Western Authors and North Korea

Perhaps a few generations ago most Western societies looked upon North Korea with fear and trepidation, having been raised in a time that identified North Korea as a threat during the Cold War. However, now it seems that the image of fear has been replaced with one that revolves around a fascination with devastation and morbidity. The recent popularity of novels written by Western authors about North Korea, such as Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the Westand Brandon W. Jones’s All Woman and Springtime, reveals the growth of the West’s captivation with the tales of the dark lives that the people of North Korea lead. The recent surge of new information coming from novels, which give the West a look into the enigmatic and mysterious self-enclosed world that is North Korea, may not necessarily be written with the intention of shocking and disturbing readers. But many seem to be written with the implication that they are exposing the ugly side of North Korean politics and society. Continue reading

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In the News – Disabled N. Korean Defector Finds Hope in Seoul

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In the News – Disabled N. Korean Defector Finds Hope in Seoul

For North Korean refugees, the journey to freedom can be physically grueling. Many swim across a river into China and then travel undercover, avoiding authorities before they reach Southeast Asia and head to South Korea.  Imagine making the trip with only one foot and one hand.

Every week, Ji Seong-ho holds a silent demonstration against North Korea. He is one of the 23,000 defectors in South Korea who have fled the repressive Pyongyang government.

Ji’s journey south was more challenging than most. During the famine of the mid-1990s, when Ji was 14, he suffered a terrible accident.

“I was helping my parents make a living by stealing coal off trains and selling it in the market. I got dizzy once and I ended up falling off a moving train. It ran me over,” Ji explains.

He lost his left hand and foot.

Eventually, Ji crossed into China to find food. But on the way back, he was caught by North Korean guards.

“The police severely beat me for a week, maybe more than other escapees. They told me that because I am disabled I brought shame to North Korea and that someone with only one leg should stay home,” Ji recalls. “That is when I lost my trust in the North Korean government.”

In 2006, Ji escaped again and made it to South Korea, where he was given a prosthetic foot and hand.

Many refugees arrive with traumatic injuries that leave them emotionally impaired. Kion Won-hyoung is a psychologist at a government resettlement facility for defectors.

“Because of their experience, many refugees are afraid of even the security guards at the facility,” explains Kion. “They have nightmares about being tortured in North Korea, or being chased by animals.”

Ji Seong-ho is now a law student. He says he had never imagined how much easier life is for the disabled in South Korea.

“I don’t feel any discrimination toward disabled people in South Korea,” Ji says.”I think that’s because of its democracy and good education. I really feel it’s like heaven here.”

Ji says he is waiting for the Koreas to be unified. He says that’s when he will finally be able to step back onto his homeland.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – UN Rapporteurs to Make Statement on N.Korea

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In the News – UN Rapporteurs to Make Statement on N.Korea

Special rapporteurs in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are to issue statements next month detailing instances of torture as well as the food shortages and health problems in North Korea. The move follows the decision by a working group under the OHCRC to take up the case of a South Korean family unlawfully detained in the North.

“Human rights abuses are more serious in North Korea than in other countries, and there have been calls from within the UN that it should have done more to address the problem,” a diplomatic source in Seoul said. “As a result, five to six UN special rapporteurs will make statements about the situation soon.”

In addition to the special rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, Marzuki Darusman, there are UN rapporteurs specializing in around 40 different fields, including torture, freedom of expression, hunger and poverty. Some of them gather next month for an annual meeting and discuss the human rights situation in North Korea.

It is rare for several special rapporteurs to issue a joint statement on a specific country. “The fact that several of them are joining hands to speak out underscores how seriously the UN takes the situation in the North,” the source added. “This will have a major impact on the international community.”

Meanwhile, the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea in a press conference on Tuesday unveiled the OHCRC’s finding that the wife of a prominent South Korean activist and her daughters were unlawfully detained in North Korea. The coalition first filed a petition to the UN seeking their rescue in November last year.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Shin Suk-ja and her daughters are still being detained against their will. It also demanded the North free them immediately and take steps to compensate them.

 

Original article can be found here.

Intimacy in North Korea

Last summer I spent two weeks as an English language partner to North Korean defector middle and high school students in a small town on the outskirts of Seoul. After four years, I found myself once again immersed in the complex jungle of teenage angst, hormones, and emotions. Well, I know from my university experience that those unpredictable attitudes and moods don’t necessarily go away when you get older and that everyone manages to overcome his inner-teenager individually. But, I remember that while we did our best to think about what kind of activities would be both fun and advantageous to our seventeen through twenty-year-old students, at least one person would say something along the lines of our need to understand that these students weren’t just defectors preparing for new lives in South Korea; they were also hormonally driven teenagers on the brink of young love, experiencing their first infatuations, and learning the art of flirtation. I did not notice too many hormonal imbalances erupting before my eyes, but what about attraction and relationships in North Korea? To go even further, what about sex in North Korea?

“A North Korean couple has a picnic along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, North Korea” (AP Photo/Vincent Yu).

Notorious for a reputation of severe control and discipline, to what extent does the North Korean regime play a role in sexual intimacy? According to Radio Free Asia, the simple answer is that “when it comes to the privacy of the bedroom, even the all-powerful North Korean Workers’ Party is largely hands-off” (Love and Sex in North Korea). Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea’s human rights condition ‘extremely poor,’ U.S. gov’t

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In the News – N. Korea’s human rights condition ‘extremely poor,’ U.S. gov’t

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, May 24 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s human rights conditions remain “extremely poor,” the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

In an annual report on political freedom and civil liberties in 199 nations, the department again grouped North Korea with Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Belarus and China.

“Overall human rights conditions remained extremely poor in many of the countries that we spotlighted in our 2010 country reports,” said Michael H. Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

The report said North Korea is an “authoritarian state led by the Kim family for more than 60 years,” referring to a recent leadership change in the communist nation to Kim Jong-un, the third son of late leader Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, the late founding leader Kim Il-sung, was granted the posthumous title of “eternal president.”
“The most recent national elections, held in March 2009, were neither free nor fair,” read the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

“Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement and worker rights,” it added. “There continued to be reports of a vast network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh and life threatening.”

In the previous report, the department described the North’s human rights record “deplorable” and “grim.”

Responding to Yonhap News Agency’s inquiry over if the change of wording has implications, Posner quipped, “I may be running out of words.”

He emphasized that Washington is “deeply concerned that the situation remains poor” and without progress.

He cited a separate report by a U.S. nongovernmental group last month that as many as 200,000 people are held in the secretive nation’s political prison camps, where human rights abuses are prevalent.

He said the U.S. will continue to raise the issue and hopes that the burgeoning transition of Myanmar, or Burma, to democracy may “inspire” North Korea and other closed societies, including Iran, Uzbekistan, Eritrea or Sudan.

On South Korea, meanwhile, the department’s report again took issue with controversies over the National Security Act, which critics view as aimed at cracking down on dissidents and those who support North Korea, along with other laws designed to keep public order.

“The primary human rights problems reported were the government’s interpretation of national security and other laws to limit freedom of expression and restrict access to the Internet as well as incidents of hazing in the military,” the report said.

It added other human rights problems included some official corruption; sexual and domestic violence; children engaged in prostitution; human trafficking; societal discrimination against foreigners, North Korean defectors, persons with HIV/AIDS; and limitations on workers’ rights.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Lee urges N. Korea to carry out privatization of farmland

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In the News – Lee urges N. Korea to carry out privatization of farmland

SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak on Friday urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to give up the collective farm system and privatize state-owned agricultural land to help enrich the North and its residents.

In a special lecture given at Seoul’s Education Center for Unification, Lee also called on the young North Korean leader to pay greater attention to the human rights and defector issues.

President Lee Myung-bak gives a special lecture at the Education Center for Unification in northern Seoul on April 20, 2012. (Yonhap)

“North Korea should abandon its collective farm system and shift to the privatization of agricultural land. If so, rice will be abundant in two to three years. Farmland privatization will help individuals earn more and the state increase revenues,” Lee was quoted by his spokesman Park Jeong-ha as saying in the lecture.

“(Farmland reform) is a must for North Korea. All the young leader has to do is the (reform). It is the most urgent matter and has to precede its market opening. Continued dependence on aid will only produce beggars.”

Lee went on to ask Pyongyang to pay more attention to the defector and human rights issues.

“Human rights is an issue as important as the North Korean nuclear problem. I believe what is most necessary for the North Koreans is human rights,” Lee was also quoted as saying.

“Bread is important. But in this 21st century, freedom of individuals is as important as bread,” said the president, noting it is getting increasingly difficult to maintain a dictatorial regime in this informatization era.

 

Original article can be found here.

The Influence of the Korean Wave in North Korea

That’s right. The Korean Wave has spread to various parts of the world. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it’s a worldwide sensation! Just looking at YouTube, you can find so much proof of this from videos of prison mates doing a mass choreographed dance of a popular kpop song in the Philippines to Americans doing covers of Korean songs IN KOREAN. I can’t help but be amazed at the amount of influence South Korean pop culture has had all over the world. But the thing that amazes me even more is that this phenomenon has also reached North Korea. Continue reading

A Talk With Professor Andrei Lankov

CHRISTINE LEE

As a study abroad student through the CIEE program, I was recently privy to attend a talk on North Korea by Professor Andrei Lankov, one of the world’s most renowned scholars on North Korea, a current professor at Kookmin University and even a past attendee of Kim Il sung University.

Professor Lankov’s goal was to introduce and talk about the North Korea regime in one hour or less, and in that time he addressed many off-hand questions I’ve wondered about in the past. Let me share with you what I learned!

1. Current Leadership and the Heir.

One question I’ve always had is why nothing happened to Kim Jong Eun, the third son of Kim Jong Il, when he was studying abroad in Switzerland. He attended classes, met professors and interacted with students to some degree, right? Here was a chance for the regime to end and for North Korea to drastically change! However, Kim Jong Eun wasn’t touted as Kim Jong Il’s son but rather posed as the son of an ambassador. He had personal bodyguards around him all the time, had limited interaction with others around him, and of course, being in Switzerland, was protected (since Switzerland is a neutral country).

And even though many would say that North Korea isn’t even close to collapsing, or changing, or to being an open country, the leadership of North Korea is so old that something potentially good and unexpected can happen soon. The advisors to Kim Jong Il aren’t getting any younger. The average age of the leaders is about 78 years old. This may be a very important factor in how strong the regime continues to be in the next five or ten years. Continue reading

Freedom? Depends where you’re standing.

LYDIA KIM
Part I: “Holding freedom in your hands”

We know from history that one person can build a community, influence society and  even change the world.  Whatʼs more, is that we can just as easily be challenged by one womanʼs life story.  This womanʼs life story suggests an alternate reality, one that  challenges the very way we understand and accept freedom.

Ms. Pak Soohyun* is one of four children in her fatherʼs second marriage.  Her father  was a South Korean man displaced and stranded in North Korea by the Korean War.   Unable to return to the South and unable to return to his family, her father began a new  life in North Korea.  Though born and raised in North Korea, Soohyun and her siblings were ostracized for being ʻSouth Koreanʼ.  Their success in North Korean society had  been pre-determined by their status as descendants of a South Korean man.   Regardless of her intelligence, talent or high achieving academic performance, Soohyun was able to neither receive a proper education nor obtain employment in the  government.  Their family lived under strict surveillance by the North Korean regime.

Continue reading