On My Way to See You

There is a new show on Korea’s Channel A called “On My Way to See You”. The show invites female North Korean refugees to talk about the experiences they had as teenagers and young adults in the North. Some of the ladies were performers at North Korea’s national performing arts group in Pyongyang, while others had less privileged lives and witnessed their family members’ deaths to diseases that modern technology could have easily prevent. Kim Jieun, from Youngwon, Pyeongannamdo, had a particularly heartbreaking story about her grandmother.

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“Normal” North Korea

Often times, when we think of North Korea, we have an image of people with grim faces and lifeless eyes walking through a drab city full of grey tones. We think of these people as mere puppets of the North Korean government putting on shows for the foreign tourists with a forced smile on their faces. They become part of the picture we paint in our minds of starving children and prisoners. How often do we actually think of these people as just people who have daily lives just like you and I do? Granted, our lifestyles may be extremely different. But the fact that they have lives separate from the one we imagine them to have is very true. Dr. Andrei Lankov addresses this in his article in The Korea Times.

For those of you who do not know who Andrei Lankov is, let me offer you a brief introduction. Dr. Andrei Lankov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and is now a renowned specialist in Korean studies. In 1985, he even spent some time studying at Kim Il Sung University of North Korea. In 2004, he moved to South Korea to teach at Kookmin University, which is where he remains today. He is one of the few foreigners in South Korea who can offer a scholarly perspective on North Korean issues. If you follow North Korean news and issues, you have probably come across his name quite a few times.

In his article “Normal North Korea,” Dr. Lankov talks about his experience of visiting North Korea in September of 1984. As he first drove through the streets of Pyongyang, he explains that what he saw was quite unexpected. Russia at the time was by no means a democratic state but was far more open and “permissive” than North Korea was. Therefore, having come from Russia, he had expected North Korea to look like a scene from George Orwell’s book 1984, which is ironic considering the year of his visit. He explains it as follows: Continue reading

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.

In the News – Starvation Deaths Reported in Southern Areas

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In the News – Starvation Deaths Reported in Southern Areas

Food shortages in the North Korean agricultural heartland of Hwanghae Province are leading to starvation deaths, Daily NK has learned. A significant percentage of cooperative farm workers are reportedly too malnourished to work, and a number are leaving their farms to seek help.A North Hwanghae Province source told the Daily NK in recent days, “Local people are in pain from hunger, but the only help that households short of food are receiving from the authorities is 1 or 2 kg of corn; it’s emergency relief but only sufficient to stop them starving. Seeing the situation getting worse and with help from the authorities being so inadequate, there are people leaving for other areas to get help from family.”

The source gave an example of one village, saying, “Hangae-ri in Shingye County alone has seen a total of six children and elderly people die of starvation. At the same time, all the authorities are doing is telling everyone to try and overcome the difficulties.”

A second resident of the area, this time from South Hwanghae Province, recently came out into the North Korea-China border region to get food. Speaking with Daily NK by phone, the source mirrored the same sentiment, painting an alarming picture of the late winter food situation in and around Haeju, a coastal city just a few kilometers from South Korean Yeonpyeong Island.

“A few dozen very weak people could be found on each farm,” the source explained. “The farms put in place measures to deal with it, but these were fairly useless. By the time April had passed, something like ten people had died of starvation on each farm.”

“Food shortages were so serious that the 1st and 2nd Corps patrolling the military demarcation line around Kaesong were malnourished,” the source went on, adding that many of the soldiers from those units are now doing farming themselves because farm workers are deserting their posts. Continue reading

In the News – Chinese fishermen say North Korean soldiers beat and robbed them

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In the News – Chinese fishermen say North Korean soldiers beat and robbed them

BEIJING — Chinese fishermen released by North Korea this week after nearly two weeks of captivity alleged that they were beaten, robbed and stripped and given starvation rations in a case that has opened up a rare public rift between the Communist allies.

“They used the back of their machine guns to hit us and also kicked us,” said Wang Lijie, one of 29 fishermen in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “They stripped us of all our clothes after the beating, including sock and shoes. Most of us had only underwear left.”

The North Koreans drained the three captured ships of fuel and also removed almost all the caught fish and the food and cooking oil stored for the journey. The fisherman were allowed out once or twice a day to cook small rations of grain, but were otherwise confined in a tiny storage room while their captors negotiated for ransom.

The hostage takers had initially demanded $65,000 per ship, according to the ships’ owners, which apparently the Chinese refused to pay.

Although none of the Chinese crew were seriously injured, their accounts of mistreatment were reported in the Chinese media on Tuesday, triggering calls for an explanation from North Korea. “Crew treated ‘inhumanely,’ ” read the headline Tuesday in the Global Times, a newspaper closely tied to China’s Communist Party.

Moreover, the fishermen returning home identified their captors as North Korean military.

“They didn’t dock our ship at any of the North Korean ports. Our ship was just drifting in the ocean the whole time with North Korean soldiers watching and guarding us all the time,” said Wang. “The North Korean soldiers also forced us to sign a document in Korean language which is supposed to be confessions of us fishing in North Korean waters. When we at first refused, they started to beat us again.”

The boats were seized May 8 while fishing in what the ship owners claimed were Chinese territorial waters and were forced to sail toward North Korea. Although it is not the first time Chinese fishermen have claimed harassment by North Koreans, the incident is by far the most serious and raises questions about whether impoverished North Korea is descending into Somalia-style piracy.

The country is in a difficult transition period following the death of its leader, Kim Jong Il, in December and the elevation of his son, Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s.

“If North Korean governmental authorities are linked to this incident, we could suspect that the central government’s control has weakened in the process of power shifting to Kim Jong Un,” said Lee Dong-bok, senior associate at Center for Strategic and International Studies in Seoul.

China is North Korea’s main ally, the source of most of its fuel oil, investment capital and food aid, but Pyongyang has irritated its patron in recent months by ignoring Beijing’s calls for restraint in its weapons programs.

The Global Times, among other Chinese media, have demanded an investigation and prosecution of the latest incident.

“As lives are involved, the severity of the incident cannot be offset by national interests, including Sino-North Korean relations,” the paper editorialized last week.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Most N.Korean Children Undernourished

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In the News – Most N.Korean Children Undernourished

Nearly two-thirds of North Korean children under 10, or some 2.2 million, suffer from growth disorders related to malnutrition and 18,000 of them are so undernourished that their life is at risk, according to a study.

Hwang Na-mi, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs in Seoul, published her findings in the March issue of the journal Health and Welfare Forum on Sunday. She analyzed a nutrition assessment conducted in the North by the UNICEF in cooperation with the North’s Central Statistics Bureau in 2004 and 2009.

According to the study, 2.2 million or 61.7 percent of the North’s 3.55 million children under 10 were underweight, chronically malnourished with stunted growth, or acutely undernourished with a frail physique. Some numbers overlap.

Some 320,000 or 18.8 percent of children aged 0-4 years were underweight, and 430,000 or 23.1 percent of those aged 5-9. Five-year-old North Korean boys weighed less than 14.1 kg and girls less than 13.7 kg on average, about 4 kg lighter than their South Korean peers.

Some 1.23 million or 34.7 percent of children under nine showed stunted growth for their age due to malnutrition. Some 210,000 or 6 percent were frailly built and underweight for their height as a result of acute malnutrition.

Conditions varied widely between regions. In Ryanggang Province, which has no proper food rations and suffers from a lack of farmland, a massive 82.1 percent of children were undernourished, nearly double the percentage in the capital Pyongyang (43.5 percent). Next came South Hamgyong, North Hamgyong, and Jagang provinces.

“The health of North Korean children has improved thanks to food aid from the international community, but most of them are still undernourished,” Hwang said. “Some 0.5 percent of the North’s entire child population are at a high risk of dying of diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia or diarrhea because their immune system is so weak due to extreme malnutrition.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – China has repatriated North Korean defectors, South Korean official says

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In the News – China has repatriated North Korean defectors, South Korean official says

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — Ignoring international protests, China may have repatriated around 30 North Korean defectors who had been caught while trying to escape their homeland, a South Korean official said Friday.

Park Sun-young, a South Korean lawmaker who had been on hunger strike protesting such repatriations, told CNN she believes the North Koreans have been sent back.  CNN cannot independently confirm the assertion. Continue reading

In the News – Former aid official says N. Korean children suffer from poor diet

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In the News – Former aid official says N. Korean children suffer from poor diet

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 30 (Yonhap) — Many North Korean children are stunted due to chronic malnutrition, a former aid official said Wednesday, the latest sign of food shortages in the communist country.

The North has relied on foreign handouts since the late 1990s when it suffered a massive famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people. North Korea also suffered from devastating floods earlier this year, which experts have said may worsen the country’s food shortages.

Katharina Zellweger, who led the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development in Pyongyang for five years until September, said North Korean children need a balanced diet, though the public rationing system has been very up and down. Continue reading