Monthly Archives: December 2019

Trump officials block UN meeting on North Korean human rights abuses

Posted on by

The U.S. is trying to preserve a diplomatic opening with Kim Jong-un, even as North Korea dismisses President Trump as a “heedless and erratic old man.” The Trump administration has refused to support a move by members of the United Nations Security Council to hold a discussion on North Korea’s rampant human rights abuses, effectively blocking the meeting for the second year in a row. The American action appeared aimed at muting international criticism of Pyongyang’s human rights record in the hope of preserving a tenuous diplomatic opening between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

A proposed meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday had been intended to put a spotlight on North Korea on Human Rights Day, which is held every Dec. 10 to mark the day in 1948 when the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight of the council’s 15 members had signed a letter to schedule the meeting but needed a ninth member — the minimum required. United Nations diplomats, confirming a report in Foreign Policy, said the United States had declined to sign.

The absence of American support for a discussion of human rights in North Korea is a conspicuous change under the Trump administration. In 2014, after a United Nations commission released a report on widespread rights violations in North Korea, the Americans supported an annual meeting on the council devoted to the subject. The North Korean government was infuriated. But last year, the Americans withdrew its support for such a meeting as Mr. Trump made diplomatic overtures to Mr. Kim.

Mr. Trump’s critics say the action is consistent with what they regard as a transactional approach to foreign policy that diminishes concern for human rights. The president has embraced authoritarian leaders who oversee widespread abuses in their countries and rarely talks about rights violations. Mr. Trump has blocked sanctions on Chinese officials for running internment camps holding at least one million Muslims, for example, to try to reach a trade deal with China.

“North Korea and other abusive governments that the United States is going easy on are undoubtedly elated that the days of U.S. criticism of their human rights records appear to be over for the time being,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations officer at Human Rights Watch.

[The New York Times]

South Korea intelligence officers accused of raping defector from North

Posted on by

Two South Korean intelligence officials have been accused of raping a North Korean defector, with one said to have abused her dozens of times. The officials, a lieutenant colonel and a master sergeant, have been suspended and an investigation is underway.

The Defense Ministry’s intelligence command is tasked with investigating North Korean defectors and gathering intelligence. The two suspects were assigned the woman’s custody, law firm Good Lawyers told BBC Korean. According to the law firm, the first time the woman was raped she was unconscious as a result of drinking alcohol.

The officials, a lieutenant colonel and a master sergeant, have been suspended while an investigation is underway. The master sergeant is accused of raping her dozens of times while the lieutenant colonel is accused of raping her once. The alleged victim was forced to have two abortions, her lawyers say.

North Korean women who defect are more vulnerable to sexual assault than South Koreans, human rights activists say, and difficult economic circumstances can make them reluctant to speak out.

A human rights activist who advises North Korean women told BBC Korean that “many North Korean defectors experience sexual violence in China before coming to Korea. … They endured it and when they come to South Korea some have this notion that they are already defiled.” When the activist asked North Korean women what they thought of the MeToo movement in South Korea back in 2018, some replied by saying: “What good will it do?”; “It only brings humiliation”; or “They should just endure it.”

“They’re not used to speaking out, being educated about sexual violence, and demanding their rights,” the activist says. “They don’t know that when they are sexually assaulted it’s a crime and that people can be held accountable or be compensated.”

In fact, the biggest reason North Korean women keep quiet, human rights experts say, is because making a living is their foremost priority. “They tell me: ‘I need to survive. I need to eat and I need to live. That comes first,'” the activist said.

 [BBC]

North Korea insults President Donald Trump as a “heedless and erratic old man”

Posted on by

North Korea insulted U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, calling him a “heedless and erratic old man” after he tweeted that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wouldn’t want to abandon a special relationship between the two leaders and affect the American presidential election by resuming hostile acts.

A senior North Korean official, former nuclear negotiator Kim Yong Chol, said in a statement that his country wouldn’t cave in to U.S. pressure because it has nothing to lose and accused the Trump administration of attempting to buy time ahead of an end-of-year deadline set by Kim Jong Un for Washington to salvage nuclear talks.

In a separate statement, former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong said Trump’s comments were a “corroboration that he feels fear” about what North Korea might do when Kim’s deadline expires and warned Trump to think twice if he wants to avoid “bigger catastrophic consequences.”

Kim Yong Chol said Trump’s Sunday tweets clearly show that he is an irritated old man “bereft of patience.” Kim Yong Chol traveled to Washington and met with the U.S. president twice last year while setting up the summits with Kim Jong Un.

“As (Trump) is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time when we cannot but call him a ‘dotard’ again may come,” Kim Yong Chol said. “Trump has too many things that he does not know about (North Korea). We have nothing more to lose. Though the U.S. may take away anything more from us, it can never remove the strong sense of self-respect, might and resentment against the U.S. from us.”

In his statement, Ri, currently a vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, said Trump would be well advised to stop using “abusive language” that may offend Kim. “Trump might be in great jitters but he had better accept the status quo that as he sowed, so he should reap, and think twice if he does not want to see bigger catastrophic consequences,” Ri said.

[AP]

Trump warns Kim Jong Un on hostile actions

Posted on by

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un against hostile military actions, even as Pyongyang announced it had conducted “a very important test” at a satellite launching site.

“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump said on Twitter. “He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States, or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November. North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised. NATO, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!” 

Trump’s remarks came after North Korea’s state media said the test was conducted Saturday at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station 7, a long-range rocket launching site station in Tongch’ang-ri, a part of North Pyongang Province located near the border of China. Saturday’s test comes as North Korea continues to emphasize its declared end-of-year deadline for the United States to change its approach to stalled nuclear talks.

This year has been one of North Korea’s busiest in terms of missile launches. Pyongyang has carried out 13 rounds of short- or medium-range launches since May. Most experts say nearly all of the tests have involved some form of ballistic missile technology.

Earlier this month, Trump, in answering reporters’ questions about North Korea at the NATO summit in London, said, “Now we have the most powerful military we’ve ever had and we’re by far the most powerful country in the world. And, hopefully, we don’t have to use it, but if we do, we’ll use it. If we have to, we’ll do it.”

North Korea responded in kind. “Anyone can guess with what action the DPRK will answer if the U.S. undertakes military actions against the DPRK,” Pak Jong Chon, head of the Korean People’s Army, said on state media. “One thing I would like to make clear is that the use of armed forces is not the privilege of the U.S. only.”

[Voice of America] 

The challenges of a half-North Korean, half-Chinese offspring in South Korea

Posted on by

Song Hong Ryon’s mother fled North Korea in the late 1990s in search of food and work in China, like tens of thousands of other North Korean women did to avoid a famine at home. Many women ended up being sold to poor Chinese farmers as brides, before fleeing again and moving to South Korea, which considers the North part of its territory and therefore embraces North Korean refugees. Many of the children of these marriages, if they’re able to reunite with their mothers in the South, are then alienated and frustrated as they struggle to navigate a strange culture, cut off from friends and many of their relatives.

North Korean mothers lived in China in constant fear of being captured and repatriated to the North, where they could face torture and lengthy detention. When they made the risky trip to South Korea, they often left their children behind in China. The lucky ones, after getting jobs and saving money in South Korea, arranged for their children and husbands to travel to the country. But some children were abandoned, or their fathers refused to leave their hometowns and move to a place where they had no relatives or friends.

Three years after her arrival from China, Song Hong Ryon a half-North Korean, half-Chinese 19-year-old has made only two South Korean-born friends and says she’s often been hurt by little things, like when people ask if she’s from China because of her accent.

Song said she was 10 when her mother left their home in the northeastern Chinese city of Yanji in 2010. A year later, her father also went to South Korea, leaving her with her grandparents. She only reunited with her parents in 2016 in South Korea after a six-year separation.

Last December, her mother died of lung cancer. “I came to blame God,” said Song, a devout Christian. “I asked why this had to happen to me.”

Song’s bilingual ability helped her receive special admission to a university near Seoul. Her first semester starts in March, and she’s excited and nervous about meeting her mostly South Korea-born classmates.

[AP]

Half-North Korean, half-Chinese kids miss out on refugee benefits

Posted on by

A half-Chinese, half-North Korean young woman — who wishes to be identified only by her family name, Choe, because she worries that media publicity could damage her life in South Korea – told AP her story.

Years before, brokers had lured Choe’s mother to cross the border into China with the promise of a job — before selling her to her husband for $710. In early 2017, her mother fled their home in Dunhua city in northeastern China after witnessing a fellow North Korean woman in their village being arrested and sent back to North Korea.

Last year, 20-year-old Choe came to Seoul from China to reunite with her North Korean refugee mother.  She speaks only a little Korean and has no South Korean friends. She has yet to travel alone beyond Seoul and often spends time chatting online with her friends back in China.

Upon arrival in South Korea, children like Choe are given citizenship because their mothers are now South Korean nationals. But because they don’t have a direct link to North Korea, they cannot legally receive some other special favors that North Korea-born refugees enjoy. Those missed benefits include the right to bypass the highly competitive national university entrance exam, get a college tuition waiver and, for men, choose whether to perform two years of mandatory military service. (Choe said her brother is still in China because of worries that he’ll have to serve in the military.)

Choe wants to improve her Korean and go to a South Korean university, which means she must compete with South Korean students in the university entrance exam. But language is a problem. Choe’s mother says: “If I try to go deeper in our conversation in Korean, she won’t understand…”

“Half-Chinese, half-North Korean children mostly give up on opportunities to develop themselves, … and combined with South Korea’s social bias against them … this eats away at them fulfilling their potential,” said Kim Doo Yeon, the principal of the alternative Great Vision School in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul. Read more

[AP]

Half-North Korean, half-Chinese kids struggle in South Korea

Posted on by

Twenty years ago, North Korean mothers began slipping into China, and many left behind half-Chinese, half-North Korean children in China when they managed to gain entrance to South Korea.

Even when in South Korea, such children often face crises in identity. They’re often confused about whether they’re Chinese, South Korean or North Korean refugees. Because neither parent is originally from South Korea, they don’t have help assimilating into the country’s brutally competitive and fast-paced society.

Now, with such children reaching adulthood, their plight could soon become a bigger social issue in South Korea. According to the South Korean Education Ministry, about 1,550 half-Chinese, half-North Korean children were enrolled in primary, middle and high schools in South Korea as of April this year, along with about 980 North Korea-born students, though the true numbers are likely higher.

In recent years, the government has tried to help by providing $3,390 to each of their families as well as dispatching more bilingual instructors to schools. Shim Yang-sup, principal of the Seoul-based alternative South-North Love School, said the children should be supported because they represent an untapped resource, with the ability to often speak two languages and navigate both Korean and Chinese cultures. However, in May, an opposition lawmaker proposed providing China-born North Korean children with the same assistance given to North Korea-born refugees.

Kim Hyun-seung, 20, from Tianjin, China, arrived in South Korea three years ago to reunite with his mother, who came six years earlier. Tall and slim, Kim said he wouldn’t mind serving in the South Korean military and dreams of being a chef in a French restaurant. But he doesn’t want a serious girlfriend out of fear they’d “become a couple like my father and mother that gives pain to their child, fails to live together and worries about many things.”

[AP]

North Korean defector hospitalized after hunger strike

Posted on by

A North Korean defector in South Korea was hospitalized after a nine-day hunger strike.

Lee Dong-hyun, 46, was protesting the deaths of a North Korean woman and her infant son and the repatriation of a North Korea boat crew, when he fell ill, South Korean news service Newsis reported Tuesday. Lee was suffering from malnutrition and “weakened stamina” when he was taken to a hospital in Seoul, according to the report.

A North Korean defector emergency response committee, which has called for greater protection of defectors following the deaths, and South Korea’s emergency dispatch office, said Lee was fasting when his health began to quickly deteriorate. He returned home after five to six hours at the hospital.

Lee is demanding the resignation of South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul. Lee has said Kim is responsible for the deaths of the defectors and the “forced repatriation” of North Korean fishermen in November. The fishermen were suspected of homicide and returned to the North; Seoul has said they are not protected under South Korea’s Act on North Korea Refugee Protection and Settlement Support.

Defectors are receiving backing for their cause from the opposition Liberty Korea Party. LKP lawmakers who have created a task force on the repatriations say Seoul should confirm the status of the repatriated North Koreans, according to Newsis.

[UPI]

Eleven North Korean defectors detained in Vietnam

Posted on by

Eleven North Koreans seeking to defect to South Korea have been detained in Vietnam since Nov. 23 and are seeking help to avoid being repatriated, a South Korean activist group said on Monday. The eight women ranging in age from early 20s to 50s, and three men in their 20s, were detained by border guards in northern Vietnam two days after crossing from China, and are being held in the city of Lang Son, the Seoul-based Justice for North Korea said in a statement.

Currently, Vietnam is detaining all the defectors. After several of the women fainted, the Vietnamese government decided against forcibly sending them to China, according to Peter Jung, the head of Justice for North Korea which supports North Korean asylum-seekers.

Jung told VOA’s Korean Service that one of the defectors who had a cellphone contacted the South Korean Embassy in Vietnam asking for help, but he had not heard from them since Friday.

Jung added the Seoul embassy’s subsequent silence had spurred him to publicize the situation, fearing that without an international response the defectors could be forcibly repatriated. “The embassy told them it will take appropriate measures to help them,” said Jung. “But the defectors have not heard from the embassy” since Friday.

The defectors asked the South Korean government to provide asylum in Seoul so they can avoid being deported to North Korea. In a video clip sent by Jung, a woman was nursing other people who appeared to be ill.

The South Korean foreign ministry said it was aware of the case and had been in touch with the Vietnamese government. “Our government has been making necessary efforts to ensure the North Korean defectors living abroad are sent to a desired place without being forcibly repatriated,” the ministry said in a statement.

If the 11 defectors are sent to China, they would most likely be deported back to North Korea, where they could face severe punishment such as forced labor, torture and even execution.

As of September, at least 771 North Korean defectors had entered South Korea this year, according to the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North.

[Reuters/VoA]

American who gave cryptocurrency talk in North Korea arrested

Posted on by

In April, Virgil Griffith a self-styled “disruptive technologist” traveled to North Korea with a visa he had obtained from a diplomatic mission in New York City, going through China to circumvent an American travel ban. He gave a talk at the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference in Pyongyang about how to use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to launder money, according to federal investigators.

Now Mr. Griffith, 36, faces federal charges that he violated international sanctions. He was arrested on Thursday as he landed at Los Angeles International Airport. The charges come after the Trump administration raised concerns over the summer about the national security threat cryptocurrencies pose because of their potential to be used to finance illicit activities. During his speech and in discussions afterward, Griffith provided information about how North Korea could use cryptocurrency to “achieve independence from the global banking system,” the complaint said. He also later made plans “to facilitate the exchange” of a digital currency between North and South Korea.

Mr. Griffith, an American citizen who lives in Singapore and works for the Ethereum Foundation, is accused of conspiring with North Korea since August 2018. He appeared in federal court in Los Angeles last week and will eventually be brought to New York. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

“We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., an assistant director-in-charge at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary.”

Hacker magazine, 2600, where Mr. Griffith was a contributing writer, issued a statement on Twitter on Friday saying that his arrest was “an attack on all of us.” The magazine’s editor, who uses the pen name Emmanuel Goldstein, said on Twitter that what Mr. Griffith had done — explaining the concept of cryptocurrency — was not a crime. He added, “He’s a typical hacker who loves technology and adventure.”

A self-described ex-hacker, Mr. Griffith earned a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in computational and neural systems, then went to work in Silicon Valley, where he developed a reputation as a tech-world rebel.

[The New York Times]