Category: Prison Camps

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]

North Korean persecution of Christians and Buddhists

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According to the Christian Open Doors organization, North Korea is the leader among countries who persecute Christians. Christian Solidarity Worldwide say there are numerous reports of people being sent to prison camps and subjected to torture and inhuman treatment because of their faith. It is estimated that 50,000–70,000 Christians are held in North Korean prison camps.

There are reports of public executions of Christians. For example, Ri Hyon-ok was publicly executed in Ryongchon … for giving out Bibles, while her husband and children were deported to the Hoeryong political prison camp.

If authorities discover that North Korean refugees deported from China have converted to Christianity, they suffer harsher ill-treatment, torture, and prolonged imprisonment. The government considers religious activities political crimes, because they could challenge the personality cult and semi-deification of the [ruling] Kim family.

Only 60 out of 400 Buddhist temples have survived the religious persecution of the 1950s, when 1,600 monks were killed, disappeared in prison camps or were forced to recant their faith. The remaining temples are now preserved as national cultural heritage. North Korean defectors reported that government-employed “monks” are serving as caretakers and tourist guides, but they did not see genuine worship. As reported, most Buddhists are afraid to openly practice their religion in the temple areas and practice their religion only in secret. However, on special occasions, ceremonies were permitted by the authorities.

Since 1988, four church buildings have been erected in Pyongyang with foreign donations: one Catholic, two Protestant and one Russian Orthodox. However, they are only open to foreigners,and North Korean citizens cannot attend the services. The services are used to bring in foreign currency from foreign visitors, including South Koreans. It is therefore clear that the churches are there solely for propaganda purposes.

The North Korean constitution nominally protects religious freedom, as long as it is not used to harm the state or the social order. However, in practice, there is no genuine religious freedom, and the government severely restricts religious activity except if it is supervised by government organizations.

[Wikipedia]

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]

UN Security Council meeting on North Korea human rights scrapped

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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.

[Times of India]

Defectors in China repatriated to North Korean

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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.”

[Daily NK]

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]

 

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]

North Korean defector: ‘Treated like animals’

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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.

[Business Insider]

North Korean defector: “The South Korean government thinks that peace comes before the human rights of the North Korean people”

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Concerns that North Korea is deceptively surging ahead with its ballistic missile program, according to satellite imagery that appears to show 16 covert bases in development, comes as no surprise to a defector who sees only one real solution to the threat posed by the government of Kim Jong Un.

“North Korean regime are liars, and I do not think they are taking part in these relations in a truthful manner. Eventually, we will need a regime change,” said Ji Seong Ho, 36, who President Trump highlighted during the State of the Union address.

“There is a mood under this administration in Korea that talking about human rights in North Korea is not right, and the human rights issue for the Korean government is an uncomfortable subject. They are not negotiating – but it seems the Korean government thinks that peace comes before the human rights of the North Korean people,” Seong Ho said.

To Seong Ho, the absence of human rights talks is more than a slap in the face. He 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. Read more