Women in the Markets of North Korea

It is a challenge to report on North Korea without talking sometimes about the hardships in the country. On this blog, we generally try to focus on fostering greater understanding of this place so different from our own, and to do that we often play up the “good news” or choose lighter fare to cover, since so many sources focus instead on the negative. We try to provide a picture of hope.

But, to deserve the respect of our readers, sometimes we have to cover difficult issues. We’ll touch on some such issues in this post.

A new report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics examines the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in North Korea. It used a detailed survey of refugees living in South Korea to build a picture of life inside North Korea over the past ten or twenty years.

A woman sells snacks at a roadside stand on April 21, 2012. Photo credit David Guttenfelder / AP Photo.

One of the most prominent features of gender inequity in North Korea is the role of women in private markets. Women tended disproportionately to be shed from government or party jobs, which along with the military are deeply biased toward men; women also tend generally to be less likely to hold a job in general. Continue reading

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Love has no boundaries… or does it?

A popular Korean reality TV show called “Zzak” (meaning ‘partner’) takes place in what can only be called a “love camp” where men and women who are looking for a significant other come together. Each of these men and women are identified by numbers, and they get to find out more about each other through various ordeals and tasks. At the end, they choose who they want to be with, and the lucky ones become a pair. Continue reading

In the News – China likely to release S. Korean activist soon: source

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In the News – China likely to release S. Korean activist soon: source

SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) — A South Korean activist held in China for allegedly helping North Korean defectors there is likely to be released soon following months of pressure from Seoul and civic groups, a diplomatic source said Tuesday.

The release of Kim Young-hwan, a senior researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, is likely to come before or after the visit of Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu to Seoul later this week, the source said on condition of anonymity.

Kim, 49, was one of four South Korean activists arrested in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian on March 29. The group is accused of endangering China’s national security, a serious charge that carries heavy punishment, but no further details have been made available, according to officials in Seoul.

It is believed the detentions are related to the activists’ efforts to help North Korea defectors hiding in China and improve the North’s human rights conditions and other activities Pyongyang considers an affront to its totalitarian regime.

“It is common sense to expect (China) to resolve the case of Kim Young-hwan before Minister Meng’s visit to Seoul,” the source said. “If Kim is indicted and his activities become known, this could create a stir, so China is likely to release him first and then deport him.”

Meng is scheduled to arrive in Seoul Thursday for a three-day visit, during which he will meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan among other officials, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.

China is a key ally of North Korea and typically repatriates North Korean defectors caught within its borders. Activists and lawmakers in South Korea and other countries have recently stepped up pressure on Beijing to stop the forced repatriation, and release the South Korean detainees.

A senior ministry official said the government has not been informed of an exact timing for their release, although it continues to be in talks with Beijing.

“There are often ‘gifts’ during a high-level visit from China, and I understand that the recent atmosphere in China (regarding the issue) isn’t bad,” said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kim, the activist, is a former South Korean proponent of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance. He met with the North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung in 1991 after sneaking into the North via a North Korean submersible.

However, he later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology and became active in projects to raise awareness about the dismal human rights record in North Korea.

Original Article

In the News – S.Korean Activist Arrested in Vietnam for Helping N.Korean Refugees

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In the News – S.Korean Activist Arrested in Vietnam for Helping N.Korean Refugees

Vietnamese police have arrested a South Korean activist for helping North Korean refugees enter the South via the Southeast Asian nation.

The South Korean Consulate in Ho Chi Minh city said the 51-year-old man, identified only by his family name Yu, was detained last week along with a group of refugees from the North at a hotel in the southern city.

Yu was expelled from the country eight years ago for attempting to help about 400 North Korean refugees reach the South. The activist had reportedly also helped defectors pass through other countries, including Laos.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Activist-turned-lawmaker under fire for allegedly calling N.K. defectors ‘traitors’

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In the News – Activist-turned-lawmaker under fire for allegedly calling N.K. defectors ‘traitors’

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) — A ruling party lawmaker demanded Monday that one of South Korea’s best-known former pro-unification activists and now an opposition lawmaker offer a sincere apology again for insulting him and North Korean defectors as “traitors.”

Rep. Lim Su-kyung of the main opposition Democratic United Party hurled the insult and other abusive remarks during an impromptu meeting with a defector-turned-college student at a bar on Friday, according to a Facebook posting by the student, Baek Yo-sep.

Lim, a former pro-North Korea student activist, became widely known after making an unauthorized trip to the communist nation in 1989 and meeting with then leader Kim Il-sung, the North’s founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

Pyongyang called her the “flower of unification” at the time.

She entered parliament as a proportional candidate of the DUP in April’s general elections.

Rep. Lim Su-kyung of the main opposition Democratic United Party. (Yonhap)

Baek quoted Lim as denouncing North Korean defectors as traitors and having “no roots.” She also vilified Rep. Ha Tae-kyung of the ruling Saenuri Party, who had once worked with Lim in the 1980s, as a traitor for his conversion to an anti-Pyongyang activist, Baek said.

Lim was also quoted as saying she will “kill the traitor (Ha) with my hands.”

Baek said Lim became abruptly upset following a joke he cracked to her after some Lim aides had Baek’s photos taken with Lim deleted from his phone. After Lim denied she ordered the deletion, Baek said he joked that in North Korea, doing something at will without instruction from the supreme leader carries a “death by shooting” punishment.

Baek said Lim denounced him for working with Ha to improve the North’s human rights situation.

As the traitor remarks drew strong criticism, Lim offered an apology Sunday, claiming in a statement that she was referring to only Ha as a traitor for joining the conservative ruling party, and that she never meant to describe defectors as such.

On Monday, Ha accused Lim of lying and demanded she sincerely apologize again.

“Rep. Lim holds hostility toward North Korean defectors and thinks of defectors as traitors,” Ha said. “But she said in the statement that she never called North Korean defectors traitors, but she said I am a traitor just because I joined the Saenuri Party, not because I engaged in a human rights movement helping defectors.”

But the acting chief of Lim’s party said he trusts the sincerity of her statement of apology.

“As we trust Rep. Lim’s heartfelt apology, repentance and clarification, there is no measure the party plans to take,” said Rep. Park Jie-won, the interim head of the DUP. “Rep. Lim holds respect for North Korean defectors and has an attitude of working for them.”

Park said, however, the party will instruct lawmakers to be more careful about what they say.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – China allows N. Koreans to leave for Seoul: reports

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In the News – China allows N. Koreans to leave for Seoul: reports

Seoul, May 18, 2012 (AFP) – China has allowed six North Korean refugees to leave for South Korea after they spent months holed up in Seoul’s consular offices in China, news reports said Friday.

Following their departure last week there are no more North Koreans left at South Korean diplomatic missions in China, the Korea JoongAng Daily and the Seoul Shinmun Daily said.

A South Korean foreign ministry spokeswoman declined to comment.

Beijing allowed the six defectors, who had been holed up at the South Korean missions in Shenyang and Shanghai for many months, to travel to the South through a third country, the dailies said, quoting sources.

China’s decision to let the defectors leave was apparently made as a goodwill gesture before a meeting between South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Korea JoongAng Daily said.

Lee met Hu on Monday in Beijing following an annual trilateral summit with China and Japan.

The six included two relatives of a South Korean prisoner of war, captured by the North during the 1950-53 Korean War. Of the remaining four, two were identified as men and two as women, the reports said.

China last month reportedly allowed another five North Korean defectors to leave for South Korea after they were confined to Seoul’s Beijing embassy to avoid arrest. Some spent months there but others spent years.

China arrests and repatriates fugitives from North Korea, considering them to be economic migrants rather than potential refugees.

South Korea and international rights groups have urged it to change the policy, saying returnees can face harsh punishment.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled poverty or repression in their homeland, almost all of them across the border to China.

Some hide out among — or marry into — the ethnic Korean community in China’s northeast. Others try to travel on to Southeast Asian nations before flying to Seoul.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – China Starts 5-Month Crackdown on N.Korean Defectors

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In the News – China Starts 5-Month Crackdown on N.Korean Defectors 

Chinese security forces launched a massive crackdown on North Korean defectors in Jilin Province’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on May 15.

Chinese officials say the crackdown is part of a nationwide bust of illegal aliens, but there are suspicions that the drive specifically targets North Korean defectors hiding out in northeastern China as well as South Korean activists and religious organizations who are helping them.

Beijing in March arrested South Korean activist Kim Young-hwan (49) on the vague charge of threatening national security.

Security forces in Yanbian told reporters the crackdown will continue until October and aims to wipe out all the places where North Korans hide, Chinese media reported on Thursday. “Due to its proximity to the border [with North Korea], Yanbian has been the scene of illegal border crossings and other crimes,” said Yanbian immigration chief Li Yong-xue. “If we find illegal immigrants or foreigners without proper documentation, we will investigate immediately.”

He also pledged to “root out activities by foreign NGOs or religious activists that violate laws or have a negative impact on national security and social stability.”

North Korean defectors caught in Yanbian or neighboring areas are expected to be arrested and sent back to the North, while South Koreans who help them worry about criminal investigation and deportation.

Around 10,000-15,000 defectors and other illegal migrants from the North are believed to be living in Yanbian. Some 10,000 South Koreans live there as well. “State security agents already informed Korean residents groups there that they will boost screening of immigration and residency requirements,” said one South Korean businessman in Yanbian. “North Korean defectors here are going into hiding.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N. Korea executed at least three over cannibalism: think tank

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In the News – N. Korea executed at least three over cannibalism: think tank

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) — North Korea has held public executions of at least three people on charges of cannibalism in recent years, a South Korean state-run institute said Thursday, the latest development that could support what has long been rumored in the isolated country.

There have been accounts among North Korean defectors in the South that some North Koreans ate and sold human flesh during the massive famine in the late 1990s that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.

A North Korean man in the northeastern city of Hyesan was executed in December 2009 for killing a preteen girl and eating her flesh, the Korea Institute for National Unification said in a white paper on human rights in North Korea, which is set to be released next week.

The man committed the crime because of a lack of food following Pyongyang’s botched currency reform in late 2009 that caused massive inflation and worsened food shortages, the white paper said, citing an interview with an unidentified defector in June last year.

The institute held in-depth interviews with 230 North Korean defectors in the South last year as part of efforts to glean fresh information on the North’s situation ahead of publication of its annual white paper.

An activist calls for a stop to public executions in North Korea during a rally in Seoul in mid-April. (Yonhap file photo)

The interviewees account for just a fraction of the more than 23,500 North Korean defectors who have settled in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

The white paper, the gist of which was obtained by Yonhap News Agency, also said a father and his son were shot to death in the eastern town of Doksong in 2006 on charges of eating human flesh, citing an eyewitness account of a North Korean defector.

The institute also said there was an account of cannibalism in the country’s northeastern town of Musan in 2011, though it was not known whether any punishment was meted out.

Last year, Caleb Mission, a small South Korean missionary group, unveiled a 2009 North Korean police document, which, among other things, chronicled several cases of cannibalism amid an acute food shortage in the communist country.

In one account, a male guard who could not bear his hunger killed his colleague using an ax, ate some of the human flesh and sold the remainder in the market by disguising it as mutton, the North Korean police report said, without giving any further details such as when the alleged crime occurred.

A former North Korean official who defected to the South 2001 said Thursday that he heard about more than a dozen cases of cannibalism from a North Korean intelligence official around 1999.

He said the practice appears to have ended in the North, citing his recent telephone conversation with another former North Korean official in the North. He asked not to be identified, citing safety concerns.

Still, the claim could not be independently verified as the North strictly restricts outside access to the country.

Despite the North’s crackdowns, some North Koreans near the border with China use Chinese mobile phones to keep in touch with their relatives and friends in South Korea and China, according to defectors.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Arrivals of N. Korean defectors drop

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In the News – Arrivals of N. Korean defectors drop

SEOUL, May 8 (Yonhap) — A total of 366 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea in the first three months of this year, down sharply from 566 in the same period last year, the Unification Ministry said Tuesday.

The North Koreans are composed of 119 men and 247 women, according to the ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

Rights activists said the number of new arrivals decreased as the defection of North Koreans has become more difficult due to crackdowns on defectors and increased costs in illegally crossing the border into China.

Many North Korean defectors in the South claim that they bribed North Korean guards to flee across the border into China.

South Korea is home to more than 23,500 North Korean defectors as a constant stream of North Koreans has fled their communist homeland to try to avoid chronic food shortages and harsh political oppression.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

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In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

North Korea detains university students over a failed rocket launch.

North Korean students work on their computers at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, April 11, 2012.

Authorities in North Korea are hunting down college students suspected of “spreading rumors” about a recent failed rocket launch amid warnings the reclusive state may stage a nuclear test.

North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket on April 13 saying that it would carry a satellite into space, but the rocket crashed into the sea just minutes after takeoff, drawing condemnation from the U.S. and its allies who called the act a “provocative” move.

New leader Kim Jong Un had shrugged off international concerns and pushed ahead with the launch in conjunction with the 100th birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the state.

Now, according to students, security personnel at some universities in North Korea are being instructed to take those who talk about the rocket failure into custody.

“The authorities are hunting down students who have spread rumors about the failed launch of the Kwangmyung-sung-3 [satellite] at the Hoeryong Teacher Training College (now renamed Kim Jong Suk Teacher Training College),” said one student from North Hamyong province, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Continue reading

In the News – Protests for N.Korean Defectors Sent Powerful Signal

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In the News – Protests for N.Korean Defectors Sent Powerful Signal

Protests across the street from the Chinese Embassy in Seoul that began in February against Beijing’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors came to an end on Monday. It had been 77 days since the protests began with a press conference by conservative Liberty Forward Party lawmaker Park Sun-young on Feb. 13 calling on Beijing to stop the repatriation of 24 North Korean defectors who were caught hiding in China.

Residents of the neighborhood complained about inconvenience as the demonstrations dragged on, and police and the Jongno District Office also requested that they end.

At first, the protests did not gain much attention. Then on Feb. 21 Park began a hunger strike and actor Cha In-pyo showed up with around 50 teenage North Korean defectors, drawing widespread attention to the demonstrations. Lee Ae-ran, the first North Korean defector to earn a PhD in South Korea, took the baton from Park and carried on the hunger strike, followed by other prominent officials. Continue reading

In the News – Survivor of N. Korean prison camp appeals for action on those left behind

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In the News – Survivor of N. Korean prison camp appeals for action on those left behind

PARIS, May 1 (Yonhap) — A North Korean defector who is the only known person to have escaped from a notorious political prison camp in the North has appealed for global action to prevent the ongoing tragedy of political prisoners in the isolated nation.

Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a North Korean concentration camp and escaped to freedom in 2005, gave a personal account of life there, saying inmates were subjected to torture, hard labor and arbitrary execution.

“Even now, it is not too late. We should prevent a massacre (in the North Korean prison camps),” the 31-year-old Shin told the audience at a lecture in Paris, warning that Holocaust-style slaughter could occur there any time if the outside world continues to turn a deaf ear to the testimony of defectors. Continue reading

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 – Defectors send anti-regime leaflets to N. Korea

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In the News – Defectors send anti-regime leaflets to N. Korea

PAJU, South Korea, April 28 (Yonhap) — About 40 North Korean defectors launched balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the communist state Saturday, as the communist country stepped up its saber-rattling against the South.

The activists from the Fighters for Free North Korea group sent 10 large balloons carrying 200,000 leaflets from Imjingak pavilion in the northern border city of Paju about 50 kilometers northwest of Seoul.

Activists in the South have frequently sent propaganda leaflets across the border, condemning the autocratic North Korean regime and calling for an uprising against the leadership. The isolationist country is currently ruled by Kim Jong-un, the grandson of the country’s founder Kim Il-sung.

Pyongyang has frequently threatened retaliation for the South’s anti-regime propaganda activities including the launching of leaflets, although no real actions have been taken place so far.

Recently, the North threatened military retaliation against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and those that have insulted the integrity of the communist regime.

 

Original article can be found here.

After Kim Jong-Il: America and the Two Koreas

Recently while listening to the National Public Radio (NPR) in the car I came across this program, made by “America Abroad,” about predictions on the future of North Korea and its relations with America. I found the nearly hour-long program at the “America Abroad” website and thought it would be helpful to show others this fairly comprehensive study of the past of Korean relations and to highlight its main points for those who don’t have a free hour to listen to the entire program. The program ended with a quote on the current state of relations; “The 65 million dollar question is… are we going to be ready if this succession doesn’t work.” This question colored the discussion on predictions for the future and unification through the hour. Continue reading

In the News – 8 N.Korean Defectors Arrive in Seoul

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In the News – 8 N.Korean Defectors Arrive in Seoul

Eight North Korean defectors who fled a logging camp in Russia arrived in South Korea earlier this month. According to a government source, the eight defectors arrived in Seoul aboard a Russian passenger jet on April 13 with the aid of the South Korean Embassy in Moscow.

They are being interviewed at a government facility in Siheung, Gyeonggi Province about the motive for their defection. The eight are just part of 40 North Korean loggers who are waiting in Moscow to go to South Korea.

The loggers were sent to Siberia seven to 10 years ago to earn foreign currency but apparently fled because they could not endure the harsh weather, extortion and constant surveillance. With the help of religious support groups, they were granted refugee status by the UN, but Moscow refused to let them leave after former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s visit to Russia in August last year.

Kim Hee-tae, head of one religious group, vowed to maintain contact with the remaining 32 and make sure they too can come to South Korea.

 

Original article can be found here.

China, Refugees… and Repatriation?

If you’ve been on our blog during the past few months, you may have noticed the news articles about the North Korean refugees being held in China. These refugees have gotten international notice from human rights activists, politicians, and celebrities alike but unfortunately it may not make a difference.

Let me give you some background information on this incident. Early in February, Chinese officials arrested a group of North Korea refugees who had crossed the Sino-Korean border in order to escape the grips of the North Korean government. This issue was first exposed to the world on February 14th through Donga News. It is believed that China eventually arrested 31 refugees and their fate has been up in the air since then. Among those captured, it is said that there are young children and maybe even an infant. Many of these people have family waiting for them in South Korea, family members that can do nothing but wait for their safe arrival. Continue reading

In the News – No Orders to Stop Repatriation

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In the News – No Orders to Stop Repatriation

Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the 18th that the Chinese government has stopped forced repatriation of the North Korean defectors in China however no guidelines or situations have changed. Rather, crackdowns on the defectors have intensified.

The Japanese newspaper citing a Chinese official revealed, “The Chinese government stopped forced repatriation for reasons that North Korea did not give them advance notice on their long-range rocket launch”. The Shimbun stated, “The Chinese government even after the death of Kim Jong Il in December of last year has repatriated roughly 30 defectors to North Korea everyday”.

But it appeared that the Chinese government, even after North Korea’s announcement of rocket launch last month, has continued to repatriate North Korean defectors. In addition, the Chinese frontier guards and public security officials have been strengthening its inspection and enforcement activities at the North Korea-China border.  Continue reading

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.

In the News – China Halts Repatriation of N.Korean Defectors

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In the News – China Halts Repatriation of N.Korean Defectors

The Chinese government has halted the repatriation of North Korean defectors, apparently in response to South Korean requests and because it is angry that the North went ahead with its rocket launch.

The Yomiuri Shimbun on Wednesday cited an official from China’s Liaoning Province as saying China, which had been repatriating up to 30 North Korean defectors a day since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December, recently stopped doing so.

“North Korea failed to inform China of specific plans to launch its missile last Friday,” another Chinese official told the Japanese daily, which added that Beijing’s anger at being kept in the dark played a role in the decision to stop the repatriations. “Although it is unclear when Beijing stopped repatriation, it is certain no more defectors were sent back to North Korea,” the paper said. Continue reading