Monthly Archives: February 2014

North Korea: Does ‘Never Again’ mean anything?

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All the “Never Agains,” all the Holocaust memorials, all the anguish over starvation in Biafra, killing fields in Cambodia, horrors in Bosnia, machetes in Rwanda, murder in Darfur, cannot hide the ugly truth: Humanity does not respond to mass murder.

Item: Just last week, the UN issued a massive, 400-page report on mass murder in North Korea.

Item: Already this week, the report is all but forgotten.

The author of the UN report on human rights abuses in North Korea, Australia’s Judge Michael Kirby, amended his report in a radio interview. The report opened a window onto the “gravity, scale and nature” of human rights abuses in North Korea that do not have “any parallel in the contemporary world.” Alas, Kirby said in an interview, he needed to add a word to “gravity, scale and nature,” and that word is duration. Decade in and decade out, North Korea’s evil continues unabated — and we sit. We do nothing.

The report was under the auspices of the normally timid, controlled United Nations. The reports shredded every excuse of “we didn’t know” or “we couldn’t prove.” The report is chilling.

[Intermountain Jewish News]

Life under the AntiChrist

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The Bible describes a dictator who will achieve world dominance, this autocratic despot popularly known in Christian circles as the AntiChrist. The term used by Jesus in the Gospels translates as “Pseudo Christ” (the Greek being pseudokhristos) or “false Messiah”. (In traditional Christian belief, Jesus Christ appears in his Second Coming to Earth to face the emergence of the Antichrist figure, a single figure of concentrated evil.)

Islamic eschatology relates to this same AntiChrist as Al-Masih ad-Dajjal (Arabic for “the false messiah”). He appears pretending to be Masih (i.e. the Messiah) at a time in the future and is directly comparable to the figure of the Antichrist, as does  Armilus in Jewish eschatology.

According to Biblical text: “He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.’ [2 Thessalonians 2:1–4 NRSV]

Switching now to the subject of North Korea: Although I am certainly not indicating that the Kim dynasty is or will bring forth the AntiChrist, to some degree I would suggest that the decades-long North Korean dictatorship does allow a glimpse into what the forthcoming Antichrist regime might be like.

The mass starvation, brutal oppression and religious persecution of Kim Jong Il’s Stalinist North Korea regime, described as “worse than 1984”, could very well be a forerunner of what this AntiChrist will attempt to make life like for believers.

The North Korean constitution disallows belief in any higher power than its despot. Christianity or any other religion is suppressed.

To quote the State Department’s recent Human Rights report: “The personality cult of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il remained a virtual civil religion that provided a spiritual underpinning for the regime. Refusal on religious or other grounds to accept the leader as the supreme authority exemplifying the state and society’s needs was regarded as opposition to the national interest and continued to result in severe punishment.”

Somewhere in the area of up to 300,000 North Koreans have fled their country to China to live illegally, risking their lives to flee the starvation and oppression of Kim Jong Un’s Stalinist North Korea regime. Thankfully, many of these refugees make their way to “safe houses” set up by Christian activists who run a modern day “underground railroad” to help these refugees escape to safer countries.

Read more on the North Korean Underground Railroad

A new North Korean declaration of war on Christians?

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Since November, North Korea has arrested a Korean American missionary, a South Korean missionary, and an Australian missionary. Christian News Wire asks, “Do these arrests represent a declaration of war on Christians?”

Not a new one, says the CEO of one North Korea ministry. According to the Rev. Eric Foley of Seoul USA, “It’s important to remember that the war on Christians was declared by North Korea with its formal establishment as a state in 1948 and has been unrelenting ever since.”

Foley says that those being held — Korean American Kenneth Bae, South Korean Kim Jong Uk, and Australian John Short — should be remembered in our prayers “along with the 30,000 North Korean underground Christians who are paying the price of faith in quiet anonymity in North Korea’s concentration camps.”

Foley notes that “… We can conclude with certainty is that there is no ‘back door’ into North Korea — no strategy for sharing the gospel there that does not involve paying the highest of personal prices. This is what North Korean underground Christians have known and practiced for years, and Bae, Kim, and Short have now joined that story personally.”

Foley says that what has surprised him the most personally about North Korean underground Christians is their acceptance that the practice of their faith will naturally lead them to imprisonment in a concentration camp. “They do not regard imprisonment with surprise or outrage, as if it were unusual,” notes Foley.

“They regard the camps as their mission field and see everything that leads up to their imprisonment as training for that most grueling of missionary services. For North Korean Christians,” says Foley, “the imprisonment is when missionary service truly begins.”

Dogs ripped kids to pieces in North Korean prison camp

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Ahn Myong-Chol witnessed many horrors as a North Korean prison camp guard, but few haunt him like the image of guard dogs attacking school children and tearing them to pieces.

Ahn, who worked as a prison camp guard for eight years until he fled the country in 1994, recalls the day he saw three dogs get away from their handler and attack children coming back from the camp school. “There were three dogs and they killed five children,” the 45-year-old told AFP through a translator. “They killed three of the children right away. The two other children were barely breathing and the guards buried them alive,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of a Geneva conference for human rights activists.

The next day, instead of putting down the murderous dogs, the guards pet them and fed them special food “as some kind of award,” he added with disgust. “People in the camps are not treated as human beings… They are like flies that can be crushed,” said Ahn, his sad eyes framed by steel-rimmed glasses.

The former guard is one of many defectors who provided harrowing testimony to a UN-mandated enquiry that last week issued a searing, 400-page indictment of gross human rights abuses in North Korea. [Read summary of report]

After fleeing the country two decades ago, Ahn worked for years at a bank in South Korea but gradually got involved in work denouncing the expansive prison camp system in the isolated nation. Three years ago, he quit his bank job to dedicate all his time to his non-governmental organization, Free NK Gulag. “It’s my life’s mission to spread awareness about what is happening in the camps,” he said.

Ahn Myong-Chol knows all too well the brutal mentality of the camp guards. When he, as the son of a high-ranking official, was ushered onto the prestigious path of becoming a guard in 1987, he says he was heavily brainwashed to see all prisoners as “evil”. At his first posting at camp 14, north of Pyongyang, he was encouraged to practice his Tae Kwon Do skills on prisoners.

And he recalls how guards were urged to shoot any prisoner who might try to escape. “We were allowed to kill them, and if we brought back their body, they would award us by letting us go study at college,” he said. Some guards would send prisoners outside the camp and kill them as escapees to gain access to a college education, he added.

Although he witnessed numerous executions, starving children, and the effects of extreme torture, it was not until he was promoted to be a driver, transporting soldiers back and forth between camps, that he began to question the system. During his travels he sometimes struck up conversations with prisoners and was astonished to find that “more than 90 percent” of them said they had no idea why they were in the camp.

There are an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in North Korea, a nation of 24 million people.

[ Agence France-Presse]


North Korean Prison Camp Locations

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North Korean prsion camp locationsThe report issued by UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea is staggering in its breadth and detail, including ample reference to North Korean prison camps. The adjacent map details locations of the prison system throughout the country. (Click on map to enlarge)

The Economist estimates between 80,000 and 120,000 people are imprisoned in these camps, and notes that they are usually members of one of three groups:

  • people trying to flee the country,
  • Christians and those promoting other “subversive” beliefs, or
  • political prisoners.

The UN report is written by a three-member UN panel headed by Michael Kirby, an Australian former judge, and it is extraordinary in the fierceness of its condemnation.  Mr. Kirby told journalists North Korea was comparable to “Nazi Germany,” and the report itself urges the UN to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for prosecution for war crimes. In a letter sent directly to Kim Jong Un, the North’s dictator, the commission warned that he could be held accountable for crimes against humanity.

For all its might, though, the Commission of Inquiry may not have much teeth. China, as a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council, can veto any referral to the ICC. And China certainly has no reason to call attention to human rights abuses. As The Economist noted, Beijing has blood on its hands, too:

“Equally striking is the [report’s] indictment directed by the COI at China. Chinese leaders refused to let the commission visit its border provinces with North Korea and have opposed the commission’s inquiry from the start. They too received a critical letter from the commission, suggesting that they are ‘aiding and abetting crimes against humanity’. Refugees are routinely rounded up inside China and returned to North Korea, often to face imprisonment, torture and even execution.”

A 36-page summary of the 400-page report can be found here.

Jang Song-taek executed because of his “sleazy past”

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The Chosun Ilbo claims that Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, was executed chiefly for his role in overseeing a thinly-disguised prostitution ring.

This according to the Kim family’s former sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, who claimed Jang Song-taek was eliminated because of his role supplying young women for a “pleasure brigade” for former leader Kim Jong-il, because his son detested his father’s womanizing.

Fujimoto told the U.K.’s Daily Mail on Saturday that when Kim Jong-un returned to North Korea aged 18 from study abroad, he “found himself exposed to his father’s ‘pleasure brigade,’ ” groups of beautiful young women who sing, strip and perform massages or sexual favors.

Fujimoto added that Jong-un was shy with girls and “loathes having relationships with multiple women.”

North Korean defectors face unemployment in South Korea

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Today, there are some 25,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. While they have escaped extreme poverty and political repression, life in the South can also be hard. In fact, the suicide rate among North Korean defectors is six times that for South Koreans.

“Children over 15 have no incentive to study”, explains Park Sun-young, constitutional law professor at Dongguk University. “They had no education in North Korea and they just give up studying. They also need to earn money to bring the family members that remain in the North.”

Yet, in the long term, these youngsters cannot make money as they have little or no education and, after years of malnutrition, are not physically strong. “They are too small even for physical labor. They fall into despair and some commit suicide,” Park said. “This is a social problem, a time bomb, and we need to address this issue and prepare for unification.”

Park offered the case of East and West Germany before the unification, as an example of what should be done here. “Before unification, the unemployment rate among those who escaped the East was lower than that of West Germans. This was achieved through a year-long job training for the East German defectors.”

By comparison, 95 percent of North Korean defectors are unemployed after they leave Hana Center where they stay for three months familiarizing themselves with South Korea and its way of life, according to Park.

[Korean Herald]

North Korean dissidents seek Silicon Valley’s help

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In this age of smartphones and the Internet, it’s hard to believe that the best ways to send pro-democracy messages into North Korea involve dropping paper leaflets from weather balloons and smuggling DVDs and flash drives across the Chinese border.

But two North Koreans who were able to escape from a nation where the Internet is outlawed now hope to hone their methods with the help of Silicon Valley companies and tech professionals.

“The problems they have are a five-finger exercise for a lot of the engineers we meet here,” said Alex Gladstein of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, who helped arrange the visit of the North Korean dissidents. “Each parcel of truth that makes it in is another crack in the totalitarian wall.”

The Northern California trip with dissidents Park Sang Hak, who launches the weather balloons, and Kang Chol-Hwan, who smuggles in the DVDs, comes just days after the United Nations condemned the North Korean regime led by Kim Jong Un. A nearly 400-page report details prison-camp atrocities such as starvation, torture, forced abortions, murder, rape and “other grave sexual violence.”

Change to North Korea must come from within, the dissidents told a crowd.  “The ultimate goal is to make North Koreans enraged about their leadership, make them rise up by themselves and cooperate with each other so they can change internally,” said Park, who won the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent and is president of the Fighters for Free North Korea Association, based in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. “It definitely needs to be from the bottom up.”

[Contra Costa Times]

North Korea spent $600m on luxury items in 2012 while North Korean citizens starved to death

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According to a UN report, North Korea’s spending on luxury goods has more than doubled from an average of $300 million a year to $646 million in 2012, when Kim Jong-un assumed control following his father’s death, Kim Jong-il. The 372-page report said the country continues to allocate a “significant amount of state resources for the purchase and important of luxury goods” while hunger and malnutrition take a heavy toll on the population.

These items violate UN sanctions imposed on North Korea prohibiting “the provision of luxury goods” adopted in 2007. The report did not examine how the items were imported into the country.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un reportedly treated himself to a dozen luxury cars, top quality pianos and a private theatre for his closest allies and top aides.

A former North Korean official who managed to escape the country said Kim funded his lavish lifestyle by trafficking ivory from Africa to China and selling alcohol to Islamic countries. The money was transferred into parallel funds outside of the state budget to cover “personal expenses of the Supreme leader, his family and other elites”.

[The Independent]

China holds the key concerning UN North Korea Report

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The report released by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea constitutes a clarion call to action. According to many analysts, it will also amount to little, unless China, one of North Korea’s few allies, gives its consent.

“So what is likely to happen? Nothing,” write the editors of New York Post. They argue that while the report exposes a slew of North Korean atrocities, it may be more eye-opening to see the extent of the UN’s failure to do anything about it.

The international community must hold China accountable for the role it played in facilitating North Korea’s abuses, writes Kenneth Roth of Foreign Policy: “No country has more influence over North Korea than China, which has long provided a lifeline of economic aid and political cover to the Kim dynasty of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and, since Dec. 2011, Kim Jong Un, while refusing to do anything about the horrendous cruelty being committed next door. If it wanted to, Beijing could use its considerable influence to press Pyongyang to curb its atrocities.”

If response from China is any indication, Beijing seems uninterested in pursuing the avenue opened up by the UN report. “China maintains that differences in human rights should be handled through constructive dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday, according to Beijing-based Global Times. “To bring human rights issues to the International Criminal Court does not help improve a country’s human rights conditions.”

Human rights lawyer Jared Genser thinks there are ways to pressure China to allow the Human Rights Council to act. “That said, the way forward will be exceptionally difficult,” he writes in The Diplomat. “Changing the conduct of the North Korea regime, let alone holding its members to account for the commission of crimes against humanity, will require a Herculean effort.”

Bloomberg View’s editors suggest that China may be ready to back away from Kim Jong-un. “China’s interests lie in a transition to minimally acceptable standards of behavior in Pyongyang, not in supporting the insupportable pending the outright collapse of Kim’s regime,” they write.

Even if the Chinese Security Council roadblock is overcome, however, that doesn’t mean that Kim Jong-un will ever face judgment. The editors of the Ottawa Citizen write that the Security Council has a bad record of actually catching those they refer to the ICC.