Monthly Archives: February 2014

North Korean actions likened to Nazis and Khmer Rouge

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Last September, Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge and leader of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, briefed the U.N. Human Rights Council on what it had heard so far in its dozens of interviews with North Korean refugees and defectors.

“We heard from ordinary people who faced torture and imprisonment for doing nothing more than watching foreign soap operas or holding a religious belief,” Kirby said of his team’s work. “Women and men who exercised their human right to leave the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and were forcibly repatriated spoke about their experiences of torture, sexual violence, inhumane treatment and arbitrary detention.”

“They had to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and on grass and they were subject to cruelty,” Kirby told the BBC World TV in September, speaking about children interviewed during the panel’s investigation.

“All in all it is a very horrifying story, the like of which I don’t think I’ve seen or read of since the Khmer Rouge [in Cambodia] and the Nazi atrocities during the second world war,” Kirby continued.

Australian missionary taken into custody in North Korea

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A 75-year-old Australian missionary who traveled to North Korea as part of a tour group has been detained there, his wife said. John Short had with him some Gospel tracts in Korean “which seem to be at the core of the detention,” his wife said in a statement Wednesday.

“It is alleged he is being asked questions such as, ‘Who sent you?’, ‘To what organization do you belong?’, ‘Who translated this material into Korean?'” his wife, Karen Short, said.

Short, who lives in Hong Kong, went to Pyongyang on Saturday. The next night, police questioned him at his hotel and took him into custody, according to the statement.

Short has been arrested multiple times while doing evangelical work in China “for speaking out about brutality against Chinese Christians,” according to a biography on a religious website named Gospel Attract. In the 1990s, he became “persona non grata” with Chinese authorities for almost two years and was unable to visit mainland China, the biography said.

North Korea “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the state,” a United Nations panel said in a report released this week.

“People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination,” the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said.


UN warns Kim Jong Un about human rights crimes

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A U.N. panel warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he may be held accountable for orchestrating widespread crimes against civilians in the secretive Asian nation, ranging from executing and torturing prisoners to systematic abductions and starving mass populations.

It is unusual for a U.N. report to directly implicate a nation’s leader. But in a letter accompanying a yearlong investigative report, the chairman of a three-member U.N. commission of inquiry, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, directly warned Kim that that international prosecution is needed “to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for crimes against humanity.”

“Even without being directly involved in crimes against humanity, a military commander may be held responsible for crimes against humanity committed by forces under the commander’s effective command and control,” Kirby wrote.

The investigative commission’s 372-page report is a wide-ranging indictment of North Korea for policies including political prison camps, state-sponsored abductions of North Korean, Japanese and other nationals, and lifelong indoctrination.

Kirby also wrote to China’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva saying there’s evidence that Chinese officials have in some cases shared with North Korean officials “information about the contacts and conduct” of North Korean nationals subject to repatriation. The ambassador, Wu Haitao, replied to the panel and denied that repatriated North Korean citizens from China face torture in North Korea. He added that China “will continue to prudently and properly handle” North Korean citizens who enter China illegally.


Drawings reveal horrific scenes inside North Korean prison

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Kim Kwang-il, 48, spent more than two years at a prison in North Korea where he was tortured, starved and witnessed the deaths of fellow inmates. Kim is one of the North Koreans who gave evidence in public hearings for the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.

The UN on Tuesday released a damning report on North Korea’s inhumane treatment of prisoners, likening it to Nazi-era atrocities. It includes the testimony from more than 300 North Koreans, many of whom gave their evidence in secret.

Mr Kim was arrested by North Korean police in mid-2004 and charged with illegally crossing the border and smuggling. He had crossed the border to sell pine nuts. For this he was sentenced to six years in prison.

He defected to South Korea in February 2009 where he published a book about his time in detention. The book contained drawings made by professional artists based on his recollections of the torture he was subjected to and some of the horrific scenes he witnessed. One such drawing and description follows.

north korean prison tortureDescription of illustration: “This position itself is the torture. And additionally you are beaten up as well. If you did not give the right statement during the preliminary hearing, you get this kind of torture. You are beaten up, which leads to vomiting because you feel very uncomfortable inside. Sometimes you would vomit blood. … I was told to be in that position until my sweat would fill that one glass, that glass in front of me. You will never imagine what that’s like. … We are bound to stay in that position until the jailer feels that you have been tortured enough. …This is the pigeon torture. Your hands are bound back and if they tie you like this, your chest comes out forward and in this position you are tortured.”

You can read the testimony of Kim Kwang-il in full, along with the report itself on the UN website.

[The Age]

North Korean mother forced to drown her baby

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A North Korean prison camp survivor told of a pregnant woman in a condition of near-starvation who gave birth to a baby — a new life born against all odds in a grim camp. A security agent heard the baby’s cries and beat the mother as a punishment.

She begged him to let her keep the baby, but he kept beating her.

With shaking hands, the mother was forced to pick up her newborn and put the baby face down in water until the cries stopped and a water bubble formed from the newborn’s mouth.

It’s just one example of the kind of testimony heard during an 11-month inquiry into alleged violations of human rights in North Korea, and documented in a report released by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights on Monday.

‘Abundant evidence’ of crimes against humanity in North Korea

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A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state “that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” a United Nations panel reported Monday.

North Korean leaders employ murder, torture, slavery, sexual violence, mass starvation and other abuses as tools to prop up the state and terrorize “the population into submission,” the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said in its report.

“The suffering and tears of the people of North Korea demand action,” commission Chairman Michael Kirby told reporters.

[Read CNN article

Park Sun-young calls for continued focus in North Korean defectors

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Park Sun youngThe image of a petite, frail-looking woman, sitting for days inside a makeshift tent across the Chinese Embassy in protest against China’s forceful repatriation of North Korean defectors, is still vivid, even after nearly two years.

Park Sun-young recalled how she started a hunger strike almost on impulse. As a legislator, she had been receiving many desperate calls, day and night, asking her to help stop the repatriation of North Korean defectors caught in China, after which they would surely be sent to a gulag, if not killed, for trying to escape.

“I did it out of a sense of urgency. I had never felt so powerless, unable to help North Korean defectors,” she said of the decision she made on Feb. 20, 2012. “I thought about how embarrassing it would be if I could not last three days,” she said. Her hunger strike ended on March 2 when she collapsed and was taken to a hospital. By then she had become a face for the efforts to save North Korean defectors ― a godmother for North Korean defectors.

“I started without expectations. I was hearing their clamor, I wanted to console them. I just wanted to show I was hurting too,” she said.

Then, later that month, something quite remarkable happened. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning human violations in North Korea. Park traveled to Geneva in a wheelchair, still weak from the hunger strike, her hair now completely silver. She noticed how China did not raise objections, oppose it, or walk out. In fact, the resolution was passed by consensus without a vote. “I was grateful for China’s change (of stance). It meant China had begun to feel embarrassed. Everybody had said China wouldn’t change, but it did,” Park recalled.

When her term at the National Assembly expired later that year, she returned to teaching Constitutional law at Dongguk University. Park continues to work on the North Korean human rights issue: She is the chairperson of Dream Makers for North Korea, also known as Mulmangcho Association, an NGO that advocates North Korean human rights and runs programs for North Korean defectors to help them settle in South Korea, including an alternative school for young defectors in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province.

Working with North Korean defectors stems naturally from Park’s work as a Constitutional law scholar. “Article 3 of the Constitution defines nationality,” she said. The article reads: “The territory of the Republic of Korea shall consist of the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands.” By extension, the South Korean government has the duty to protect the human rights of North Koreans, just as it does the rights of South Koreans.

[Korea Herald]

Charging North Korean leaders with crimes against humanity

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A new report from a United Nations panel, due to be released on Monday, found that crimes against humanity have certainly been committed in North Korea and recommends referring the situation for international action.

The report is the result of a year-long effort from a U.N. Commission of Inquiry towards the communist country’s human rights abuses, the first of its kind to take such a deep-dive into the subject. The resulting document provides “evidence of an array of such crimes, including ‘extermination,’ crimes against humanity against starving populations and a widespread campaign of abductions of individuals in South Korea and Japan,” the Associated Press reports.

Evidence gathered, the report will conclude, “create[s] reasonable grounds … to merit a criminal investigation by a competent national or international organ of justice.” Setting aside the unlikely event that a national court takes up the matter, the most likely venue for such an investigation would be the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague.

As North Korea is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding document, the Court doesn’t have the jurisdiction to act on the commission’s report. For that, the Prosecutor has to wait for a referral from the United Nations Security Council. While the Council has become more open towards such referrals than in the past, as in the case of Libya in 2011, the chances of North Korean leaders such as Kim Jong Un appearing at the Hague has one serious obstacle: China. Beijing is not only one of Pyongyang’s closest allies, they hold a veto on the Security Council on all substantive matters — including ICC referrals.

“The odds are close to zero,” David Bosco, an assistant professor at American University and author of a recently published book on the ICC, told ThinkProgress when asked about Beijing possibly allowing for such a referral.

Given Chinese — and likely Russian — disapproval, Bosco “[doesn’t] think there’s any chance” the ICC will be investigating the DPRK. “This is looking like one of those things that goes down the memory hole after a few months, unfortunately,” he concluded.


China willing to influence North Korea

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday he had won a commitment from China to help bring a belligerent North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks.

Speaking to reporters following those talks, Kerry praised China for joining with the U.S. in calling for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs and said he urged Beijing to “use every tool at its disposal” to convince its communist neighbor to return to the long-stalled disarmament talks.

Kerry said the Chinese officials had told him they were willing to take additional steps to achieve North Korean denuclearization and that both sides had traded ideas for further consideration. He did not elaborate on what those steps were, but a day earlier in South Korea had suggested they could involve reductions in commercial and energy trade between China and North Korea.

While China is North Korea’s only significant ally and main source of economic assistance, the extent of China’s influence, and willingness to use it, is unclear following a purge in the isolated country’s leadership. Diplomats say Beijing received no prior warning ahead of the December arrest and execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who had been considered Pyongyang’s point man on China affairs and was a strong promoter of free trade zones being set up along their mutual border. That came on the heels of Pyongyang’s snubbing of Beijing’s wishes when it conducted a missile test in late 2012, followed by the underground detonation of a nuclear device last spring.

The nuclear talk discussions involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, broke down at the end of 2008 and U.S. officials say they see no point of restarting talks until Pyongyang shows an authentic desire to make good on its prior commitments to dismantle its nuclear programs.


Min Hee

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Min Hee had not been able to find work that paid a fair amount in North Korea, and her father had told her that she could find a job with fair pay in China. So she escaped into China looking forward to working a regular job and earning a decent wage. But that never happened.

Sold as a bride to a Chinese man after months of resisting and being held against her will, Min Hee faced many difficulties because of the language barrier.

She was not treated well by her husband and was not even allowed to leave the house for the first 2-3 months. She eventually convinced her husband to let her out periodically to meet fellow North Korean women whom she had met in the area. Min Hee contemplated returning to North Korea and turning herself in so that she could be reunited with her parents, knowing that she’d first have to spend months in a labor camp. But at the meetings with her North Korean friends, she learned about a person who could help her leave China. After much deliberation, she finally decided to set out for South Korea.

Although the journey out of China was a dangerous one, Min Hee is happy to be free and looks forward to a better life in South Korea where she can work and earn money.

[Read more stories like this at LiNK]