In the News – The Hidden Horrors of North Korea

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In the News – The Hidden Horrors of North Korea

While much of the world’s attention is focused on the Assad regime’s appalling assaults against Syrian citizens, with more than a hundred dead in this week’s massacre in Houla alone, another human rights atrocity occurring on a much larger scale garners far less attention.

North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-Eun, has done what few expected when he assumed power after his father’s death last December. Instead of loosening control in the most totalitarian nation in the world, Kim Jong-Eun has actually expanded the number of North Koreans subject to forced labor, torture, starvation and death in the totalitarian nation’s prison camps.

The camps, known as kwan-li-so, form a hidden gulag where those accused of crimes against the state are imprisoned. An estimated 200,000 people serve in these camps. The regime imposes sentences, often without even the pretense of a show trial, like those that took place in the Stalinist Soviet Union. Summary executions occur regularly in the camps. Although the sentences may be for ten years or less, most prisoners die in the kwan-li-so before completing their terms.

Prisoners work 12-18 hours a day under inhumane and dangerous conditions in mines, quarries, and factories. Accidents maim and kill many, but more often starvation takes an unimaginable toll. The average prisoner receives only 100-200 grams of food a day — the equivalent of about one cup of white rice — with virtually no protein. But even rice, a staple of the Asian diet, is often unavailable. Corn is the usual substitute, which leads to pellagra, a disease that brings on skin lesions, mental confusion and eventually dementia.

But perhaps the most heinous aspect of the camps is that not only are those accused of “crimes” but their entire families imprisoned. The founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Il-Sung, justified the practice by claiming, “The seed of factionalists or class enemies, whoever they are, must be eliminated through three generations.” So, spouses, children, siblings, even elderly parents often serve sentences along with the accused.

Now Kim Jong-Eun, the latest in the Kim dynasty that has ruled the DPRK since 1948, has expanded this barbaric practice. The young Kim has now instructed that both older and younger relatives of anyone caught trying to flee the country will be sent to the kwan-li-so.

Even knowing the horrific consequences, North Koreans will continue to try to leave. Since the devastating famine in the mid-’90s when as many as 2.5 million people starved to death, some 15,000 North Koreans have reached safety in South Korea or third countries.

Many more live secretly in China, where their plight is not much better than in the DPRK. These refugees are under constant threat of being turned over to North Korean authorities by the Chinese government or even being kidnapped and forcibly returned by DPRK agents who cross the border for that purpose.

Yet most people in the West either are unaware of what is going on in North Korea or choose to ignore it. And the U.S. government reserves what little outrage it displays on the rogue nation’s nuclear program.

It may become more difficult to avert our gaze, however, as new information leaks out about exactly how bad conditions are in the kwan-li-so. An updated report of the Committee for Human Rights in Korea, “The Hidden Gulag: The Lives and Voices of Those Who Are Sent to the Mountains,” now includes eyewitness testimony from 60 former prisoners along with 30 pages of satellite images of the camps.

In addition, a new book focuses attention on the plight of those who have survived the terror of the camps. Blaine Hardin’s “Escape from Camp 14” details the life of Shin Dong-hyuk, a young man born in the camp who escaped, but only after turning in his mother and brother, whom he regarded as traitors and rivals for food, and witnessing their execution. But there have been other books that told similar stories — “The Aquariums of Pyongyang,” by former prisoner Kang Chol-hwan, and “The Long Road Home,” by Kim Yong — yet neither provoked sufficient interest and outrage to mobilize Americans to want to do something.

Unless that changes, North Korea will continue to starve, torture, and kill its people while we look the other way.

 

Original article can be found here.

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In the News – Int’l Pressure Growing Over N.Korean Human Rights

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In the News – Int’l Pressure Growing Over N.Korean Human Rights

The international community has taken one step further in addressing human rights issues in North Korea, from simply raising the problem to demanding changes from the governments of China and North Korea. Recent developments clearly reflect the change of mood.

The UN Human Rights Council addressed China’s repatriation of North Korean refugees in March, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees recently concluded that the wife and two daughters of a prominent South Korean activist are being unlawfully detained in the North.

The European Parliament on May 24 adopted a resolution urging the Chinese government to stop repatriating North Korean escapees and abandon a treaty with North Korea on border control signed in 1986. It also urges Beijing to release Kim Young-hwan, a South Korean activist, and his colleagues.

The European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights invited U.S. human rights ambassador Robert King and Kim Tae-jin of activist group Free the NK Gulag to a hearing on human rights in North Korea on Tuesday.

King is also scheduled to visit in South Korea on June 7 to exchange views on human rights condition in North Korea. He may also visit China.

Original article can be found here.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N. Korea condemns U.S. human rights report

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In the News – N. Korea condemns U.S. human rights report

SEOUL, May 30 (Yonhap) — North Korea has lashed out at the United States for its recent annual report critical of Pyongyang’s dismal human rights conditions, calling the move a “product of the U.S. hostile policy” toward the North.

“We bitterly condemn the despicable human rights report worked out by the U.S.,” the foreign ministry said in an English-language statement carried late Tuesday by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The ministry claimed that the U.S. report is based on rumors concocted by a handful of traitors and criminals who left their homeland, referring to North Korean defectors in the South.

South Korea is home to more than 23,500 North Korean defectors. Many of them have testified about a wide range of human rights abuses in the communist country, including torture, public executions and political prison camps.

The North’s angry reaction came days after the U.S. State Department said in an annual report that the North’s human rights conditions remain “extremely poor.”

The report said that North Korea subjected its 24 million people to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives and that there continued to be reports of a vast network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh and life threatening.

Amnesty International, a London-based human rights advocacy group, also estimated in its separate annual report last week that up to 200,000 prisoners were held in horrific conditions in six sprawling political prison camps.

The North has flatly denied accusations of its alleged rights abuses, describing them as a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

“The U.S. unchanged human rights racket against the (North) is, in essence, a product of the U.S. hostile policy toward the (North) to isolate and stifle at any cost its socialist system,” the foreign ministry statement said.

It also accused the U.S of being the “world’s worst human rights abuser,” claiming the U.S. has massacred hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in different parts of the world through aggression and interference.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Amnesty International report: North Korea executes 30 officials who were involved in talks with South Korea

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In the News – Amnesty International report: North Korea executes 30 officials who were involved in talks with South Korea

(FILES) This undated file picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 24, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un aiming a gun during an inspection tour of the Sporting Bullet Factory in Pyongyang.  North Korea has announced it will suspend its nuclear tests and uranium enrichment programme in return for US food aid, in a breakthrough less than three months after the death of leader Kim Jong-Il.  Following talks with the United States last week, the regime led by Kim's young and untested son Kim Jong-Un late on February 29, 2012 promised also to suspend long-range missile tests and allow the return of UN nuclear inspectors.            AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS      ----EDITORS NOTE ----  RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS  (Photo credit should read KCNA/AFP/Getty Images)

KCNA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Amnesty International reports that the Kim Jong-Un regime killed 30 officials for not improving relations between North and South Korea. Some were rounded up and shot by firing squad while other died in staged traffic accidents, the report says.

Thirty North Korean officials involved in talks with South Korea have been executed or died in “staged traffic accidents,” according a shocking new report.

The Amnesty International investigators say another 200 people were rounded up and executed or sent to political prison camps.

The 30 men were killed – sometimes using a firing squad, according to reports – for failing to improve relations between the North and the South, and are considered scapegoats for the new low point in inter-Korean relations.

North Korea appears to be putting the final touches on the test detonation of a nuclear device.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defence, said intelligence reports indicate the North is ready to carry out the long-awaited test

Original article can be found here.

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 – Human Rights Body Details N.Korean Abuses

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In the News – Human Rights Body Details N.Korean Abuses

North Korean defectors are seen at a prison camp in North Hamgyong Province in footage filmed by an activist group (file photo).The National Human Rights Commission unveiled its first report on North Korea’s rights violation on Sunday. The evidence was obtained in interviews with some 60 of the 800 North Korean defectors who arrived here since March last year.

The report details the horrific situation of those imprisoned in four political prison camps in Yodok, Kaechon, Pukchang and Hoeryong, and two concentration camps in Jeungsan and Chongori.

West Germany documented 41,390 human rights violations that took place in East Germany. The NHRC’s report is a similar attempt to catalog human rights abuses in North Korea indicating specific victims and compiled for the purpose of taking those responsible for crimes against humanity in North Korea to the International Criminal Court after reunification.  Continue reading

In the News – Students Begin 31-Hour Fast for North Korean Defectors

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In the News – Students Begin 31-Hour Fast for North Korean Defectors

Beginning on Tuesday, members of Harvard Human Rights in North Korea (HRiNK) will fast for 31 hours to raise awareness about the 31 North Korean defectors recently repatriated by the Chinese government. The defectors face imprisonment, forced labor, and possible execution in their native country.

For HRiNK co-president Rainer A. Crosett ’14, the fast is an opportunity to correct Harvard students’ misconceptions about North Korea.

“They have the image of the Kim family, you know, and nuclear weapons,” he said. “People don’t actually know that there are, for example, 200,000 people living in concentration camps.”

Crosett added that the organized fast highlights the daily reality of famine and food shortages for many North Koreans.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea because the experience of so many of the North Korean people and refugees is one of intense hunger,” he said.

HRiNK co-president Stephanie Choi ’13 said that the latest defections do not represent isolated incidents. She added that many North Koreans have previously risked imprisonment, torture, and death to reunite with loved ones in South Korea and escape oppression. Continue reading

In the News – Lee calls for int’l attention on N. Korean gulags

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In the News – Lee calls for int’l attention on N. Korean gulags

SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak called for greater international attention on political prison camps in North Korea, saying Friday that they are the worst gulags in the world and global human rights groups should be allowed to visit there.

Lee made the remark during a meeting with a group of visiting U.S. lawmakers.

The five Republican congressmen, including Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Richard Burr of North Carolina, arrived in Seoul earlier in the day for a three-day visit that also includes talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and a visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

“There is no place like political prison camps in North Korea around the globe,” Lee was quoted as saying during the meeting by presidential spokeswoman Lee Mi-yon, referring to massive human rights violations believed to be happening at those facilities. “International human rights groups should visit there.”

Burr said he shares South Korea’s concern about North Korea issues and pledged to back whatever decision is made under Lee’s leadership. The lawmaker also said he will have a first-hand look at the division of the Korean Peninsula during a trip to DMZ, according to the spokeswoman. Continue reading

Exploring the Connection between China and North Korea: Seoul Train Part 1

Last year I had first joined Yale University’s branch of THiNK, There’s Hope in North Korea, the group that I had addressed in my previous article. Thinking back to the year I joined, one of my first experiences as a member of THiNK was watching the documentary Seoul Train produced by Lisa Sleeth and Jim Butterworth. I knew that it left a strong impression on me as well as a bit of bitterness toward China, but rather than work from memory, I think that it is a better idea to take another look at the film itself. Continue reading