A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
The United States has dropped a bid to hold a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea’s human rights record after failing to garner enough support for the talks, diplomats said Friday.
The meeting has been held every year since 2014, as the US has always garnered the nine votes needed at the council to hold the meeting, despite opposition from China.
North Korea had written to council members last month to urge them to block the US request for the meeting that shines a spotlight on Pyongyang’s dismal record. North Korean Ambassador Kim Song last month told council members that criticism of Pyongyang’s human rights record would “swim against the current trend” of rapprochement and “stoke confrontation.”
China had failed to derail the meeting until this year, when non-permanent member Ivory Coast refused to bow to pressure to lend its backing to the US. China, which has strong expanding ties in Africa, has argued that the Security Council is not the venue to discuss human rights as a threat to international peace and security.
A landmark 2014 report by a UN Commission of Inquiry documented human rights abuses on an appalling scale in North Korea, describing a vast network of prison camps where detainees are subjected to torture, starvation and summary executions. The report accused leader Kim Jong Un of atrocities and concluded that he could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. North Korea has rejected the report as a fabrication, based on testimony from dissidents living in exile.
North Korea is expanding an important missile base that would be one of the most likely sites for deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, two experts on the North’s missile programs said Thursday, citing new research based on satellite imagery.
The activities at the Yeongjeo-dong missile base near North Korea’s border with China and the expansion of a new suspected missile facility seven miles away are the latest indications that North Korea is continuing to improve its missile capabilities, said Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California.
“The base is located in the interior of North Korea, backed up against the Chinese border,” they said. “It is this location that leads us to believe that the general area is a strong candidate for the deployment of future missiles that can strike the United States.” Military planners in Seoul and Washington have long suspected that North Korea would deploy its intercontinental ballistic missiles as close to China as possible to reduce the likelihood of pre-emptive strikes from the United States.
Using satellite imagery, they located tunnels in Yeongjeo-dong that might be used for storing missiles and the construction of a new headquarters, as well as a pair of drive-through shelters in Hoejung-ni suitable for large ballistic missiles and “an extremely large underground facility” under construction further up a narrow valley.
A series of United Nations resolutions require North Korea to give up its ballistic missile program. But the country has never signed any agreement to curtail or disclose its missile capabilities. Following his June summit meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, Mr. Trump claimed that there was “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
In a sense, Donald Trump’s campaign to denuclearize North Korea is bearing fruit: The Korean War is beginning to end. Seoul and Pyongyang have been dismantling guard posts, designating no-fly zones, and disarming what was once the most volatile place on the peninsula. Indeed, by the estimation of the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, North and South Korea have already fully implemented about one third of the more than two dozen reconciliation agreements they reached in a pair of summits between the nations’ leaders in April and September.
The Koreas have suspended certain military exercises near the military demarcation line (MDL) separating the countries, cleared hundreds of land mines in the area (millions remain), and linked a road as part of an effort to excavate the remains of soldiers who died during the Korean War. They have covered up coastal artillery and warship-mounted guns and established a no-fly zone in the vicinity of the border. They are now exploring ways to jointly secure the iconic border village of Panmunjom and allow unarmed guards, civilians, and foreign tourists to move about on either side of the MDL there for the first time in more than 40 years.
While it’s hard to overstate what’s at stake in these seemingly minor developments, several of the meatiest measures require U.S. consent and are on hold. North and South Korea, for example, can’t collaborate on economic and tourism projects or actually get inter-Korean roads and railways up and running until international sanctions against North Korea are eased. They’ve also encountered resistance in calling for the leaders of the two Koreas, the United States, and perhaps China to formally declare an end to the Korean War, which came to a halt in an armistice in 1953.
But where Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have freer rein and have arguably made the greatest advances is in enacting various accords to cease military hostilities between their countries. The progress, though still modest and tentative, is all the more remarkable given the comparatively sluggish pace at the moment of nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea.
Several North Korean defectors have recently been arrested in Dandong, China, by Chinese police and almost immediately repatriated back to North Korea, according to sources close to the matter.
“Two laborers who were working at a metalworks company in Sinuiju were arrested by Chinese police. They were repatriated back to North Korea over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge the day after they were questioned by the Chinese,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on November 20.
A source with knowledge of the incident in China said, “In the past, many defectors could avoid being caught if they hid from the police for a couple of days, but these days the Chinese police have strengthened their patrols and there are now fewer defections.”
Another similar incident occurred said a separate source in China. “A defector hid in a reed field near the mouth of the Yalu River for three days before trying to swim across to Langtou Port to reach Chinese territory, but was arrested by Chinese police in the process,” he said, adding that the man was sent back across the Sino-Korean Friendship bridge soon after being questioned by Chinese authorities.
The Chinese have strengthened patrols along the Sino-DPRK border and installed more surveillance equipment, which has made it more difficult for North Koreans to defect, the source said. Chinese authorities began installing high-quality surveillance cameras on the Sino-DPRK border several years ago and have used thermal imaging cameras to crack down on defections and smuggling activities at night. The advanced surveillance equipment has been used to track the movements of North Koreans near the border and arrest those who try to defect into Chinese territory.
“Boats are used in the river for smuggling and these activities are not easy for Chinese authorities to track,” said the source. “By comparison, the authorities can relatively easily track movements of people coming over the border [..] The use of hundreds of cameras that can read very small print from 2 km away means that North Koreans have little chance of successfully defecting across the border.”
There are growing concerns about the safety of North Koreans trying to defect to China. “The Kim Jong Un regime may severely punish those attempting to cross over into China, so China’s moves to repatriate defectors back to North Korea can be seen as a crime against humanity,” one North Korean analyst told Daily NK on condition of anonymity. “The international community must call for the end of these repatriations.”
After Seon-mi’s mother escaped North Korea, hoping to find her way to South Korea, she was sold by traffickers to a man in a northeastern Chinese village. The man was a violent schizophrenic, but the mother was trapped. She lacked proper papers in China and was vulnerable to forced repatriation to North Korea, where she could face imprisonment, torture or worse. The two had a child, Seon-mi, who is now 11.
“I used to cry in the corner of the room while my father thrashed my mom,” Seon-mi recalled of her early years in China. “She once attempted suicide with rat poison.” When Seon-mi was about 6, her Chinese father murdered his own parents with a knife and then killed himself. But before he did so, he slashed Seon-mi nine times in the chin, neck and shoulder. Despite repeated plastic surgeries in South Korea, which the mother and daughter finally reached, the girl’s scars are still visible.
Seon-mi’s mother reached South Korea with the help of a smuggler and later sent for Seon-mi, who could go there legally because, having been born in China, she held a Chinese passport.
When children were born in China, South Korea’s government does not officially consider them defectors from the North. That means they get limited access to the governmental support normally given to defectors, like free health care, free college enrollment and housing subsidies.
Once enrolled in South Korean schools, classmates often taunt them for their background and for not speaking Korean well. Further complicating matters is that their mothers often start new families with men they meet in South Korea, straining ties at home.
Many drop out of school and end up in shelters, like the Rev. Chun Ki-won’s Durihana International School in Seoul, as Seon-mi did soon after her arrival in South Korea in 2015. Read more
“These children are more disadvantaged than North Korean defectors themselves,” Mr. Chun said. “Giving them South Korean citizenship is about all the government does for them.”
Inside the Durihana International School and shelter in Seoul, a choir of defectors’ children practiced with teenage volunteers from South Korean families. Most of the 60 children in the shelter were born in China, to a North Korean mother who had defected and ended purchased by and indentured to Chinese men.
“I am not alone,” they sang. “For all my scars, I can still smile.”
“Making the refugee children smile has been one of the hardest parts of the choir practice,” said Kim Hee-churl, the general manager of the Korean Federation for Choral Music, who volunteered to coach the children. “This is more like a therapy session to instill them with self-confidence.”
Da-hee, 13, who was born in South Korea, used to get into fistfights with classmates who called her a “commie” because both of her parents had fled the North. By the time she was brought to the shelter in August, she had been living on the streets, smoking, drinking and stealing coins from laundromats.
Mi-yeon, 15, grew up in Mudanjiang in northeastern China, where she often saw her alcoholic Chinese father beat up her North Korean mother. Amid the family violence, Mi-yeon learned that her father had “bought” her mother for 6,500 renminbi (about $943). Her father once reported her mother as an illegal migrant to the Chinese police, so she was sent back to North Korea. After she was released from prison there and made her way back to China, he bought her again.
Mi-yeon tagged along when her mother fled China with the help of smugglers in 2014. On their way to South Korea via Laos, the two met other North Korean women fleeing the Chinese men who had purchased them. One woman said her “husband” showed her off by forcing her to appear naked before his friends.
“Many Chinese men treated their North Korean wives nicely, buying them identification documents, but others treated their women like slaves or toys,” Mi-yeon said. “I wanted my mom to live free from my father and free from the fear of getting caught by the Chinese police and sent back to North Korea again.”
In South Korea, Mi-yeon had trouble making friends in school after rumors spread that she was from China. Her mother worked overtime and hardly had time to look after her, and she began seeing another man. So Mi-yeon came to the shelter in 2016.
In a barely audible voice, Won-hyok, 14, added that he and his younger brother preferred the shelter to living with their father, his new wife and their baby.
As he turns his attention to building North Korea’s economy, Kim Jong Un’s Achilles heel is his country’s power grid. The grid is leaky, archaic and badly needing repairs. What electricity there is is unevenly distributed. Flashlights are commonplace on the streets or in otherwise darkened apartments. In rural villages, even that often fades to black.
The whole nation of 25 million people uses about the same amount of electricity each year as Washington alone. It uses as much crude oil in a year as the U.S. consumes in just 12 hours. While North Korea has about half the population of South Korea, the South’s electricity consumption in 2014 was about 40 times bigger.
Hydroelectricity, which is subject to seasonal swings, provides about half of the fuel supplied to the North Korean national energy grid. Coal accounts for the other half. Years of intensive sanctions have severely impacted North Korea’s supply of fossil fuels from the outside world, and spurred the country to cobble together a smorgasbord of energy resources.
North Korea must import about 3 million to 4 million barrels of crude oil each year to sustain its economy. Under U.N. sanctions imposed late last year, North Korea can import a maximum 500,000 barrels of refined oil products along with 4 million barrels of crude oil per year.
Along with its Chinese connection, the North has been supplied by Russian tankers. It has found willing suppliers in the Middle East, or on the open market. Since the imposition of the import cap, Pyongyang has been implicated in increasingly sophisticated schemes to augment its supplies with hard-to-track transfers of oil by tankers at sea. Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, claimed the amount of illegally transferred oil was 160 percent of the annual 500,000 barrel cap.
David von Hippel and Peter Hayes of the Nautilus Institute, who have been following North Korea’s energy issue for years, found that imports of diesel- and gasoline-powered generators, coupled with solar panels that are already ubiquitous in the North, are creating an energy system increasingly independent of the national power grid.
Still, keeping the power on often can be an elaborate routine. Solar panels, the cheapest option, can keep a room lit, a mobile phone working and maybe a TV or another appliance going. When electricity from the grid is actually flowing, it can be used to charge batteries before the next blackout hits. Those with a little more clout or money use diesel- or gas-powered generators that can power anything from a restaurant to an apartment block.
Scott Kim first escaped North Korea at the age of 17, and ended up in and out of China for six years. Paying a broker to make it to South Korea was far out of reach for Kim and his mother. Instead, they lived as undocumented immigrants and worked as farm laborers in China. But one year after escaping North Korea, Kim’s neighbor reported his status to the police, who brought him and his mother back to North Korea.
Kim was taken to a detention center, where authorities determine where to send defectors next. He was put in a cell with 20 other defectors. There was one toilet in the corner and no space to lie down. Day and night, the defectors sat on the ground. When he or other defectors were told to proceed down the corridor to the warden’s office, they were made to crawl on their hands and feet. Officers beat them with gloves and sticks as they went. “We lost all our rights as human beings,” Kim said. “We were treated like animals, literally. We had to crawl on the floor to move from place to place.”
Despite the fact that one of North Korea’s biggest reeducation camps is in Chongori, near his hometown in Musan, Kim was sent to a center further south. Because no one knew him — and internet and phone service was nonexistent at the time — he was able to lie about his age, telling guards he was only 15 years old and had been in China looking for his mother. Rather than send him to one of the country’s brutal labor camps or political camps, he was sent to a center for orphaned children.
Shortly after arriving, he escaped and went back to China, where he got work as a farm laborer near Helong, a city in northeastern China. “Every day, I planted, farmed, logged on the mountain. Corn, beans, potatoes,” he said. “Life was better because I was not starving. I could eat and be full after meals.”
Kim was caught a second time, a neighbor again reporting him to the police. This second time he was sent back to North Korea, he wasn’t so lucky. He was sent to the concentration camp near his hometown. From there he was sent to a labor camp, where for months he chopped down trees on a mountain. He escaped one day when he realized that all his fellow laborers were at the top of the mountain chopping while he was at the bottom. He ran away as fast as he could until he found a train that he could take him north to cross the border with China again.
After some time in China, he was caught a third time and sent to a camp for political prisoners — the worst place to be sent, as imprisonment there is interminable. He escaped the camp by bribing the authorities through a broker, who helped him make it across the border with China a final time.
In China, he went back to work to pay off his debt to the broker. One day, he got a call from a North Korean woman who told him that his mother was dying of cancer. For the first time in many years, the two saw each other. “When I opened the door of my mother’s house, I froze, and couldn’t say anything, because my mother looked incredibly different,” he said. “There was no fat on her, and her whole body looked like a triangle, I just went outside and cried for a long time and came back again, and I embraced my mother and we cried together.”
Several days later, a friend of his mother offered his mother the opportunity to escape to South Korea via Laos and Cambodia. A broker was taking a group; they had an extra space. Unable to walk, Kim’s mother told Kim he had to go and become educated. Once he was settled, she said, he could bring her and help others in need. He decided to go. The night before Kim and the group of defectors were to cross the border into Laos, he received a call telling him that his mother had died.
In 2007, six years after he first escaped, Kim finally made it to South Korea.
Seong Ho grew up in North Korea during the extreme famine of the 1990s. To survive, the young teen would often swipe coal from train cars in exchange for food – which was rarely more than rats and grass.
But tragedy struck one day in 1996. Malnourished, exhausted and slowly starving to death, Seong-ho – whose own grandmother died of starvation – fainted, fell onto the tracks and was struck by a train. In the bloody aftermath, nearby soldiers wrapped his fragile frame in old rags, and shuffled him to a barely functioning hospital in a cart. The wailing boy had to have his left hand and foot amputated – without anesthesia, without anything to dull the horrifying agony.
From there, life as a disabled child in an impoverished, closed society only became lonelier, as he was made fend for himself. Four years later, Seong Ho snuck into China to collect food scraps – but upon returning, was arrested and tortured by North Korean authorities.
That made up his mind: He couldn’t stay. Six years later, in 2006, Seong-ho finally fled – with just an old pair of wooden crutches – across the Tumen River into China. From there he went into Laos, then Thailand, finally ending up in South Korea.
Now living in Seoul, Seong Ho is studying law at Dongguk University.
My name is Charles. I was born in North Korea on October 1st, 1994. My father left us when I was five years old and my mother passed away six years later from starvation. For years, I had to figure out how to live alone. I begged for food from strangers on the street, battling starvation and freezing weather.
One day my stepbrother came to find me and take me in. I lived with him for a while and when I was 14 years old he brought me to my father in China. Life was so much better in China and I remember thinking there would be no more starvation and no more begging for a place to sleep. Yet nine months later, the Chinese police came to our house and arrested my family.
We were kept in a Chinese jail for two weeks. At age 16 I was sent back to North Korea where I was detained. Each meal consisted of a single piece of corn. After eight months, I was finally released. I was just skin and bones – I had almost starved to death.
I began working in a coal mine which allowed me to buy rice to eat. Work in the coal mine was very risky — I saw people lose their arms and legs as they were smashed under the rocks. I was afraid and I couldn’t help thinking that I would soon lose an arm or a leg myself. After working in the mine for a year, I realized I couldn’t stay in North Korea any longer. My journey began when I boarded a train to take me closer to the border of China and North Korea. I was riding illegally and though I managed to hide during most of the ride I was at one point caught by the train security without my birth certificate. They locked me in a room with plans to kick me off at the next stop. As the train slowed, I realized that I might be able to escape through the window. I walked for hours, illegally boarded a second train, and then, finally, I was at the border of China and North Korea.
I knew I had to cross the Tumen River. I hid in tall grass for six hours, waiting for darkness. Finally, I took a deep breath and stepped into the water. Suddenly, I felt a light on my head. A border guard screamed, “Come back here or we’ll shoot you.” I was terrified, and I thought I would never make it because the current kept pulling me under, but I just kept swimming. At last, I made it to the river’s shore.
My journey did not end when I got to China. I traveled by foot, van, bus, motorcycle, and boat. My shoes fell apart and my feet bruised and bled. I went for days without food and water and there were times when I wanted to give up. I cried many days until I couldn’t cry anymore because I was too dehydrated. When I made it to my father’s house, I expected him to welcome me, but he beat me and asked me why I had come to him. I saw that he did not want me!
I escaped the eyes of many police officers and finally made it to Southeast Asia where I was safe. For months I stayed in a Korean Embassy refugee camp and then an international refugee camp where I was finally helped to come to the United States.