Category: North Korean refugee

More on North Korean defector discovered working for Seoul Metropolitan Government

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The data gathered by the City Hall bureaucrat Yoo, which he fed to Pyongyang, could potentially threaten the safety of thousands of North Korean defectors, as well as their families still in North Korea, and has also raised questions about oversight of the South Korean government’s handling of defectors.

He apparently joined the Seoul city government in June 2011 in a two-year contract. The contract public servant was hired by the Seoul Metropolitan Government through an employment procedure for North Korean defectors , and worked at the welfare policy bureau. He was in charge of collating information for more than 10,000 North Koreans who have fled their homeland over the years. His duties apparently included meeting with families on a weekly basis, providing advice and counseling by phone and collecting details on the defectors’ lives.

Security officials were reportedly alerted to the man’s activities after it was learned that he was travelling to China frequently and may also have crossed the border back into North Korea.

“The city government is keeping a close eye on the case, waiting until the result of the investigation comes out,” said Lee Chang-hak, the spokesperson for the Seoul Metropolitan Government, emphasizing Yoo had limited access to information, such as names and phone numbers.

The claim has not helped address the understandable paranoia suffered by the nearly 25,000 North Korean defectors living in the south, said Kim Sang-hun, chairman of the Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights. “Many North Koreans here feel that the whole North Korean apparatus is after them,” he said.

In any case, it is the first time a North Korea defector working at a public office has been arrested for espionage. The man’s family are still apparently in North Korea and it is also possible that they were being used as hostages to make him comply with Pyongyang’s demands for information on defectors.

North Korean defector charged in Seoul with spying

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Dong-a Ilbo reports that a former North Korean defector, who was working at City Hall in Seoul in a capacity of assisting other defectors, has been charged with spying, the first incident of its kind in South Korea.

“Circumstantial evidence suggests that the official … handed over to Pyongyang the full list of defectors living in Seoul and details of their situations, setting off alarm bells in the South Korean government’s management of defectors.

“He was charged with violating a ban on execution of objectives, special infiltration and escape, assembly and communication under the National Security Act for the State Security Department in Pyongyang.

“According to South Korean intelligence, the official defected alone to the South in 2004 and used to be part of the North Korean elite. He worked as a surgeon for one year after graduating from Chongjin Medical School in North Hamgyong Province. After defecting, he majored in Chinese and business at a prestigious private university in Seoul, and was hired by a trading company thanks to his fluency in English and Chinese. His family reportedly remains in the North.

“Intelligence authorities are investigating if he applied for the city government post with the intent to spy for Pyongyang, as well as the process of how he handed over data at the instruction of North Korea’s State Security Department.”

China arrests traffickers of North Korean women

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Chosun Ilbo reports Chinese police have busted a human trafficking ring that lured North Korean women into defecting and indentured labor or prostitution.

Chinese media reports said police in Yanji, Jilin Province, which is home to a large population of ethnic Koreans, arrested four foreigners and one Chinese. Police found 12 North Korean women who had been sold to Heilongjiang Province and other parts of China and sent them back to the North. North Korean sources said that would mean sending them to torture or death and accused Beijing of violating humanitarian principles.

One woman identified only by her surname Choe (25) was arrested along with a Chinese national also identified only by his family name Shi, reports said.

Choe said she crossed the border into China in 2007 at the age of 19 after finishing high school in order to make money for her family. But instead of finding a job in China, she was sold to a mentally disabled man in Heilongjiang Province. She realized she was a victim of human trafficking, but her inability to communicate in Chinese made it impossible for her to escape. A few months later, she was sold to another Chinese man and had his child.

Choe met Shi early last year after he was released from prison after serving time for human trafficking, and helped him recruit other North Koreans for their human trafficking ring, Chinese police said. They lured 20 North Korean women between in their 20s to 40s to China. The gang were paid 10,000-15,000 yuan per woman, and accomplices in North Korea 3,000-5,000 yuan.

A source in China said, “I think Chinese police announced the arrest because they want to back claims that North Korean defectors are not refugees but victims of crime, or illegal aliens.”

Thousands of North Korean cameras on Chinese border

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With more and more defectors heading south, Kim Jong-un’s North Korean regime spent $1.66 million on over 16,000 border-security cameras in the first 11 months of 2012, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports, as he continues to build a spy network on his own citizens. And that’s not good news for anyone under the watching eyes of the Supreme Leader who’s trying to seek refuge amidst, you know, democracy. The data, according to Chosun Ilbo, is based on Chinese customs data:

“[North Korea] imported a total of 16,420 CCTV cameras worth about US$1.66 million from China from January to November last year.

“In 2009, the first year China published statistics on bilateral trade, the North imported a whopping 40,465 surveillance cameras from China. In 2010 the figure was 22,987 and in 2011 22,118. Altogether the North has imported over 100,000 cameras worth about $10 million.”

That’s a lot of surveillance equipment for such a small country: North Korea’s addition of 100,000 closed-circuit TV cameras over three years is a gain of about one for every 244 citizens, compared to the approximately 1.85 million in all of Britain — or one for every 33 of its population. London, which has upwards of a third of those British spycams, is of course more densely packed than Pyonyang.

But Kim Jong-un isn’t focusing on the cities — he’s looking for runaways. As analysts tell Chosun Ilbo from South Korea, “cameras are being positioned at key points along the long border the two nations share in order to detect and capture would-be defectors from the North.” As The Telegraph‘s Julian Ryall explains, it’s part of a larger push to keep North Korean citizens from crossing the border:

“Kim Jong-un has carried out a crackdown on people hoping to escape their repressive homeland, as well as anyone using a mobile phone to communicate across the border and smugglers bringing in banned newspapers, books and recordings of television programmes that show the lives of people in prosperous South Korea.”

And the North Korean regime’s efforts seem to be working, with the number of defectors coming out of the country dropping sharply over the past three years, just as the camera trade has ramped up. “Just over 1,500 North Koreans arrived in the South in 2012 compared to more than 2,700 the previous year, according to the South’s Unification Ministry,” reported the BBC, which notes that the figure is a seven-year low. “Most North Korean refugees escape across the border with China and then make their way to South Korea via third countries.”

[Repost from The Atlantic]



Stinging UN call for international inquiry into North Korean human rights

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The U.N.’s top human rights official said Monday that as many as 200,000 people are being held in North Korean political prison camps rife with torture, rape and slave labor, and that some of the abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.

For that reason, said Navi Pillay, the world body’s high commissioner for human rights, nations must mount an independent probe into North Korea’s human rights record.

She said the political prison camp system involves “rampant violations, including torture and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment, summary executions, rape, slave labor, and forms of collective punishment that may amount to crimes against humanity.” Living conditions are reported to include scarce food, little to no medical care and inadequate clothing.

The U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly, which includes all 193 member nations, have condemned North Korea’s human rights record, but Pillay said stronger action is needed, including such a probe – one authorized by the United Nations but performed by experts independent of the U.N. system.

The stinging criticism and call from the world body’s top human rights official for “a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes” in North Korea comes a year after Kim Jong Un became the new leader of the nuclear-armed Asian country upon the death of his father.

“There were some initial hopes that the advent of a new leader might bring about some positive change in the human rights situation,” Pillay said. “But a year after Kim Jong Un became the country’s new supreme leader we see almost no sign of improvement.”

Pillay’s statement was based on extensive research submitted by a special investigator for the 47-nation Human Rights Council based in Geneva and meetings that she held there in December with two survivors of the prison camps, said Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville.


UN called upon to examine human rights in North Korea

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Friday for a UN commission to examine human rights abuses in North Korea. The rights group stated that little has changed within the totalitarian government since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father Kim Jong-il in leading the country one year ago.

HRW stated the situation may be getting worse, noting a drop in the number of individuals escaping into China and reports by successful escapees of increasing crackdowns on escape attempts. The rights group also noted a recent UN report citing widespread malnutrition and hunger in the country.

HRW called on the UN to create a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in the country: “For more than 60 years, successive regimes have killed or starved millions, and the world has done little in response. No one should labor under the misperception that the regime can be influenced by negotiation, and reformed in some traditional sense. Only coordinated outside pressure has a chance to make an impact. Recording, exposing, condemning and calling for accountability for serious abuses may lead some in the regime to realize that there are potential costs to their behavior.”

HRW said a UN resolution will only pass with the support of the nations of the European Union, as well as South Korea, Japan and the US. The rights group called on those nations to voice support for a UN investigation of human rights in North Korea.

In November the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Marzuki Darusman expressed concern over the lack of development in human rights in the nation, despite having called on new leader Kim Jong-un last January to improve the situation. In June the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) reported that North Korea’s caste system leads to abuses and human rights violations in the country.

Vulnerable North Korean women

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One major — and largely unspoken — problem for North Korean women is skyrocketing domestic violence.

Ewha University’s Kim Seok-hyang makes a point of asking North Korean defectors about domestic violence. “I interviewed more than 60 people. All of them agreed violence is there against women. Violence against women is not news for them. It’s so natural, it’s happening almost every day.”

She blames men’s alienation and frustration with their diminution of power within the family for the problem.

Outside the home as well, in the marketplace, women are vulnerable too, says Marcus Noland, the deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. In his research of women working in local markets, 95 percent reported paying bribes to police and officials, who would try to shake them down.

That — and being exposed to new ideas in the marketplace — could affect women’s political views. “Women, because of their prominence in the market, are at the forefront of acts of civil disobedience,” Noland says, emphasizing that civil disobedience is still extremely unusual in North Korea. “The protests are generally reactive and defensive in nature, but women are very prominent in them.”

Who is Kenneth Bae and why is he being held by North Korea?

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Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator, was arrested by security authorities in North Korea in early November. A US official told CNN that Kenneth Bae, whose Korean name is Pae Jun Ho, is affiliated with a Protestant religious group.

Bae, 44, entered the northeastern port city of Rajin on November 3 along with five other tourists for a five-day trip. Rajin is a special economic zone across the border from the Chinese city of Yanji, where many Christian groups shelter North Korean refugees — something which angers the North Korean state considerably.

Bae was detained by North Korean authorities and questioned after a computer hard disk was found among the group of tourists, an unidentified source has said. The source added that the hard disk might have contained sensitive information about North Korea.

After his detention, Bae was transferred to Pyongyang for further investigation.

Last year, Eddie Yong Su Jun, a Korean-American missionary, was arrested and then released after facing indictment on charges of committing an unspecified crime against the regime.

In 2010, North Korea set free Robert Park, a Korean-American Christian activist who crossed into the country on Christmas Day 2009 to draw international attention to the North’s poor human rights record.

Also in 2010, former President Jimmy Carter helped secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, another U.S. citizen and Christian activist, who had been fined roughly $600,000 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor for crossing over the Chinese border into North Korea.

In 2009, former U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to win the release of two American journalists caught during a reporting tour covering North Korean defectors.

Bae’s detention comes amid tensions over Pyongyang’s planned long-range rocket launch. Concerns have been raised that Pyongyang may try to use the case as a “bargaining chip” or a trump card in forcing the US into post-launch talks.


North Korea trip by Richardson and Schmidt set for next week

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Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt will lead a private humanitarian mission to North Korea next week, Richardson’s office confirmed in a statement Saturday.

The trip comes despite public criticism from the U.S. State Department, which has said the visit was ill-timed in light of tensions stemming from North Korea’s recent rocket launch.

The delegation will also include Jared Cohen, the director of a Google initiative known as Google Ideas and Schmidt’s co-author on an upcoming book about how the Internet is changing the world.

Last July, Cohen organized a conference outside Los Angeles that featured nearly a dozen North Korean defectors, who gave harrowing accounts of privation and coerced criminal activity including drug sales.

Schmidt spoke at the conference and met with the group, according to panel moderator and North Korea expert Sheena Chestnut Greitens, now a graduate student at Harvard University.

Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, has made numerous trips to North Korea. Many observers expect Richardson to seek the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour guide who was detained last year.

Bill approved making it possible for Americans to adopt North Korean children

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The US Congress has approved a bill which aims to make it possible for Americans to adopt orphaned North Korean children. The measure was passed by the House in September and by the Senate last week.

The North Korea Refugee Adoption Act instructs the US State Department to devise a comprehensive strategy to facilitate the adoption of North Korean children by US citizens.

US Republican lawmaker Ileana Ros Lehtinen, a key backer of the bill, said late last year that the legislation aims to “provide loving families for some of the world’s most endangered children.”

Supporters of the measure said many North Korean children become orphaned or stateless when their families flee with them to China or other neighboring nations, and that the youngsters often are left without the proper care. But many children who remain in North Korea fare no better, Ros Lehtinen said.

“We are all too keenly all aware of the extreme repression, malnutrition, and poverty suffered by so many inside North Korea today. Those threats often take the greatest toll on children,” the Republican lawmaker said.

Any efforts to facilitate adoptions, Ros Lehtinen said, would ensure that the North Korean adoptees are genuine orphans, and not victims of child trafficking.

The United States is home to the largest ethnic Korean population outside of Northeast Asia, with nearly two million Americans of Korean descent.