Sunday, November 27, 2005

Trafficking of North Korean women refugees

In late May, a female North Korean refugee hiding in China sent this plea for help to an operative in the underground railroad:

Please help us. Please save us from this darkness full of danger. We are currently living in China risking danger every day. It is not just me alone, but my mother, elder sister, and my elder sister's 3-year-old daughter. The only crime we have is coming here to find something to eat because we were hungry. What is worse than being hungry is the constant worry and fear that at any moment we might get caught.

An estimated 300,000 North Koreans have escaped to northeast China. Women and children are increasingly the majority of refugees crossing the river into China. If they can locate a friend or relative's house, they have a chance at finding a safe haven. But if the ethnic Korean Chinese traffickers find them first, they are abducted and sold, either to men as informal wives or concubines or to karaoke clubs for prostitution. Their price and destination are determined by their age and appearance. China's one-child policy has resulted in a deficit of women from selective abortions, infanticide, and the selling off of girl babies. Kidnapping and trafficking have become common ways that Chinese men acquire women.

The women are raped by sellers and buyers. Some of the traffickers are looking for a woman for themselves, and they sell the other ones. According to an activist who makes regular trips to China to assist refugees, women are mostly sold in cities in Jilin Province in northeast China. He has gone to karaoke clubs in search of women and found that the clubs were protected by Chinese police. A young woman refugee said that Chinese officials are complicit in the trafficking of North Korean women.

Once a woman is sold, she is completely powerless. If she offers any protest, she is threatened with exposure to the Chinese authorities. There are reported cases of vengeful men reporting women to the police. They are then deported to North Korea. Most often, women are resold to another man after the original buyer tires of them.

Pastor Chun Ki-won director of the Durhana Mission based in Seoul, South Korea, is active in assisting refugees. A modern-day liberator, he has been arrested and imprisoned in China for his part in running the underground railroad. According to him, 80 to 90 percent of the women refugees in South Korea have been victims of sex trafficking.

Pastor Chun Ki-won's name and his mission are well-known among refugees hiding in China. He receives one to two letters a day from women describing how they have been sold and asking for assistance. He said, "Women are treated like animals. They have no rights. Whoever finds them first can sleep with them. Then he sells them later."

The author of one letter to Pastor Chun Ki-won wrote: "I want to live like a human being for one day. I am a human being. How can I be sold like this?"

[Excerpted from an article by Donna M. Hughes, National Review]

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Trafficking of North Korean women refugees (2)

To hide from the Chinese police, families or small groups of [North Korean] refugees climb into the mountains of northeast China and build shelters to hide in and sleep at night. During the day, they walk down into towns in search of food or work.

A secret underground railroad, run mostly by Christian activists, operates to get refugees to safety. If the conductors on this railroad are caught, they are arrested and sentenced to prison in China. Brave North Korean activists, who could be deported if they are caught — and certainly executed — risk their lives to help the refugees.

One woman refugee said that ethnic Korean Chinese men hunt for them in the forests and mountains. If they find them they rape them and force them to "marry."

There is evidence that women are trafficked to China from inside North Korea as well. Tim Peters, director of Helping Hands, assisted a 26-year-old woman refugee who was sold to a violent man. After the death of her father and mother in North Korea, a sympathetic woman offered to help her get to China where she could live with the woman's relatives. But after they crossed the Tumen River, she observed the woman being paid 1,500 yuan ($190) by a man. She was sold to a married man who bought her to be his concubine. She escaped with the help of a Christian activist.

There are numerous reports of women in North Korea being so hungry and desperate that they allow traffickers to sell them to someone in China. As awful as this is, it enables them to live, eat, and maybe send some money or food back to other family members.

Refugees caught in China are routinely arrested and deported to North Korea. Those who flee from North Korea are considered traitors to the government and the ruling ideology of Juche or self reliance. The returnees are imprisoned in detention centers, interrogated, mistreated, and starved. Pregnant women are forcibly aborted or newborns killed to keep "foreign" blood out of North Korea.

According to a first-hand report, a 26-year-old woman in a detention center was executed for "selling herself" in China. Yun Hye-ryeon, wife of Aquariums of Pyongyang author Kang Chul-hwan, was in the cell next to this woman. The woman had crossed into China to feed herself and her baby, but according to the North Korean officials she fell under the influence of capitalism and sold herself for money. She was publicly executed as a lesson to others.

[Excerpted from an article by Donna M. Hughes, National Review]

Friday, November 25, 2005

Bush Weak on China and North Korea

President Bush spoke up for democracy in Mongolia, a poor, windswept nation of 2.4 million people that never before had been visited by a U.S. president. Wedged between communist China and authoritarian Russia, Mongolia's democrats certainly could use the boost they received from Mr. Bush. But it's striking that a president who dedicated his second term to promoting freedom did not do more of it during his weekend visit to Beijing -- where advocating for human rights is more difficult and more urgent.

Yes, Mr. Bush did attend a church service, and he did offer some perfunctory remarks encouraging China "to continue making the historic transition to greater freedom." But political liberalization was nowhere near the top of a bilateral agenda with President Hu Jintao that was focused on trade and economic issues and North Korea's nuclear program.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman probably was accurate when he reported that "human rights issues made up a tiny, tiny, tiny part of the meeting between the leaders of the two countries."

The United States has always had to balance economic, security and political priorities in relations with China, and Beijing doesn't respond readily to pressure from Washington. But Mr. Bush's light touch with Mr. Hu is disappointing because the Chinese president, far from continuing a "transition to greater freedom" during his three years in power, has been moving his country in the opposite direction.

The Chinese media, academia, religious groups and the local Internet are all more tightly controlled now than they were when Mr. Bush last visited China, in 2002.

More than a dozen journalists and writers have been imprisoned in the past year; lawyers seeking to defend them have been disbarred. Plans to expand local elections and allow foreign newspapers have been frozen, and Hong Kong has been denied the free elections.

[Excerpt of a Washington Post editorial]

Thursday, November 24, 2005

North Korean Defectors Pose Challenges

The slow exodus of North Koreans from their impoverished homeland is posing increasingly vexing diplomatic problems for China and South Korea, as they grapple with their Stalinist neighbor's decay.

"When I came to China, I learned that people in North Korea eat worse than a pig in China," said a 34-year-old North Korean woman, now in China, who asked that only her surname -- Moon -- be used.

Moon currently holds a low-profile restaurant job in this dusty Chinese city. Yanji, which has a large population of ethnic Koreans, is located one hour from the North Korean border.

The mix of political oppression and brutal economics in North Korea has left defectors on the wrong side of the fence in the view of the Chinese government.

The issue has set South Korea and China at loggerheads while defectors and human rights activists contend that humanitarian concerns have been abandoned.

The government in Seoul is worried about the flow, fearing the situation is jeopardizing its efforts to improve relations with Pyongyang. Starting this year, South Korea slashed settlement money given to North Korean refugees by two-thirds - to around $9,000. The defectors have often used the settlement money to finance the escape of relatives through activist networks and human brokers.

Although China signed the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, China has opted to send many of the North Koreans back home, where campaigners say they face serious punishment, or death.

[From an article by Jeremy Kirk,]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A dangerous journey

On the Chinese side of the Tumen River border with North Korea, elderly ethnic Koreans who run bamboo boats for tourists said refugees were easy to spot because their clothing style was different and they did not fit in with their Chinese counterparts.

Most people in this small city are openly sympathetic to their very poor North Korean neighbors, who occasionally breach the shallow waters of the Tumen River to reach China.

Once the refugees are in China, human rights activists have employed various techniques to get them out again - high-profile dashes using ladders to climb into embassy compounds in Beijing; desert drives to the Mongolian border; risky land routes through Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.

"New routes are being looked for all the time," said Tim Peters, the founder of Helping Hands Korea, a nongovernmental organization that raises funds for clandestine operations to move refugees out of China."Old routes get discovered and get shut down."

Border guards and police are often bribed to look the other way.

Often, hard decisions must be made depending on the defector's profile and risk of imminent capture, Peters explained.

He said many South Koreans seemed to regard defectors as a costly social nuisance.Peters commented that if in the future, the international community is remembered as doing more than South Korea has when it comes to helping refugees from the North, "that's going to be a horrible scar on the consciences of their [South Koreans'] grandchildren."

[From an article by Jeremy Kirk,]

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

North Koreans Escape - to Pain

The lucky escapees from famine and the Stalinist dictatorship of North Korean leader Kim Jung-Il face a living nightmare even when they reach prosperous and democratic South Korea, where food and free will are unrestricted.

Haunted by survivor's guilt, traumatized and emaciated, North Korean refugees arrive in the capital Seoul after a long ordeal of hiding, waiting and debriefing. They hope for a job and new life but they find it hard to shut off the memories of starvation and despair.

Nearly all of them succumb to depression, and many attempt to commit suicide. "Systematically, all of them suffer from psychosomatic pain -- in the head, in the back and chest," says Gilduin Blanchard, representative of the international non-governmental organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Seoul. "Men drink, women often refuse to go out for months -- so big is their fear. The rate of suicidal attempts is very high."

Still, those who manage to escape are the strongest, social workers say. In the dead of winter, they sprint across the frozen Tumen river bordering China and spend days in hiding while the Christian underground railroad and human rights activists arrange their escape route. Over the years of a protracted North Korean famine, which started in the early 1990s, those activists have set up a chain of safe houses and orphanages to smuggle North Koreans into China.

The refugees imagine that once in China, their sufferings are over. "They believe they can find food and work there," says Blanchard. But the reality is in fact, very different. "They have no legal status inside the Chinese border, which means they have to hide in constant fear from being repatriated."

Previously, Chinese authorities turned a blind eye to what they still call economic migrants, who regularly cross the border to barter for food, stay with relatives, or just blend in with the vast ethnic Korean population along the Chinese side of the frontier.

[Excerpted from an article by Antoaneta Bezlova, Inter Press Service News Agency]

North Koreans Escape - to Pain (Part 2)

In 2000, Beijing reversed its lenient attitude and started organizing nationwide manhunts, offering rewards to those who turn in North Korean refugees and fining and even jailing those who help them.

"Since the beginning of 2005, the Chinese have been catching and expatriating about 400 to 500 people a week," says U.S. Christian missionary Tim Peters, who heads Helping Hands Korea, a group that assists refugees from the North.

That means at least 20,000 to 25,000 North Koreans are attempting to escape the country yearly.

Only a handful of those end up in South Korea. There are just over 6,500 officially registered North Korean refugees in the South and the numbers of newcomers have been steadily dropping.

Refugee supporters blame the downward trend on a combination of factors. They say the Chinese government's pressure to stop the exodus on its side of the border has been matched with an increase in summary trials and executions on the North Korean side.

"In recent months the North has stepped up the number of public executions, hoping they can serve as a deterrent for people who want to escape," says Kim Sang Hun, a 70-year-old retired United Nations official and human rights activist.

Rare video footage of summary executions in the North showing blindfolded prisoners shot in the head was smuggled through China to South Korea earlier this year. But South Korean authorities have barred the airing of the secret tape, fearing it might upset Pyongyang and harm fragile North-South relations.

[Excerpted from an article by Antoaneta Bezlova, Inter Press Service News Agency]

Monday, November 21, 2005

Regime change underway in North Korea?

American businessman Roy Browning has a front-row seat for the unusual signs of change emerging from North Korea. Mr. Browning lives in a high-rise in Dandong on the Chinese side of the border with North Korea, overlooking the Yalu River that separates the two countries.

Late last year, there were reports that portraits of Mr. Kim, which dominate Pyongyang's public buildings, had been removed. Insiders claimed the portraits and other Kim images were removed to be cleaned, or because their presence had drawn comparisons to Saddam Hussein.

Any such retooling of Mr. Kim's likeness is significant in the country, which has built a cult of personality around the Kims. Great Leader Kim Il Sung remains president for life, even after his 1994 death. His son, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, is supposed to command singular loyalty. The country's goals of reunifying with South Korea and defeating U.S. "imperialism" hinge on the presence of an all-powerful leader.

Activists and observers used to probing the communist country's idiosyncrasies believe a dramatic change is slowly underway, one that is shifting power away from dictator Kim Jong Il and toward a cabal of military generals.

North Koreans Mr. Browning met coming across the border were hiding their "Dear Leader" pins inside their coats instead of displaying them over their hearts as mandated.

From these signs, he speculates that momentous change is afoot. “It is difficult to see things happening even as close as we are because of the strict control the country has. If you can imagine Nazi Germany in 1939 and then make it much worse, you will then have the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."

Seoul-based Korean-American human-rights activist Douglas Shin has been tracking blips in North Korea's usually predictable propaganda. From subtle rewordings in the state press and from reports Mr. Shin receives from a high-ranking North Korean official, he believes a band of military generals has already sidelined Mr. Kim.

Still, decoding secretive North Korea remains an intensely speculative parlor game. Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, a group assisting North Korean refugees, also hears growing chatter from his contacts about changes in Pyongyang. They confirm the increased border activity Mr. Browning has witnessed, but note that while approved forays into China have multiplied, a parallel clamp-down on refugees escaping North Korea has occurred on both sides of the border.

While Mr. Peters believes Mr. Kim is suffering challenges to his rule, he is not sure the bouffant-haired dictator has lost control just yet. "I don't think we should underestimate the staying power of this regime," he said. "Not because Kim Jong Il is so powerful, but because of the [indoctrination]. There's a joke that if any two people had a conversation that was even remotely critical of the government, they would both inform the authorities."

[Excerpted from an article by Priya Abraham, WORLD Magazine]

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is there hope for North Korea?

It's not only in the Middle East that Iraq's election lights a way. Let us turn to what may be the world's most abandoned population, 23 million souls living under a government that surely qualifies as the worst totalitarian state on the planet: North Korea.

Long viewed as home to hopelessly brainwashed generations, marching in lockstep to the glory of the tyrannical father-son Kim dynasty, North Korea has been pretty much written off the world's list of candidates for transition to democracy--at least by the usual sophisticates of world politics, at least for the foreseeable future. The vision routinely offered in seminars and lectures on such matters as East Asian security is one of a North Korean population that, if ever set free, would have no idea what to do except perhaps pivot as one, swarm South Korea and devour its bounty like a colony of army ants--upsetting all sorts of cozy regional habits in the process.

That's one big reason why democratic states like the U.S., Japan, European Union members and South Korea have focused not on freeing North Koreans, but on wheeling and dealing with their tyrant, in efforts to contain Pyongyang's nuclear bomb-making, war-threatening, terrorizing ways. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in her confirmation hearings that she thinks North Korea can best be dealt with via "diplomacy."

What that means in practice remains to be seen. But let us hope that with Natan Sharansky's book, "The Case for Democracy," making the rounds in Washington, Ms. Rice was thinking more of reaching out in any way possible to the captive population of North Korea than of pinning our own security on yet more rounds of those "six-way talks" in Beijing. Those are the spectacles at which the North Korean representative huffs and puffs, and the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Russia all dignify his killer regime with their joint attention, while the Chinese communists smile and serve tea.

Not so long ago, this was more or less the approach of democratic societies, including the U.S., to Saddam Hussein and the millions of Iraqis who in 2002 "re-elected" him president with 100% of the "vote." The important people of global politics, at the U.N. and in many of the world's capitals, dealt with Saddam; meanwhile the Iraqi people under threat of torture or death collected their rations and either kept quiet, defected or died at state hands in numbers that far outstripped the current widely reported violence.

With Saddam gone, Iraqis now have opportunities that North Koreans--except the two million who were quietly starved to death by their own government these past 10 years--can only dream of. While Iraqis were wowing the world with their will to go to the polls, North Koreans, according to the state "news" agency, were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the late Great Leader Kim Il Sung's "unforgettable" publication of "Theses on the Socialist Rural Question in Our Country." Does anyone seriously imagine that is how North Koreans freed of their regime would choose to spend the day?

While North Korean cadres were pondering the agricultural insights of Kim Sr., the regime of the current tyrant, Kim Jr., was busy cutting the rations of ordinary North Koreans--again--to half the minimum daily energy requirement, as the U.N. World Food Program director for North Korea, Richard Ragan, recently told Reuters.

The classic answer is to send aid. Unfortunately, there is a mountain of evidence that this serves chiefly to sustain the Kim regime, which à la Saddam finds ways to divert relief to its own uses--one of those uses being to keep control over a horribly oppressed citizenry. President Clinton cut a deal with Pyongyang in 1994 meant to produce a nuclear freeze while feeding the people of North Korea.

Pyongyang predictably cheated on the freeze, starved the people anyway, and Kim Jong Il, who had just inherited the regime from his father, seized the chance to consolidate his grip.

[Excerpted from an article by Claudia Rosett, Wall Street Journal]

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Is there hope for North Korea? (Part 2)

How to reach the people of North Korea is a tough question.

But one place to start is by speaking the truth in our own capitals. That's what Mr. Bush did in his 2002 State of the Union address, when he named North Korea as one of the three charter members of the "axis of evil"--along with Iran and Saddam's Iraq. But later, Mr. Bush said only that "we're working closely with the governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions."

Trouble is, the source of the threat from Pyongyang is less North Korea's nuclear interests than its government.

Democratic South Korea has nuclear plants capable of producing bomb fuel, but we aren't much worried Seoul is about to start dispensing bombs to blow us up.

The great danger of North Korea stems from a totalitarian regime that must conjure enemies to keep its own grip at home.

Short of war to remove the Kim regime, probably the best way into North Korean society is to welcome and encourage people coming out. That offers a chance for North Korean defectors to speak up, broadcast honest news back into the country, organize dissident groups and seek ways best known to former insiders to communicate with those still trapped under Kim's rule.

Except the number of North Koreans welcomed by the rest of the world has been tragically small--amounting to about 6,300 all told, most of them arriving in South Korea over the past three years. That's about zip compared to the number who would flee given even a whisper of a decent chance. At risk of their lives, an estimated 300,000 have in any case fled across the border into China.

You might think that once they reached Chinese turf, an outfit such as the United Nations, keeper of the 1951 convention on refugees, would offer help. Hardly. Since famine in North Korea and growing mobility inside China brought the first serious refugee influx in the early 1990s, the U.N. has engaged in what it calls "quiet diplomacy," meant to persuade China's regime to honor its international obligations and at least allow safe passage to these asylum-seekers, who have a fear of persecution deeply grounded in the likelihood that they may be executed, or sent to murderous labor camps, if returned.

But so quiet is this diplomacy, so as not to offend China--which sits on the governing body of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and holds a veto-wielding seat on the UN Security Council--that nothing much has emerged from all the hush. There are no refugee centers for North Koreans in China; instead, there is a bilateral treaty with North Korea under which asylum-seekers are labeled illegal economic migrants. If caught, they are sent back.

The result, as South Korea-based private American relief worker Tim Peters reports in a recent bulletin, is that even with help for North Korean refugees signed into law in the U.S. last year, the outlook for them "is indeed grim for 2005." China has beefed up efforts to keep them out or catch them, posting more soldiers along the border, and adding roadblocks to detect private aid workers trying at risk of prison themselves to reach the border areas.

From inside North Korea, reports Mr. Peters, he has been receiving accounts that "authorities have stepped up the monitoring and interrogation of families in which family members are unaccounted for." That is awful news, because in North Korea, the regime imposes collective punishment on entire families.

How the end might come for the despotic regime of North Korea, we do not yet know. It would be foolish to expect it will in any sense be easy. But it would be cruelty and madness, not to mention plain dumb foreign policy, to assume that 23 million human beings would not, like the Iraqis, welcome the chance to start the long labor of assembling a government of, by and for the people. If they do, the world will be safer for it.

[Excerpted from an article by Claudia Rosett, Wall Street Journal]

Friday, November 18, 2005

North Korea Expels European Aid Groups

North Korea has ordered non-governmental European aid groups to leave the country after the European Union submitted a U.N. resolution criticizing Pyongyang's human rights record, aid workers said Wednesday.

The order covers at least 11 of the 12 foreign non-governmental organizations in the isolated North, which has struggled for a decade with severe food shortages. The groups affected are running health, sanitation, forestry and other programs.

The NGOs have been asked to wind up their operations by Dec. 31, said Padraig O'Ruairc, the Pyongyang coordinator for Concern, an Irish humanitarian group.

Other groups ordered to leave include Britain's Save the Children, the French groups Handicap International and Premier Urgence and Sweden's PMU Interlife, according to aid workers.

The order comes as the World Food Program also is scrambling to preserve its access to North Korea following a government request for the U.N. agency to wind up its food aid program this year and switch to economic development assistance.

North Korea issued the order last week after the EU submitted a U.N. resolution expressing "serious concern" about reports of torture by the Stalinist dictatorship and its restrictions on religion, travel and other activities. It calls on the North, one of the world's most secretive societies, to cooperate with U.N. human rights investigators.

The EU resolution, which has 40 co-sponsors, expresses "serious concern" at the "continuing reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights" in North Korea, including torture, public executions, imposing the death penalty for political reasons and the extensive use of forced labor.

[From an article by Joe McDonald, Associated Press]

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bush sticks to hard line on North Korea

(CNN) U.S. President George W. Bush has maintained his hard line on North Korea, saying there will be no assistance to Pyongyang until it gives up its nuclear weapons and programs.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Gyeongju, South Korea, the U.S. leader said a sought-after "light water nuclear reactor" would not be delivered until the "appropriate time." And that time was "after they (North Korea) have verifiably given up their nuclear weapons and programs."

President Bush was speaking after a meeting Thursday with South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun, during which the two men had extensive discussions on how to deal with the North's nuclear capabilities.

South Korea has resisted the tough approach advocated by the Bush administration for ending the impasse with North Korea, opposing the idea of military action if diplomacy fails. South Korea also is cool to the idea of taking the standoff to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

President Roh left open the possibility of another leaders summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, but also said the six-party talks were the best framework for dealing with the nuclear situation.

Call for Bush to Focus on North Korea's Human Rights Record

As the world focuses on North Korea's nuclear program, human rights activists say not enough attention is being paid to Pyongyang's human rights violations.

A new U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report, called Thank You, Father Kim Il Sung, refers to the harsh and absolute cult of personality surrounding the late North Korean leader. Author David Hawk said the report relies on eyewitness accounts from North Korean defectors and largely details religious persecution.

"There are people who continue to be imprisoned for their religious beliefs, quite a number of people who are punished because of their religious beliefs." he said.

Mr. Hawk called on President Bush to raise the issue of human rights in North Korea with South Korean and Chinese leaders. He said he especially thinks U.S. concerns should be conveyed to Seoul. "I think it would be extremely important, and in my own opinion, the most important element is for human rights to be put on the engagement agenda of South Koreans in their engagement policy with the North Koreans," he added.

The issue has been championed in the U.S. Congress, which last year passed the North Korea Human Rights Act.

[Excerpted from an article by Stephanie Ho, Voice of America]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

North Korean Food Situation May be Worsening

North Korea remains in the middle of an acute food crisis. And there are signs the country's dependency on outside aid may be growing even stronger.

Every year since 1999, South Korea has supplied its impoverished rival with 300,000 metric tons of fertilizer. But this year, North Korea has asked for an unprecedented 500,000 tons.

Analysts say the request is the latest sign that the North is still unable to produce enough food and that its dependence on donors is increasing at a time when it shows little sign of resolving major differences with the outside world. For a decade, North Korea has needed foreign aid to feed its people, as natural disaster and years of economic mismanagement have eroded crop production.

In a further sign of food shortages, the United Nations World Food Program says North Korea recently cut daily food rations to 250 grams of rice or cereal per person, per day. Brenda Barton, a spokeswoman at WFP headquarters in Rome, says that is insufficient.

"That is half of what people need to survive on a day-to-day basis," she said.

Humanitarian groups say a major difficulty they face is in ensuring that food aid reaches the neediest civilians rather than being diverted to North Korea's armed forces or the ruling elite.
The WFP says it is satisfied that most of its aid reaches those for whom it is intended: children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Christian activist Tim Peters runs a charity in Seoul that delivers food aid to North Koreans. He says that North Korean refugees told him in China late last year the shortages are getting worse.
"The refugees told us that for the most part they have not seen food aid within the last four or five years," he said.

Japan, the United States and other countries say they are willing to provide aid to North Korea once it has verifiably ended its nuclear weapons program.

In the meantime, the World Food Program's Brenda Barton says North Korean civilians will continue to suffer. "The situation day by day for the population is still very tenuous. People often don't know where their next meal is coming from," she said.

[Excerpted from an article by Kurt Achin, Voice of America]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Just How Bad is the Starvation in North Korea?

Mrs. Kim is a Chinese Korean living in Northeast China. In a recent interview with VOM, she relayed the following:

“We started a home church on the second floor of our home in 1993, with eight of our Christian friends. … In 1996, my husband passed away. I was really depressed and lonely.

“The more I prayed about my situation, the more I felt God calling me to North Korea. So in the spring of 1997, I planned my first trip. …I knew God had called me [there]. But then I was heartbroken by what I saw.

“I walked down the road in this one village where dead bodies were on the side of the road. I saw a hungry boy eating one of the bodies. But then a policeman also saw him, and pulling out his revolver, he shot the boy in the head. It was the first but not the last person I saw shot for committing cannibalism.

“When I returned to China after that first trip, I left something in North Korea –my heart; I knew this was to be my ministry. … Since then I have made contact with 40 house churches and helped start another 60.

“But now the work is very difficult. … Four believers were caught worshipping together. They were arrested and sentenced to seven years.

‘Another family was arrested --the while family, including the children. They were all in prison except for the father. He was executed.

“[I helped] a son and a daughter of one family come into China for more training. But when they were returning to North Korea, they were caught and charged with ‘treason’ and becoming Christians. They have been publicly executed.”

[Excerpted from Voice of the Martyrs, November 2005 issue]

Monday, November 14, 2005

Nowhere to run

Fifty years ago, the savage war which divided the Korean peninsula ended, not with a peace treaty but an armistice, leaving the two sides still, technically, at war.

More than one million troops still stand ready on either side of the troubled border, the Demilitarized Zone.

With most aid and what little investment it had been receiving cut off, the fate of North Korea's citizens has been deteriorating, a decade after two million of them starved during the worst famine in living memory. Many attempt to leave, risking everything to flee across the border to China, which doesn't recognize the desperate invaders as refugees.

Fifty years of suspicion, the world's most heavily fortified border, two economies poles apart and surviving family members separated for five decades with little prospect of reunion.

Evidence exists of forced labor and detention camps in North Korea where conditions are appalling and torture and executions frequent.

However it's destitution which forces most people to flee the country.

South Korean economist Dr Yoon Deok Ryong says the centrally controlled economy has collapsed. “If you go to there, you cannot see cars on the highways, you cannot see smoke from the chimneys, there are no trees on the mountains, and so on. Physically there is no sign of economic activity. ...This shows North Korea's economy has already collapsed because it does not have the capacity to feed its own people. Malnutrition is a general phenomenon," Dr. Ryong says.

To the dismay of his family, Kim Sang Hun spends his retirement helping refugees and trying to bring their plight to the attention of an apparently uncaring world.

"My concern with the situation is purely humanitarian or from the point of human rights, which I believe are the over-riding most important value, which should not be compromised by any political or economic considerations," he says.

Mr. Kim became famous for his part in the storming of the Spanish Embassy in Beijing a couple years ago by 25 refugees who then traveled to South Korea.

I asked Mr. Kim if the idea behind the embassy rushes in Beijing was to draw attention to the issue, start a debate, and hopefully help the several hundred thousand [North Korean refugees] in China to attain refugee status?

"That's right, and as you know, those North Korean defectors who went into the Spanish embassy the next day they were sent out of China.

“I was very surprised. I expected months and months or at least weeks and weeks discussing it, but the Chinese government just brushed away discussion in the eyes of international community," he says.

Kim Sang Hun previously worked underground but now that he is prevented from traveling to China, where he faces arrest, he now lobbies openly.

Mr. Kim focuses on pressuring China to honor the United Nations’ conventions it has signed and grant asylum to the North Koreans. He believes his own government has turned its back on the issue, afraid of offending its giant neighbor.

And he rejects the critics who say his methods have made life harder for those in the border areas between North Korea and China.

Seoul-based Tim Peters agrees. He’s the director of the Christian agency, Helping Hands Korea, which sends aid across the border when it can. He is particularly critical of the failure of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner for Refugees to make a difference.

"The aid community have certainly been giving the UNHCR an earful for years now about their inaction regarding asylum seekers from North Korea,” Mr. Peters says.

But what can the UNHCR do if China insists on pursuing its policy of repatriating the refugees? "What the UNHCR can do is simply invoke two very powerful instruments that are contained in the 1951 Convention of which the Chinese government is a signatory.

“But in actual fact the UNHCR is cooped up in Beijing, and the Chinese government forbids them to go up to the Yangbyang area. And apparently the UNHCR is passively accepting this particular ruling by the Chinese government,” Mr. Peters says.

“Secondly there is a clause signed by China in the UNHCR (convention) that in the case of disagreement, binding arbitration is the way out - let's say whether or not the UNHCR in this case could go up and interview the North Koreans at the China-North Korea border.

"To the best of our understanding, the UNHCR in China has never once invoked its instrument of binding arbitration, which strongly suggests to us that they're accepting passively the status quo, and whatever the Chinese government says is being just submissively accepted by the UNHCR."

Tim Peters believes the UNHCR is failing completely in its responsibility to the North Korean refugees.

“We find this absolutely intolerable that the very institution, the very agency of the United Nations that is mandated to take care of, and to exercise protection for, refugees is either sitting on its hands or treating them as nuisances. ...I think they're in the wrong line of work, I really think they're in completely the wrong line of work."

According to Mr. Peters, the North Koreans face a whole range of consequences once they are repatriated back to North Korea.

“In the case of females, there's the horrific potential that if she's carrying a baby, there would be a forced abortion, or if she is allowed to go full-term, then she faces the prospects that her baby would be killed."

Tim Peters believes that instead of repatriating North Korean refugees, China should simply allow international law to take its course.

“China is a signatory of the UN convention, so it should simply allow it to dictate the outcome for these asylum seekers.

“It's a well known fact that China seems to fear that there will be a flood of refugees, but in fact the UN would, in a sense, take the financial burden of handling them.

“But the Chinese continue to flout international law and they seem to be doing it with impunity. Nobody is raising a red flag on this, except a group of small NGOs, and I think it's time that the bigger players start taking up this obvious issue, and the South Korean government should be first in line."

[From an article by Karon Snowdon, Australia Broadcasting Company (Asia Pacific)]

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Unwelcome Truths

North Korea's highest-ranking defector arrived safely in Washington DC despite North Korea's threat to "shoot his plane out of the sky" if he dared to visit the U.S.

Hwang Jang Yop brought with him a two-prong proposal for what he calls the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula: regime change and greater international focus on the human-rights abuses of the North. Mr. Hwang said: "I want to emphasize the importance of eliminating the Kim Jong Il regime." How to do that? "The U.S. should put the issue of human rights at the top of its agenda in its dialogue" with North Korea.

Hwang Jang Yop is an unlikely champion of human rights in North Korea. (Mr. Hwang , the former head of North Korea's Workers Party and president of Kim Il Sung University had defected to South Korea in 1997.) Now in his 80’s, he spent his career in the service of the brutal regime he now denounces. He was the North's ideologue-in-chief--founder and leading proponent of the "juche" ideology of self-reliance that Kim Il Sung, father of current leader Kim Jong Il, used to justify his totalitarian rule.

One would think that the one place in the world where the campaign to free the North Korean people would be taken most seriously would be South Korea, where Mr. Hwang lived under virtual house arrest until recently. Think again.

Most Koreans are well informed about the brutal realities of life in the North but prefer to look the other way. It's much pleasanter to contemplate reunification fantasies such as the one portrayed in a hit movie about a cross-border romance between a South Korean woman and a North Korean soldier.

If the South Korean people seem indifferent to the plight of their brothers and sisters in the North, it's in large part because their political leaders remain silent. President Roh Moo Hyun was a human-rights lawyer before taking office but human rights north of the DMZ is way down on his priority list.

South Korea's constitution requires it to welcome any North Korean who wants to come to the South. Yet in the 50 years since the end of the Korean War, the South has accepted around 3,000 refugees. Most have come in the past two years, thanks in large part to the efforts of several private groups dedicated to helping North Koreans find refuge in the South.

The rescuers, many of whom are Christian, differ among themselves over how best to help. One faction prefers to work out of the public eye. Another faction pursues high-profile tactics such as helping asylum-seekers flood embassies in China. Its aim is to draw international attention to the plight of the quarter-million or more North Korean refugees hiding in China.

There's another aspect too--money. "I don't mean to sound mercenary," says Tim Peters, an American missionary here. "But in some respects running into a consulate in China is cost effective." Smuggling a refugee out through Mongolia or Vietnam costs $1,000 to $3,000 per person, he says. Mr. Peters adds that money also talks in North Korea's gulags. "It's easier to spring someone from a North Korean prison than from a Chinese prison," he says.

Word filtered back to Mr. Hwang in Seoul about the fate of the family he had left behind [in North Korea]. His wife committed suicide. So too, the reports said, did one of his daughters. She is said to have jumped off a bridge to her death while being taken to a prison camp. Two other daughters and a son are lost in the gulag.

This is the reality of life in North Korea--and the truth that Mr. Hwang is speaking out about.

[Excerpted from an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, Wall Street Journal]

Saturday, November 12, 2005

NGOs face crisis over U.S. rights act

News of the North Korean Human Rights Act spread quickly among defectors in China, Russia and other countries, as well as to citizens in the communist state, a non-government organization says.

Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea said news of the bill may encourage North Koreans to defect or refugees to seek asylum when previously they would have been "less inclined to do so." He also sees the bill causing divisions among North Koreans not loyal to the communist party.

That's good news to Peters, but disconcerting for others with a common goal to improve human rights in North Korea who prefer the South Korean government tend to the North's needs first, or that the United States not involve itself at all.

The South Korean government, aid groups and defectors themselves are struggling to come to grips with [the North Korean Human Rights Act, passed in 2004].

A symposium at Yonsei University, inviting leading thinkers on the issue and students from around the globe, provided a platform for varying opinions and concerns on the act's purpose and implications. Based on U.S. human rights laws that preceded the Iraq conflict, the North Korean bill is a pretext for war, said Lee Seung-yong, who represented aid group Good Friends.

But not all NGOs attending felt so bitterly about the act, though many had suspicions that it was pushed through by hawks in Washington who favor a regime change in North Korea.

Peters, who intertwines his work with Christian missionary efforts, has not changed his approach to helping North Koreans in the last 15 years. Years ago society labeled him as liberal, leftist and even a socialist, but now he's being lumped in with neo-conservatives.

Many of those who support the act used the panel discussion to say on the record they are not interested in politics but are acting according to their conscience and compassion for North Koreans.

Activists such as Tarik Radwan was moved to tears when he heard the testimony of defectors. "I don't want to spend eternity (in heaven) not making eye contact with those I could have helped," said Radwan, an immigrant lawyer.

Being labeled as politically motivated can be the death of organizations which can't afford to pander to only special groups. One solution is to keep as far distant from politics as possible, said the symposium's co-host, Liberation in North Korea.

LiNK emphasizes that it is a non-political, non-religious and non-ethnic organization, the latter being necessary since some aid groups want to exclude members who are not Korean.

The group's co-founder, Adrian Hong, said that despite the U.S. Congress' passage of the act with unanimous support, Americans barely know about North Korea. Informed Americans are reached through grassroots efforts such as guest speakers lecturing on college campuses and volunteers maintaining Web sites and posting flyers.

Also spreading the word is a documentary, "Seoul Train," based on the underground railroad connections that help North Koreans in China escape to third countries. It contains footage of starving children in the communist state and tells of three failed attempts to get refugees out of China.

NGOs will get a boost from the U.S. Congress since the act provides for $20 million annually to efforts related to North Korean defectors.

But Hong fears competition for funding will hurt relationships between NGOs and new groups will form to try to get the money. LiNK will not apply for any funding as it fears it would be a gesture of partisanship. "Even if we could get the funding, we would refuse it. It could cost us our legitimacy," said Hong. "The people who hate Bush would hate us."

"It's encouraging for some who have been on a shoestring budget," said Peters, a full time speech writer in Korea who relies on donations and his own cash.

[From an article by Andrew Pett, The Korea Herald]

Friday, November 11, 2005

Seoul Train - U.S. Documentary on North Korean Refugees

Filmmakers Jim Butterworth and Lisa Sleeth flew to Seoul, where they were met at the airport by their secret contact, "Bernard," and began a two-month journey through the capital city, then traveled to Beijing and to the towns along the North Korea-China border.Bernard provided the secret key to the region's secret Underground Railroad.

What's happening to the refugees is "a catastrophe," Lisa Sleeth says. "If only people knew."

"His intro was as good as gold to the secretive underground folks," says Butterworth. "They trusted us."

"Jim and Bernard clicked instantly," says Sleeth. "He's a 72-year-old Korean - an amazing person - with more energy than you can imagine."

The duo learned about the plight of the North Koreans, who - unlike the South Koreans supported by a roaring economy - live in a country teetering on the brink of insolvency.

Their first stop in China was Beijing, at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. "We went in with cameras rolling," Sleeth says. "They freaked. We had to stop filming before they would talk with us."

The pair had to resort to an off-the-record interview to get information about the U.N.'s activities in the region. It left them unsettled and more committed to the project. "That solidified our opinion that they're totally impotent," she says.

Their next stop as "tourists" was Yanji, China, just north of the North Korean border. It's the area many North Koreans live and work once they illegally cross the border."We got there late at night and in the morning looked across the Tumen River," Sleeth says. "It was the most miserable stark place that's been totally deforested."

The two tall, blond Americans were conspicuous because Yanji is not a location that attracts many tourists. "This was ground zero," Butterworth says. "We can't say too much about the people we met with because we'll blow their cover."

While there they hooked up with another member of the railroad, an American citizen of Korean extraction. Many members of the railroad adopt higher-profiles than what might be expected to help throw off suspicion about their activities.

Every week the Chinese send 200 North Koreans back. How many escape is not known."These activists are not wimps," she says. "They're bad-ass. They are survivors. These activists are confident, strong-willed and risk takers."

While in Yanji, they met with a North Korean refugee who was living with a Chinese man. Through her, they learned that women refugees are often purchased by Chinese men for $800.

They also sent a man inside North Korea with the hidden button camera, but they declined to provide many details. They received other films made inside the country they were able to smuggle into the United States.

Their film Seoul Train includes footage of a family about to escape North Korea as they say their good-byes to family members and receive their forged documents. It also has devastating footage of a hungry toddler picking bits of food from the muddy ground.

To throw off any suspicions, they also created dummy camcorder memory cards filled with typical "tourist" shots they could hand over to the authorities if they were stopped and questioned.

Working from a small apartment [to edit their documetary], Sleeth and Butterworth started what would seem like an endless string of 16-hour days.

Both are quick to point out that what they've done is nothing compared to the ordeals the refugees face each day.

[From an article by Cliff Thompson, Vail Daily]

Thursday, November 10, 2005

North Korean Defectors adjust to life in South

For North Korean defectors who arrive in the South, the transition from the world's most rigid communist state to one of its most competitive capitalist economies will be a challenge.

"Their biggest problem is finding employment," said An Hyo-deok of the quasi-governmental Association of Supporters for Defecting North Korean Residents. "They have learned about South Korea in China or Southeast Asia" — where popular Korean soap operas and films paint a glamorous picture of life — "and so have unrealistic expectations. They want to be professionals, but most end up working in manufacturing," he said.

Upon their arrival in South Korea, refugees are whisked away to what a government source called "a state-run education and training facility" in Gyeonggi province, outside Seoul.

Under tight security, their debriefing process began immediately with officials of the National Intelligence Service and the Unification and Defense Ministries. The intelligence service will be looking for spies among them, but a more prosaic reason for the interrogations is that a number of Chinese-Koreans may be masquerading as North Koreans in order to get a passport from the South.

Once the month long debriefing is complete, the defectors will be sent to "Hanawon," a government-run halfway house, where they will undergo two months of "capitalism education." Classes include language, etiquette, driving and computer skills.

After its completion, they are granted South Korean citizenship and are free to settle anywhere in the country, under police and local government protection. The need for protection is lessening, however.

"Many defectors do feel insecure here, but as most come from the working class, they have no need to," Mr. An said. "The only ones who really need protection are military and party-level defectors."

For example, "Lee Han-yong, Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law who defected to the South, was killed by North Korean agents about seven years ago," he said.

Many defectors find that life in the South is no bed of roses. Their previous life experience is largely invalidated. Some, such as Kim Yong, enjoy success. He defected in 1991 and now runs a franchise of North Korean-style noodle restaurants, complete with branches in the United States.

But many defectors never make it. Some remain unemployed, others become criminals, and at least one tried to return North.

"They have no capital and no credit. They have to start at the bottom of the ladder, and they feel bitter," said Kongdan Oh, of Washington's Institute of Defense Analysis. "Northern life was without competition in many senses — except perhaps competition to flatter the party leaders and the [ruling] Kim family — so the severely competitive nature of the South frightens them," he said.

Yim Kyung-ho, dean of Good People World College, a Christian organization that assists North Koreans in the South, said those defectors who are successful often keep a low profile, because they do not want their family in the North to suffer if their status in the South becomes well-known.

Mr. An said in the past, defectors came for political reasons, but in recent years, most have been economic refugees.

Tim Peters, a U.S. missionary with Helping Hands Korea, said, "Whether suffering from political or religious persecution or sheer desperation from lack of food, the North Koreans qualify for refugee status."

The government pays 50 percent of defectors' wages for two years, as an incentive for employers to hire them — a hint that defectors are not highly valued employees. Under the new policy, cash incentives will be given to those who manage to hold down steady jobs.

The mass defection is something of an embarrassment for the South Korean government, which has, since the initiation of detente by former President Kim Dae-jung in 2000, taken steps to avoid antagonizing the North. The process was kept quiet, ostensibly at the request of Vietnam, but some analysts think it also was designed to avoid angering Pyongyang.

"I applaud them for doing the right thing, but my understanding is that the South's government was not entirely proactive in this drama," Mr. Peters said. "My information is that the Southeast Asian country saw this backlog of refugees who had arrived with the help of [nongovernmental organizations], and said to Seoul, 'Get them out or we will send them back to China.' "

Pyongyang reacted strongly, with its official newspaper calling Seoul's grants of asylum "premeditated abduction" and "terrorism in broad daylight."

In South Korea's liberal climate, even activists urging improvements in North Korean human rights have come under attack.

Norbert Volersen, a German activist, has been physically assaulted. An Internet radio station established by defectors to broadcast to the North has been intimidated into moving its office.

A Western diplomat who met with foreign reporters wondered whether anti-American incidents in the South in recent years could have been provoked by undercover North Korean agitators.

[Excerpted from an article by Andrew Salmon, Washington Times]

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tough Chinese policy fuels N Korean refugees' flight to SE Asia

Beijing's refusal to help the increasing number of North Koreans who flee their politically repressive and famine-hit country is fueling perilous escapes across China to Southeast Asia, activists said.

The arrival of 450 refugees in South Korea via Vietnam highlighted the growing need for North Koreans to take great risks to sneak out of China after escaping their own country, overseas aid groups said.

"The Chinese are not making things easier," said Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, a Seoul-based NGO which assists the refugees.

Beijing considers the North Koreans illegal economic migrants instead of refugees and repatriates as many as 100 a week to the Stalinist state, where they face imprisonment, torture and sometimes even execution, rights groups say.

The refugees used to storm into foreign embassies in China to seek passage to South Korea but Beijing has stepped up security in the past two years. Many now have travel across continent-sized China to Southeast Asia.

"This is the only way for them to come out and save their lives," said Hiroshi Kato, head of the Japan-based Life Funds for North Korean Refugees.

Most of the estimated 300,000 North Koreans hiding in China want to leave if they can, aid groups said. Their status as illegal immigrants leaves them in constant fear with little chance of a normal life.

"[It] is a testimony of how difficult it is to cross not only the Tumen River (from North Korea) into China but cross the entire breadth of China, knowing full well they are fugitives and if they are caught, they're repatriated," Peters said. "It's phenomenal that they make it at all."

The journey to Southeast Asia is full of dangers, but also stories of courage and compassion, activists said.

The case reveals an extensive underground network that ferries the refugees to countries including Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

"Without the underground railroad network, we can't do anything," said Kato. "There are so many people who help along the way -- sometimes, even in short distances of two to three kilometers, 20 kilometers, 100 kilometers -- so many pieces of the network."

South Koreans, including activists and sympathetic businessmen, make up the bulk of volunteers. Others are Japanese, Westerners or ethnic Koreans from the United States or Europe.

Volunteers also set up safehouses along the way. Beijing has begun arresting activists, accusing them of stirring up trouble, but this has not stopped them.

"They provide food, shelter, railway tickets," Kato said.

It takes three to 10 days to travel from the North Korean border to southeast China and trains are one of the few modes of travel available. But the Koreans face arrest if train police demand to see IDs.

The "Southeast Asian route" has existed since 1997, but was seldom used due to its long distance.

North Koreans preferred travelling from China's Inner Mongolian province across the grasslands to Mongolia.

Once there, they are basically safe. The Mongolian government is more lenient and allows the defectors to reach the South Korean embassy in Ulan Bator.

But China sometimes blocks off the borders with Mongolia and with the extra security at foreign embassies in Beijing, the Southeast Asian route became the most frequently used.

Vietnam is the preferred destination as the border with China is relatively easy to cross. Each day, large numbers of people go back and forth to sell merchandise and smuggled goods, including drugs.

The underground network makes use of the drug traffickers and also the human smugglers -- who smuggle Chinese without visas and have connections with Chinese border guards -- to sneak North Koreans across.

"They help for a fee of 700 to 1,000 US dollars per person, which includes the money to bribe the border guards and the risk they take," said Lee Ho-Taek, founder of the Seoul-based aid group The Refuge Pnan.

Currently hundreds of Korean refugees are believed to be gathered in Southeast Asian nations awaiting a chance to reach South Korea.

China will likely step up security on its southeastern borders, but that will not stop the flow, activists said, as guards and traffickers can always be tempted.

The Chinese foreign ministry had no immediate response. Besides wanting to preserve good ties with Pyongyang for strategic purposes, Beijing fears an influx of Korean refugees and a collapse of the North's regime.

But Peters said China's policy was unsustainable in terms of its international reputation and treaty obligations.

"Maybe now with South Korea accepting larger numbers of refugees, that will send a signal to China," he added.

[Excerted from Yahoo News article]

Tuesday, November 08, 2005 Q&A with Tim Peters

Tim Peters is based in Seoul and runs an organization to help North Korean refugees, Helping Hands Korea. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions for NKzone.

MacKinnon: You are working with the "underground railroad" in China to help North Korean refugees escape to third countries. Has your work gotten easier or harder?

Peters: There's no question that things have gotten more difficult Perhaps the following incident will give you an idea of the circumstances that activists and refugees are operating under. On April 2nd of this year a new threshold was crossed when a Chinese border guard at the Mongolian border shot & killed an unarmbed refugee attempting to cross to freedom to Mongolia. Every indication points to his being shot in the back and running from the guard, NOT wrestling with the guard for his weapon as the Chinese maintained through their embassy in Washington DC in late April. At the same time, four South Korean activists remain imprisoned in Chinese jails for simply aiding N.Korean refugees.

The prevalent idea in South Korea and in some quarters in the west as well, is that nuclear and economic issues need to be resolved first, then we can turn to human rights, is to my mind fundamentally flawed. I believe we can learn a lot by looking at the Helsinki Accords as a model. The US was absolutely resolute in insisting that human rights issues be included in key negotiations with the Soviet Union. Brezhnev yielded, perhaps concluding that it was a minor issue.Those human rights led to Solidarity in Poland, to give but one example, and the rest was history.Moreover, human rights monitoring is a hell of a lot easier to verify than verifying dismantlement of nuclear programs. Why not use human rights access and improvements in the DPRK as a litmus test of how sincerely the North Koreans are complying with their agreements?
I can't imagine that the Bush people want to repeat the absolute idiocy of trumpeting breakthroughs as the Clinton people did in '93 and '94, only to find out later than Kim Jong-il was laughing up his sleeve and steaming full-speed ahead with his nuclear program(s). Another advantage of having human rights issues, e.g. gulag visitations, full access to food aid deliveries, is that there would be ongoing dialogue and engagement, but not only on the issues that the DPRK wants to talk about. Nothing else has worked, and I think it's worth a try.

MacKinnon: If people out there want to help your organization and other such activists, what should they do?

Peters: If interested individuals or organizations in the US would like to take an active part in helping North Korean refugees, after looking over our project at they can follow donation procedures on our website for Helping Hands Korea. Because the foundation is a 501(c)(3) entity, such donations to our project are tax deductible for US citizens.

Donors are most welcome to communciate with us at and let us know if they'd like their donations to be used for
(a) sheltering N.Korean refugees in China,
(b) helping refugees get to a safe haven in a surrounding country, or
(c) providing food relief to N.Korean schoolchilren and orphans inside North Korea.

Monday, November 07, 2005

North Korean Dissidents Find Only Indifference

The U.N. Secretariat has poured noticeable energy into expressions of outrage over allegations that there was something rotten with its Oil-for-Food relief program in Iraq. But amid the fracas over Oil-for-Food, there are other points to be made, and one of them has to do with a very small demonstration held in front of the U.N.

The demonstration had nothing to do with Iraq or Oil-for-Food. It involved protesters who were asking the U.N. to honor its commitment to help refugees from North Korea. They held posters showing photos of starving children in North Korea, and pictures of tyrant Kim Jong Il alongside slogans such as, "Stop subsidizing this regime." One man wore a sandwich board with big lettering that said: "China! Comply With the U.N. Resolution for North Korean Refugees"--a demand that Bejing honor its obligations as a signatory to the U.N.'s Convention on Refugees, instead of sending asylum-seekers back to what can often be hideous punishment or death in North Korea.

They were protesting the most horrific surviving totalitarian regime on the planet. They were making entirely reasonable demands. They knew what they were talking about. Among their number were several defectors from North Korea, who had come to New York after testifying before Congress about horrible abuses of human rights in North Korea, alleging biological and chemical weapons experiments on prisoners in the slave-labor camps of Kim's regime. One of these defectors, Dong Chul Choi, who escaped along with his mother in the mid-1990s and has since become one of an incredibly small handful to receive asylum in the U.S., was wielding a megaphone, calling in both English and Korean a few words that deserve to echo around the world:"Free North Korea."

One might argue, of course, that the U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Refugees is not in New York, but in Geneva, so that's where folks worried about refugee rights should go. One might also argue that the U.N., as currently configured, places the highest premium on deference to sovereign states, regardless of what abominations a prevailing regime might commit within its own borders--so Kim's regime must have its seat within the fancy building, while those who would like to end his regime must wait on the sidewalk outside.

One might further add that a much larger group of demonstrators for freedom for North Koreans, and rights for North Korean refugees, had already had their say in Washington, at a series of events organized by activist Suzanne Scholte's Defense Forum Foundation, in which the testimony to Congress served as the centerpiece.

As one humanitarian aid worker, Tim Peters, testified to Congress, "China continues to flout international law and world opinion by continuing to imprison the selfless and sacrificial souls who reach out with a helping hand to the vulnerable North Koreans who wander, vulnerable, in China." Mr. Peters went on to list five of these private aid workers now in Chinese prisons.

The litmus test of the U.N.'s worth and integrity should not be how well it manages to protect its own image, regardless of the deeds within, or how well it navigates the nuances of the ruthless and repressive politics still practiced by dozens of its 191 member states. The U.N.was put there to listen to people like those demonstrators who last month stood unheeded on the sidewalk, not to broadcast to the world a long series of messages about its own precious image and importance.

[The author, Ms. Rosett, is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Hudson Institute. Her column appears in The Wall Street Journal]

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Chinese Border Crackdown

Chinese authorities are engaging in a severe crackdown against North Korean refugees and the aid workers who help them, according to the human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Refugees who are caught over the 350-mile common border face deportation to North Korea. Humanitarian workers, including Christians, face stiff prison sentences.

The Chinese government sentenced two aid workers, the Rev. Choi Bong-il and Kim Hee-tae, to prison for 9 and 7 years, respectively. A staff worker for Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, Takayuki Noguchi, was arrested and imprisoned, along with two other North Koreans who were with him.

In the last decade, an estimated 300,000 North Korean citizens have fled their country and its brutal Communist dictatorship. An estimated 50,000 North Korean refugees remain in China. Christians in North Korea face the prospect of horrific punishment for failure to participate in the cult of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.

"Those who have been in contact with missionaries or South Koreans are subject to especially harsh treatment," CSW says. "Christians are likely to be executed or sent for life to hard labor camps." The organization estimates there are 100,000 political prisoners in North Korea.
Economic conditions in North Korea are atrocious. Two million people died in the recent famine. The per-person economic output is less than $1,000—far below the $17,300 level of neighboring South Korea.

Connie Snyder of Washington-based International Christian Concern told Christianity Today that "believers in North Korea are desperate to escape the cruelty and starvation. They risk their lives to cross the border of North Korea and China for freedom, or to bring back food to their families."

CSW says China wants to "destroy the network that provides humanitarian care to the North Koreans" to eliminate the refugee problem. "Thus, China has placed bounties on the heads of aid workers in the area and arrested and sentenced many who have sheltered and escorted escapees."

Snyder said Christians must speak out and pray. "Christians in China are in extreme danger trying to assist their North Korean brothers in Christ," Snyder said.

Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, agreed. "The North Korean refugees and we activists who help them desperately need your consistent and fervent prayers."

[By Timothy R. Callahan, Christianity Today]

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Congressional testimony: North Korean refugees

Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea appeared before the House Committee on International Relations in Washington on Oct 27th.

Peters had been invited to give Congressional testimony concerning the plight of North Korean refugees, and reported to the Committee the lack of implementation and cooperation that NGOs like Helping Hands Korea have experienced, despite passage of the landmark North Korean Human Rights Act by Congress in 2004.

Tim also urged Congress to swiftly pass a long-overdue appropriations bill that would help the activist community do a better job of assisting and sheltering North Korean refugees and guiding those at particular risk along the "underground railroad" to safety.

During his lengthy testimony, Peters shared accounts of heart-rending suffering by refugees in their bid to escape North Korea, as well as highlighted the endangerment and imprisonment faced by human-rights activist leaders, including the urgent case of American Pastor Phillip Jun Buck. Pastor Buck is currently undergoing harsh imprisonment by the North Korean government.

For more on the work of Tim Peters and Helping Hands Korea, click on the following link: Helping Hands

Friday, November 04, 2005

Gulag Nation (Part 1)

In the past three decades, some 400,000 North Koreans are believed to have perished in the gulag. Yet relatively little is known about the camps, which are sealed off from international scrutiny. Read more ...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Gulag Nation (Part 2)

Early in the Bush administration, a U.S. spy satellite was assigned to shoot high-resolution pictures from space of one camp in mountainous northeastern North Korea. They repeatedly ordered the satellite to expand the frame of its pictures. Finally, a senior administration official tells U.S. News, the perimeter was located, revealing a camp larger in size than the District of Columbia, with clusters of buildings that look like villages. Read more ...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Gulag Nation (Part 3)

Lee was sent to the No. 15 prison camp at Yodok. His fellow prisoners included ex-military officers, professors, and others who fell under suspicion after living abroad. Beatings were routine: Lee rolls up his pants to show the grayish-brown scars on his right leg, reminders of blows from long wooden sticks. He lost most of the sight in his right eye, his teeth were broken, and blood still oozes out of his left ear at times. Of the 1,000 people in his prison unit, he says, about 200 died every year. Read more ...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

North Korean Food Shortages Bite

Food is never plentiful in North Korea, but the current situation has grown so bad that the country risks a return to famine, aid workers say.

Food rations have been cut, economic reforms have sent prices soaring, and as a nuclear crisis grinds on, the country's main donors have cut back.

"It is very much a crisis already... Of much bigger proportions than we have had in recent years," said Gerald Bourke, spokesman for the UN's World Food Program (WFP).

North Korea struggles to feed itself due to a mixture of geography and economic policy. Photographs which depict a lush, rural environment are misleading. The country needs an average of 1million tons in food aid a year.

"North Korea is not an agrarian country," said Kathi Zellweger, a frequent visitor to the country with aid organization Caritas. It is mostly rugged mountain terrain, and only about 18% is arable.

It is dependent on fertilizer and machinery to make that land productive, both of which are expensive.

Politics compounds topography. Agriculture in North Korea was collectivized in the 1950s, in line with its Stalinist philosophy of self-reliance.

"If their farm produces five times as much, they don't get five times as much food," Paul French, a writer on North Korea says. “Instead, they concentrate on their own private plots, which they use to feed themselves and to produce food for the markets.

Market reforms, instituted in 2002, have sent prices soaring at a higher rate than wages. "Who can afford this stuff in the markets?" asked Mr French.

The answer: only the elite. Government officials, senior managers of state enterprises, security forces, and the leadership of the army are all unlikely to go hungry.

But a typical urban family can now only afford to buy 4kg of maize — the cheapest commodity — a month.

The WFP estimates that an average urban North Korean's guaranteed diet is around 280 grams of cereals a day. The internationally recommended minimum is 550-590 grams a day, provided this is nutritionally balanced. But dietary balance is difficult to achieve in North Korea, where foodstuffs such as oil are prohibitively expensive.

"The rural folk have already learned how to cope," said Tim Peters, director of aid agency Helping Hands Korea. "But the urban people are so dependent on the government for distribution."

And there is always the risk of natural disaster.

Floods exacerbated the extreme food shortages 10 years ago, and North Korea's ability to cope with them "is now probably worse," said Mr French.

[Excerpts from article by Sarah Buckley, Seoul Times]