The real North Korea as unfiltered by Dennis Rodman

In The World According to Dennis Rodman, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he just saw on his second trip to the country, is quite likable.

As Human Rights Watch puts it, Kim’s succession as supreme leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011, “had little impact on the country’s dire human rights record.”

People are still subjected to torture and thrown into prison camps based on political charges. Those who have managed to escape describe horror that includes beatings, starvation and executions.

In 2012, “Defectors continued to report extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, and torture,” the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report says.

“The judiciary was not independent and did not provide fair trials. There continued to be reports of severe punishment of some repatriated refugees and their family members. There were reports of trafficked women among refugees and workers crossing the border into China. … The government made no known attempts to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.”

Meanwhile, much of the country starves. More than 25% of North Korean children under the age of 5 suffered from chronic malnutrition in 2012, according to the National Nutrition Survey of North Korea, a report backed by UNICEF, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization. The report also found nearly one in three women suffered from anemia.


Confirmation on Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju beginning a family

north korea Ri Sol Ju and Kim Jong UnRetired NBA star Dennis Rodman has revealed the name of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s baby daughter. On Sunday, Rodman told the British newspaper the Guardian that he and Kim had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the leader’s family and discussed holding a historic friendship basketball game between the U.S. and North Korea.

Rodman said he held Kim’s baby, named Ju Ae, and spoke with his wife Ri Sol Ju. He also alluded to another visit in December.

After his previous trip in February, Rodman said in a media interview that Ri kept talking about her and Kim’s baby daughter. It was a confirmation of media speculation that there was a new baby in North Korea’s ruling family after North Korean state TV in January broadcast video of Ri in which she appeared slimmer than in previous months, when she appeared to be pregnant.

The Guardian report said Rodman plans to organize a basketball game between U.S. and Korean teams and details on the match are expected on Monday. “Kim is a great guy, he loves basketball, and he’s interested in building trust and understanding through sport and cultural exchanges,” Rodman was quoted as saying.


S. Korea and US map out plan to deter North Korea’s nuclear threats

South Korea and the United States have mapped out a joint operational plan which outlines concrete measures to deter and respond to North Korea’s nuclear threats, a report said Sunday.

The plan encompasses political, diplomatic and military measures to specify how Washington will provide a nuclear umbrella for South Korea in the case of North Korean nuclear provocations, Yonhap news agency said.

Washington, which has nearly 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea, has pledged such protection for its ally but the new plan will contain more details for Seoul and provide a written commitment.

North Korea has said it will never give up its nuclear power but maintains it is open to direct talks with the United States.

Daniel Russel, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said Washington would not agree to reopen six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program unless Pyongyang shows a clear willingness to abandon atomic weapons.

“It’s understandable after so many cycles of broken promises by North Korea that the international community would have high standards of evidence with a call on North Korea to make convincing indications of its seriousness and purpose,” Russel was quoted as saying.


Kim Jong Un courting of Dennis Rodman equivalent to his enjoyment of Disney characters

Excerpts of a CNN piece by Sung-Yoon Lee, an assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and a Kim Koo-Korea Foundation professor in Korean Studies:

Dennis Rodman, the former NBA star and the first American known to have met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was in the secretive country again this past week, purportedly to meet his “friend Kim, the Marshal” and perhaps also, to negotiate for the release of Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen detained since November.

Kim’s unconventional courting of Rodman is about equivalent to his enjoyment of Disney characters and scantily clad women on stage. It’s all jolly and trite pleasure.

Kim’s attraction to American icons such as the NBA or Hollywood does not signal a genuine overture to Washington. It does not indicate intentions of reform or opening up of the isolated totalitarian state that imprisons some 1% of its population in political concentration camps.

We should never forget that amidst the levity and bonhomie that will emanate from Pyongyang in the coming days, North Korea, throughout more than 60 years of its existence, has committed systematic and widespread attacks on its civilian population, including murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, enforced sexual slavery and disappearance of people. In short, these are crimes against humanity.

If anything, the young North Korean leader’s occasional displays of affinity for American pop culture will only irk the country’s revolutionary old guards. Kim clearly lacks the gravitas of his late father. He may believe that he is exuding an affable image by being seen with an American star. But by traditional Korean standards on how a national leader should carry himself, Kim comes across as less charismatic than — dare I say — a lightweight.

There is no reason to believe that the North Korean military would challenge anytime soon. Kim’s hold on power over the party and the military seems, for now, firm. But the prospects for a long, happy reign for whom propagandists tout as a demigod are dim.

North Korean prison camps

As the world sits by, North Korea has imprisoned as many as 200,000 people in its prison camps. Although human rights violations remain unfortunately common in many nations, these camps form a category of their own in today’s world. North Korea’s gulag is a place where people aren’t people but rather objects for exploitation and elimination.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report this week detailing the harrowing reality of Camp 22. Camp No. 22 covered some 775 square miles, a larger geographic expanse than London, New York or Los Angeles.

Satellite imagery suggests the camp recently closed. Good news? Not exactly. According to the report, after a food shortage in 2009-10, Camp 22’s population shrunk to somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 people from around 30,000 in previous years. Thousands of prisoners seem to have evaporated into thin air — perhaps via Camp 22’s crematoria.

Last week also saw the conclusion of public hearings for a U.N. Commission of Inquiry investigation into North Korea’s human rights abuses. Although the U.N. commission has no formal prosecutorial powers, Michael Kirby, the retired Australian judge who led the inquiry, promised that the report he is overseeing will “not be just another U.N. document.”

Among the more chilling questions in the history of World War II is how the Allies could know about Auschwitz and other German death camps but take no definitive action, such as bombing the rail lines, to stop them. It is thus encouraging that the United Nations has stirred itself to pay attention to North Korea’s camps. Still, historians of the future may again wonder how the world could have known so much and done so little.

[The Washington Post]

North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity internet battlefield

Newstapa, a South Korean internet news outlet, reports that North Korean (NK) Intellectuals Solidarity formed a secret group called ‘Battlefield’ some years back to campaign online against North Korea.

And while there has not been established proof, rumor has it that NK Intellectuals Solidarity is linked to the South Korean National Intelligence Service. In any case, members of the organization had been compensated monetarily for their online operations, although where the money came from was a secret.

To quote the Newstapa article:

“An organization of North Korean defectors received money for an online smear campaign. … Newstapa secured a testimony from many North Korean defectors [indicating] that members and their families of North Korea (NK) Intellectuals Solidarity had received money for having written online postings in Agora forums at Daum, an internet portal, from the end of 2009 to the end of 2010.”

Rodman back to Pyongyang but says won’t bring back jailed American

Flamboyant former basketball star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Tuesday for a five-day visit, his second this year, but said he had no plans to negotiate the release of a jailed American missionary, Kenneth Bae. Bae, a Korean American who had been working as a Christian missionary in China and North Korea, was arrested in the northeast port city of Rason late last year.

“I’m not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae,” Rodman told Reuters in a telephone interview before he left Beijing for Pyongyang. “I’m just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is a basketball fan and appeared to get on well with Rodman on the earlier visit, with the two of them pictured laughing, eating and drinking together and watching an all-star basketball match.

Wearing his trademark dark sunglasses, the 6-foot 7-inch (2.01 meter) Rodman said, “I’m just trying to go over there to meet my friend Kim, the Marshal. Try to start a basketball league over there, something like that.”

He called Kim, 30, who rules unchallenged in a country where there are an estimated 150,000-200,000 prisoners in work camps, “an awesome kid”.


North Korea withdraws permission for visit by U.S. special envoy

North Korea withdrew permission for a visit by the U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues. Robert King had been scheduled to visit Pyongyang to ask the government to grant amnesty to Kenneth Bae. Bae, a U.S. citizen of Korean descent, was arrested in North Korea last year while attempting a Christian mission and sentenced to 15 years hard labor in April.

“We have sought clarification from the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) about its decision and have made every effort so that Ambassador King’s trip could continue as planned or take place at a later date,” the US State Department said.

A day later, in an article published in Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, North Korea stressed that ongoing inter-Korean talks should not be used as a bargaining chip.  The daily also called on countries to not blindly follow the hardline stance taken by the United States.

Washington has held firm to the stance that the North must show tangible signs that it will give up its nuclear program if it wants to hold talks to ease tensions.  Pyongyang so far has balked at such moves claiming its nuclear deterrence is critical for self-protection.