Monthly Archives: August 2013

US envoy to North Korea appealing for release of Kenneth Bae

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A senior U.S. envoy who will travel to North Korea on Friday said that he plans to strongly appeal for the release of Kenneth Bae but added that Washington has received no guarantees from Pyongyang the ailing man will be freed.

Bob King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, said that the United States is increasingly concerned about the health of 45-year-old Kenneth Bae, a tour operator and Christian missionary who was arrested last November and accused of committing “hostile acts” against North Korea.

“We’re going to make an appeal,” King said after a meeting with Japanese officials. “He has health problems and we’re hopeful we will be able to make progress on that.”

When asked if he was confident Bae would be released, he said. “We haven’t been told that anything is definite.”

It will be the first public trip to North Korea by a U.S. administration official in more than two years. The U.S. has requested a pardon and amnesty on humanitarian grounds for Bae, who suffers multiple health problems and was recently hospitalized. Washington has been calling for Pyongyang to grant amnesty since Bae was sentenced on April 30.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday that the U.S. was hopeful that King would return with Bae, but she would not link that issue with the prospects for renewed U.S.-North Korean dialogue.

If North Korea releases Bae, it will be the second time King has come back with a prisoner. When he last visited North Korea in May 2011 to assess the impoverished North’s food situation, he came home with Eddie Jun. Jun, a Korean-American from California, was arrested for alleged unauthorized missionary work during several business trips to the country. He was released on humanitarian grounds.

North Koreans treated as subhuman

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North Korea’s famine in the 1990s unleashed a Darwinian struggle for survival that swiftly eliminated many of the most vulnerable in an already sharply stratified society, a U.N. panel heard Thursday.

“People are treated without dignity in North Korea ― and in some cases like sub-humans,” said Ji Seong-ho, who was 14 when he lost his hand and left leg trying to steal coal from a moving train to sell for food during the famine years. Ji, now 31, was one of a number of North Korean defectors called to testify before a U.N. Commission of Inquiry into human rights in North Korea that is currently holding hearings in Seoul.

During the 1994-98 famine, which saw hundreds of thousands starve to death, ordinary North Koreans had to focus all their energies on scavenging to stay alive. Food was so scarce that there was little to share and those who could not fend for themselves ― the very young, the elderly, the disabled ― were at particular risk.

“We had disabled people in our town, but by the time the food situation had begun to improve slightly in the late 1990s, we didn’t see them anymore, meaning they must have died,” Ji said.

Unable to walk without crutches and with no job prospects, Ji managed to cross the border illegally into China in 2000 in an effort to find food for his family. Police caught him on his return, held him for a week and, Ji said, beat him severely. Ji finally escaped for good in 2006 and settled down in South Korea, where he now studies law and speaks publicly about life in the North.


Children on the margins of North Korean society

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Among the North Korean defectors testifying to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights in North Korea on Thursday was Kim Hyuk, 32, who at the age of seven after his mother’s death became a “ggotjebi” ― the North Korean term for street children, mostly orphans, who beg, scavenge and steal to survive.

As children began to die in the streets, Kim said special police units were set up to round up all the ggotjebi and send them to shelters and orphanages, where many still died of starvation. “There was no food at all,” Kim said of the orphanage where he spent three years. “Just powdered corn husk which left you constipated. I caught and ate lizards, snakes, rats and grass.”

Of the 75 children in the orphanage, 24 died. “The officials said it was due to disease, but it was malnourishment. They became too weak to walk. Their bodies were buried in the backyard,” Kim said.

Kim ran away but was then arrested for making smuggling runs across the border with China and served 20 months in a re-education camp where the conditions were as bad as the orphanage. “There were 24 of us who entered the camp on the same day. Only two survived,” he said.

Released from prison, Kim sneaked across the Tumen (or Apnok) River into China in December 2000 and arrived the following year in Seoul, where he now lectures on his experiences on behalf of the Unification Ministry.


The Deadly 10 Commandments in North Korean Prison Camps

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The 10 Commandments in North Korean prison camps, according to survivor Shin Dong Hyuk:

1. Do not attempt to escape. The punishment is death.
2. Never gather in groups of over three people or move around without the guard’s authorization. The punishment for unauthorized movement is death.
3. Do not steal. If one steals or possesses weapons, the punishment is death. The punishment for failure to report the theft or possession of weapons is death.
4. Obey your guards. If one rebels or hits a guard, the punishment is death.
5. If you see outsiders, or suspicious-looking people, report them immediately. The punishment for abetting in the hiding of outsiders is death.
6. Keep an eye on your fellow prisoners and report inappropriate behavior without delay. One should criticize others for inappropriate behavior, and also conduct thorough self-criticism in revolutionary ideology class.
7. Fulfill your assigned duties. The punishment for rebelling against one’s duties is death.
8. Men and women may not be together outside the workplace. The punishment for unauthorized physical contact between a man and a woman is death.
9. Admit and confess your wrongdoings. The punishment for disobedience and refusal to repent is death.
10. The punishment for trespassing camp laws and rules is death.

[Excerpted from Shin Dong Hyuk’s book, “Escape to the Outside World”]

Nine years in North Korean gulag because of a secret

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As a member of the North Korean elite in the 1970s, 77-year-old former dancer Kim Young-Soon had it all: well-connected, well-heeled and well-housed. Her privileged lifestyle was largely the result of having an older brother who was a general during the 1950-53 Korean War.

She also had many equally privileged friends — among them a pretty, married actress, Song Hae-Rim, who in 1969 became the lover of Kim Jong-Il, the as-yet unmarried son and heir of then-leader Kim Il-Sung.

“I knew I would never see her again,” Kim told the commission of the day Song visited her house to say she was going to move in to the junior Kim’s residence. Kim Jong-Il and Song never married and their relationship was kept secret for years in the deeply conservative North, even after Song gave birth to a son.

In her testimony on Wednesday, Kim Young-Soon said she was among a group “purged” to prevent the story of the relationship spreading. In 1970 she was summoned by the secret police, locked in a room and grilled for two months about her knowledge of “senior party officials”.

She told them nothing but was then taken — along with her four young children and both her parents — to Yodok, a newly-built prison camp in a remote mountainous region in the northeast. There was no trial, and no indication of her sentence.

“They didn’t even tell me what my offence was, and only said, ‘All of you are supposed to be dead, but are being allowed to live here at the greatest mercy of our leader’,” Kim recalled.

So began a nine-year ordeal in what Kim described as “the most hellish place in the world”. Inmates had to work from dawn to dusk — tending fields, cutting trees, building livestock sheds — followed by hours of ideology classes in the evening. Rations were a handful of salt and maize that was cut if inmates failed to meet their daily work target.

Kim said they supplemented their diet with anything they could catch, including snakes, salamanders and rats. “We ate anything that moved or sprouted from the soil,” she said

Inmates caught trying to escape or scavenging leftovers from the guards were executed in public. Anyone showing sympathy for them was either beaten, tortured or even executed themselves.

Kim’s said her father starved to death within a year and was soon followed by her mother. One of her sons drowned in a stream while one daughter was sent to live with a farmer family and never seen again.

Kim said many fallen members of the elite were in the camp, including a celebrated movie director, former generals and a prominent soccer star. “No one was free from the grips of the Kim dynasty,” she said.

Nine years later, a visiting military official who knew Kim Young-Soon’s brother managed to help arrange her release in 1979. After getting out, she found her husband had been sent to another prison camp which “no one can walk out alive from”. She never saw or heard from him again. Kim’s youngest son was caught trying to flee the North and executed in 1989 at the age of 23.

She was also under constant surveillance by neighbors and secret police, who warned her against spreading “ungrounded rumors” about the leadership.

The famine that decimated North Korea in the mid-1990s — coupled with the shock at her son’s execution — convinced Kim that it was finally time for her to escape. In 2001 she bribed her way across the border with China and eventually made it to Seoul in 2003, where she works as a dance teacher and lectures on life in North Korea. “Those who live in a free society will never truly understand what happens in those labor camps,” she said.


Former prisoners tell UN inquiry about life in North Korean prison camps

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Being forced to kill your own baby is a daily occurrence in North Korea’s prison camps, former inmates have told a United Nations inquiry held in Seoul. The inquiry, chaired by former Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby, is the first to expertly examine North Korea’s human rights record, ABC News reports.

One ex-prisoner, 34-year-old Jee Heon-a, told the hearing about a mother who was forced to drown her own child.”It was the first time I had seen a newborn baby …. ” she said. “Suddenly there were footsteps and a security guard came in and told the mother to turn the baby upside down into a bowl of water. The mother begged the guard to spare her, but he kept beating her. So the mother, her hands shaking, put the baby face down in the water. The crying stopped and a bubble rose up as it died.”

Jee was incarcerated in 1999. Her fellow inmates were barely fed. “Everyone’s eyes were sunken. They all looked like animals, she said. “Frogs were hung from the buttons of their cloths, put in a plastic bag and their skins peeled off. They ate salted frogs and so did I.”

Another defector, Shin Dong-hyuk, was forced to watch the execution of his mother and brother. Shin, who was born in the prison camp, overheard his family members planning an escape attempt and turned them in.

In a separate incident, the North Korean guards chopped off Shin’s finger after he accidentally dropped a sewing machine. “I thought my whole hand was going to be cut off at the wrist, so I felt thankful and grateful that only my finger was cut off,” Shin said.

There are 150,000-200,000 people trapped in North Korean prison camps, Reuters reports.

A brief history of US economic warfare against North Korea

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The breadth and depth of US economic warfare against North Korea can be summed up in two brief sentences:

• North Korea is “the most sanctioned nation in the world” — George W. Bush
•“There are few sanctions left to apply.” – The New York Times

From the moment it imposed a total embargo on exports to North Korea three days after the Korean War began in June 1950, the United States has maintained an uninterrupted regimen of economic, financial, and diplomatic sanctions against North Korea. These include:
o Limits on the export of goods and services.
o Prohibition of most foreign aid and agricultural sales.
o A ban on Export-Import Bank funding.
o Denial of favorable trade terms.
o Prohibition of imports from North Korea.
o Blocking of any loan or funding through international financial institutions.
o Limits on export licensing of food and medicine for export to North Korea.
o A ban on government financing of food and medicine exports to North Korea.
o Prohibition on import and export transactions related to transportation.
o A ban on dual-use exports (i.e., civilian goods that could be adapted to military purposes.)
o Prohibition on certain commercial banking transactions.

In recent years, US sanctions have been complemented by “efforts to freeze assets and cut off financial flows” by blocking banks that deal with North Korean companies from access to the US banking system. The intended effect is to make North Korea a banking pariah that no bank in the world will touch. Former US president George W. Bush was “determined to squeeze North Korea with every financial sanction possible” until its
economy collapsed. The Obama administration has not departed from the Bush policies.

Washington has also acted to sharpen the bite of sanctions, pressing other countries to join its campaign of economic warfare. This has included the sponsoring of a United Nations Security Council resolution compelling all nations to refrain for exporting dual-use items to North Korea (a repeat of the sanctions regime that led to the crumbling of Iraq’s healthcare system in the 1990s.) Washington has also pressured China (unsuccessfully) to cut off North Korea’s supply of oil.

[Excerpt of article by Stephen Gowans]

North Korea looks to Africa

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North Korea is increasing diplomatic overtures to Africa amid tighter UN sanctions that are further isolating the country.

The Korean Herald reports North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs head Park Ui-chun is leading a delegation to Africa. Park’s visit to the resource-rich continent is the fifth from North Korea this year, with propaganda secretary and member of the Political Bureau Kim Ki-nam visiting Equatorial Guinea earlier this month.

This year’s visiting parties have come from all three sectors of North Korea’s ruling elite, comprised of members from the military, party and government, as opposed to 2012, when only one official North Korean visit was made.

North Korea is emphasizing in its relations with Africa “South-South Cooperation,” a term coined to describe the promotion of technological, economic and knowledge exchanges between developing nations.

North Korean army of cyber warriors

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North Korea has assembled a team of 3,000 cyber agents, including hundreds of trolls, whose job is to undermine morale in South Korea, according to a South Korean think tank.

The computer experts spread propaganda by hacking into South Korean websites and linking them through to pro-North Korea outlets.

The trolls – believed to number about 200 – reportedly use identities stolen from South Korean internet users to post comments on web forums.

“The North has established a team of online trolls at the United Front Department and the Reconnaissance General Bureau,” Ryu Dong-Ryul of the Police Policy Institute told a seminar at the Seoul Press Centre, as reported by Chosun.

The think tank said the United Front Department hacks into South Korean websites through servers based in 19 countries, using constantly changing IP addresses to avoid detection. It said the trolls were part of a 3,000-strong cyber army and claimed they posted more than 41,000 items of propaganda online in 2012, up from 27,000 the year before.

An estimated 300 North Koreans are trained in cyber warfare every year, compared to just 30 in South Korea, Lim Jong-in of Korea University told Chosun. They are picked from elite middle schools in the North Korean capital Pyongyang and spend 10 years honing their skills at Kim Il-Sung Military University, Mirim University or Kim Chaek University of Technology, the newspaper reported.

In June, the internet security company Symantec suggested a string of attacks on South Korean websites dating back four years were the work of a gang known as DarkSeoul, although it could not confirm the group is run by North Korea.