seoul and often spends time chatting online with her friends back in China.

Upon arrival in South Korea, children like Choe are given citizenship because their mothers are now South Korean nationals. But because they don’t have a direct link to North Korea, they cannot legally receive some other special favors that North Korea-born refugees enjoy. Those missed benefits include the right to bypass the highly competitive national university entrance exam, get a college tuition waiver and, for men, choose whether to perform two years of mandatory military service. (Choe said her brother is still in China because of worries that he’ll have to serve in the military.)

Choe wants to improve her Korean and go to a South Korean university, which means she must compete with South Korean students in the university entrance exam. But language is a problem. Choe’s mother says: “If I try to go deeper in our conversation in Korean, she won’t understand…”

“Half-Chinese, half-North Korean children mostly give up on opportunities to develop themselves, … and combined with South Korea’s social bias against them … this eats away at them fulfilling their potential,” said Kim Doo Yeon, the principal of the alternative Great Vision School in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul. Read more

[AP]

Half-North Korean, half-Chinese kids struggle in South Korea

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Twenty years ago, North Korean mothers began slipping into China, and many left behind half-Chinese, half-North Korean children in China when they managed to gain entrance to South Korea.

Even when in South Korea, such children often face crises in identity. They’re often confused about whether they’re Chinese, South Korean or North Korean refugees. Because neither parent is originally from South Korea, they don’t have help assimilating into the country’s brutally competitive and fast-paced society.

Now, with such children reaching adulthood, their plight could soon become a bigger social issue in South Korea. According to the South Korean Education Ministry, about 1,550 half-Chinese, half-North Korean children were enrolled in primary, middle and high schools in South Korea as of April this year, along with about 980 North Korea-born students, though the true numbers are likely higher.

In recent years, the government has tried to help by providing $3,390 to each of their families as well as dispatching more bilingual instructors to schools. Shim Yang-sup, principal of the Seoul-based alternative South-North Love School, said the children should be supported because they represent an untapped resource, with the ability to often speak two languages and navigate both Korean and Chinese cultures. However, in May, an opposition lawmaker proposed providing China-born North Korean children with the same assistance given to North Korea-born refugees.

Kim Hyun-seung, 20, from Tianjin, China, arrived in South Korea three years ago to reunite with his mother, who came six years earlier. Tall and slim, Kim said he wouldn’t mind serving in the South Korean military and dreams of being a chef in a French restaurant. But he doesn’t want a serious girlfriend out of fear they’d “become a couple like my father and mother that gives pain to their child, fails to live together and worries about many things.”

[AP]

North Korean defector hospitalized after hunger strike

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A North Korean defector in South Korea was hospitalized after a nine-day hunger strike.

Lee Dong-hyun, 46, was protesting the deaths of a North Korean woman and her infant son and the repatriation of a North Korea boat crew, when he fell ill, South Korean news service Newsis reported Tuesday. Lee was suffering from malnutrition and “weakened stamina” when he was taken to a hospital in Seoul, according to the report.

A North Korean defector emergency response committee, which has called for greater protection of defectors following the deaths, and South Korea’s emergency dispatch office, said Lee was fasting when his health began to quickly deteriorate. He returned home after five to six hours at the hospital.

Lee is demanding the resignation of South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul. Lee has said Kim is responsible for the deaths of the defectors and the “forced repatriation” of North Korean fishermen in November. The fishermen were suspected of homicide and returned to the North; Seoul has said they are not protected under South Korea’s Act on North Korea Refugee Protection and Settlement Support.

Defectors are receiving backing for their cause from the opposition Liberty Korea Party. LKP lawmakers who have created a task force on the repatriations say Seoul should confirm the status of the repatriated North Koreans, according to Newsis.

[UPI]

Eleven North Korean defectors detained in Vietnam

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Eleven North Koreans seeking to defect to South Korea have been detained in Vietnam since Nov. 23 and are seeking help to avoid being repatriated, a South Korean activist group said on Monday. The eight women ranging in age from early 20s to 50s, and three men in their 20s, were detained by border guards in northern Vietnam two days after crossing from China, and are being held in the city of Lang Son, the Seoul-based Justice for North Korea said in a statement.

Currently, Vietnam is detaining all the defectors. After several of the women fainted, the Vietnamese government decided against forcibly sending them to China, according to Peter Jung, the head of Justice for North Korea which supports North Korean asylum-seekers.

Jung told VOA’s Korean Service that one of the defectors who had a cellphone contacted the South Korean Embassy in Vietnam asking for help, but he had not heard from them since Friday.

Jung added the Seoul embassy’s subsequent silence had spurred him to publicize the situation, fearing that without an international response the defectors could be forcibly repatriated. “The embassy told them it will take appropriate measures to help them,” said Jung. “But the defectors have not heard from the embassy” since Friday.

The defectors asked the South Korean government to provide asylum in Seoul so they can avoid being deported to North Korea. In a video clip sent by Jung, a woman was nursing other people who appeared to be ill.

The South Korean foreign ministry said it was aware of the case and had been in touch with the Vietnamese government. “Our government has been making necessary efforts to ensure the North Korean defectors living abroad are sent to a desired place without being forcibly repatriated,” the ministry said in a statement.

If the 11 defectors are sent to China, they would most likely be deported back to North Korea, where they could face severe punishment such as forced labor, torture and even execution.

As of September, at least 771 North Korean defectors had entered South Korea this year, according to the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North.

[Reuters/VoA]

American who gave cryptocurrency talk in North Korea arrested

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In April, Virgil Griffith a self-styled “disruptive technologist” traveled to North Korea with a visa he had obtained from a diplomatic mission in New York City, going through China to circumvent an American travel ban. He gave a talk at the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference in Pyongyang about how to use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to launder money, according to federal investigators.

Now Mr. Griffith, 36, faces federal charges that he violated international sanctions. He was arrested on Thursday as he landed at Los Angeles International Airport. The charges come after the Trump administration raised concerns over the summer about the national security threat cryptocurrencies pose because of their potential to be used to finance illicit activities. During his speech and in discussions afterward, Griffith provided information about how North Korea could use cryptocurrency to “achieve independence from the global banking system,” the complaint said. He also later made plans “to facilitate the exchange” of a digital currency between North and South Korea.

Mr. Griffith, an American citizen who lives in Singapore and works for the Ethereum Foundation, is accused of conspiring with North Korea since August 2018. He appeared in federal court in Los Angeles last week and will eventually be brought to New York. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

“We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., an assistant director-in-charge at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary.”

Hacker magazine, 2600, where Mr. Griffith was a contributing writer, issued a statement on Twitter on Friday saying that his arrest was “an attack on all of us.” The magazine’s editor, who uses the pen name Emmanuel Goldstein, said on Twitter that what Mr. Griffith had done — explaining the concept of cryptocurrency — was not a crime. He added, “He’s a typical hacker who loves technology and adventure.”

A self-described ex-hacker, Mr. Griffith earned a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in computational and neural systems, then went to work in Silicon Valley, where he developed a reputation as a tech-world rebel.

[The New York Times]

North Koreans aren’t having enough children

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North Korea seems to be following a similar trajectory as South Korea’s demographic decline, which it is desperately trying to cover up. That is the conclusion of analysts assessing the future of one of the world’s most secretive and authoritarian regimes.

The current population of communist North Korea has been estimated at around twenty-five million, and is seen peaking within two decades. Pyongyang needs workers and soldiers, but North Koreans aren’t having enough children to meet this demand any more. The North’s population growth has already slowed from its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s of an estimated 3 percent to its current fertility rate of 1.9, below the “replacement” level rate of around 2.1, according to UN data.

The geopolitical implications of a weak economy combined with a diminishing population will not be lost on the ruling Kim dynasty. This is particularly the case when as many as 30 percent of its citizens are estimated to comprise either active or reserve military personnel, with more than 1.2 million active personnel and some six million in reserve.

Anecdotal evidence points to North Korean families hesitating at having more than one child due to the added financial burden of education and child-rearing, despite reports of the regime deliberately denying access to contraceptives and prohibiting abortion.

And the life expectancy of North Korea’s citizens lags the South’s by nearly twelve years, however, reflecting persistent food shortages where as many as 40 percent of the population are undernourished.

Demographers see the North’s population starting to decline from 2044. And unlike Asian neighbors such as Japan, North Korea is unlikely to attract an influx of foreign workers to help compensate for a shrinking labor force, while it also lacks the financial resources to support child-rearing. While the North’s current demographics give it “some political leverage thanks to its stronger population growth” than the South, this advantage could soon dissipate.

As much as Pyongyang might try to hide its population data, the analysis all points in the same direction. Isolation might protect the “hermit kingdom” for now, but its demographic destiny cannot be avoided. The worry for policymakers is what the North might do in the meantime to bolster its faltering regime.

[Excerpts of an article by Anthony Fensom, writing in The National Interest]

Females now account for 85 percent of North Korean defectors

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The Ministry of Unification in Seoul estimates that, as of June 2019, some 33,022 North Korean defectors had entered South Korea. Of these, 23,786 – about 72 percent – were female. 

Throughout 2019 though, that trend has increased, with female defectors accounting for 85 percent of the total defector population. Data indicates that 17,566 North Korean female defectors are in the age range of 20-40, and the vast majority are mothers.

During the process of fleeing their impoverished home country, many women are forced into sex and labor trafficking, often are sold to Chinese men and ultimately forced to marry. Many have to leave their children behind as they attempt to carve out a way to survive.

One such mother Jeong Ah has gone on to serve as founder and executive director of Tongil Mom (which translates to “Unification Mom”), an NGO that focuses on issues related to the mental health and well-being of defector mothers. “I gave birth to four children, but, tragically, I only have one child that I am living with. Looking back, I feel that I was abandoned by my own birth parents, and I feel so terrible that I myself did the same thing my parents did to me,” Jeong Ah said. “I feel a great sense of tragedy and sadness that I have done this to my children. That is part of the reason I started this organization, to deal with the hurt and the pain so many other defector women go through in forced separation.”

“The Chinese government does not give North Koreans Chinese citizenship, [but classifies] North Korean defectors as illegal border crossers,” the latest Tongil Mom report states. “They even send them back to North Korea by force.”

Defectors thus live every moment with the risk of being discovered and forcibly returned to North Korea. If pregnant, the defectors also face the threat of a forced abortion on return. The looming fear and routinely brutal living conditions in China propels many women to flee their children and families once again and relocate to South Korea.

[Fox News]

The psychological toll on North Korean defectors from child abandonment and sex slavery

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The pain of losing her babies is still evident in the eyes of Kim Jeong Ah, a North Korean defector and mother. The life of the 43-year-old Hermit Kingdom survivor has been scarred by battle after battle, and all she can do now is pick up the pieces.

Three days after Jeong Ah was born, she was orphaned. Her adoptive mother and father were dead by the time she was 13. Soon after being adopted at the age of 17, she was summoned to join the North Korean military. After narrowly escaping death as a result of extreme malnutrition and harsh treatment during her seven-year tenure as a soldier, Jeong Ah thought getting married and starting a family of her own would be the start of a brighter life.

But pain found her at home, too. “My second child was born with a disability due to my husband beating me,” Jeong Ah told Fox News. “Unfortunately, my daughter did not survive for more than 10  months, and I realized I could not stay in this type of environment. But I had nowhere to go, no extended family because I was [an] orphan, so I decided to escape North Korea.”

The young mother, who left her eldest child with his father in North Korea, found out she was pregnant soon after crossing into China — where she had just been sold into “a human trafficking situation.” One of Jeong Ah’s customers agreed to be her “husband” to avoid the immediate threat of having her be forcibly returned to North Korea.

“But for almost two years and nine months, I lived in fear of being arrested and forced back to North Korea, so I knew I had to go to South Korea,” she said. “After resettlement, I wanted to bring my Chinese husband and daughter I had with him, but he refused. For ten years now, I have not been able to contact my daughter in China, or hear her voice, or know what is going on in her life.”

To this day, barely a moment goes by in which Jeong Ah doesn’t think of her two estranged children and the baby who died in such harrowing circumstances.

“I gave birth to four children, but, tragically, I only have one child that I am living with. Looking back, I feel that I was abandoned by my own birth parents, and I feel so terrible that I myself did the same thing my parents did to me,” Jeong Ah said. Read more

Speaking to her children once a year: “A few minutes of joy, eclipsed mostly by waiting and agony”

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Son Myunghee, 35 was given up for adoption the day after she was born. Her adopted parents died when she was young, forcing her to work in an illegal scrap metal mine near her home town.

Myunghee first escaped North Korea in 2007 after two years of hiding in the mountains, but her foray into “freedom” was short-lived. She was tortured so severely by Chinese agents, she says, that her intestines ruptured and she was left fighting for her life before being repatriated  in 2012.

“The regime tried to make an example out of me and use me to put fear in the population. I had to escape this whole situation of further mistreatment and punishment,” she said.

Myunghee absconded again in 2014, making it to South Korea the following year. She currently lives in South Korea with her Chinese husband and children, and endeavors to support other victims of forced repatriation.

Another defector, who requested anonymity given that her immediate family remains in North Korea, told Fox News that, since defecting in 2004, she is only able to afford to speak to her children once per year. Arrangements are made through a secret broker that goes to the family home in North Korea and uses a Chinese cell signal to facilitate a brief phone call.

It’s a few minutes of joy, eclipsed mostly by waiting and agony.

[Fox News]

Tongil Mom

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Tongil Mom translates as “Unification Mom”, and is a NGO based in South Korea that focuses on issues related to the mental health and well-being of North Korean defector mothers.

The women who make up the leadership of Tongil Mom are tireless in their push to highlight the ongoing human rights violations suffered by female North Koreans both in their homeland and as defectors in neighboring China, and are urging the international community to support the defectors even after they have left North Korea.

“We want to raise awareness about the North Korean defector women and what they experience. Once they resettle in South Korea, it doesn’t mean the nightmare ends for them,” said Son Myunghee, 35. “The forced repatriation policy [in China] obviously hurts the North Korean defectors, but it hurts their own citizens too. Chinese fathers are then forced to raise the children on their own.”

“I have met many defectors, and whether they have been settled in South Korea for one year or ten years, they all suffer from PTSD and require treatment. The type of PTSD and trauma they are suffering from prevents them from living properly in a life of freedom,” explained Oh Eun Kyung, the director of Tongil Mom, a counseling psychologist supervisor and professor at the Korea National University of Transportation. “Instead of seeking help; they turn to alcohol or suffer from deep depression and anxiety.”

Kyung is urging defector women not to be afraid to step forward and join Tongil Mom’s group sessions – attended by hundreds of women across South Korea.

“We want to provide a safe environment for these women to come and experience this type of counseling. What these defector women have suffered through is unspeakable, and the first step is to provide a place for them slowly to open up to people they can trust and start revealing what they went through,” she said. “The pain can’t be erased, but there are people willing to help. And that is the only way they can grow and live in freedom.”

[Fox News]

Parents of Otto Warmbier pursue North Korean assets

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The parents of a former U.S. hostage who died after being released from North Korea in a coma in 2017 say they are committed to finding and shutting down illicit North Korean business assets around the world in efforts to hold its government accountable for widespread human rights abuses.

In a news conference in Seoul on Friday, Fred and Cindy Warmbier also called for the Trump administration to raise North Korea’s human rights problems as it engages in negotiations to defuse the country’s nuclear threat.

“My mission would be to hold North Korea responsible, to recover and discover their assets around the world,” said Fred Warmbier, who was invited to a forum hosted by a Seoul-based group representing the families of South Koreans abducted by the North during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The Warmbiers, who live in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, have claimed that their college student son, Otto, was tortured by North Korea after being convicted in 2016 of trying to steal a propaganda poster and imprisoned for months. The 22-year-old suffered severe brain damage and died shortly after being returned to the United States in a vegetative state in June 2017.

In December last year, a U.S. federal judge ordered North Korea pay more than $500 million in a wrongful death suit filed by the Warmbiers over their son, although they are unlikely to collect on the judgment.

The Warmbiers have been pushing legal action seeking the closure of a hostel operated on the grounds of the North Korean Embassy in Berlin and plan to go after other hostels the country operates in Europe, which they say are aimed at pressuring governments to tighten their enforcement of sanctions against Pyongyang.

During the earlier part of his presidency, President Donald Trump strongly criticized North Korea over its dismal human rights record, inviting the Warmbiers to his State of the Union address last year where he lashed out at the “depraved character” of the government led by third-generation leader Kim Jong Un.

But Trump months later began playing down the severity of North Korea’s human rights record and showering Kim with praises as they engaged in high-stakes nuclear summitry. Following his second summit with Kim in Vietnam in February, Trump said he takes Kim “at his word” that Kim was unaware of the alleged mistreatment of Otto Warmbier while he was imprisoned there.

[AP]

Where things stand with North Korea

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Excerpts of an interview with Sue Mi Terry, a former senior CIA analyst and senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:
Background: When President Trump first came into the office, President Obama first told Trump that North Korea is going to be the number one security issue. And it turned out to be true. In 2017, North Korea conducted many tests, including three ICBM tests, intercontinental ballistic missile tests, which the United States, from the US’s perspective, used to always say that’s the threshold because now they have a missile that can reach New York or Washington. They also conducted nuclear tests with a hydrogen bomb test. And so if you remember in 2017, the Trump administration was pursuing what they called a maximum pressure policy, along with a fire and fury rhetoric and calling Kim a rocket man on a suicide mission.

On prospects for a nuclear deal: “Despite President Trump saying right after the Singapore Summit that the North Korean threat is over, we are at a stalemate. The North Korean threat is not over. They have not taken a single step towards denuclearization. […] Most fundamentally, I don’t think Kim Jong Un has made the strategic decision to give up his nuclear weapons program.”

Kim’s domestic political prospects: “Kim Jong Un] has consolidated power […] We don’t see any kind of potential challengers to Kim because Kim got rid of them.”

On human rights in North Korea: “I don’t think it has gotten any better. […] When President Trump first came into office in 2017 he did at least appear that he cared about North Korea’s human rights issue: The State of the Union Address. He brought Otto Warmbier’s family to the State of the Union Address. He invited a North Korean defector. He hosted several meetings with North Korean defectors. When he went to South Korea, he gave this big speech in front of the National Assembly addressing North Korean human rights. But all of that sort of got thrown out just because he wanted to now not annoy Kim. [So] the human rights situation has not gotten better.”

Q: In 2018, Kim Jong Un’s new year editorial indicated maybe North Korea was shifting. North Korea basically said, “We’re done with our testing. We’re going to now try to focus on economic development.” Why do you think Kim Jong Un made that shift in that new year speech?
A: Kim is a very shrewd guy. He was about 90-95% done with North Korea’s nuclear program. […] I think he felt comfortable in terms of where they were in their nuclear missile program. And that he didn’t feel the need to go all the way to show 100% capability in terms of being able to strike New York City with a nuclear weapon.
He pivoted to a charm offensive: Sending the North Korean athletes to the South Korean Olympics, and then proposing meeting with Trump.
But ever since the Singapore Summit, the North Koreans have continually worked on their nuclear missile program. They’ve conducted dozens of short range missiles this year. And each time it, of course, improves their capability.

Q: Would you say the threat has gotten worse as they make these advances?
A: It certainly has not improved. I would say it’s worse because they’re improving their missile program. It feels like it’s not worse because the scary intercontinental ballistic missile tests are not happening in front of our eyes. But […] unless we can resolve the North Korean crisis, the threat has not gone away at all.

[Intelligence Matters]

Will there be talks?

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U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said on Wednesday there had been no concrete evidence that North Korea had made a decision to give up its nuclear weapons, but he still believed Pyongyang could make this choice. He made the remarks in prepared testimony presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in his nomination hearing for the State Department’s No. 2 post.

Biegun has led U.S. efforts to try to persuade North Korea to denuclearize since last August, with little success so far. Biegun’s latest remarks came after repeated statements from North Korea in recent days that it has no interest in talks with the United States unless the U.S. ends what it called a policy of hostility.

Earlier on Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui as saying that discussions related to the nuclear issue might have been taken off the negotiating table give the U.S. attitude. “I think the nuclear issue can be discussed again when the U.S. abolishes all hostile policies toward North Korea,” it quoted her as saying during a visit to Moscow.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have met three times since last year to push forward negotiations Washington hopes will lead to North Korea dismantling its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea has been demanding that sanctions hobbling its economy be lifted, and in April, Kim set a year-end deadline for Washington to show more flexibility. That raised concerns that North Korea could resume nuclear and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017 that Trump has repeatedly held up as a major achievement of his engagement with North Korea.

[Reuters]

Montreal panel on the gendered experience of North Korean defectors

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HanVoice, a student chapter of the Canadian advocacy group for North Korean refugees and human rights, hosted a panel to shed light on the gendered experiences of North Korean migration and to highlight the ways that women are disproportionately marginalized. 

HanVoice Director of Research Mégane Visette discussed the inherent link between the gender-based experience of refugees and border surveillance regimes between North Korea, China, and other Southeast Asian countries that defectors have to cross to reach South Korea. Visette emphasized some reasons for the gender-based experience of North Korean women defectors, pointing to China’s former one-child policy. In Jan. 2016, the policy was loosened to allow couples to have two children; however, the 36-year long policy created a demand for brides, which also increased mobility opportunities for women.

“Marriage, then, [became] a survival strategy,” Visette said. “When you’re crossing the border, […] you [may] know someone who can make you go through the border if you become the bride [to a stranger].” 

Visette concluded by discussing how Southeast Asian countries rationalize their treatment of North Korean refugees by classifying North Korean defectors as economic migrants as opposed to refugees. China, for example, has been able to deny them the protection mandated by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. “The international legal system [offers] such a cookie-cutter sort of interpretation of what a refugee convention [that leaves, which leaves] a lot of people […] in a grey zone,” Visette said. “North Korean refugee women cannot access refugee status in Thailand, which prevents them from accessing] private sponsorship programs in Canada because this is reliant on the UNHCR […] definition.”

The event ended with a video interview of North Korean defector Yeeun Joo, who spoke about her journey from North to South Korea by traveling through China with the help of missionaries who protected her from experiencing any gender-based violence. Joo also described her 20 years living in the one-party state. She dreams of becoming a teacher, with ambitions of creating an education system to teach North Korean children if the two Koreas ever unify. 

[McGill Tribune]

Frosty North Korean response to Trump tweet and good will gesture

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President Trump urged North Korea to return to the bargaining table to resolve the two countries’ differences. Trump made the request as part of a tweet defending Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, in which he stated: “Mr. Chairman, … I am the only one who can get you where you have to be,” Trump tweeted yesterday. “You should act quickly, get the deal done. See you soon!”

Trump’s tweet followed a gesture of “goodwill” in the form of canceling a joint military exercise with South Korea.

The U.S. olive branch quickly was spurned by North Korea, whose response was to conduct a flying exercise of its own, wherein North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally supervised a parachuting drill of military sharpshooters.

In a statement attributed to a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry, North Korea claims that U.S. support for a “human rights resolution” at the United Nations last week had undercut the gesture of postponed war games.

“We, for our part, tried hard to appreciate it as part of positive attempts to ease tensions and make the most of chance for dialogue,” read the statement from the unnamed spokesman, who said the resolution proves the U.S. is “still wedded to the hostile policy geared to isolate and stifle” North Korea.

“In particular, the U.S. dreams of bringing down our system … which shows that it has no intention to sincerely work with us towards the settlement of issues,” the spokesman said. “Therefore, we have no willingness to meet such dialogue partner.”

[Washington Examiner]

North Korean refugees as advocates and storytellers

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For years, Joy Kim couldn’t understand why her mother left her behind when she defected from North Korea. Until she found herself in the same position, said Kim as she spoke alongside three other North Korean refugees at the Liberty in North Korea at UCLA’s second annual “The Stories that Link Us” event. The program, started last year, trains North Korean refugees to be advocates and storytellers in hopes of inspiring others to take action.

“Each [has] their own defection story and LiNK just helps them craft their stories and become really good storytellers so that they can bring other people along,” said Becky Chung, a special events and donor relations intern for LiNK. The refugees spend three months in the United States, during which time they travel to different states to speak to students, community leaders and government officials.

“I think it’s very easy to only see North Korea as an evil country, as part of this axis of evil, as people say,” said Ashley Ng, president of UCLA’s LiNK chapter and a fourth-year global studies student. “But I think this event does a good job of showing that there’s North Korean youth born in the ’90s that are just human like us and had the unfortunate circumstance of being born in North Korea (where they faced) human rights violations.”

Many prejudices exist against North Korean refugees living in South Korea, said Dasom Kim, a refugee who escaped North Korea with the help of LiNK before settling in South Korea in 2014. For example, North Koreans are paid less than their South Korean counterparts for the same work, she said.

Jeongyol Ri, a student at Seoul National University who defected while he was in Hong Kong for a math competition, shared the same sentiment. After resettling in South Korea, he started looking for tutoring jobs to pay for food and housing. The parents of a young boy were interested in hiring him, but after they figured out he was from North Korea, they had to rethink their decision, he said.

Ilhyeok Kim, now a student studying political science and diplomacy at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said he was shocked by the number of candidates that appeared on election ballots. When he voted in North Korea, he said he only had one candidate to choose from.

Despite the benefits of life in South Korea, some fellows also missed aspects of their life in North Korea. Ri confessed to yearning for the camaraderie he felt in North Korea, where he knew each and every single person who lived in his apartment building. In South Korea, people are so busy, he said, that he doesn’t have the time to get to know his neighbors.

[Daily Bruin]

Fleeing North Korea often the start of even more hardship

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Now a university student in South Korea studying social work, Joy Kim spoke about the hardships her family experienced in North Korea and the challenges she faced as a result of being trafficked once she crossed the border to China. She said that for women like her, fleeing from North Korea is often the start of more hardship.

Kim’s family in North Korea was very poor, and when her stepmother tried to marry her off, she decided to flee to China in 2009. However, unable to pay the broker who helped pay off the guards that kept watch over the border, Kim was sold as a bride. “For three days, a broker paraded me around villages in northern China and crowds of men would gather to bid on me,” Kim said. “I was treated like an animal in a zoo.”

A man eventually paid the equivalent of $3,000 for her. He and his parents kept constant watch over her in fear she would escape, Kim said. Kim soon discovered she was pregnant. Because a pregnancy would make her eventual escape challenging, if not impossible, she said she tried to induce a miscarriage. “I climbed up the highest tree in the backyard and jumped down,” Kim said. “I also carried around heavy buckets of water.”

Despite her efforts, Kim gave birth to a baby girl after nine months. She said she resented her daughter at first, but before long the girl became her only reason to live.

It was around this time that a member of LiNK approached Kim and offered to help her cross the 3,000 miles that separated her from South Korea. The crossing, however, would be too dangerous for a child, he told her. Unable to pass up the opportunity, she decided to escape, determined to one day return to China to take her daughter to freedom.

Kim finally reached South Korea in 2013, four years after first leaving North Korea. Because of her harrowing experience, she said she wants to devote herself to helping North Korean women who have experienced the same trauma.

“Sixty percent of North Korean female refugees in China are trafficked into the sex trade,” Kim said. “For female North Korean refugees, escaping from North Korea is not the end of their journey, but the beginning of their fight for freedom.”

[Daily Bruin]

Outrage over 2 North Koreans sent back to North Korea

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Since the division of the Korean peninsula after World War Two, South Korea has offered safe haven to more than 30,000 of their North Korean brethren from the impoverished, authoritarian North. But when two North Korean men sought asylum after drifting across the maritime border in a small fishing boat this month, Seoul made the unprecedented decision to turn them away.

The case has reignited criticism that South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer-turned-liberal politician, has pursued rapprochement with the North, including three one-on-one summits with the North Korean leader, at the cost of sidelining human rights concerns and opposition towards the regime. Under his administration, defectors and other activists have complained of being restricted from carrying out activism such as flying balloons carrying anti-regime leaflets across the border.

Lim Jae-cheon, a North Korean studies professor at Korea University in Sejong, said the repatriations marked a fundamental shift in Seoul’s policy toward North Koreans, who are all considered South Korean citizens under a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court. While South Korea has occasionally repatriated North Koreans at their request, it had previously never returned someone from the North after they had requested asylum.

“When two defectors come to Korea, they should be regarded as South Korean people and judged according to our law,” added Kim Jong-ha, a professor at Hannam University in Daejeon, South Korea. “Why were they expelled so quickly?”

A coalition of 17 rights groups in South Korea accused the government of denying the men due process and failing to provide “clear evidence” of their guilt, calling for a parliamentary inquiry into its handling of the case.

“You could punish the men to the full extent under South Korean law,” said Jung Gwang-Il, a prison camp survivor who runs the non-profit organisation No Chain, questioning the need to return the accused men to the North. “Nobody can trust an investigation that has them repatriated after three days.”

“The North Korean regime believes all defectors including me are heinous criminals, so now it looks like we all could be repatriated for this purpose,” Jung said.

In the Daily NK, a defector-run media outlet, Choi Ju-hwal, a former official in the North Korean army, said it was “very hard to accept” that three men had been so easily able to kill 16 of their crewmates without a weapon such as a gun.

Another North Korean defector Eom Yeong-nam said it was “absolutely certain” that the two will be executed in the North. “The North will probably execute them in public as a message to potential defectors – even if you flee to the South, you will end up like this,” he told the Post.

[South China Morning Post]

North Korean defectors decry South’s expulsion of two fishermen

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South Korea’s expulsion of two North Korean fishermen set a bad precedent that has spread fears in the North Korean defector community and could lend legitimacy to its widely criticized judicial system, defectors and activists said on Friday. South Korean officials said the two, in their 20s, appear to have killed their 16 colleagues after their plan to take action against their abusive captain went wrong.

The decision drew criticism and dismay from some defectors, who said the men should have been tried in the South and would likely face torture, and possibly execution in North Korea.

Many defectors have served prison terms in the South for crimes they committed in the North, including murder and rape, and the two should have been prosecuted in South Korea if they were suspected of having committed a crime, says Jung Gwang-il, a former political prisoner in North Korea who runs a human rights group in Seoul. Jung said.

“Now so many defectors are fearing they, too, might somehow be deported,” Jung said.

Y. H. Kim, another defector turned rights advocate, said the expulsion of the two was the latest in what he said were government efforts to “trample” on defectors. As a surge of inter-Korean diplomacy unfolded last year, many of the 33,000 refugees from North Korea in the South say they feel like political pawns suddenly discarded. “I’m so devastated thinking how human rights has become an empty word,” Kim said.

American lawyer Joshua Stanton said South Korea violated a U.N. convention banning the expulsion of people to a place where there are “substantial grounds” for believing they may face torture.

“There is little doubt that South Korea’s move has condemned these two men to torture and likely execution, and for that reason, there should have been a much higher standard of evidence required before sending them back,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.

North Korea’s state media has made no mention of the pair.

[Reuters]

US asking North Korea to return to talks

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The United States is “very actively” trying to persuade North Korea to come back to negotiations, South Korea’s national security adviser said on Sunday, as a year-end North Korean deadline for U.S. flexibility approaches.

South Korea was taking North Korea’s deadline “very seriously”, the adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters, at a time when efforts to improve inter-Korean relations have stalled.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in April gave the United States a year-end deadline to show more flexibility in their denuclearization talks, and North Korean officials have warned the United States not to ignore that date. The window of opportunity for progress in dialogue with the United States was getting smaller, a senior North Korean diplomat said on Friday, adding that Pyongyang expects reciprocal steps from Washington by the end of the year.

South Korea has set up various contingency plans if the deadline passes without any positive outcome, Chung said, without elaborating. As the talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled, so have efforts to improve ties between the two Koreas, despite efforts by the South Koreans to nudge them forward.

[Reuters]

Two North Korean defectors returned to North Korea due to murder charges

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South Korea said Thursday it expelled two North Korean men after learning they murdered 16 crew members on their fishing boat before fleeing to the South.

The pair, both in their 20s, were questioned by South Korean authorities after being found on Saturday near the maritime border in the Sea of Japan, and concluded that the men had killed 16 fellow fishermen on their boat and then fled to South Korea, Seoul’s unification ministry said.

The two men were deported to the North via the truce village of Panmunjom after informing Pyongyang of the plan, ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told reporters.

“If they had been incorporated into our society, it was judged they would pose a threat to the lives and safety of the people,” Lee said.

[AFP]

13 North Koreans trek through four countries toward freedom

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A group of 13 North Koreans recently arrived in Southeast Asia, after a grueling two-month journey which spanned 6,000 kilometers (more than 3700 miles), in a quest for asylum in South Korea.

Among the group that reached the Southeast Asian destination were a two-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, the rest ranging in age between their teens and 50s.

They were met by officials from the South Korean human rights group Now Action Unity Human rights (NAUH), who had been awaiting them.

Ji Seong-ho, founder of NAUH, who himself escaped North Korea in 2006, led the effort to rescue the 13. Ji said the latest rescue was both nerve-racking and moving.

He told RFA that many people that attempt to leave North Korea are arrested in China, as Beijing intensifies crackdowns on those who try to flee. He noted that the number of North Koreans fleeing to Southeast Asia has declined in recent years, but that many still make the journey hoping to escape to freedom.

[Radio Free Asia]

Some of the reasons North Koreans defect

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A group of North Korean defectors recently arrived in Southeast Asia after lengthy travels through China. Following are their responses as to why they left their homeland:

A female member of the group, explained she left North Korea in July because she was being forced to join the military and had to give up her dream of becoming a doctor. “It wasn’t hard for me because I kept thinking this is the only way I can achieve my dream and [secure] my future,” she added.

Another woman in the group, in her fifties, said she decided to seek asylum because she hated the incompetence of North Korean authorities, who she said make strong crackdowns on minor infractions. She also disliked the rampant corruption in North Korean society and said it was her wish to travel to other countries as she pleased.

She said that even North Korea’s rich are looking for ways to get out. “People think that the state just drains money from us. It would be nice if the state would let us be in charge of our own business,” said Lee. “So it means that the people are all saying ‘Let’s leave. We will be able to be in charge of our own affairs in South Korea, We can enjoy freedom. Let’s go look for our freedom there.’ Many of the rich people want to come because [the authorities] are giving them a hard time,” she said.

Another female defector identified as Lee is the mother of a 2-year-old. Her 12-year old niece, small enough to pass for a much younger child, was also a part of the group. Lee’s mother had escaped into South Korea 13 years ago. “Now that I’m here, I break into tears just thinking of seeing my mother. It’s been 13 years. I have tears just thinking about meeting her for the first time in 13 years,” Lee said.

[Radio Free Asia]

North Korean defectors call for postponement of funeral for mother and son

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North Korean defectors in South Korea say they have decided to postpone a funeral for a North Korean woman and her infant son because Seoul’s Unification Ministry is not meeting their demands.

Activists with an “emergency response committee” established after the death of Han Sung-ok and her son said the Unification Ministry is responsible for a “breakdown” in negotiations regarding a list of their demands, Yonhap reported.

According to activists, the group requested Seoul “apologize” for the incident, asked for the resignation of the head of the Korea Hana Foundation, a government agency, and demanded a nationwide network be established for North Korean defectors in the South. The activists also said they are seeking the creation of a council that could negotiate between the Unification Ministry and various defector groups.

The defectors added the Unification Ministry is “avoiding” the demands and making it appear the Hana Foundation is responsible for the delay, according to local news service Seoul Pyongyang News.

Han and her son were found dead in their apartment in southern Seoul in July. The family may have died of starvation at least a month before local authorities entered their apartment to find their decomposing corpses. Han was granted residence in the South in 2009. According to defectors who spoke to UPI, Han had two sons and her second son had died with her, while her ex-husband, a Chinese national, took her firstborn to China.

[UPI]

Kim Jong Un has ‘decided’ on U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul says

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Kim Jong Un has made up his mind about the timing of the next U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul’s spy agency said Monday.

Suh Hoon, the head of South Korea’s national intelligence service, told the National Assembly’s information committee the third official meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader could take place before the end of the year, News 1 and MoneyToday reported.

In preparation for the third summit, not counting the brief Trump-Kim encounter at the truce village of Panmunjom, working-level talks between Pyongyang and Washington could take place in November, or early December at the latest, the spy chief said, according to reports. (Last week, North Korea fired two projectiles as it warned of a “year-end deadline” for the United States.)

Suh also said Kim could visit China ahead of a third U.S.-North Korea summit, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of bilateral ties. Last week, sources in China told a South Korean newspaper that North Korea’s all-women’s Moranbong Band could tour Chinese cities in December, and that Chinese President Xi Jinping could attend a concert with Kim.

[UPI]

Kim Jong Un is ‘fascinated’ by Trump, views him as father figure, new book claims

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A new book claims to shed light on President Trump’s relationship with North Korea. Author Doug Wead interviewed Trump on the issue and was able to read some of the personal letters exchanged between the president and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un.

“Kim is fascinated by Donald Trump. He sees him as a unique figure on the stage of world history. And he wants to make history with him,” Wead claims in his book “Inside Trump’s White House: The Real Story of His Presidency.”

The book, set for release on Nov. 26, comes at a time when the U.S. has improved diplomatic relations with North Korea, but continues working for concessions on the rogue nation’s nuclear development.

President Trump took the historic step of meeting in person with Kim after a prolonged, international standoff that included fiery rhetoric and multilateral sanctions. Kim has frequently attacked Trump’s mental stability while Trump suggested that Kim was short and fat.

But despite the public bluster, the president told Wead that he and Kim had good “chemistry” and they both wanted to avoid conflict. 

When Wead discussed the letters with White House adviser Jared Kushner, Kushner suggested Kim had problems with Trump because of issues surrounding his own father. “‘It’s a father thing,’ Kushner observed.

‘You can see from these letters that Kim wants to be friends with Trump, but his father told him never to give up the weapons. That’s his only security. Trump is like a new father figure. So, it is not an easy transition.'”

[Fox News]

Cho Jin-hye’s story

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North Korean defector Cho Jin-hye was resettled in the United States, but she’s never had it easy.

Cho lost her father during the catastrophic North Korean famine of the late ’90s. Her family was notified of his death with a letter from the North Korean government, as he was in prison at the time …. His crime that he had gone to China to search for food. “He passed away from hunger and torture,” she said. “He had infections all over his body. They didn’t give him medicine or water.”

In 1998, as a child she escaped North Korea with her mother. They had relatives in China — her father’s stepbrother and his family — but they met them only once. “When we crossed the border, they did not help my family, so I never met with them again,” she said.

Out of options, Cho and her mother “stayed” with an ethnic Korean-Chinese man, living with him for four years.

“He was a drunkard,” she said. “After he drank he would start yelling at my mother, beating my mother, using a stick to beat me too, and my sister. We had a really difficult four years with him.”

Cho, a naturalized U.S. citizen who resettled in 2008, said a nine-year battle for her reputation has led her to believe that an online antagonist could be collaborating with the North Korean regime. Pyongyang’s propaganda service Uriminzokkiri has targeted Cho with a video that includes a “testimony” from a North Korean woman who claims Cho faked her identity and that she was, in fact, Korean-Chinese. The story aligns with the rumors that Cho says was started by her opponent. The official statement from North Korea has been upsetting, Cho said. Read more

North Korea defector battles cyberbullies in the U.S.

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North Korean defector Cho Jin-hye who now lives in the U.S. in Georgia, remembers reaching a low point when she became the target of cyberbullying in online defector communities. The stinging accusations from other defectors, alleging Cho had feigned her North Korean identity in order to gain asylum in the United States, were so overwhelming she said she contemplated suicide.

That was 2014. Five years later, Cho is still struggling with unfounded rumors she is somehow not related to her mother and her younger sister, although they fled North Korea together and lived for a time in China. Cho, who is in her early 30s, said her troubles began when another U.S.-based North Korean defector began to fabricate stories about her background.

The row between the two defectors may be puzzling, but a sense of solidarity may not prevail among defectors, says Markus Bell, a North Korea expert and migration researcher based in Yangon, Myanmar. Bell, who has studied North Korean defectors in the South, said North Koreans often don’t trust each other because of the political situation on the Korean Peninsula. “There is often a wariness about who might be informing for the North Korean government,” Bell told UPI by email. “This makes it more difficult for new arrivals to forge meaningful relationships.”

Bell said lack of trust among defectors sometimes boils over into anger and bitterness. “Because of the mutual mistrust among North Koreans in exile, individuals like these can become focal points of resentment, susceptible to accusations that could have them sent to China or South Korea,” Bell said. “It’s absurd that Ms. Cho’s asylum in the United States could now be up for debate. She was granted asylum and that should be that.” Read more

[UPI]

North Korea, emboldened by Trump peril and Chinese allies, assumes harder line

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Successful sanctions evasion, economic lifelines from China and U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment woes may be among the factors that have emboldened North Korea in nuclear negotiations, analysts and officials say.

Both Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continue to play up the personal rapport they say they developed during three face-to-face meetings. But North Korea has said in recent days that it is losing patience, with two missile launches on Thursday, giving the United States until the end of the year to change its negotiating stance.

“Still, I think that Pyongyang has concluded they can do without a deal if they must,” Andray Abrahamian, a visiting scholar with George Mason University Korea, said. “The sad thing is I think that will lock in the current state of affairs, with its downsides for all stakeholders, for years to come.”

Trump’s reelection battle and the impeachment inquiry against him may have led Kim to overestimate North Korea’s leverage, said one diplomat in Seoul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. “Trump is all Kim has. In order to denuclearize, Kim needs confidence that Trump will be reelected.”

Although United Nations sanctions remain in place, some trade with China appears to have increased, and political relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have improved dramatically.

A huge influx of Chinese tourists over the past year appears to be a major source of cash for the North Korean government, according to research by Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea. Estimates that as many as 350,000 Chinese tourists have visited this year, potentially netting the North Korean authorities up to $175 million. That’s more than North Korea was making from the Kaesong Industrial Complex – jointly operated with South Korea before it was shuttered in 2016.

For now, North Korea seems inclined to avoid engaging further with the United States or South Korea until they make more concessions. “North Korea appears to be interested only in a deal under its terms to the exact letter,” said Duyeon Kim, with the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.

[Reuters]

North Korea fires 2 missiles amid stalled denuclearization talks

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North Korea conducted a missile launch on Thursday, firing two projectiles into its eastern sea amid stalled denuclearization talks with Washington, military officials said. North Korea’s latest missile test, the second this month, comes two months ahead of an end-of-year deadline set by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to wrap up nuclear talks with the Trump administration as the Hermit Kingdom appeared to be losing patience.

U.S. officials had been watching North Korea prepare for this latest missile test over the “past few days,” the U.S. official told Fox News, calling the launch “routine.”

The missiles were believed to be “short or medium-range ballistic missiles,” fired from mobile launchers outside North Korea’s capital Pyongyang, a U.S. official told Fox News regarding an initial intelligence assessment.

Earlier this month, North Korea test-fired an underwater-launched ballistic missile, its first such test in three years.

North Korean senior official Kim Yong Chol said in a statement Sunday that there has been no progress in U.S.-North Korea relations. He warned that the cordial relationship between Kim and President Trump wouldn’t be enough to prevent nuclear diplomacy from failing, threatening that “there could be the exchange of fire at any moment.”

The stalled U.S.-led talks have also put a strain on relations between the two Koreas.

[ AP ]

North Korean Authorities Crack Down on Illegal Cellphone Use

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Authorities in North Korea are conducting a crackdown on illegal cellphone use after confidential information was reportedly leaked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent activities, local officials and traders told RFA’s Korean Service.

Illegal cellphones are believed to have been used to disseminate what were apparently sensitive details about Kim’s recent itinerary. A source said that although the crackdown is intended to protect the safety of Kim Jong Un, it is also having an unintended impact on the lives people living along the border with China.

“It’s tense on the border. Smugglers who need to communicate with Chinese partners using their illegal phones, and phone brokers who make money with their illegal phones by arrange calls to defectors in South Korea, they instantly went into hiding,” said a source. “Most of the illegal phone users have fled the area but the residents are afraid as [North Korean government] inspectors are making everyone feel uneasy,” the source added.  “The state security officials that the Central Committee dispatched are searching everywhere [for illegal phone users]. I have a feeling that something serious is about to go down,” said the source.

Another source, a resident of Ryanggang, said even border security has been affected over the leak. “Border guards, who normally work with smugglers are tightening up security. … “In the past, even [in tense situations], smugglers could still bribe the border guards to bring in their illegal goods, but now the situation is so serious that smuggling things across the river is just not happening,” the resident said. “[Both] the smugglers and the guards are laying low because they don’t want to get into trouble until this tense political issue [is resolved,]” the source added.

[Radio Free Asia]

North Korea’s class system

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Since insight into North Korea is rare, as data or research is not available because of how isolated the country remains, insights from defectors and others involved with the country offer glimpses of what life is like on the inside.

For one, society in North Korea was highly fragmented by a class system.

There were three socio-political classifications that were based on North Korean citizens’ families, or their loyalty to the government, according to the Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson. These three groups were called the “core,” “wavering,” and “hostile” classes.
– The elites, those who fought foreigners, as well as those closest to the supreme leader, made up the core class.
– Peasants, laborers, and workers formed the second class.
– Those on the lowest rung were those who had opposed the elder Kim’s regime, or had previously worked with South Korea or Japan.

“And your life … ranging from residence, employment, education … is decided by the class system,” explains former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho. “I was lucky to be born into the ‘core’ class, the ruling class. That’s why I was able to get [an] elite education and a good job, and I lived in Pyongyang in good apartments… [but] there is a very strict class system structure in North Korea. … North Korea is just like the feudal dynasty of the Middle Ages.”

Despite being part of the upper echelon, Thae said he definitely wasn’t going to miss the life he left behind.

“The Kim family does not care about the human rights of individuals,” he stated. “They only care about their own interest.”

[Yahoo Finance]

North Korean defector explains why the next generation thinks differently about the United States

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Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho who defected in 2016 says there’s a generational divide over how the people in his country view the United States.

“The majority of the people in North Korea, nowadays they do not mind [the U.S.] — especially the millennials,” Thae told Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the 2019 Oslo Freedom Forum.

“The core class [holds] very strong hatred towards the U.S. … and the people [are] brainwashed, that America is always looking [to] attack … but the millennials … think differently because they were the ones who have grown up with Windows systems and Microsoft”.

“So even though they were taught that America is their sworn enemy, everyone has computers and knowledge… they know Bill Gates,” he said, adding that North Korean millennials “are really thirsty for information. That’s why they are different from their previous generations.”

Geoffrey See, founder of Choson Exchange, which is a Singapore-based non-profit group that teaches business and entrepreneurship in North Korea, echoed Thae’s sentiment, adding that he also observed a sense of adventure among the youth.

“Choson Exchange has had close to 3,000 Koreans take part in our volunteer-led training on economic policy and entrepreneurship in North Korea,” See told Yahoo Finance. “We meet younger Koreans who feel stifled working in a large state-owned enterprises, and have built small scale operations manufacturing toothpaste or trucking goods. There is a rising trend of entrepreneurship among this group.”

[Yahoo Finance]

Meth in North Korea

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Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho, who defected in 2016, says North Korea engages in state-sponsored drug trafficking, and is also now trying to fix a widespread domestic drug addiction epidemic.

“In North Korea, the drug addiction is really, really a problem,” Thae told Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the 2019 Oslo Freedom Forum. “… [Meth is] even produced by individual families in North Korea.”

While statistics on the drug addiction problem in North Korea are scarce, several reports have emerged that fill in some gaps:
– “Meth, until recently, has been largely seen inside North Korea as a kind of very powerful energy drug — something like Red Bull, amplified,” Andrei Lankov, an expert on the North at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea told the New York Times.
– Youth addiction has become a serious social issue, the Daily NK noted earlier this year, with many people in their 20s and 30s — and even high school students — drinking and smoking crystal meth at “birthday parties.”
– According to a report by Radio Free Asia, crystal meth was a “best-selling holiday gift item” during the Lunar New Year.
– The situation has gotten so bad that the country has “developed” an injectable selenium, which can be used to treat the addiction, according to state media.

North Korea’s role in the meth trade is nothing new, Thae added. He said that most of the production was located “mainly in Hamgyong, in pharmaceutical factories.” The country’s second largest city, Hamhung, which is in the southern part of the Hamgyong province, is known to be a hub for crystal meth production.

But despite the country’s production over the years, “the international police system has not found any” evidence, Thae noted.

[Yahoo Finance]

Kim Jong Un says his relationship with Donald Trump is ‘special’

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Kim Jong Un has praised his “special” relationship with US President Donald Trump, with one of North Korea’s most respected diplomats telling state media the two leaders maintain “trust in each other.”

Kim Kye Gwan, a former nuclear negotiator who now serves as an adviser to the North Korean leader, said Kim Jong Un and Trump enjoy “close relations” — a statement that appeared to pin the future of diplomatic talks between Washington and Pyongyang on the two leaders’ unique connection.

The statement was surprisingly optimistic given working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang in Sweden collapsed earlier this month. North Korean diplomats said they broke off those negotiations because of what they described as US intransigence. The State Department disagreed, saying the two sides had a “good discussion.”

North Korea has publicly expressed appreciation for Trump’s efforts, while criticizing those around him for appearing inflexible. Kim Kye Gwan echoed those sentiments in his statement, saying: “The problem is that contrary to the political judgment and intention of President Trump, Washington political circles and DPRK policy makers of the US administration are hostile to the DPRK for no reason, preoccupied with the Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.

Referring to what Kim John Un said in a policy speech in April, that he would give the Trump administration until the end of the year to change its negotiating strategy, Kim Kye Gwan said, “There is a will, there is a way. We want to see how wisely the US will pass the end of the year.”

[CNN]

Radical changes to North Korean foreign exchange rate system

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A new North Korean publication has confirmed what has been rumored for some time: that markets are integral to the country’s official exchange rates. In any other country this would be the first sentence in a beginner’s textbook on foreign currency markets, but in the DPRK, this marks a major admission of the central role that markets play in North Korean life. 

The book “The Methodology of Monetary Issuance and Monetary Adjustment” has a lot to tell us about the future of market-oriented reforms under Kim Jong Un. Contrary to inferences drawn from other sources, this book indicates a level of consolidation and commitment to the use of market mechanisms in the management of the economy, and speaks to the leadership’s willingness to accept markets over central planning in a growing number of areas.

North Korea is a country where the word ‘market’ is rarely used in official publications, and where markets remain at the alleged margins of the economy. The fact that some of the country’s top minds in monetary economics openly admit the existence of a market-oriented exchange rate that is in widespread usage is a dramatic signal of just how serious the government is about reform. This has the hallmarks of naked and all-encompassing state capitalism, without private firms or private property outside the household, with a side-order of state socialist planning alongside.

All this represents a dramatic improvement on state socialism, and if other areas of economic policy – especially investment policy – and the sanctions situation improves, these kinds of measures may help to encourage economic growth and better lives for North Koreans. 

[Read full article at NK News]