Monthly Archives: October 2013

North Korean defector testifies at UN rights probe in Washington DC

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Jin hye Jo_north koreaHer father was tortured in detention in North Korea and died. Her elder sister went searching for food during the great famine of the 1990s, only to be trafficked to China. Her two younger brothers died of starvation, one of them a baby without milk whose life ebbed away in her arms.

North Korean defector Jin Hye Jo tearfully told her family’s story Wednesday to U.N. investigators during a public hearing in Washington, their latest stop in a globe-trotting effort to probe possible crimes against humanity in North Korea.

Jin is one of two defectors testifying at the public hearing at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The three-member panel has received evidence from dozens of others during hearings in South Korea, Japan and Britain.

Jin, 26, who has lived in the United States since 2008 and runs a charity for North Korean defectors, scoffed at the suggestion that the food shortages were due to natural causes, claiming that government officials drive BMWs and drink exotic whiskies while children die. She recalled how the shortages became very serious in 1996 and she would return from school feeling dizzy from hunger. Her parents made clandestine trips north to China to get food. But her father was arrested and, according to a fellow detainee, was beaten and killed, although authorities claimed he was shot trying to escape.

The family’s fortunes only got worse. In 1998, after Jin’s elder sister went missing, her mother went to China to try and locate the sister. Jin, then age 10, was left with her grandmother and two younger siblings to care for their newly born brother. Because of the father’s previous arrest, she said, the family was shunned by neighbors when they begged for food.

“My baby brother died in my arms because we had nothing to eat. Because I was holding him so much he thought that I was his mom, so when I was feeding him water he was sometimes looking at me, smiling,” Jin said, weeping.

She said her grandmother and her 5-year-old brother also starved. The remaining family members fled to China, but were arrested several times and repatriated before finally gaining asylum in March 2008 with the help of Christian missionaries.

[Read more at KBOI2]

UN acknowledges gross human rights violations taking place in North Korea

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The head of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea says evidence collected so far points to apparently “large-scale patterns of systematic and gross human rights violations” in that country.

Commission Chairman Michael Kirby, an Australian judge with 35 years of experience, said testimony from witnesses and survivors was so shocking that it moved commission members to tears.

Torture, sexual violence, denial of food, arbitrary detention, abduction of foreigners, the return of refugees to certain imprisonment – these are just some of the grave human rights abuses that Commission members and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea detailed Tuesday at the United Nations.

“Some testimony has been extremely distressing; testimony concerning the detention facilities, the lack of proper food in them, the fact that people are in the detention facilities who have committed no offense and no crime, according to their testimony, but who are simply there because of the notion of inter-generational guilt which is a feature of the system in North Korea,” said Kirby.

Kirby also said the commission has obtained satellite images that show at least four political prison camps that remain fully operational.  He said a fifth camp appears to have been significantly scaled-down, while another camp was closed.  He said the commission wants to know what happened to the prisoners in these two camps.

The Commissioners said the treatment of women in North Korea is a serious problem. Commissioner Sonja Biserko said women are victims at home and as refugees. “About 80 percent of refugees are women.  Not only do they undergo tough experiences, they very often have to accept to be trafficked and sold to Chinese men because they do not want to return.  But once caught by Chinese and sent back home they undergo severe punishments, either sent to prisons or kept in detention centers and treated in the most horrible way,” said Biserko.

[Read full VoA article]   

S. Korean returnees had hoped for better lives in North Korea

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Six South Koreans, aged between 27 and 67 recently repatriated from North Korea, had sneaked into the North in search of better lives but ended up detained for up to 45 months for illegal entry, Seoul officials said Monday.

South Koreans defecting to impoverished, totalitarian North Korea are rare. In contrast, more than 25,000 North Koreans have fled to the South for political and economic reasons since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea sent back the six men and a woman’s corpse on Friday in an unusual action seen as an attempt to improve strained ties between the rival countries.

A South Korean security official said Monday that the men told investigators they entered North Korea between 2009 and 2012 by walking over frozen rivers from China, or swimming after jumping off a Chinese cruise ship on a border river.

The men had vague hopes that they could have better lives in North Korea after suffering business failures and family troubles, or engaging in pro-North Korea activities in South Korea, said the official, who requested anonymity because an investigation is still under way.

The six men were separately detained in North Korea for 14-45 months for questioning. One said he was constantly held in solitary confinement, while another said he didn’t receive medical treatment for a kidney stone, according to the South Korean official.

South Korean authorities are seeking a warrant to formally arrest the six men for a more thorough investigation, the official said. In South Korea, anyone who defects to North Korea can be punished by up to 10 years in prison under the country’s anti-North security law.

[Wichita Eagle] 

The Role of Women in North Korea

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Kim Il Sung’s communist regime passed a gender-equality law two years before it enacted a constitution. In 1965 almost 55% of the labor force were women, thanks in part to the carnage of the Korean war in the early 1950s. But Sonia Ryang, an anthropologist at the University of Iowa, points out that the formal commitment to gender equality, transplanted from the Soviets, did not take root. Kim was soon urging women to carry the double burden of production and reproduction, fulfilling their output quotas and also raising “the successors to our revolutions and the reserves of communist builders”. Visitors noted that at home the typical North Korean male did not lift a finger to help.

The breakdown of North Korea’s planned economy in the mid-1990s thrust women into a new role. Men had to show up at their assigned work units, but the state turned a blind eye to women who did not report for duty. This allowed women to build the informal market economy that partially replaced the collapsing planned economy. Women became retailers, petty traders and peddlers. In a survey of North Korean defectors by Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, 76% of the women had been involved in trading before they left, compared with 63% of the men. Almost half the women said they had got all their income from the market.

Those who engage in these markets still run risks. The government has criminalized a range of market activities. Those convicted face up to two years in a so-called “labor-training” facility, which are grim but less harsh than the political prison camps for which North Korea is famous. Of the women who left after 2005, 95% report paying bribes to stay out of trouble.

Women’s lives have become less regimented but no less arduous. They are now often the breadwinners, and men are doing more housework, says Hazel Smith of Cranfield University in her forthcoming book on North Korea. But as the market economy has grown, she finds, the biggest cut has gone to the Chinese trading networks that span the border, and to the wholesalers with connections in North Korea’s regime. Messrs Noland and Haggard note that as the state has thrust women into the market, “the increasingly male-dominated state preys on the increasingly female-dominated market.”

Drudgery remains the lot of many of North Korea’s women.

[Excerpts from The Economist]

North Korea to turn over 6 detained South Koreans

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North Korea plans to allow six detained South Koreans to return home, officials in Seoul said Thursday, an unusual move that accompanied Pyongyang’s separate approval of a visit by South Korean lawmakers to a recently restarted factory park both Koreas run in the North.

Pyongyang’s Red Cross sent a letter to the South saying the detained South Koreans will cross over the heavily armed border at the so-called truce village of Panmunjom on Friday, according to a short statement from the South’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for cross-border ties.

The statement says Seoul plans to accept the South Koreans and investigate how they entered North Korea. Seoul provided only scant details, saying they were men ranging in age from 27 to 67.

The North’s move, which some South Koreans saw as a conciliatory gesture, came as Pyongyang approved a tour next week by 24 South Korean lawmakers of the jointly run Kaesong factory park, located just over the border. The moves come a month after Pyongyang abruptly canceled reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

While it’s not clear why the South Koreans to be released Friday went North, or why Pyongyang is releasing them now, there’s media speculation in Seoul that they may have either voluntarily crossed the border or been captured near it. North Korea said in 2010 that it was investigating four South Koreans for allegedly illegally entering the country. Seoul says it has repeatedly asked Pyongyang to confirm the four citizens’ identities but has received no reply.

South Koreans visiting North Korea without government approval can be punished by up to 10 years in prison under South Korea’s National Security Law.

[Associated Press]

Perpetrators of North Korean human rights violations revealed

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Kim Ryeon-hee, who was pregnant when repatriated to North Korea after defecting from the communist country, was beaten for eating stolen corn, and had a miscarriage before dying. The suspected perpetrator in this case was Chae Myeong-il, then staff sergeant and guard at Songpyong Station of the People’s Public Security Bureau in North Hamkyong Province.

Won Myeong-hwa, who was detained at the Hoeryong City Jeongeori correction house in North Hamkyong Province, was severely beaten to death by a security guard in February 2011. The suspected perpetrator is Kim Chang-soo, a security guard in charge of the eighth chamber at Jeongeori correction house.

This information is part of a “case report on North Korean human rights,” recently released by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, and the first time that detailed profiles of suspects involved in human rights violations in North Korea have been specifically documented.

The disclosure of the profiles of perpetrators in North Korea is aimed at sending both those individuals and the Kim Jong Un regime a message: “Personal profiles of those responsible for human rights violations are being accumulated, and those who are responsible will be brought to justice without fail.”

These efforts are also linked with a campaign by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, which in July began to gather specific data required to substantiate Kim Jong Un’s crimes, leaving open the possibility of bringing the North Korean leader to the International Criminal Court.

Data contained in “Reports on North Korean human rights cases” have been gathered through interviews with North Korean defectors, and then undergone a review process by the verification committee within the Database Center. Of the 300 North Korean defectors surveyed, who suffered torturous acts at detention facilities in the North, half (49 percent) are still suffering physical and mental aftereffects.

[Dong-a Ilbo]

South Korean dramas provide real life influence on North Koreans

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The spread of relatively cheap, enhanced versatile disc (EVD) players in North Korea is making it harder for authorities to crack down on citizens watching South Korean-made videos, and fueling the spread of the “Korean wave” in the communist country, a South Korean scholar said Tuesday.

Kang Dong-won, a professor of international relations at Dong-a University, said that the arrival of cheap, Chinese-made “portable TVs” that started reaching the isolated country in 2005 has made it possible for people to watch various movies and dramas made in the South.

The latest assertions corroborate the first-hand accounts of many North Korean escapees who said they knew about the Korean wave even before they arrived in the South. The Korean wave, or “Hallyu” in Korean, is a word to describe the growing popularity of South Korean television shows and pop songs across the world.

“The advantage of the EVDs is that they can play various CDs, DVDs and USBs and are relatively cheap to buy,” the scholar said.

North Korean defector Lee Jung-chol, who lives in Seoul using an alias, said that North Korean authorities are aware of the spread of the Korean wave. Lee, who worked for the government before escaping from the North in 2011, said … “If you have not seen a South Korean drama in the North, you are treated as being out of touch.”

[Korea Herald]

North Korean defectors’ campaign to find a replacement for Kim Jong-un

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North Korean defectors have launched a tongue-in-cheek petition to get late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s eldest son, Jong-nam, to replace current leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim Jong-nam has lived in sumptuously-funded exile in China, Macau and Singapore for years since he fell from favor.

The tongue-in-cheek petition appears on a website with the same name as the North Korean propaganda site Uriminzokkiri. The website, which has one more “k” than the North Korean version in its URL, created a corner gathering signatures to support a takeover by Kim Jong-nam. It hails him as the “eldest son and true heir of the Baekdu blood” — a reference to nation founder Kim Il-sung’s alleged birthplace.

The website also praises Kim Jong-nam’s courage for criticizing the hereditary transfer of power from Kim Jong-il to his third son Jong-un, which he described as “a joke to the outside world.”

The website’s creator, who gave his name as Chung, said the petition is slightly mischievous. “Our purpose is to deal a blow to the Kim Jong-un regime by stressing the need for reforms, rather than actually getting Kim Jong-nam to become the new leader.” Chung added he wants to use humor to inform more young South Koreans what is actually happening in the North.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Jeong Kwang Il, North Korean defector

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The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea was established in March by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in North Korea.”

More than 40 witnesses — some of them newly arrived from North Korea — recently testified before representatives from the U.N. inquiry commission in Seoul, and they detailed horrific abuse at the hands of their captors.

One of those who testified was Jeong Kwang Il, a North Korean defector once worked for a North Korean trading company that he said dealt with China and South Korea.That ended abruptly in 1999, when he was arrested by government security agents, he said. “These people were beating me with clubs, and they said I should confess that I am a spy. But I told them. ‘I’m not a spy.’ But they kept beating me — for two weeks.”

After undergoing “pigeon torture,” in which he was hung upside down with his hands cuffed behind his back, he confessed to what he told the commission he had never done. “I could not endure this any more so I confessed that I was given a spy’s job from South Korea,” he said. “I had given up.”

Jeong said he was then taken to a political camp, where he spent three years before he was released to discover that his home was no longer where it had been, and he could not find his family.

“I felt betrayed,” he said. “I decided that I was done in North Korea.”

After a year-long escape route that took him through China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, Jeong arrived in South Korea in 2004, where he has started a new life, but not forgotten the old one.

“Even if they give me a lot of money, I will not go back to that country,” he vowed.


Ex-prison guard viewed North Korean inmates as subhuman enemies

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An Myeong Chul offers a rarely-heard voice from the other side of a prison network considered as merciless as those of Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. In the North Korean prison camps where Mr. An worked for eight years as one of the system’s feared, ruthless guards, Taekwondo was a weapon of subjugation.

“I remember practicing Taekwondo on the prisoners,” Mr. An said in an interview. “It was a way to control the inmates. For instance, if we had a high-ranking official visiting the prison camp, we would be told to show what we’ve learned and practice … Taekwondo on the inmate.”

Commanders drove home repeatedly that the inmates were enemies of the state, guilty of serious anti-regime crimes who deserved to be treated like scum, he said.

“If we were to help these prisoners in any way or be compassionate, we would be executed and our families as well, and we were given the right to kill any prisoner who attempted to escape,” he said. “I remember a colleague dragging a prisoner who was working in the field and executing this prisoner.”

Mr. An said he witnessed “a lot of deaths” of inmates, whether as a result of violence by camp authorities, starvation, overwork or accidents in workplaces like the coal mine where prisoners toiled at the notorious Camp 22.

In October, 1992, 300 of Camp 22’s 50,000 inmates died from an infectious disease they caught from a contaminated field mouse, he said. The prisoners were particularly susceptible to communicable illness, said the ex-guard, since they were fed the minimum amount of food needed to carry out their work tasks.

“The best way to put it is they were the slaves, and we were the slave owners.”

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