Category: Humanitarian Aid and Relief

Opinion on second North Korea summit

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North Korea has forgone nuclear tests, missile tests and rhetorical attacks for more than 400 days. That’s an important development. At the same time, however, it continues to produce nuclear fuel, weapons and missiles. It has not denuclearized, as Mr. Trump has demanded.

So, as President Trump and Kim Jong-un prepare for their second summit (reportedly next month in Vietnam), the pressure is on the Trump administration to articulate a realistic strategy for achieving a mutually agreed upon outcome.

After their first meeting, Mr. Trump declared that North Korea, which possesses 20 to 60 nuclear weapons, the missiles to deliver them and the facilities to make even more, was “no longer a nuclear threat.” Saying so didn’t make it so.

A new report this week about a previously secret North Korean missile base at Sino-ri, 132 miles (212 kilometers) north of the Demilitarized Zone, is a reminder of how sprawling and hidden the country’s nuclear program is and how challenging any sort of outside inspections regime might be to carry out.

Publicly, the two sides still hew to staunch positions: The Trump administration insists that tough sanctions will stay in place until North Korea completely gives up its nuclear arsenal. North Korean officials insist on sanctions relief early in the process.

But small signs of movement led to plans for the second summit. Mr. Trump backed off his insistence on immediate disarmament, and his administration recently eased travel restrictions so American aid workers and humanitarian supplies could once again enter the impoverished country.

Mr. Kim’s annual New Year’s Day speech presented a somewhat more positive view of United States-North Korea relations, an encouraging sign.

One potentially significant change is that Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, last August appointed Stephen Biegun, a retired business executive with years of experience as a Republican foreign policy adviser, as the day-to-day negotiator. He is regarded by people in both parties as having a nuanced and pragmatic view of negotiations and diplomacy.

[Read full New York Times Opinion]

North Korean defector jailed for sending rice and cash to her homeland

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A North Korean defector was on Friday sentenced by the Seoul High Court to two-and-a-half years in jail for sending 130 tons of rice to her homeland as a “loyalty gift”.

It is an open secret North Korean defectors living in the South send small amounts of money to their relatives in the North but this case also involved an extraordinary amount of money sent to the North’s state security agency.

Upholding a lower court decision, the High Court rejected the accused’s claims she sent the rice to ensure the welfare of her son, who was left behind in the North when she defected to the South via China in 2011.

The woman, 50, has since made a small fortune by operating a massage parlour in the South. She sent 130 tons of rice in two instalments to coincide with the April 15 birthday of the North’s founding father Kim Il-sung in 2016 and the January 8 birthday of the current leader Kim Jong-un, via an intermediary associated with the North’s security agency. She also sent US$71,000 to the broker to send an additional 70 tons of rice to the impoverished state.

The court accepted prosecutors’ charges she sent the rice to prove her loyalty to Pyongyang as she sought to return to the North to reunite with her son, who has failed in his attempts to follow his mother in defecting to the South. Prosecutors charged her with providing the North with illegal aid in breach of the strict National Security Law.

[South China Morning Post]

North Korea and China project unity on sanctions

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The leaders of China and North Korea used a summit this week to project a show of unity in the face of stalled negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program and to press the U.S. to compromise.

The meetings gave Beijing a platform to underline its clout in global affairs and its critical leverage in resolving one of Washington’s top security challenges. The U.S., embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute with China over trade practices, needs the cooperation of President Xi Jinping to enforce sanctions on North Korea and to nudge his Communist ally into making concessions toward giving up his nuclear arsenal.

For Kim Jong Un, his fourth visit in a year to China carried a purposeful reminder for the Trump administration that it should prepare to give ground to get a denuclearization deal. The regime has been calling for sanctions relief from the U.S.

China’s leadership was instrumental in tightening sanctions and prodding Mr. Kim to the negotiating table last year. As North Korea’s biggest trading partner, aid provider and investor, China is critical to maintaining the pressure. To move ahead with denuclearization, Mr. Xi’s government has suggested a phased approach in which North Korean concessions should be met with ones from the international community—a position potentially at odds with Washington’s.

On Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in pressed the U.S. and North Korea to break the impasse in denuclearization talks, saying reciprocal concessions were needed to achieve the U.S. goal of disarming Pyongyang and Mr. Kim’s goal of obtaining sanctions relief.

With U.N. sanctions still in place, China’s willingness to aid North Korea’s economic ambitions is limited, said Kim Heung-kyu, a professor of political science at Ajou University in South Korea. “At the end, if North Korea wants what it wants, like becoming a normal state, pursuing economic growth, then it must achieve a breakthrough in talks with the U.S.,” he said.

[Wall Street Journal]

The Warmbiers’ court victory over North Korea

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This week, a federal judge ordered North Korea to pay the parents of Otto Warmbier and their son’s estate more than $501 million for fatally mistreating him and causing the death of the University of Virginia student.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier filed the legal action in April seeking damages. The North Korean government never responded. On Dec. 19, Beryl Howell, chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., heard evidence from the Warmbier family and North Korea experts. On Christmas Eve, Howell issued a 46-page opinion granting the Warmbiers a default judgment and the damages.

Otto Warmbier, of Wyoming, Ohio, was ending a visit to North Korea in January 2016 when authorities arrested him at the airport in the capital city of Pyongyang. Three weeks later, Warmbier delivered a stilted “confession” to stealing a poster from a hotel. In March 2016, Warmbier was convicted in a show trial of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

In June 2017, the North Korean government released Otto Warmbier, but he returned to Cincinnati with a massive brain injury that had left him blind, deaf and unable to move under his own power. He died June 19, 2017, at 21.

Otto Wambier was an unfortunate pawn to North Korea. The judge pointed out that four days after Warmbier’s detention at the Pyongyang airport, North Korea claimed to have tested its first hydrogen bomb. A few days later, after Congress passed new sanctions on North Korea, and the NK government released Warmbier’s “confession.” The trial and sentencing occurred one day after President Barack Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on North Korea.

[USA Today]

US sanctions three North Korean officials for rights abuses

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The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on three North Korea officials, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing “ongoing and serious human rights abuses and censorship,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.

The sanctions “shine a spotlight on North Korea’s reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea, and serve as a reminder of North Korea’s brutal treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier,” the department said in a statement. Warmbier was an American student who died in June 2017 after 17 months of detention in North Korea, which contributed to already tense exchanges between Pyongyang and Washington, primarily over North Korea’s nuclear development program.

The sanctions freeze any assets the officials may have under U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibits them from engaging in any transactions with anyone in the United States.

Ryong Hae Choe, an aide close to Kim who, according to the U.S. Treasury, heads the Workers’ Party of Korea Organization and Guidance Department, was sanctioned, as were State Security Minister Kyong Thaek Jong and the director of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, Kwang Ho Pak.

[Reuters]

Another North Korean soldier flees to the South

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A North Korean soldier fled across a heavily fortified border to defect to South Korea early on Saturday, the military in Seoul said, just as the rivals began taking steps to reduce military tensions.

South Korean soldiers escorted the defector to safety after finding him moving south of the eastern side of the military demarcation line that bisects the Koreas, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said.

The incident came as Donald Trump reaffirmed in a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in that he wants a second summit with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Trump and Moon, meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, “reaffirmed their commitment to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

South Korean authorities said they would question the defecting soldier over the details of his escape.

The North’s official media has not reported about Saturday’s case. Pyongyang has frequently accused Seoul of kidnapping or enticing its citizens to defect.

In November 2017 a North Korean soldier, Oh Chong-song, was critically wounded in a jointly controlled area after he fled to the South amid a hail of bullets fired by his former comrades.

[The Guardian]

North Korea reacts strongly to human rights criticism

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North Korea’s appalling human rights record has become the latest barrier to a rapprochement between Pyongyang and Washington.

The North Korean government accused the United States this week of “stoking confrontation” and “inciting an atmosphere of hostility” by calling a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss human rights in the country, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier this month, the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee adopted an annual resolution expressing deep concern “at the grave human rights situation, the pervasive culture of impunity and the lack of accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” The resolution was co-sponsored by 61 countries, including South Korea, and is certain to be adopted by the 193-member General Assembly next month for the 14th year in a row. The U.N. Security Council has also discussed North Korean human rights in each of the past four years.

But North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Song, accused the United States and other, unnamed countries of “trying to employ all possible wicked and sinister methods” to hold a council meeting on Dec. 10. A government  commentary said the complaints about human rights were cooked up by defectors, describing them as “human scum who ran away after committing unpardonable crimes, who had turned their back upon their parents and children, and who would do anything for small amounts of money.”

North Korean Ambassador Kim sent letters to all council members except the United States, urging them to vote against holding the meeting, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the letter. An equally angry commentary was published Monday in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, accusing Washington of using human rights to secure more concessions in talks about the North’s nuclear program.

In October, the United Nations’ independent investigator on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, told the General Assembly that the human rights situation inside North Korea has not improved despite progress on peace and security this year. In 2014, a report by a U.N. panel found “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” in North Korea without parallel in the world, which in many cases constituted “crimes against humanity” and were the result of policies established “at the highest level” of the state. These crimes included murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, enforced disappearances and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.

[The Washington Post]

Children of North Korean mothers find more hardship in the South

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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.”

[The New York Times]

 

Children of North Korean mothers: ‘For all my scars, I can still smile’

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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.

[The New York Times]

Russia condemned for handing over North Korean defector

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Russian authorities have reportedly arrested, tried and repatriated a North Korean worker who was preparing to defect from a labor camp in the Russian Far East, with human rights activists suggesting Moscow has started to cooperate with Pyongyang in its crackdown on defectors.

The worker – identified as 29-year-old Jun Kyung-chul – had served as a private in the North Korean People’s Army before being sent to work in Russia about one year ago, the Daily NK, a Seoul-based dissident news site, reported. Unhappy at the grueling work conditions, he had made plans to defect to South Korea before being caught.

An unnamed source told the Daily NK that North Korean authorities requested the assistance of Russia in detaining Mr Jun, who was put on trial in the city of Vladivostok on November 7. Mr Jun was convicted, handed over to the custody of representatives of the Pyongyang government and transferred over the border to North Korea the same day. Human rights activists say the speed with which the investigators acted and the Russian authorities’ apparent disregard for Mr Jun’s likely fate should be cause for concern.

“If other defectors’ cases are anything to go by, it is very likely that he and all his extended family will have been sent to a political prison camp”, said Ken Kato, director of the Japan branch of Human Rights in Asia.

There are reports that as many as 50,000 North Koreans are working in slave-like conditions in mines, factories and logging camps in Siberia, with their wages paid directly to the government in Pyongyang.

[The Telegraph]