Call for North Korean sanctions

Former High Court justice Michael Kirby, the head of a special UN inquiry into North Korea, told an informal meeting of the UN Security Council convened by Australia, France and the US that should slap targeted sanctions on North Korean officials responsible for grave human rights abuses.

Kirby also wanted the reclusive regime hauled before the International Criminal Court for prosecution. ”More monitoring and engagement alone cannot suffice in the face of crimes that shock the conscience of humanity,” he said. ”Perpetrators must be held accountable.”

North Korea did not send a representative and the meeting was snubbed by China and Russia.

[The Age]

Spotlight on North Korea’s Horrors

Excerpts of an Opinion piece written by Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator representing Florida:

This week, Australian justice Michael Kirby, who led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, is briefing members of the U.N. Security Council regarding the widespread atrocities being committed on a daily basis against innocent people by one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Under the dictatorship of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean regime routinely engages in torture, arbitrary detentions, indiscriminate disappearances, starvation, and executions. North Koreans who pay insufficient homage to the country’s deceased founder, Kim Il Sung, can be sent to prison along with their families. Prisoners are often subjected to human experiments, denied food, and essentially worked to death in North Korea’s network of infamous prison camps.

The horrific, systematic violations of human rights in North Korea have been going on for many years. And for far too long, these abuses have taken a back seat to international concerns about North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and other provocative behavior.

More information about the brutality of the Kim regime is emerging, as North Korean defectors courageously share their personal stories of deprivation and, ultimately, survival. I was honored to be able to meet with a number of North Korean defectors on a trip to South Korea earlier this year and to hear their stories firsthand. They told me that it is important to recognize that exposing the regime’s heinous crimes against humanity as often and as publicly as possible is one of our most powerful tools against the continued brutality of the North Korean regime.

I am under no illusion that this commission will profoundly alter the present-day horrific human-rights situation for the long-suffering North Korean people. But I do believe that the work of the Commission of Inquiry will raise — and, indeed, already has raised — public consciousness about the deplorable plight of the North Korean people.

When we look back at the Holocaust and the murders of millions of innocents in Europe during World War II, many ask why we didn’t do more to stop those atrocities until it was too late for so many who did not survive to see the day the camps were liberated. Some hide behind supposed lack of knowledge, but in this day and age, we have no excuse. Anyone with an Internet connection can use Google Earth to view the modern-day gulags in North Korea.

It is time for the United States and for all who cherish freedom to make it our common cause to pressure the regime to open these camps for international inspection and to make clear that those involved in these horrific crimes will one day be held accountable.

[National Review Online]

The lack of a North Korean sense of humor

London barber poster Kim Jong Un haircutThe row between a London hairdresser and the state of North Korea looked set to escalate after the UK Foreign Office confirmed it had been contacted by embassy officials. Diplomats from North Korea had already complained to police and to the shop’s manager about what they describe as a “disrespectful” poster showing leader Kim Jong-un with the words “bad hair day?”.

The Foreign Office said today that it had received a letter from the embassy on Monday, as the promotional poster looked set to spark the unlikeliest of diplomatic rows. Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in South Ealing was paid an unexpected visit by two men from the North Korean embassy who started taking pictures and making notes. Mr Nabbach said the men came back later and asked to speak to the manager before ordering him to take the poster down.

Enfield Southgate Conservative MP David Burrowes, who also sits on the all-party parliamentary group on North Korea, criticized the embassy’s stance. “On the one hand their response is laughable,” he said. “But underlying is a more sinister undertone which is played out in North Korea with people being locked up, killed and denied freedoms.”

Mr Nabbach said the two men from the embassy had been “wearing suits and they were very serious”. “It was very threatening,” he added.

Barber Karim Nabbach, 26, yesterday said that staff at the salon did not realize the North Korean embassy was a 10-minute walk away when they put the poster up. He added, “We always put up little offers in the window, it’s harmless. We were just making light of a bad situation in North Korea.”

[The Independent]

Lack of UN oversight of WFP support to North Korea

The United Nations’ World Food Program failed to carry out sufficient inspections of food distribution sites in North Korea to ensure that supplies went to the country’s suffering people rather than the dictatorial communist regime, according to the U.N. agency’s own internal watchdog.

The same audit says the WFP inflated the number of monitoring tours that it made, and could not provide documentation to back up the North Korean government’s rationale for sometimes blocking the inspection visits.

Further, North Korean government staffers seconded to WFP operations had a hand in operating U.N. computer networks and data-bases, a situation that the watchdog warned “may lead to errors, omissions and potentially, fraud not being detected and remedied on a timely basis.”

Moreover, even WFP’s knowledge of what aid supplies it has received from abroad are based on the say-so of a regime-run company that the watchdog says may be lying about the amount of work it does, overcharging the U.N. for the work—and in any case is doing it without a contract, which keeps the relationship legally invisible.

For its part, WFP maintains that the problems it faces are more the result of underfunding. In response to questions from Fox News, the agency declared that the lack of aid money “directly undermines our ability to fully staff our activities in country, including management and monitoring, according to plans approved in project documents”—not to mention the threat to “WFP’s ability to support the nutritional needs of young children and their mothers.”


Brainwashed to believe Kim Jong-il was a god

Yeonmi Park was a teenager when she fled North Korea with her parents. Here’s her story:

I lived in North Korea for the first 15 years of my life, believing Kim Jong-il was a God.  I never doubted it because I didn’t know anything else.

I had to be careful of my thoughts because I believed Kim Jong-il could read my mind. Every couple of days someone would disappear. A classmate’s mother was punished in a public execution that I was made to attend. I had no choice – there were spies in the neighborhood.

My father worked for the government, so for a while things were relatively ok for me compared to some others in North Korea. But my father was accused of doing something wrong and jailed for three years. He being guilty made me guilty too, so whatever future I had in North Korea completely disappeared. I could no longer go to university, and my family was forced to move out of Pyongyang to the countryside on the border close to China.

After a few years, my father became very sick with cancer and he came out of jail for treatment. During this time, we decided to leave North Korea.North Korean refugees are not recognized in China so we had to be careful there. My parents brought a small amount of money with them, and my mother got a job washing dishes.

I did not know any Chinese and couldn’t say anything in Korean in case I was deported, so I had to pretend I could not speak. I hid in the apartment most of the time. If I saw a police man, I would run. I could not take a train because they would do certification checks. It was really miserable.

My father died of cancer in that first year and soon we had used all of our money. Around this time we met some South Korean missionaries. They said we could finally be free if we could make it to South Korea. We bought a compass and we walked across the border between China and Mongolia through the desert in winter. Once in Mongolia, we were protected and some soldiers contacted South Korea where we were accepted as refugees.

When we arrived in South Korea they took us to an Education Centre for several months. I learned that Kim Jong-il was a dictator, but I was still confused when I left – it wasn’t enough time to fully change my mind. After I came out of the centre, I met new people, started to study using the Internet, and read lots of books. I found out about socialism, communism and capitalism. I learned new things and finally saw the truth. … I realized that everything I thought was a lie.

My mother took longer than me. When Kim Jong-il died she couldn’t believe it. We were in South Korea by then and she said, “he can’t die because he’s not a human, he’s a God!”  It was very hard for us to comprehend that he was just a human!

I’m now studying at university, learning about International Relations and I feel like a different person. My older sister made it out recently and has just come out of the Education Centre. But all my other relatives are still in North Korea. They are too afraid to escape and I worry about them – not just because I’m from North Korea, but just as a human. I now know that humans have rights and I want to help them. That is my dream.

[As published in SBS Opinion]

Reining in North Korea a ‘mission impossible’ for China?

Washington has been leaning on Beijing to take a larger role in reining in the reclusive regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Beijing’s ambassador Cui Tiankai said the United States is giving China a ”mission impossible” by insisting it exert pressure on neighboring North Korea to halt its nuclear program or face US consequences.

“There is one thing that worries me a little bit, and even more than a little bit, is that we’re very often told that China has such an influence over DPRK and we should force the DPRK to do this or that,” Cui Tiankai told a Washington think-tank. “Otherwise the United States would have to do something that would hurt China’s security interests. You see you are giving us a mission impossible.”

Tiankai, who has been China’s envoy to Washington since April 2013, said he did not “think this was very fair, I don’t think this is a constructive way of working with each other.”

Cui told an audience at the United States Institute of Peace that Beijing was very worried by the threat of nuclear arms on the Korean peninsula and the risk of another war, armed conflict or chaos. Tensions have been rising on the peninsula following a series of threats by Pyongyang in protest at ongoing Seoul-Washington military drills. North Korea has staged a series of rocket and short-range missile tests since last month, as well as its first mid-range missile launch since 2009. The two Koreas traded fire across their tense Yellow Sea border last week, with the shells landing in the sea.

“The peninsula is just at our doorstep, any chaos, any armed conflict there will certainly have cross-border effects on China,” Cui said. “But this problem cannot be solved by China alone. We need cooperation among the relevant parties.”

[South China Morning Post]

U.S. envoy calls for break in North Korean information control

Robert King, the special U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights, has called for more efforts to bring the people of North Korea in contact with the wider world by weakening the regime’s information blockade.

In a lecture at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, King said, “We must work to break down North Korea’s government monopoly on the control of information and work together to increase North Koreans’ exposure to ideas, conditions and reality of the world beyond the borders of North Korea.”

Only some 15,000 people are allowed access to the Internet and need to obtain permission to visit different websites.

King cited a survey among North Korean defectors in South Korea and abroad, which revealed that 34 percent of people in North Korea regularly listen to foreign radio broadcasts.

He said he heard that a busy and rowdy restaurant in Pyongyang suddenly went silent when news of the execution of Jang Song-thaek came. With so much fear instilled in their minds, North Koreans are very “cautious about rising up and doing something” about their human right situations, he added.

[Chosun Ilbo]

North Korean government purge continues

North Korea has sacked its commerce minister, according to state-run media, as its young leader Kim Jong-Un apparently seeks to sideline supporters of his once-powerful uncle who was executed last year.

North Korea’s radio broadcaster Pyongyang Broadcasting Station said that new Commerce Minister Kim Kyong-Nam took part in a food festival marking the birth anniversary of the country’s founder Kim Il-Sung. It was the first time that North Korean media introduced him as commerce minister, but it was likely that his predecessor Ri Song-Ho was replaced last month.

It remains unclear why Ri was replaced but his ouster comes as Pyongyang has reportedly been purging officials linked to Jang Song-Thaek, once the North’s unofficial number two and Kim’s political mentor. Ri is the latest North Korean cabinet member to be sacked since Jang’s execution. North Korea reportedly replaced its mining minister and metal industry minister in January.

Jang was executed in December on an array of charges including treason and corruption, marking the biggest political upheaval since the young ruler took power after the death of his father and the former leader, Kim Jong-il, in 2011.


North Korea tells world to ‘wait and see’ on new nuclear test

North Korea said on Friday that the world would have to “wait and see” when asked for details of “a new form” of nuclear test it threatened to carry out.

On March 26, North Korea fired two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles into the sea. Its first firing in four years of mid-range missiles that can hit Japan followed a series of short-range rocket launches over the past two months.

“[North Korea] made it very clear, we will carry out a new form of nuclear test. But I recommend you to wait and see what it is,” North Korea’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ri Tong Il said on Friday during the normally reclusive state’s third U.N. news conference this year.

Ri accused the United States of being “hell bent on regime change” in North Korea by blaming its leaders for human rights violations. He also said Washington was blocking a bid for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula by ignoring North Korean proposals, so it can maintain military presence in the region.

Nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the United States, said North Korea’s reference to a new form of nuclear test could mean simultaneous detonation of two or more devices as part of a program of more intense testing expected over the next few years. Lewis said he thought it unlikely North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would move for the moment from underground to atmospheric testing – something he might do to demonstrate an ability to deploy nuclear armed missiles or artillery – for fear of inflaming Chinese public opinion.

“He’s only likely to do that … if he no longer cares what Beijing thinks,” Lewis said. “Still, it is useful to remember that Kim Jong Un has a number of other unpleasant provocations from which he might choose.”


Former North Korean intelligence officer reveals coup and assassination attempts against Kim Jong-il

A North Korean defector, a former intelligence officer now living in South Korea, has revealed details about assassination attempts on North Korea’s former leader and plots to overthrow him. Plots to kill Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, who ruled North Korea from 1994 to December 2011, have involved a lone gunman, a 20-tonne truck and even missile strikes, he said.

The defector said that in one assassination attempt a lone gunman plotted to murder Jong-il with machine gun fire, but he was arrested before he could carry out the attack.

Another attempt came a bit closer to succeeding. Jong-il’s motorcade was rammed by a 20-tonne lorry, but the driver was fooled by Jong-il’s tactic of deploying decoy cars and he struck the wrong limousine.

There were also two attempted coups, both plotted by members of the Korean People’s Army that had been trained at Moscow’s Frunze military academy and established strong links with Russia. Both plots were uncovered before they had a chance of being put into action.

While difficult to verify these revelations, two incidents do seem to back-up the defector’s claims. In 1994 officers that had studied in Russia were arrested in what was known as the ‘Frunze Affair’, and in 1997 a firefight erupted at the headquarters of the North Korean Army’s Sixth Corps when soldiers stormed it to make arrests.

[Daily Mail]