Monthly Archives: February 2013

UN human rights experts urge inquiry into North Korean political prison camps

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A group of United Nations independent human rights experts today urged an international inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea (DPRK), where hundreds of thousands of prisoners and their families are believed to suffer in the country’s extensive political prison camp system.

“I call on the UN Member States to set up an inquiry into grave, systematic and widespread violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and to recommend ways to ensure accountability for possible crimes against humanity,” the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, said in a news release.

He and the other experts stressed that reports coming from the DPRK are “extremely serious and disturbing” and that the time has come to shine a light of truth on these allegations by appointing a robust independent international inquiry.

In December 2012, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, met with two survivors of the country’s political prison camps – which are believed to be in operation since the 1950s and contain at least 150,000 people – urging the international community to launch an inquiry.

In today’s press release, the experts noted that prisoners do not have access to healthcare and very limited food rations resulting in near starvation. Prisoners are allegedly commonly forced to work seven days a week in laborious industries like mining and farming, and sometimes in dangerous conditions.

“Many prisoners have been declared guilty of political crimes such as expressing anti­socialist sentiments, having unsound ideology, or criticizing the Government,” said El-Hadji Malick Sow, who currently chairs the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. “But all it takes to be sent to the camps is reading a foreign newspaper.”

According to the experts, up to three generations of family members of detainees are sent to the camps on the basis of guilt by association, or yeonjwa je.

Traveling for a cause – Liberty in North Korea

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Millersville junior Sean Ferry has been involved in the organization Liberty in North Korea (LINK) for the past two years.

Founded in 2004, LINK is an organization that was created to protect and aid North Korean refugees and help spread awareness of the ongoing crisis. By joining this organization, Ferry became a “nomad,” which means that he would travel the United States as well as British Columbia, with three or four other people and share a documentary that tells the story of North Korean survivors that have journeyed across the border into China. With LINK, Ferry trekked to various high schools, colleges, churches, and even coffee shops to tell the story of the North Korean refugees.

Ultimately, joining this organization has opened his eyes to the world and helped Ferry feel as though he has a purpose in life. “I like that I am doing what I think is a good thing. I like knowing that I am helping to save lives, and am directly impacting the North Korean people. Seeing others inspiration, is what inspires me,” he said.

Now that Ferry has returned to school, he continues to try to support the organization he cares so much about. There are different things that everyone is able to do that can support LINK, he says. By donating on the organization’s website,, you can help continue the mission of providing aid to refugees. A way to get involved in the organization is through creating a rescue team with which you can host events to raise funds, or by interning as a nomad or working in the office.

Experience a defector escape from North Korea

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The Defector: Escape from North Korea provides a haunting first-person glimpse of what it’s like for someone trying to escape North Korea.

site serves as a companion to a feature-length documentary film of the same name, directed by Ann Shin. The online component launched in advance of the documentary, which premiered at the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam.

The stories on the site are based on true accounts of six North Korean defectors that bring viewers through prisons, jungles and crowded streets as they try to escape. As a voiceover explains what’s happening, viewers are given the option to watch additional videos and view photos about what it’s like to defect before continuing through seven chapters of content.

The site uses actual images and hidden camera videos from within North Korea, not to mention interviews from defectors, to illustrate the dangers they experienced at every moment.

“It was challenging to make something like this into a web project because of the scarcity of visuals and assets,” said Shin. “We had dozens and dozens of interviews with defectors and footage smuggled out of North Korea to work with.”

[Media Post

US attempts but North Korea responds never ever getting back together?

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The LA Times reports a White House official made two secret visits to North Korea last year in an unsuccessful effort to improve relations after new ruler Kim Jong Un assumed power. The brief visits in April and August were aimed at encouraging the new leadership to moderate its foreign policy after the December death of Kim’s father, longtime autocrat Kim Jong Il.

The North Korean ruling elite apparently spurned the outreach effort. The former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the back-channel trips have not been formally disclosed, said the first visit was an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Pyongyang not to launch a long-range rocket.

North Korea went ahead and carried out the launch April 12. The missile flew only a few minutes before it exploded and crashed into the sea. A subsequent test of another long-range rocket in December was successful.

The April trip was led by Joseph DeTrani, a North Korea expert who then headed the National Counter Proliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates U.S. intelligence agencies, the former U.S. officials said. 

It was unclear who led the August trip. Sydney Seiler, who is in charge of Korea policy at the National Security Council, apparently went on both trips. Seiler, a veteran CIA analyst, speaks fluent Korean.

North Korea warns US commander in South Korea of miserable destruction

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On Saturday, North Korea warned the top American commander in South Korea  of “miserable destruction” if the U.S. military presses ahead with routine joint drills with South Korea set to begin next month.

Pak Rim Su, chief of North Korea’s military delegation to the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone, sent the warning to Gen. James Thurman, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said, in a rare direct message to the U.S. commander.

The U.S. stations 28,500 American troops in South Korea to protect its ally against North Korean aggression. South Korea and the U.S. regularly conduct joint drills such as the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises slated to take place next month.

North Korea calls the drills proof of U.S. hostility, and accuses Washington of practicing for an invasion. “You had better bear in mind that those igniting a war are destined to meet a miserable destruction,” KCNA quoted Pak as saying in his message to Thurman. He called the drills “reckless.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, meanwhile, has been making a round of visits to military units guiding troops in drills and exercises since the nuclear test.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Keeping North Koreans in chains through military tension

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North Korean officials say they hope to conduct one or two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks.

But the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un and his predecessors is notoriously unable to come to any negotiating table: North Korea is built on unblinking loyalty, even worship, of the ruling Kim family combined with the fervently held doctrine of juche, or self-reliance. Juche holds that man “is the master of everything and decides everything,” according to the government’s website. And it demands that any departure from official dictates be severely punished. That’s why North Korea has the fourth-largest army in the world—and why military prowess advances while ordinary citizens suffer.

Others agree that without the nuclear threat Pyongyang cannot get Washington’s attention. “A North Korea without nuclear weapons,” writes Sohn Gwang Joo, director of Daily NK, “is just a regime burdened by economic woes, inflicting human rights abuses on its people. … Only with nuclear weapons are they able to maintain their regime, hidden away from the world. This is how they keep their people in chains: through military tension.”

One week after the test, two survivors of North Korea’s state gulag testified before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Shin Dong-hyuk and Kang Chol-hwan say the state’s political prison system is incarcerating 200,000 “criminals”—many of them Christians—in Holocaust-like camps: “Fundamentally, it is the same as Hitler’s Auschwitz,” testified Kang.

“People think the Holocaust is in the past, but it is still very much a reality. It is still going on in North Korea,” Shin told reporters on the sidelines of the human-rights summit. He is the only known surviving escapee from a “total control zone” camp—where three generations of his family had been held until he broke free seven years ago at age 23. When at 22 Shin met a new prisoner, he was unaware of any alternative reality existing outside the camps.


North Korean nuclear test also meant for North Korean regime opponents

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Shin Dong-hyuk spent his first 23 years in North Korean prison camp 14, where he was tortured and subjected to forced labor. Another North Korean prison camp survivor, Chol-Hwan Kang, spent 10 years in Camp 15.

Kang suggests that Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test was meant not only as a message of strength to the outside world but also to potential opponents to the regime within the country. Both men say the international community must do more to help North Koreans, with Kang insisting the world should take advantage of growing feelings of opposition within the communist state.

Both Shin and Kang described life in their labor camps as defined by hunger and violence.
“Daily I saw torture, and every day in the camp I saw people dying of malnutrition and starvation. I saw lots of friends die and I almost died myself of malnutrition,” Kang recalled.

Shin still carries the scars of his experience on his body. Resting his right hand on the table in front of him, he revealed the missing tip of his middle finger, which was chopped off by a prison guard as punishment after he dropped a piece of machinery in a factory.

“I’m here outside the camp, but what I’m doing daily is talk about the situation in the camp,” Shin said. “I’m still in the camp in my head.”

After meeting Shin and hearing his harrowing account in December, UN right chief Navi Pillay called for an in-depth international inquiry into “one of the worst, but least understood and reported, human rights situations in the world.”


North Korean labor camps compared to Nazi Holocaust

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North Korea’s prison camps are a closed-off world of death, torture and forced labor where babies are born slaves, according to two survivors who liken the horrors of the camps to a Holocaust in progress.

“People think the Holocaust is in the past, but it is still very much a reality. It is still going on in North Korea,” Shin Dong-hyuk told AFP through an interpreter on the sidelines of a human rights summit in Geneva.

Shin himself spent his first 23 years in a prison camp in the secretive country, where he says he was tortured and subjected to forced labor before making a spectacular escape seven years ago – and giving the outside world a rare first-hand account of life inside the camps.

The 30-year-old is the only person known to have been born in such a camp to flee and live to tell the tale, and was portrayed in a book by journalist Blaine Harden published last year called “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West.”

While Shin’s comparison with Nazi concentration camps – where the majority of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust were murdered – may seem extreme, another North Korean prison camp survivor, Chol-Hwan Kang, agreed with the analogy.

“Fundamentally, it is the same as Hitler’s Auschwitz,” Kang told AFP. With whole families in North Korea thrown into camps together and starving to death, he said the “methods may be different, but the effect is the same… It’s outrageous!”

Kang, now 43, was sent to Camp 15 with his whole family when he was nine years old to repent for the suspected disloyalties of his grandfather. He spent 10 years there before his family was released and later managed to flee to China and on to South Korea – the same route taken by Shin.


More on North Korean gulags

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Hudson Institute senior fellow Melanie Kirkpatrick says North Korea is “the world’s most repressive state,” and goes on to explain that the “lowest circle of hell is the gulag, where 200,000 or more North Koreans are incarcerated, often with three generations of their family.”

“They are usually there for political crimes such as possession of a Bible or listening to a foreign radio broadcast,” she said. “Inmates are fed little and worked hard. Many don’t survive long. It’s estimated that at least 1 million North Koreans have died in the gulag.”

Up to 1 million political prisoners have died in North Korean prisons

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A U.K.-based human rights organization has said that up to one million political prisoners may have died in North Korean detention camps. Christian Solidarity Worldwide made the assertion based on interviews with North Korean defectors and former political prisoners over the past seven years.

The report said that according to former prisoners and guards the mortality rate in the camps was about five to 10 percent annually. Based on those estimates, anywhere from 380,000 to one million people have died in the prisons.

CSW said North Korea is guilty of crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, torture, persecution, kidnapping, and perhaps rape and sexual violence. The report also examines the possibility of genocide against Christians and other religious groups in the 1950s and 1960s.

“In light of the strong prima facie case that international crimes have been committed in North Korea, the United Nations, including the Security Council, should, in addition to taking other steps towards ending such violations, set up an international commission of inquiry,” the report said.