Monthly Archives: September 2015

Human rights group says South Korean government is taking a passive attitude toward North Korean human rights abuses

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A New York-based human rights group said Wednesday the South Korean government is taking a passive attitude toward North Korean human rights abuses.

The president of Human Rights Foundation (HRF), Thor Halvorssen, said an international coalition has begun to raise awareness about the need for a North Korea human rights bill in South Korea. “Consider that there is already a North Korean human rights act in Japan, in the United States. Canada has a North Korean human rights day. The United Nations has an entire commission devoted to North Korean human rights, and South Korea has nothing,” he said.

South Korean lawmakers have been hesitant to implement such a bill.

South Korean outlet Newsis reported Halvorssen said the passage of a South Korea bill addressing North Korean human rights, could pave the way for … support of defector organizations and the education of South Koreans on issues in the North.


Electricity consumption in North Korea

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Over the weekend, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, on a year-long mission to the International Space Station, tweeted a couple of images that graphically displays the depth of economic deprivation in North Korea.









The good news is that North Korea is a great conserver of electricity. The bad news is that the country’s electrical consumption has dropped so much that many people don’t have it!

Back in 1980, there wasn’t a significant gap in electricity use between the two Koreas with electricity consumption in North Korea hitting 20.2 billion kilowatt hours versus 32.06 billion kilowatt hours in South Korea, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

By 2012, North Korea was using only 15.72 billion kilowatt hours while South Korea’s consumption had surged to 482.38 billion kilowatt hours. [In above photo, South Korean lights are shown at bottom right, directly below the North Korean darkness.]


Overweight Kim Jong Un now weighs almost 290 pounds

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s weight gain appears to continue unabated, with the South Korean government estimating from his body shape and gait that he has put on some 30 kg (66 lbs) over the past five years, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Saturday.

Since obesity is often linked to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, neighboring countries are paying close attention to changes in Kim’s waistline. The Chosun Ilbo quoted sources as attributing the weight gain to his gorging on food and drink due to stress.

When Kim officially emerged as successor to his father in September 2010, he was already considerably heavier than he appeared in the photos of him taken when he attended school in Switzerland in the 1990s.Others wondered whether he had intentionally packed on the pounds to more resemble his grandfather, the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

 [Japan Times]

The hidden human health side of sanctions against North Korea

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The economy of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has suffered through decades of international sanctions … and the health system has been one of the most impacted sectors.

International aid organizations and aid workers who are active in DPRK have been quite straightforward and linked the collapse of the vital public services to the international sanctions. According to aid agencies, the shortages first hit the health sector; essential medicine and diagnostic devices are either unavailable or take many months before they can get into the country. As a result, programs designed to fight diseases such as Tuberculosis, either delay indefinitely or get altogether cancelled.

Additionally, surgery anesthetics, common antibiotics, obstetric medicines, spare parts of medical devices and laboratory supplies cannot be imported or are significantly delayed to enter the country if some of their parts or substances are listed as prohibited goods.

Even a product which is almost entirely made in a third country but it has a component or a spare part made by a US based company, cannot be imported to North Korea without the permit of the US authorities. Those restrictions apply to everything, from the import of much needed technology to modernize public services, to spare parts of agricultural machinery, fertilizers and pesticides.

[Even] the donation of soccer balls is considered a breach of the international sanctions because the 1874 resolution of the UNSC includes all sports goods in its list of luxury items. Accordingly, in the autumn of 2013 the cargo of an American Charity was confiscated; it contained 1000 soccer balls to be donated to two North Korean orphanages.

The years of 2013 and 2014 were probably the worst for aid organizations working in DPRK. The sanctions against the Bank of Foreign Commerce of North Korea had frozen all financial transactions and the aid groups were unable to pay salaries to their staff, rent and utilities bills. Even the World Food Program (WFP) had to suspend production in five out of its seven factories producing fortified biscuits for malnourished children.

Is there any justification for the international sanctions besides their political significance? How long will the international community continue to punish ordinary Koreans for the actions of a government that they have no control on?

[Read full CounterPunch article by Fragkiska Megaloudi]

Seoul rejects North Korean defector’s request to return home

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South Korea said it cannot repatriate a North Korean defector who wishes to return home. Kim Ryen-hi, 45, cannot return to North Korea because Seoul’s current legal framework does not allow defectors to leave South Korea once they are naturalized, South Korean outlet Newsis reported.

An unidentified Unification Ministry official said that upon her arrival in South Korea, Kim repeatedly confirmed her desire to defect. “We don’t know what her reasons are, but after her defection we did confirm her will” to resettle in the South, the official said.

Kim first came to South Korea in September 2011. During a press conference on Aug. 3, Kim said a broker she met in China tricked her into traveling to South Korea. The broker lured her with moneymaking opportunities in the South, and she said she belatedly learned that she could not return to China, after her defection was approved.

Meanwhile, North Korean propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri stated that “South Korean authorities” should return all “abductees” and “forcibly interned” North Koreans.


The ‘child mother’ caring for North Korea’s parentless

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The Chollima district of Nampo City is a decidedly working class area. The blocks of flats are basic, while the roads are bumpy. Every spare patch of ground seems to have been turned into a vegetable garden. But it is clean and orderly.

At the tender age of 20, Jang Jong Hwa adopted seven orphans and cares for them as their mother. [When we visit,] Jang is at home, as are three of her children. We’re told the others are out playing as it is a Sunday. She excuses her wet hands, she’s just been doing her substantial laundry, and invites us into the living room.

The flat is quite a reasonable size. Four rooms and a bathroom. It’s basic but comfortable. There did not appear to be any electricity during the time of our visit, though there is a flat-screen TV and a DVD player. With very little furniture, we sit on the floor to talk, which is quite usual here.

Jang Jong Hwa is herself an orphan. She was born into troubled times, at the height of the great famine that raged through North Korea in the 1990s — years of bad harvests, coupled with economic catastrophe following the collapse of the socialist block elsewhere in the world, led to famine throughout the land. It’s estimated hundreds of thousands died. Among them Jong Hwa’s birth parents.

She was lucky enough to be adopted and still lives with her adoptive mother. When she was visiting her mother’s workplace a few years ago she came across the three children, all siblings, and now in the room with us. Their parents had both worked at the Nampo Iron and Steel Works but had both died of unspecified illnesses. They were being cared for by different workers in turn. Jong Hwa felt she had to give them a home.

Every morning she gets up to cook breakfast and get them ready for school, before heading off to her own full-time job at the local catering service, before rushing back to prepare lunch. With evening meals to prepare, clothes to wash, homework to supervise, she reckons she’s getting by on only five hours sleep a night.

She gets help from her own mother, and friends and neighbors. Everyone pitches in, she tells us. The state provides free housing, as it does to all its citizens, as well as free schooling and free school uniforms all hanging neatly on the wall of the room where the children sleep and do their homework.

Jong Hwa’s selfless spirit has not gone unnoticed. She was even awarded the title of “model youth” at the National Congress of Good Virtues held in Pyongyang in May this year. The group photo hangs on the wall in their living room and she points herself out, standing just a few places away from DPRK’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un. He shook her hand and called her “child mother,” she proudly tells us.

“Our country is one huge family,” she says. “We are a socialist collectivist society. We all try to help each other.”


North Korean diplomats disrupt Human Rights seminar in Indonesia

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North Korean diplomats stormed into a seminar on North Korean human rights in Jakarta, which was being held by South Korean and Indonesian activists.

Officials from the North Korean Embassy in Jakarta drove up to the seminar and harangued staff of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), an Indonesian policy advocacy organization.  And when South Korean activists tried to show a video exposing the North’s human rights abuses, the North Koreans demanded they stop the presentation and show a North Korean publicity video.

Kim Song-hak, the political attaché of the embassy, told participants that the rights abuse claims are “100-percent incorrect” and pointed out that the North provides free medical services and education.  “There can be no human rights problems in North Korea,” Kim said.

Two North Korean diplomats also attempted to enter another seminar on Thursday attended by ASEAN officials, but were held back by organizers.

South Korean activists from the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights are holding seminars, exhibitions and performance for North Korean Human Rights Week this week throughout Indonesia.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Grim fate for women repatriated to North Korea after forays into China

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North Korea has been detaining an increasing number of women in the past few years for crossing the border into China in search of food and opportunities to work for their families’ survival, according to a human rights report on the country’s gulag-style penal system issued Friday.

Authorities have been forcibly repatriating the women and jailing them in a network of political gulags, or kwan-li-so (labor camps) and kyo-hwa-so (political prisoner camps), according to the report issued by the nonprofit Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). Once repatriated, women are subject to extreme privation and repression while in detention, the report said.

The report, titled “Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Hidden Disappearances,” is the fourth in a series of reports on arbitrary detentions and forced labor in North Korea issued by HRNK since 2003.

It cites the post-2007 expansion of the women’s section at labor camp No. 12 in Jongo-ri, North Hamgyong province, in the northernmost part of the country, to hold a large number of forcibly repatriated women from the province. Inside labor camp No. 12, young women detainees were forced to work as wig and eyelash makers, while older women performed heavy labor such as agricultural production, animal husbandry, tree felling and log cutting. Former prisoners said the facility housed more than 1,000 people.

Women who have been forcibly repatriated have been subject to systematic torture and beatings during interrogations, severe food deprivation, and naked strip searches and compulsory exercises to dislodge money or valuables hidden in inside their bodies, the report said. Those who were pregnant when they were repatriated have been forced to undergo abortions if authorities thought they were carrying babies fathered by Chinese men, it said.

North Korea has between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners detained in political prison camps, or about one of every 200 citizens, according to a report issued in February 2014 by a United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea, which documented the network of such prisons and the atrocities that occur inside them.

[Radio Free Asia]

Nuance to the North Korea narrative

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Soon-Mi Yoo is tired of the conventional western narrative surrounding North Korea. She’s had it with the “satiric and, frankly, racist takes” that “use North Korea as kind of a cheap joke,” and the winking, “kind of dishonest,” news coverage. “Their brief exchange in North Korea confirms their idea that these people are brainwashed. …So I felt a little bit responsible.”

This sense of responsibility led to “Songs From The North”, the Cambridge, Mass.-based Korean filmmaker’s first feature length work. It is an unconventional and deeply personal essay film determined to bring insight and nuance to the narrative of North Korea and its people. In order to achieve this, Yoo recently traveled to North Korea three times to film, and the footage she shot there comprises a large portion of the movie.

“Initially, my first and second trips, I was invited, quote unquote, or brought in, by somebody who had a very good relationship with the regime,” she discloses. She found it difficult to shoot much beyond the designated tourist sites, though, because minders were watching her. “At the end of my third trip I realized that no matter how many times I go back, I would only accumulate a tiny bit of the material that I’d be actually satisfied with,” she says, also noting the air of oppression and paranoia that managed to surprise her when faced with it firsthand. Despite this, she managed to capture landscapes not approved by her minders and stolen moments with average North Koreans.

“In a way, North Korean fictions are like documentaries, and so-called North Korean documentaries are more like fiction,” she observes. Though she recognizes how well the regime manipulates the media, and the propagandistic nature of this art, she says she “found them to be, a lot of times, very moving” in their genuine emotion — especially the titular revolutionary songs. She cites, for instance, a striking scene in the film, where she observed people plodding along in the -26 degree cold while propagandist songs played over loudspeakers, and realized how this “entertainment” could almost function as a coping mechanism.

“At first I thought it was just terrible, you know this kind of propaganda, just — you cannot escape it, right? You know, you’re out in the open and there is this loudspeaker blaring about … ‘dear leaders,’ ” she recalls. “It would drive us crazy, you know? And it did drive me crazy. But then I realized, ‘Actually, maybe it’s better than having to just walk in the cold without anything,’ ” she concludes.

With “Songs From The North,” Yoo provides audiences with a rare opportunity to … better actually understand the people of North Korea.

[The Villager (New York)]

China attempts to mitigate North Korea’s nuclear move

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China has called for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the avoidance of any actions that could escalate tension in the region. The move follows Pyongyang’s decision to reopen nuclear facilities and its threats to launch long-range rockets.

Experts said Pyongyang’s tactics are aimed at spurring talks with the United States, but they have also struck a blow to relations with China.

China is planning an international seminar in Beijing on Friday with parties involved in the six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear programme, hoping to bring the issue back to the negotiating table. The six-nation talks have been stalled since early 2009.

Zhu Feng, director of the Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University, said Pyongyang’s decision to reopen its nuclear facilities will aggravate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and compel the UN to consider new sanctions against the country. “If so, China is very likely to support the sanctions,” he said.

Shi Yongming, an Asia-Pacific studies research fellow at the China Institute of International Relations, said, “China could offer a packaged denuclearisation plan, including measures to help economic development, as a solution to the problem.”

[China Daily]