Monthly Archives: May 2015

UN warns of drought and coming hunger in North Korea

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A drought in North Korea could lead to huge food shortages this year, the top U.N. official in the country told Reuters in an interview.

Rainfall in 2014, the lowest in records going back 30 years, was 40-60 percent below 2013 levels, and reservoirs are very low, said Ghulam Isaczai, the U.N. resident coordinator. “We’re extremely concerned with the impact of drought which will affect the crop this year severely. And we might be faced with another major incident of food availability or even hunger,” said Isaczai. “It is going to create a huge deficit between the needs and what is available.”

“This is currently the rice-planting season. Normally they submerge the land almost a week or two in advance. But this year, I’ve seen it myself – they’re doing it in the dry, actually planting rice. So what we’re hearing right now is that they’re switching to maize and corn because that requires less water.”

Some farmers, already struggling with a shortage of fuel and equipment, have resorted to using buckets to water seedlings, he said. “What the government confirmed to me is that they’re operating at 50 percent of capacity in terms of power generation. A lot of it is now related to water,” the U.N. official added.

Blackouts in Pyongyang last anything from 8-9 hours to a whole 24 hours and many hospitals are unable to operate.

A famine in the 1990s killed as many as 1 million North Koreans but recently many international donors have been reluctant to help because of Pyongyang’s restrictions on humanitarian workers and international concerns over its nuclear ambitions.


Kim Yo-jung, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, makes rare public appearance

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Kim Yo-jung, the younger sister of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un, has reportedly reappeared in public after two months out of the public eye.

Kim Yo-jung, 28, was photographed accompanying her older brother as he inspected a tree nursery operated by the army, South Korea’s Yonhap news reported.

The South Korean news site claimed that images of Kim’s sister, appearing slimmer than her past appearances and wearing a knee-length black dress with a fur collar, had prompted speculation she had recently given birth to her first child. Kim Yo-jung married a former classmate from Kim Il-sung University. Her baby was expected in May.

It has been suggested Kim, who studied in Switzerland at the same time as her brother, is Kim’s closest confidante, working alongside him as deputy director of the Worker’s Party.

The position was formerly held by her uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was publicly executed for crimes against the state two years ago.

 [The Independent]

US to seek China’s help in pressuring North Korea on nukes

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North Korea’s claims have not been independently verified and many analysts say Pyongyang is still years away from deploying these new weapon systems. Still, there are indications that North Korea is moving steadily to develop the capability to strike the U.S. mainland or anywhere in the world with nuclear weapons.

“I don’t want to comment on intelligence matters but … it is of great concern to us that the North Koreans are continuing to pursue such capabilities. I think the intention is clear. We should be concerned,” said U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim.

High-ranking diplomatic envoys from the U.S., South Korea, and Japan met in Seoul to discuss how to respond to North Korea’s continued efforts to develop its nuclear program.

US Ambassador Kim said it is important that Russia and China continue to support whatever approach they decide to take.  He said he will make that point clear when he meets Thursday with Chinese Special Representative Wu Dawei in Beijing.

Secretary Kerry said Kim Jong Un has rebuffed overtures from China and Russia. Both countries supported U.N. imposed sanctions against North Korea after it conducted its third nuclear test in 2013. But Beijing in particular has been reluctant to exert further pressure on Pyongyang out of concern that it might increase instability and the potential for conflict in the region. However China is reportedly growing increasingly alarmed over Kim Jong Un’s intransigence and has, according to Secretary Kerry, indicated a new willingness to explore new punitive measures against Pyongyang.

The six party talks about dismantling the North’s nuclear program in return for economic assistance and security guarantees have been on hold since 2008.


Extricating North Korea from the Kim family cult

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Extricating North Korea from the personality cult of the Kim family would be a genuine challenge under any circumstances.

The country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, permeate every facet of daily life. Citizens wear Kim lapel pins everywhere they go. Portraits and statuary of the father and son are everywhere. In Pyongyang at midnight every night, a ghostly dirge commemorating the elder Kim blares from loudspeakers through the darkness.

According to the U.N. commission’s findings and the testimony of many defectors, North Koreans who dare criticize the Kim family are punished severely and face horrific treatment in prison camps around the country.

North Korea says that isn’t true, and routinely accuses defectors of being “human scum” and criminals. In an interview with the AP in Pyongyang last October, two North Korean legal experts attempted to discredit the U.N. campaign and its findings “which they called an “anti-DPRK plot” and defended the prison system that has long been the core area of concern.

“In a word, the political camps do not exist in our country,” said Ri Kyong Chol, director of the international law department at Pyongyang’s Academy of Social Sciences. “The difference between the common and the anti-state criminals is that the anti-state criminals get more severe punishment than the common criminals.”

But Ri said common and anti-state inmates are not segregated. “I think every country has prisons to imprison those criminals who have committed crimes against the state,” he said. But in North Korea, “there are no different prisons for that.”


North Korean spies at home and abroad

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To consolidate power within North Korea, Kim Jong-Un and his family run a ruthless network of spies. A former spy told CNN that North Korea’s also got legions of operatives inside the U.S. and South Korea.

To keep his spies from defecting, Kim’s regime is said to use what they call ‘anchor children.’

“Certainly an agent would be operating by him or herself in South Korea would have their family left behind, and North Korea would use that as leverage,” said Bruce Klingner of The Heritage Foundation.

Another former North Korean spy told CNN that his entire family was executed back in North Korea to punish him for not fulfilling his mission.

Agents who’ve defected have consistently said if they’re caught they’re under orders to commit suicide rather than fall into enemy hands.


The plight of North Korean women

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jihyun-park-north korea defectorThe following is written by Jihyun Park (pictured at left),  a North Korean defector who escaped from North Korea twice and spent time imprisoned in a North Korean gulag. 

In North Korea, women have no rights. There is no right to freedom, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. Because of state-induced starvation and poverty, families have been ripped apart and relationships between mothers and children have been severed. A pervasive patriarchal culture governs North Korean society. Women not only fear abuse from the state, they fear abuse from patriarchal impunity.

Any discussions, however infrequent, on human rights inside North Korea are made for and by men. This situation is made worse because many women are ignorant of their universal human rights and cannot imagine recourse to justice or equality. For example, if a North Korean woman sought to escape North Korea, her only path is through the world of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in China. For many of us, human rights violations became a fact of day-to-day life.

My own experience of being trafficked from North Korea into China, being sold into marriage with a Chinese man for 5,000 yuan (approx. US $800), and being subjected to constant domestic servitude is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I gave birth to a son in China, but soon after I was repatriated to North Korea and my son was left in China. If my son had been born in North Korea to a Chinese father, he would have been killed for his mother’s betrayal of her Fatherland.

Pregnant women in North Korea prison camps work extremely hard until the death of their unborn children through miscarriage, or if she carries it to term, the newly born child is killed in front of mother. They cannot even cry out loud in front of the death of their un-born children — that would be a further act of treason — all they can do is quietly wipe away their tears with their sleeves.


Defector says DMZ activists don’t understand plight of women in North Korea

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I do not know Christine Ahn, the woman who organized the “peace march” across the DMZ or her fellow travelers. Nor do I know much about Ahn’s activities, if she claims to be a true feminist, or how much she knows about the situation of women in North Korea.

But speaking as a North Korean woman myself, I do not see how Ahn’s crossing of the DMZ will improve the lives of the women of North Korea or bring peace to a country that is governed by a leadership who despise women.

Along with 200 of my former countrymen and countrywomen, I spoke as a witness to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea. Ahn would do well to read my testimony and those of the women whom she claims to be helping. In our testimonies, we spoke of unspeakable sexual violence, forced abortions and endemic rape. These facts about North Korea ― for that is what they are ― are available for the world to read. I truly hope that Ahn listens to the words of North Korean women before she enters our homeland.

I do not know Christine Ahn. They all tell us that they are feminists and seek peace on the Korean peninsula. Yet not one of these women, who have told us that they are good-intentioned, has any understanding of the plight of women in North Korea.

They say they are doing this for peace and that they will not be used. As they cross the DMZ into a propaganda festival for the North Korean government, I hope that my words cross their minds. I and many North Korean women campaign every single day for the rights of North Korean women ― and we do so without Ahn’s fanfare.

It is us, the North Korean women, who have suffered and we urge the world to listen to our voices.

[CNN Opinion by Jihyun Park, North Korean defector] 

Activists’ walk across Koreas’ DMZ becomes bus ride

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Female activists including Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace laureates were denied an attempt to walk across the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea on Sunday, but were allowed to cross by bus and complete what one of them called a landmark event.

The group of 30 women from 15 countries made a final appeal to authorities on both sides to allow them to walk across the demarcation line, but were turned down. The North allowed a South Korean bus to cross the demarcation line to pick them up on the North side of the DMZ and transport them over the border to South Korea.

United Nations Command officials met the group inside the DMZ after they crossed the demarcation line, and allowed them to march again after the final checkpoint on the southern side.

Organizer Christine Ahn, a Korean-American peace activist, said the group initially wanted to walk through the symbolic truce village of Panmunjom, where the armistice was signed. Still, she said the crossing itself was a success and a “historic event” despite “governments setting boundaries.”

[Associated Press]

Introducing Kim Sol-Song, the shadowy older sister of Kim Jong-Un

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Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-Jong, may be on the political rise but were you aware of Kim’s shadowy older sister, Kim Sol-Song?

According to Ken Gause, a North Korea leadership expert at CAN Corporation, Kim Sol-Song is the “purest of the pure,” because she’s the only one among Kim and his siblings ever officially recognized by their grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung.

“She is a person who has her finger on the pulse of the regime. And she is probably helping Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong in mentoring them in the relationship building that needs to be done for Kim Jong Un to be able to consolidate his power,” Gause said.

Another sibling, Kim Jong Chul, an older brother of Kim Jong-Un, recently appeared singing along at an Eric Clapton concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Kim Jong Chul has gone to Clapton concerts all over the world. He has plenty of time and money on his hands, analysts say, since he was passed over for the leadership position in favor of his younger brother.

“Kim Jong-Chul was not seen as being capable of dealing with the blood sport which is North Korean politics, especially as you move from succession period to consolidation period. And unlike his brother Kim Jong Un he was seen as being potentially too weak,” said Gause.

Now, analysts say Kim Jong Chul is in a network of children of the elites who allegedly bring in money for the regime from black market deals.

And there is another brother who was also passed over. The oldest, Kim Jong Nam, embarrassed the family in 2001 when he was caught trying to get to Tokyo’s Disneyland on a fake Dominican passport. He’s said to spend his days traveling and gambling.

But the sibling with real influence might just be Kim’s older sister, Kim Sol-Song?


International female peace activists to walk DMZ

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A group of female activists, including Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, said they will walk across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas this Sunday, despite criticism they are being used as propaganda tools by North Korea’s government.

The group of 30 women from 15 countries will not go through the symbolic truce village of Panmunjom, where the Korean War armistice was signed in 1953, because officials in South Korea and the United Nations Command responsible for security in the area said they could not guarantee the group’s safety. Instead, the women will take a route that links the two Koreas to the Kaesong industrial complex, a joint North-South business venture near the border.

The plan to walk across the DMZ, which organizers say is intended to start a dialogue and bring international attention to the need for a formal end to the Korean War and the peninsula’s division, has been controversial. The DMZ is one of the most heavily fortified in the world. There is little direct contact between the two Koreas and, with few exceptions, it is considered a crime for citizens of either country to cross the DMZ.

Organizer Christine Ahn, a Korean-American peace activist, said in Pyongyang, “We spoke about the impact of militarism around the world, including in Liberia, Colombia, Japan, northern Ireland as well as the United States.”

Members of the group said they feel the crossing in itself is a breakthrough. Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel laureate from Liberia, said, “Not only have we received the blessing for our historic crossing, we’ve gotten both Korean governments to communicate. That is a success.”

“We have accomplished what we set out to do — to walk across the DMZ on behalf of both North and South Korean women. They cannot walk, so we must,” said Steinem, 81, an iconic figure in the United States for her role in the women’s rights movement. “Over 60 years of silence has not worked. Why not try human contact?”