Monthly Archives: February 2015

North Korean spies infiltrated UNESCO and UN World Food Programme

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North Korea’s version of MI6 managed to infiltrate two United Nations agencies with a father-and-son team of spies.

The World Food Programme (WFP) confirmed that Kim Su Gwang, 38, is no longer in his position at its headquarters in Rome. Mr Kim was one of two UN employees named as North Korean intelligence officers. The other was his father, Kim Yong Nam, 67, who worked in Paris on a contract for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The exposure of the father-and-son team lifted the veil on North Korea’s efforts to infiltrate international organizations. The two Kims were both named as members of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), the North Korean intelligence agency charged with conducting clandestine operations abroad, one of North Korea’s four intelligence services.

The WFP is one of the few international organizations with a presence inside North Korea. This could explain why North Korean intelligence chose to target the WFP, said John Swenson-Wright, the head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House. “It may be that the North Koreans questioned the independence and objectivity of the WFP’s efforts,” he said. “It would be difficult to convince them that your interest is purely humanitarian and you won’t be gathering sensitive information.”

The WFP still has a presence inside North Korea. Mr Smerdon said the agency was helping 1.1 million women and children across the country who “suffer from chronic malnutrition due to a diet lacking in key micro-nutrients”.

[The Telegraph]

North Korean diplomat to address UN Rights Council

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A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday that North Korea would dispatch its top diplomat to a high-level U.N. human rights meeting next week, in an apparent attempt to counter international criticism of the country’s human rights record.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong

The South Korean official, who asked not to be identified, told the VOA Korean service that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong was expected to speak at the meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which will convene March 2 in Geneva.

Ri would be the first North Korean foreign minister to address the council.

Recently, Pyongyang launched an aggressive campaign to cope with mounting international pressure over its treatment of its citizens. The call for improving human rights conditions in the communist country was prompted by a damning report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI), which accused North Korea of committing crimes again humanity.

Some analysts in Seoul say Pyongyang is likely to attempt to discredit the report and accuse Seoul of abusing human rights by attacking South Korea’s National Security Law. That 1948 law bans praise or support for North Korea. International human rights groups often have accused the South Korean government of using the law to suppress freedom of expression.

“They will repeat the regime’s argument that the COI report is based on fabricated information and will likely say the South Korean government is infringing upon its citizens’ human rights with the implementation of the National Security Law,” said Kim Soo-am, a North Korea expert at the Korean Institute for National Unification, South Korea’s state-run research institute.


Let’s not lose sight of North Korea’s human rights record

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Rarely does a United Nations investigation produce such clarity and impact as did the Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations in North Korea. The report, issued a year ago, documented the existence of political concentration camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and a regime that has treated its people with sickening brutality.

But now what? What can be done to get concrete help for the victims? There is a danger that as other pressing concerns about North Korea accumulate — nuclear weapons, missiles, cyberattacks — the world will lose interest in the human rights disaster.

One of the most prominent witnesses to the depravity of the North, Shin Dong-hyuk, recently changed some elements in his account. The changes do not undermine the larger conclusions of the U.N. commission, which received public testimony from some 80 witnesses.

The U.N. commission, chaired by Michael Kirby, a former justice of the High Court of Australia, found that North Korea’s leaders should be held accountable for the abuses and recommended referral to the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes against humanity. However, veto threats by Russia or China are real, and a referral is not going to happen, at least not now.

Much work remains to be done. A key step is to provide adequate financial resources for the U.N. office of the special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, Indonesian lawyer Marzuki Darusman. A related and significant initiative, just starting, is the establishment of an office by the United Nations in South Korea that will continue to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea, with an eye toward identifying who in the regime’s leadership is responsible for the horrors so that they can eventually be held to account — and so that current officials may think twice before becoming complicit in an ongoing crime against humanity.

[From a Washington Post editorial]

North Korean defectors speak at Boston University

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Three North Korean defectors spoke Monday about their escape from the socialist country and their transition into their new lives at a panel hosted by Boston University’s Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) student group.

Gwangsung Jung, one of the defectors, said it was difficult adjusting to a different life after escaping North Korea in 2006, but he is grateful for the opportunities he has had since. “You have to remember that I was brainwashed for a big part of my life, so I had to start studying everything from zero,” he said during the panel. “The hardest part was learning English because in North Korea, we were taught that Americans were the enemy.”

Eunju Kim (left) and Gwangsung Jung answer audience questions at Boston University

Sejun Park, another defector, said poverty is a serious problem in North Korea and contributes to citizens’ isolation. “Koreans live isolated from any type of information entry,” he said on the panel. “They are completely controlled and have no form of comparing their lives to other countries. Therefore, they do not know about human rights.”

Eunju Kim, the final panelist and defector, said as a former student in the North Korean education system, she was subjugated to watch severe acts of violence, such as public executions. “When you are watching the public execution, … it was part of the education in North Korea,” she said on the panel. “During the long famine, there was no humanity left to people in North Korea. My father’s friend, he stole food from my father’s funeral.”

[Daily Free Press]

Kim Jong Un hints at further purges

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has signaled he may further purge top cadres, ordering senior Workers’ Party members to carry out a “campaign against abuse of power, bureaucrat-ism, irregularities and corruption”.

The party adopted the resolution at a politburo meeting to review his three years in power, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Thursday.

The warning comes after Kim unleashed a series of purges to tighten his grip on power in the reclusive nation. The “Supreme Leader” last month executed a general who disagreed with him.

Kim ordered the killing of his uncle and one-time deputy Jang Song Thaek in 2013, after accusations of graft and factionalism, and had about 50 officials executed last year on charges ranging from graft to watching South Korean soap operas.

Since North Korea’s founding in 1948, Kim, his father, and his grandfather have eliminated people perceived as a threat to their dynastic rule and personal power. Charges have ranged from spying for the United States to gossiping about a leader’s mistress.

Kim, believed to be about 30, controls North Korea’s 1.2 million troops and nuclear arms program, having taken over the nation of 24 million people after Kim Jong Il died in December 2011.


US Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights to Indonesia

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Ambassador Robert King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, will travel to Indonesia February 23-27 for meetings with senior officials to discuss the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea.

Ambassador King will meet with senior Indonesian government officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of the People’s Representative Council, and civil society members.

This visit underscores the U.S. commitment to work closely with the international community to sustain international attention on the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea.

[US Depart of State]

North Koreans toil in slave-like conditions abroad

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Around the globe, tens of thousands of North Koreans work long hours for little or no pay, toiling in Chinese factories or Russian logging camps, digging military tunnels in Myanmar, building monuments for African dictators, or sweating at construction sites in the Middle East and aboard fishing boats off Fiji, according to former workers and human rights researchers.

For decades, North Korea has been accused of sending contract workers abroad and confiscating most of their wages to support its leadership. But in the years since Kim Jong-un took over as leader, human rights researchers say, the program has expanded rapidly as international sanctions have squeezed the country’s other sources of badly needed foreign currency, like illicit trading in missile parts.

A 2012 study by the North Korea Strategy Center, a defector group in Seoul, and the private Korea Policy Research Center estimated that 60,000 to 65,000 North Koreans were working in over 40 countries worldwide, providing the state with $150 million to $230 million a year. That number has since grown to 100,000, human rights researchers said.

“North Korea is exploiting their labor and salaries to fatten the private coffers of Kim Jong-un,” said Ahn Myeong-chul, head of NK Watch, a human rights group in Seoul that is campaigning for a United Nations investigation into the practice. “We suspect that Kim is using some of the money to buy luxury goods for his elite followers and finance the recent building boom in Pyongyang that he has launched to show off his leadership.”

“Earnings are not sent back as remittances, but appropriated by the state and transferred back to the country in the form of bulk cash,” the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies said, noting that United Nations sanctions ban the transfer of bulk cash to the Pyongyang government. “Returning workers also act as mules to carry hard currency earnings back to North Korea.”

NK Watch has collected the testimony of 13 former North Korean contract workers, now living in South Korea, in support of a petition to the United Nations asking for an investigation into what it calls “state-sponsored slavery.” The petition, to be filed next month to the United Nations’ special rapporteur on contemporary slavery, said the migrants worked a minimum of 12 hours a day, were given a full day off only a few times a year, and received only a small portion, commonly 10 percent, of their promised pay, or none at all.

One worker told NK Watch that he received only $160 in the three years he worked in a Siberian logging camp in the 1990s, toiling up to 21 hours a day in temperatures often below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. He was told the rest of his wages were sent home to his family. But families were given only coupons for state-owned stores, which often had nothing to buy, former workers said.

[Read full New York Times article]

The Silent Scream of the North Koreans

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Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the release of a United Nations’ Commission on Inquiry’s report on human rights in North Korea. The U.N. report laid out, in devastating detail, what we’ve known for all too long: The regime’s “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights,” the report found, “entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

And while 25,000 North Koreans have escaped to South Korea, and perhaps 200,000 North Koreans are in hiding in China, some 25 million North Koreans continue to suffer in silence, unable to communicate to the outside world because of their enslavement at the hands of their government.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the U.N. report – which, sadly, has yet to have a discernable effect on life in North Korea – the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, in Washington, D.C., convened a panel discussion with three defectors. The tales that the three former North Koreans – Hyun-ah Ji, Praise Joo, and Johan Kim – told were predictably grim, involving torture, hunger, and fierce repression. But the panelists also struck a positive tone, noting that the world is paying attention to North Korea’s abuses (they have been traveling the States for weeks, telling their stories), and trumpeting the success of initiatives like balloon launches into North Korea (which one panelist said the North Korean regime hates the most), and broadcasting free media into the country.

That these courageous refugees are devoting their life to talking about North Korea shows, in a tragic way, that they are in some sense still psychological prisoners of the regime – they cannot escape. But the world — and their fellow countrymen — benefit from their bravery. For these defectors speak for the 25 million North Koreans who cannot.


The one-year anniversary of the UN report on human rights in North Korea

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Commemorating the one-year anniversary of the report by United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, an unprecedented gathering of policy makers, opinion leaders, and stakeholders on the topic of North Korean human rights took place on February 17th.

The gathering aims to carry forward the momentum created by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report and subsequent UN action.

[CSIS, Washington DC]

Women in North Korean society

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The following is based on excerpts of responses to questions posed to a North Korean defector in China:

North Korea is highly patriarchal. … In the past, women faced criticism if their husbands were seen in the kitchen, though things might have gotten slightly better these days. Women, and not men, are expected to take care of everything that happens within the house.

No matter how hard it is to make a living, the only duty men are expected to perform at home is to ban family members from doing anything against the policies of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).