Category: Humanitarian Aid and Relief

What really happened at the North Korean Embassy in Madrid?

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[According to the Free Joseon official website:] In early 2019, Christopher Ahn, Adrian Hong, and their colleagues – as part of The Provisional Government of Free Joseon (formerly called Cheollima Civil Defense) – traveled to Madrid, Spain, to rescue North Korean diplomats who had requested their help to defect.

According to Spanish media reports, Adrian Hong, Christopher Ahn and others were welcomed into the embassy in broad daylight by a defecting North Korean diplomat. More footage obtained by Fox News reportedly shows the men interviewing diplomats who wished to defect to freedom. At this time, Spanish court documents indicate that a North Korean woman, who presumably sought to prevent her colleagues from defecting, jumped from a window and alerted local Spanish police to what she fabricated as an ‘assault’ and ‘raid.’

The North Korean diplomats who originally intended to defect witnessed a heavily armed Spanish police force positioning outside the embassy, and understandably abandoned their plans to defect out of fear of being repatriated back to North Korea to face certain torture and execution.

According to Spanish court documents and media reports, Ahn, Hong and others engaged in nearly 5 hours of conversation and interviews with the North Korean diplomats who had wished to defect. Given the likelihood that they were to be arrested by Spanish police for this rescue attempt, media reports then described how the rescue team escaped the embassy and immediately returned to the United States.

Adrian Hong then reportedly arranged a meeting with the FBI in New York where he volunteered the intelligence, including what is likely an encryption cipher used by the current North Korean regime to plan assassinations and arms sales abroad that threaten the United States homeland. Rather than demonstrating gratitude, the involved United States Government officials, who as per media reports have become increasingly desperate to appease the current North Korean totalitarian regime, allegedly took the critical intelligence and then leaked information on the identities of Christopher Ahn, Adrian Hong, and their fellow rescuers.

Spanish court documents show that Madrid then issued extradition warrants based solely on the information provided by the United States and the false testimonies of North Korean diplomats.

Christopher Ahn, Adrian Hong, and the rest of the rescue team risked their lives to deliver North Korean defectors to safety, and are now high priority targets of a regime that has committed countless acts of brazen assassination.

[Source: Freedom for Free Joseon]

North Korean refugee: Why is the US, Spain punishing us?

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The following is authored by a North Korean defector, and a member of the Free Joseon, who was part of the group who entered the North Korean Embassy in Madrid on February 22, 2019:

I am a North Korean refugee. After being orphaned as a child, I faced hunger daily and fled alone as a young teenager to China before getting captured, repatriated and sentenced to forced labor and starvation in an internment camp. I witnessed public executions, suicides, and mass starvation, the everyday atrocities in an evil totalitarian regime.

I am grateful to have experienced freedom and a full stomach. My friends and family and millions of my countrymen have not experienced such luxuries. The world has forgotten them.

When I learned of the existence of the North Korean dissident group  Provisional Government of Free Joseon, I was overwhelmed with joy and relief. Finally, I had discovered a group of people who felt a personal responsibility to stop the crimes against humanity in my homeland. …I found my purpose and my destiny: to use the privileges I had been given as an adult to help save those left behind. Those who still live in the hell I was freed from.

Fast forward to February 2019. I was at the North Korean embassy in Spain to help a North Korean diplomat defect. Stepping inside the embassy was like being transported back to North Korea. The walls were lined with propaganda singing praises to North Korea’s leaders. Each room had portraits of the leaders – watching your every move and thought, peering into your soul. … They were the faces of the leaders who had driven their people into poverty, oppression and starvation. Men who turned us into animals while growing fat off luxury goods and threatening the world with nuclear weapons.

I stepped on a chair, raised the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, turned and smashed them on the ground. I cannot explain how that felt. It was as though I was striking a blow on behalf of millions upon millions of my people, dead, alive or yet unborn, against this evil injustice. The sound of the shattering glass felt as though the chains in my heart also shattered.

These men [Adrian Hong and Chris Ahn] are heroes. They and their families deserve better. Somehow, the United States is now hunting us on behalf of Pyongyang, via Spain. …I cannot fathom why Spain would take North Korean testimony at face value and issue arrest warrants. If the intent was simply to harm or steal, why not leave in minutes? Would a group seeking to attack or raid use their own passports, enter via the front gate in the middle of broad daylight with neighbors walking around, and stay for five hours?

I ask the Spanish courts to drop the charges against these men. I ask the United States to deny extradition.

[Read full article at Fox News Opinion]

Increased number of North Korean defectors to South Korea in 2019

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A total of 546 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea in the first half of 2019, a 12 per cent rise from the figure recorded in the same months a year earlier, the South Korean government has announced.

The number of people fleeing the North reached an annual high of 2,914 in 2009, while the average number is between 1,000 and 1,500 since current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un came to power in late 2011.

More than 32,000 North Korean defectors currently live in South Korea and Seoul has announced plans to expand state subsidies to help refugees settle.

[AAP]

Human rights related to North Korean nuclear talks Part 1

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Young-jun Park recalls life in North Korea as defined by deprivation. Food shortages that wrought starvation. The lack of health care that brought more death. Park and his family eventually found their way to Seoul. In the ensuing years, he finished high school and graduated college, and he now works at a nonprofit funded by the South Korean government that assists North Korean refugees. “North Koreans are struggling so much,” Park says.

Reports from Human Rights Watch and the U.N. show that little progress on human rights has occurred in North Korea since Mr. Park fled in 2009, or in the five years since a U.N. investigation found that its government had committed “a wide array of crimes against humanity.”

The state-imposed violations include forced labor for adults and students, torture and execution of political prisoners, and pervasive abuse of women, children, and people with disabilities. Civil liberties enshrined in the country’s constitution – freedom of speech, religion, and the press – remain a mirage.

The funneling of state resources into weapons programs, coupled with a poor harvest season and the impact of international sanctions, has created a food crisis for some 10 million North Koreans, 40% of the population. Human rights advocates warn of a recurrence of the mid-1990s famine that killed as many as 3 million people if conditions fail to improve.

North Korea has enlisted China’s help to stop the flow of refugees – the Chinese government sends back defectors as a matter of policy – and those arrested face punishment ranging from indefinite prison terms to the death penalty. Even so, desperate to find freedom, thousands attempt to flee every year.

“They know there’s no future in North Korea,” says Gyoung-bin Ko, president of the Hana Foundation. “They want to give a better life to their children.” Read more

Human rights related to North Korean nuclear talks Part 2

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Recent reports from Human Rights Watch and the United Nations confirm that a thriving North Korea exists only in propaganda promoted by President Kim Jong Un. Yet as U.S. and South Korean officials seek to persuade him to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, they have seldom broached the issue of human rights.

The omission has drawn scrutiny from advocates as much for the proximity and shared history of the countries as for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s background as a human rights lawyer. Chung-in Moon, a special adviser to President Moon, asserts that pushing human rights to the fore would sink negotiations.  “You can’t raise human rights with North Korea. If you do, they won’t listen after that,” Chung-in Moon says. He views defusing the nuclear threat as a necessary first step. “Once we solve that, then we can address the issue of human rights, and North Korea will be more open to doing its part.”

Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch, considers the silence from U.S. and South Korean officials on North Korea’s living conditions a form of abandonment. “A nuclear deal might be good for the rest of the world,” he says. “But it won’t change the lives of the North Korean people one bit.”

The Hana Foundation, established by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification in 2010, provides an array of resettlement services to refugees. Mindful of the ministry’s oversight, Gyoung-bin Ko the president of the Hana Foundation, demurs on the subject of whether government officials should press Mr. Kim on human rights. He says simply, “We have a long way to go.”

“Peace will mean the end of sanctions and bring outside investment,” says Spencer Kim, co-founder of the Pacific Century Institute, a nonprofit policy and research firm. “That will be the biggest driver of human rights.”

[Christian Science Monitor]

North Korean cybersex slave meets pastor online

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It was during the summer of 2018 that Lee Yumi finally saw her chance to escape her unwanted life as a cybersex slave.

In order to keep a close eye on them, Lee’s captor slept in the living room of the small apartment from where she worked along with another young North Korean woman, Kwang. “The front door was always locked from the outside and there was no handle on the inside. … Every six months, he would take us out to the park. During those outings, he would always stay right next to us, so we never got to talk to anyone,” said Lee. In 2015, Lee tried to escape by climbing out of a window and down a metal drain, but she fell and hurt her back and leg. She still limps slightly.

“One day one of my customers [from South Korea] realized I was North Korean and was being held captive,” said Lee. While most men probably knew the girls weren’t South Korean, because North Koreans have different accents and dialects to people in the south, they chose to look the other way. This man was different. “He bought a laptop and let me take control of the screen remotely, so I could send messages without my boss noticing,” Lee said.

The man also gave her the phone number of a South Korean pastor named Chun Ki-Won, one of a band of Korean pastors who specialize in helping North Korean women escape from China. Chun said his Christian aid organization, Durihana, has helped over 1,000 defectors reach Seoul since 1999. Korean media has nicknamed him the Asian Schindler, after the German industrialist and Nazi Party member who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews.

In September 2018, Lee contacted Pastor Chun on a Korean messaging service. “Hi, I want to go to South Korea. Can you help me?” read the first message she sent.

Over the following weeks, a plan was hatched: Chun would send a team to Yanji to extract Lee and her fellow sex slave Kwang. On October 26, while Yumi’s boss was away for the day, Durihana‘s members arrived at the foot of the building. The two girls knotted their bedsheets together and dropped them out of their window. The extraction team then tied a rope to the sheets, which the girls pulled up and used to lower themselves safely to the ground.

After escaping Yanji, Lee and Kwang traveled across China on buses and trains using fake Korean passports. Their last stop was Kunming, in China’s deep southwest. Lee and Kwang met with a Chinese man who took them across the mountains into a neighboring country. “We walked for five hours through the jungle, before reaching a road where a car was waiting for us,” said Kwang.

Chun later met them in the middle of the night on the side of a road. “I burst into tears as soon as I saw him,” said Kwang, who is now 24 years old. “For the first time in a very long time, I felt safe.”

As they rode towards the South Korean embassy, Lee stared giddily at the urban landscape unfolding before her eyes. “I’m so happy!” she said, as the embassy approached. The embassy, which receives about 10 defectors a month, according to officials, kept the women for about 10 days for questioning. Defectors who satisfy the questioning process then fly to freedom in South Korea. Read more

North Korean defectors deserve an international response

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In the past year, the number of North Korean defectors has declined by approximately 17% with even fewer making it to South Korea. This is largely due to the increase in security monitoring on the Chinese border and an increase in police patrols in some of North Korea’s metropolitan cities. As it stands, the majority of defecting refugees escape from the North Eastern provinces (roughly 80%) as these are less militarized and provide easier access into China.

The repatriation policy of the Chinese government owes to the fact that defectors are considered “illegal economic migrants.” Given that the preservation of this relationship takes precedence over the rights, protections and freedom of North Korean refugees it is incumbent on the U.S. and the extended international community to respond to this crisis in an appropriate way. China, itself negligible when it comes to human rights, won’t change its policy soon.

There are however many not-for-profit organizations based in South Korea that actively promote the rights and freedoms of North Korean defectors which is cause for hope.

On the international stage, U.S. President Donald Trump has met with Kim Jong Un in relation to denuclearisation and the lifting of economic sanctions. These meetings have also included a brief focus on human rights. There remains an opportunity for U.S. foreign policy makers to instigate change in relation to the situation by way of incorporating human rights dialogue into the talks and future relationship of the U.S. and North Korea.

In July 2018, The North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2017  outrightly condemned the treatment of North Korean citizens by the oppressive regime and called upon the regime to respect the rights of its citizens. On top of this, it also supported the allocation of funds to support a special envoy on North Korean human rights at an international level. As a result, the meetings between Kim and Trump have followed on from this renewed legislation which ought to give the international community cause for more hope. While denuclearisation is important, human rights dialogue must factor into the North Korean strategy.

[The Organization for World Peace]

Where sympathy for North Korea defectors lies

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Most North Koreans seeking sanctuary in China cross the Tumen River into Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. With its large population of Korean-Chinese, North Koreans have a chance of finding people with whom they can communicate and who are willing to provide them shelter and economic support.

Despite the national Chinese policy of arrest and deportation, local implementation in Yanbian is tempered by intra-ethnic solidarity that Korean-Chinese officials feel for their deprived brothers and sisters from North Korea. Furthermore, many people in Yanbian either have direct experience, or have learned of their parents’ experiences, of being sheltered in North Korea during the political chaos and economic dislocation during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. These experiences generate sympathy for the plight of North Koreans.

If individuals cross the border to survive and present no threat to public safety, the local authorities and police tend to look the other way, often for months. Indeed, several North Koreans told Refugees International that they received assistance from border guards when they first crossed into China.

However, North Koreans live under constant fear of arrest and deportation while in China. They have no realistic options to live freely and meet their basic needs, and the few courageous individuals and organizations seeking to provide protection and assistance, whether Korean-Chinese, South Korean, or the rare few from outside the region, are themselves under constant pressure from the Chinese authorities to curtail their activities or risk expulsion.

[International Journal of Korean Unification Studies]

What happens to North Korean defectors after being forcibly returned from China

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Leaving North Korea without permission is a criminal offense. So North Koreans forcibly returned after fleeing face incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso, or re-education correctional facilities), short-term forced-labor camps (rodong danllyeindae), temporary detention facilities (jipkyulso), or possible execution.

Research by Human Right Watch and other groups has found pervasive abuses and horrid conditions in North Korea’s political prison camps, including meager rations that keep detainees on the edge of starvation, almost no medical care, lack of adequate shelter and clothes, repeated mistreatment that includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and summary executions.

Yet China routinely forcibly repatriates North Koreans, labeling them as illegal “economic migrants”. Forcing North Korean refugees back to their country constitutes refoulement, that is, sending someone back to a place where they would face threats to their lives or freedom. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as to the 1984 Convention against Torture, China is specifically obligated not to force back anyone who would be at risk of persecution or torture upon return.

For North Koreans who are returned, if not sent to political prisoner camps, authorities may instead impose sentences of 2 to 15 years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps. Inmates in ordinary prison camps face forced labor in dangerous working conditions, repeated mistreatment by guards, and little nutritious food or medical care.

A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu), who previously worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that officials under his command tortured every returnee to find out where they went in China, whom they contacted, and what they had done while outside North Korea.

The 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence, are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China.

[Human Rights Watch]

South Korean aid for North Korea

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South Korea has vowed to move quickly on its plans to provide $8 million worth of humanitarian aid to North Korea through international organizations and is also considering sending food to the country that says it’s suffering its worst drought in decades.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Monday it will discuss its plans with the World Food Program and the United Nations Children’s Fund so the aid reaches North Korean children and pregnant women quickly.

Seoul hopes the aid will help revive diplomacy and engagement with Pyongyang that tapered off amid a stalemate in nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea. But Seoul has yet to decide on concrete plans amid public frustration over recent North Korean missile tests.

[AP]