North Korean women suffer serious sexual violence by authorities

Sexual violence against women by authorities, government officials and police is part of daily life in North Korea, according to a new report by  the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, which based its data on two years of interviews with more than 50 North Koreans who left the country — more than half of them after 2011. Titled, “You Cry at Night but Don’t Know Why,” the report claims to give viewers an inside look at what happens in detention facilities, open markets, checkpoints, trains and army bases.

The report detailed sexual abuse by men in official positions of power, such as prison guards, police officers, prosecutors, soldiers and market supervisors. “The North Koreans we spoke with told us that unwanted sexual contact and violence is so common that it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life: sexual abuse by officials, and the impunity they enjoy, is linked to larger patterns of sexual abuse and impunity in the country,” the report stated.

Defectors told the human rights group that government officials harmed them while they were in detention centers. “Interviewees told us that when a guard or police officer ‘picks’ a woman, she has no choice but to comply with any demands he makes, whether for sex, money or other favors,” the report said. “Women in custody have little choice should they attempt to refuse or complain afterward, and risk sexual violence, longer periods in detention, beatings, forced labor or increased scrutiny while conducting market activities.”

Yoon Mi Hwa, who fled the hermit kingdom in 2014, claimed in the report that a prison guard sexually abused her. “Click, click, click was the most horrible sound I ever heard,” she said. “It was the sound of the key of the cell of our prison room opening. Every night a prison guard would open the cell. I stood still quietly, acting like I didn’t notice, hoping it wouldn’t be me the one to have to follow the guard, hoping it wouldn’t be him.”

Oh Jung Hee, another woman interviewed in the report, said she had no idea she could resist the advances or report the sexual abuse. “It happens so often nobody thinks it is a big deal. Men who sexually assault women don’t think it is wrong, and we [women] do not either,” she said. “We don’t even realize when we are upset. But we are human, and we feel it. So sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don’t know why.”

Critics say North Korea’s human rights status has been ignored as nuclear negotiation talks continue. The report will likely anger North Korea, which often complains about what it claims is persistent U.S. hostility.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s propaganda service has billed the country as a “socialist paradise” free from crime, but Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the Human Rights Watch, said the regime could not ignore the report. “After this report, North Korea can’t say sexual violence doesn’t exist, so they have to either change their tune or fix the problem,” Roth said in a statement. “Kim Jong-un could stop this, he could enforce the laws North Korea already has on the books.”

[Fox News]

North Korea’s ‘bold and audacious’ millennials

From the outside, it might look like North Korea hasn’t changed much over the last seven decades. But from the inside, a fundamental shift has been taking place: an economic revolution led by a generation of millennials who grew up as capitalists in a theoretically-communist state.

They are the “Jangmadang Generation,” and they have emerged as the greatest force for change that North Korea has ever seen. Jangmadang are the markets that popped up during the devastating famine in the 1990s when the state could no longer provide for the people. North Koreans turned into entrepreneurs out of necessity. Those with corn made corn noodles; those with beans made tofu. Capitalism took root in this communist society, and the regime had to tolerate it or risk an uprising.

Take Joo Yang, who was 6 years old when the famine began and grew up seeing people dying of starvation or cold. She began thinking about doing business when she was 14, and started out by picking leftover soybeans from the chaff at a factory and selling them.

Or Kang Min, who was separated from his mother when he was 9 years old and never saw her again. He began a new life as a street beggar, or “flower swallow” as they are known in North Korea, and made his living as a pickpocket in the markets, working his way up to importing socks and batteries from China.

Or Danbi, who started importing clothes from China — copies of outfits worn in smuggled South Korean dramas — and had her good-looking friends walk through the markets in them, acting as human advertisements.

As a result of the famine, these kids grew up “bold and audacious,” says the mother of Geumju, another of the Jangmadang Generation.

Fast forward 20 years and those jangmadang are now the centerpiece of towns and cities across North Korea, having been retroactively legalized by a regime that knew it could not put this genie back in the bottle. Read more

[Washington Post]

North Koreans “living in peace with America, for everyone to have a better life.”

In North Korea, where leader Kim Jong-un has almost godlike status, to question him out loud is for many unthinkable. So by speaking out, market trader Sun Hui – not her real name – knows she is putting her life at risk.

“People criticize Kim Jong-un,” she says, reflecting wider discontent. “[They say] the little man uses his head to suck up money like a little vampire.”

If the regime knew of Sun Hui’s real identity, she would face severe punishment – imprisonment in one of the regime’s hard labor camps or even execution. And she may not be the only one to be punished – three generations of her family could also be sent to prison.

Sun Hui lives with her husband and two daughters, eating three meals a day when business is good at the markets where she works. When it isn’t, the rice is mixed with maize.

More than five million North Koreans are either “directly or indirectly” reliant on such markets, according to Daily NK. While the market trade in North Korea directly contradicts the regime’s hard-line communism, it also allows the population to feed itself amid a largely-defunct ration system and economic sanctions against the country.

The markets, sometimes containing hundreds of stalls, can also be a breeding ground for gossip and rumor. “Things are changing,” says Sun Hui. “They say we should get along with the South. More recently, they say we should be living in peace with America, for everyone to have a better life.”

It is a significant development.

[BBC]

Kim Jong-un invites Pope Francis to Pyongyang

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has invited Pope Francis to visit the country, South Korea’s presidential office has announced.

The invitation to visit Pyongyang will be delivered by South Korean president Moon Jae-in who will be in the Vatican next week as part of a trip to Europe.

No pope has ever visited North Korea, and North Korea and the Vatican have no formal diplomatic relations.

The invitation is the latest reconciliatory gesture from North Korea.

In 2000, Kim Jong-un’s father – Kim Jong-il – invited Pope John Paul II to visit North Korea after the pope was quoted as saying it would be “a miracle” if he could go there.

The visit never happened. The Vatican insisted at the time that a visit from the pope would only happen if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.

North Korea’s constitution promises a “right to faith” and state-controlled churches do exist. However, one human rights activist say this is all largely for show.

[BBC]

Experts say Kim Jong Un’s invitation to visit defunct nuclear testing site “pure PR”

Kim Jong Un’s supposed concession of inviting inspectors to a defunct nuclear testing site has been met with the equivalent of an eye roll from many experts.

“This is almost them reselling the same car to the Americans,” said Andrea Berger, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “We’re not inspecting a new action or a new facility. They already dismantled the site.”

The testing site, Punggye-ri, was closed six months ago because it was no longer needed by North Korea. Some of the tunnels in the mountain complex may have collapsed, rendering them unusable. North Korea invited inspectors to witness to site’s demolition in April, only to retract that and allow only journalists to attend. Extending the same offer to the Americans six months later, Berger said, amounts to an old concession dressed up as a new breakthrough.

“Chairman Kim invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Some feel that Kim and his officials are instead trying to buy time so they can make progress on other fronts, such as building economic ties and even declaring a long-awaited peace with South Korea, as well as increasing their international standing.

Inviting inspectors to an old testing site is an example of this calculus, according to Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT. “Kim has mastered the art of milking a single cosmetic concession for months to burn clock,” he wrote on Twitter.

James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, called the invitation to Punggye-ri “a joke” and “pure PR.”

[NBC]

Pompeo says North Korea ready to let inspectors into missile and nuclear sites

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was ready to allow international inspectors into the North’s nuclear and missile testing sites, one of the main sticking points over an earlier denuclearization pledge.

Pompeo, who met Kim during a short trip to Pyongyang on Sunday, said the inspectors would visit a missile engine test facility and the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site as soon as the two sides agree on logistics.

The top U.S. diplomat also said both sides were “pretty close” to agreement on the details of a second summit, which Kim proposed to U.S. President Donald Trump in a letter last month.

“Most importantly, both the leaders believe there’s real progress that can be made, substantive progress that can be made at the next summit,” Pompeo said.

Stephen Biegun, new U.S. nuclear envoy who was accompanying the secretary, said he offered on Sunday to meet his counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, “as soon as possible” and they were in discussion over specific dates and location.

Pompeo told South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday his latest trip to Pyongyang was “another step forward” to denuclearization but there are “many steps along the way”.

[Reuters]

North and South Korea begin removing landmines along fortified border

Troops from North and South Korea began removing some landmines along their heavily fortified border on Monday, the South’s defense ministry said, in a pact to reduce tension and build trust on the divided peninsula.

They have already dismantled propaganda loudspeakers and some guard posts along the border.

Details were agreed during last month’s summit in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The deal also provides for removal of guard posts and weapons from the JSA* to follow the removal of the mines, with the troops remaining there to be left unarmed. (*The JSA is the only spot along the 250-km [155-mile] -long “demilitarized zone” [DMZ] where troops from both Koreas are face to face.)

Since fighting during the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a stalemate, at least nine soldiers have been killed in incidents with North Korean troops, including the killing in 1976 of two U.S. soldiers by axe-wielding North Koreans.

[Reuters]

Many less North Korean defectors under Kim Jong Un

The number of North Korean defectors to South Korea has fallen since Kim Jong-un came to power seven years ago. Park Byeong-seug, a South Korean lawmaker citing data from the South’s unification ministry, said there had been 1,127 defections last year – compared with 2,706 in 2011.

Mr Park said tighter border controls between North Korea and China and higher rates charged by people smugglers were key factors. China regards the defectors as illegal migrants rather than refugees and often forcibly repatriates them.

Relations between the North and the South – who are still technically at war – have markedly improved in recent months. This came after June’s historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore, when they agreed in broad terms to work towards the nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

But on Saturday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho blamed US sanctions for the lack of progress since then. “Without any trust in the US, there will be no confidence in our national security and under such circumstances, there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first,” Mr Ri said in a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York.

[BBC]

North Korean black market thriving thanks to international sanctions

Choi Seong-guk, a defector who cartoons about the lives of North Koreans in the South, said his contacts in the North suggested that the black market was thriving thanks to international sanctions.

Choi said the sanctions had cut off essential supplies, forcing the desperate public to turn to smugglers and making it more difficult for Pyongyang to control the distribution of food and money. The regime appears to have tolerated the black market for years to keep the country afloat.

But there were signs that it may want to tighten control over the economy, Choi said. The North Korean regime started a political campaign against “jobless people”, he said.

“As the economic situation worsened in North Korea, lots of people abandoned their state-related jobs and started to run their own businesses to survive. They are called the ‘jobless’ in North Korea.

“The regime is monitoring those jobless people to destroy capitalism within North Korean society,” Choi said.

[South China Morning Post]

Pompeo floats prospect of officially ending Korean War ahead of Trump-Kim summit

Given the Trump administration’s goal of a complete, verifiable denuclearization of North Korea during President Trump’s first term, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is eager to maintain U.S.-North Korean engagement. As he prepares for upcoming discussions with the North Koreans, he is leaving one tool conspicuously on the table: the prospect of an official declaration to end the Korean War.

By leaving open the possibility, Pompeo is affirming that the U.S. is open to some form of negotiation with the North Koreans to achieve denuclearization — and he’s showing up armed with more than just demands. The Trump administration, which argues its efforts have averted war, insists it will press forward with the conversations with North Korea. Mr. Trump has said his next meeting with Kim will happen “in the not too distant future,” at a “location to be determined” — but not Singapore.

Until there is “final, full-verified” denuclearization, Pompeo says crippling U.S. sanctions against North Korea will remain in place, but the U.S. is using the prospect of a potential end of war declaration to keep the North Koreans at the table.

Critics warn that making such a grand barter with Kim may, however, only lead to even greater demands from North Korean negotiators. Other, more distant desires of the regime beyond a declaration ending the war include a formal peace treaty with the U.S., which could then see American forces removed from the Korean Peninsula.

[CBS]