Monthly Archives: February 2017

The hidden North Korean human rights issue

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Excerpts of an interview with Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation:

 Q: We are constantly seeing news out of North Korea, that is—for lack of a better phrase—bizarre.

 Scholte: This regime is sadistic and cruel. Just talking about recent events, Chang Sŏng-t’aek, who was Kim Jong Un’s uncle, devoted his entire life to that regime and was successful in helping the regime and then all of a sudden he falls out of favor and is basically publicly humiliated and then brutally killed. It just shows the level of cruelty that this regime represents. I do not believe he was fed to dogs; that report came out of China. … Part of the problem with reporting about North Korea is that we cannot go and see the political prison camps. … So it’s difficult to try to corroborate some of the stories. … One interesting thing about the defectors is that there’s a self-policing among them. They know that they were doubted, and therefore their credibility is always on the line. So they’re very careful, the defectors that I work with, they’re very careful to make sure that if we have a witness that comes over, that they’ve been vetted, and they’re really telling their true story.

Q: Why do you think governments and Western journalists have put so much focus on the nuclear issue and not the human rights threat for the citizens of North Korea?

The policy of George W. Bush was the same as Bill Clinton’s: we have to reach a deal on the nuclear issue first, then, we can talk about human rights. That has been a horrible mistake. During all the talks whether Four Party talks or Six Party talks, millions of North Koreans have died. And, not talking about the human rights atrocities fed into the lie that the North Korean people tell their own citizens, which is we hate them. North Koreans are told by the regime that Americans are Yankee imperialist wolves that occupy South Korea, and they want to destroy them, and so we have to build these nuclear weapons, because the United States is ready to attack us. … We fed into that lie because we didn’t talk about these human rights issues.

The Obama Administration has been very careful to keep the focus on human rights and the nuclear issue and give them equal importance. During this period the North Korean defectors kept telling us, “They will never give up their nuclear weapons. They only use negotiation to extract aid.” Hwang Jang yop (highest ranking North Korean defector and author of juche ideology) said that in 1997 when he defected, “Human rights is their Achilles heel. Human rights is what you have to talk about. They’re killing their own people. They’re using you in these talks. …At least we’ve come to that point now where we realize that.

[Acton Institute]

North Korean defector in Russia facing repatriation and execution

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A North Korean defector who has been on the run in Russia for nearly two decades is due to be repatriated this Friday, with human rights organizations claiming he faces certain execution.

Choe Myong-bok was working in a logging camp in Siberia in 1999, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported, but escaped guards and made his way to St Petersburg. He managed to hide in the city until his arrest by Russian authorities. A local court has now ruled that he should be repatriated to his own country.

Russia and North Korea signed an agreement in November 2014 under which nationals of either country “found to have illegally entered or been living in either country’s territory” are repatriated.

The Russian human rights group Memorial is attempting to have the court’s ruling overturned on the grounds that he faces execution. The organization has also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to seek protection for Mr Choe.

An estimated 20,000 North Koreans are reportedly working in appalling conditions in Russia, with the Chosun Ilbo claiming that at least 40 defectors are living in shelters in different parts of the country.

[The Telegraph]

North Korea rated “worst of the worst” for violations of rights and liberties

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North Korea again received a “worst of the worst” rating for its lack of political rights and civil liberties from Freedom House, a U.S.-based think tank in Washington, D.C.

According to Freedom House’s 2017 report on “Freedom in the World,” the Kim Jong Un regime’s violation of rights and liberties was ranked one of the world’s worst for the 44th year in a row.

North Korea received an aggregate score of 3 for civil liberties and political rights out of a possible 100, tied with Eritrea and Uzbekistan for the second-lowest position.

South Korea by contrast scored 82 points out of a possible 100, and is categorically a “free country,” according to the report.


North Korean defector’s role at London embassy

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Besides being the deputy ambassador, North Korea’s number two diplomat in London, Thae Yong Ho, was the man appointed to spy on embassy colleagues and report signs of disloyalty to the feared secret police.

Thae said in an interview that one of his jobs was to report to the “bowibu”, North Korea’s Stasi-like State Security Department, on everyone in the embassy, including the ambassador. But he told his embassy colleagues about the reports and made sure they were positive.

“In the London embassy, I was in charge of this kind of surveillance,” the 54-year-old said.

“I had to write back if they had any ideological changes or if they met any British or South Koreans in secret,” Thae said of his colleagues. “But I always reported good things”.

Thae first came to London as a North Korean diplomat in 2004, when he spent four years as counselor under ambassador Ri Yong Ho, now North Korea’s foreign minister. His two sons went to local London schools, but returned with Thae and his wife to Pyongyang after his first posting there.

In 2013, Thae returned to London with his family, the same year Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un’s powerful uncle by marriage, was executed in a brutal purge that included extended members of Jang’s family and business contacts.

“It was a huge nationwide purge,” Thae said, adding it prompted him to plan an escape. “I had to leave the system”.


North Korea sacks head of secret police amid signs of ‘crack in elite’

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North Korea has dismissed its minister of state security, a key aide to the reclusive state’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, South Korea said on Friday, in what a high-profile defector said would be another sign of a “crack in the elite” in Pyongyang if true.

Kim Won Hong was removed from office as head of the feared “bowibu”, or secret police, in mid-January apparently on charges of corruption, abuse of power and human rights abuses, Jeong Joon-hee, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman, said, confirming media reports.

“There is always a possibility that purges continue as part of constantly strengthening power,” Jeong told a briefing, adding punishment for Kim could be more severe depending on the outcome of the investigation, but he had been dismissed and demoted from the rank of general to major general.

Kim Jong Un became leader in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and his consolidation of power has included purges and executions of top officials.

Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to London who has defected to the South, told Reuters he was not surprised by the news. “I cannot confirm if the reports are true or not, but this kind of power struggle is quite normal in North Korean history. Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un’s style of control is always one of collective surveillance that checks the power of each organization.

“Kim Jong Un has killed too many high officials and there are a lot of complaints and dissent amongst the high elite because of it. If the demotion of Kim Won Hong is really true, then that’s another sign of a crack in the North Korean elite group.”


Trump’s defense chief in Seoul to show solidarity on North Korea threat

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s defenses secretary told South Korea on Thursday the two allies would stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” to face the threat from North Korea, in a message of reassurance after Trump questioned aspects of the alliance in his campaign.

Jim Mattis’ two-day visit comes amid concern that the North may be readying to test a new ballistic missile, in what could be an early challenge for Trump’s administration. Mattis, in his first trip abroad as Pentagon chief, vowed to strengthen ties in talks with South Korea.

In his New Year’s speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had said his nation was close to test launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). North Korea appears to have restarted operation of a reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear facility that produces plutonium that can be used for its nuclear weapons program, according to a U.S. think-tank, 38 North.

Mattis’ trip to the region, which will include a stop in Japan, is the first foreign trip by any of Trump’s cabinet secretaries. U.S. officials have said the trip is meant to reaffirm ties with South Korea and Japan, U.S. allies hosting nearly 80,000 American troops, and the importance of the region overall.

Both South Korea and the United States on Thursday recommitted to plans to deploy a U.S. missile defenses system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), in South Korea later this year.


Is North Korea’s collapse imminent?

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Despite a growing narrative that North Korea might be teetering on the verge of collapse, there is a lack of consensus among U.S. experts on the imminent downfall of the reclusive regime.

Talks of a possible near-term regime collapse resurfaced among North Korea watchers when Thae Yong Ho, a high-level defector, said recently that the influx of information from outside the country and expansion of market activities within it are sapping traditional structures of the North Korean system. The regime is “crumbling” and the days of Kim Jong Un’s leadership are “numbered,” said North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, prior to defecting with his family to South Korea in 2016.

“Low-level dissent or criticism of the regime, until recently unthinkable, is becoming more frequent [among North Korea’s elite],” Thae said at a news conference in Seoul last week. “We have to spray gasoline on North Korea and let the North Korean people set fire to it.”

Following Thae’s comments, a Wall Street Journal editorial suggested the Trump administration should “make regime change an explicit policy goal for North Korea.”

Joseph DeTrani, former U.S. nuclear envoy and intelligence official, said that while Thae’s claims are “significant commentary” based on the diplomat’s knowledge base, there is virtually “no indication that the regime’s collapse is imminent.” While saying that his views are based on limited information, DeTrani said he sees “a functioning government” in the North: private markets are functioning and people have access to food.

Ken Gause, who monitors the Kim regime, is also skeptical of Thae’s prediction of regime change. Notwithstanding increasing international sanctions, he says, Pyongyang’s economy is faring relatively well. Even with its chronic food shortage, the country is “not as in serious situation as it was in the 1990s when there was mass starvation.”

[Read full VoA article]