Thursday, August 31, 2006
Most hope to hook into a fragile underground railroad that will take them to safety in Mongolia or Southeast Asia, further stops before eventual resettlement in South Korea or even America.
But as the refugees dream of leaving China, often with the help of good Samaritans from South Korea, the United States and Japan, they live in dread of capture.
"They have no rights. They are living in daily fear. ... They have no protection under the laws of China," said Sam Kim, the general counsel of the Korean Church Coalition for North Korean Freedom, an advocacy group based in Southern California.
North Korean women and girls are particularly vulnerable. If Chinese farmers catch them, they're often forced into the sex trade or sold as rural brides.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Now he is free. Buck had been a key member of the so-called underground railroad that moves refugees from North Korea through China to safety in South Korea.
Buck told TIME, "I did nothing wrong. All I was doing was helping the [North Korean] refugees." Buck had devoted his ministry since 1997 to the cause of aiding North Koreans.
"They [the Chinese authorities] had been after me ever since 2002," Buck says. His sentence includes a ban from ever going back to China, but Buck says he still has a network of people in the country helping run the underground railroad, and he will now figure out ways to help them from afar, in part by raising money to house and feed North Korean refugees in China.
"Every day in prison--457 days—I thought about the refugees and prayed to God to help them. My work is nowhere near finished."
[Excerpted from TIME magazine]
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
"The number of (N.K. defectors) will be around 25 to 30," Cheon said. He said he was not sure whether they would be arriving in the United States together or separately.
The North Korean defectors can by law seek asylum in the United States based under the 2004 U.S. law promoting and assisting human rights in North Korea.
Explaining how Ellen Sauerbrey, the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, is currently in Southeast Asia, Cheon said he hoped to see an early solution to the latest group of North Koreans.
Speaking in an interview with RFA last week, U.S. Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea Jay Lefkowitz said the United States is a "safe haven for refugees fleeing the despotism of North Korea."
"We are looking to help facilitate the passage of North Korean refugees into freedom. And to the extent that North Korean refugees would like to come to the United States, that is something that we want to make available," he was quoted as saying.
[The Korean Herald]
Beijing sees the North Koreans as illegal economic migrants, subject to repatriation.
Seoul is worried about the flow, fearing the situation is jeopardizing its efforts to improve relations with Pyongyang.
Tim Peters, the founder of Helping Hands Korea, a nongovernmental organization that raises funds for clandestine operations to move refugees out of China, says … 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 Korean] grandchildren."
Monday, August 28, 2006
"When they cross over the border now, they always have some knowledge: which route to go, daytime or nighttime, which villages to avoid, which churches to go to," said a South Korean activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because China could imprison him for his campaign to help refugees.
The activist said refugees now moved as far inland in China as possible, sometimes living for years with the help of ethnic Koreans in northeast China or South Korean businessmen in populous coastal Shandong province or around Shanghai.
Until this year, the United States accepted only high-level defectors from North Korea, not common refugees. But under the terms of the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act, Washington opened the doors to refugees. Six entered the United States in May; three others arrived in late July.
Maybe half the North Koreans hiding in China want to remain there, said Tim A. Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, a Seoul-based group that assists the refugees.
"The other half have set their sights on a distant horizon, either South Korea or the U.S. or elsewhere," Peters said.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
The Thai government has turned a blind eye to North Korean defectors’ illegal entry and their entry to a third country because of humanitarian reasons. Also, it maintains good relations with the Korean and U.S. governments, the defectors’ final destination.
A diplomatic source in Thailand said, “The number of North Koreans who sneak out of China to Thailand through Laos is rapidly increasing.”
The Thai authorities feel the burden of the increasing number of North Korean defectors, however. “Rumor has it that 100,000 defectors in China plan to enter Thailand through a neighboring country, which I think is very serious,” said Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul.
Most North Koreans who manage to leave their tightly controlled country do so across the border into a region of northeast China populated by ethnic Koreans. Some have managed to cross China to Thailand and Vietnam in recent years and most are sent on to Seoul, often without publicity to avoid upsetting the North Korean government.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
The South Korean government is watching the recent development [of 175 North Korean refugees apprehended in Thailand] closely, predicting how the North Korean regime will respond to most of the defectors’ wanting to come to the South, since the already strained relation between the two Koreans after the North’s missile launches might worsen.
After 460 North Korean defectors came to South Korea en masse from Vietnam in July 2004, North Korea protested, suspending contact between the authorities for 10 months.
The number of North Korean defectors to South Korea goes up every year. The number from January to July of this year now stands at 1,054, up 59 percent from the same period last year.
The 18 were among 175 North Koreans held by Thai authorities earlier this week while hiding in an abandoned house in Bangkok. Police believe they entered the country from the northern border with Myanmar two months ago.
A Thai court convicted most of the adult North Koreans of illegal entry and fined them 6,000 baht (160 dollars). None were able to pay, and were sentenced to 30 days in prison.
Friday, August 25, 2006
If the court rules that they entered illegally, they will be deported, chief of immigration police, Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul said. However, they will not be forced to return to North Korea and authorities will consult with humanitarian organizations to determine where they should be sent, he said.
They had entered Thailand in separate groups through the northern Thai province of Chiang Rai, and had been staying in the two-story house for the past two months.
Thousands of North Koreans, facing hunger and repression in their homeland, have made their way abroad in recent years, many taking a long and risky land journey through China to arrive in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries.
[The Korean Herald]
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Says Tim Peters, a U.S. Christian activist who heads up the charity Helping Hands Korea,
"Thailand, because of its history and experience dealing with refugees from Cambodia, Burma and elsewhere, deals responsibly with refugees, and there is a regional office of the UNHCR in Bangkok."
Mr. Peters was featured on the cover of Time magazine's Asian edition in May for his work helping North Korean refugees.
Asked how many have fled North Korea, Mr. Peters said it is difficult to say. "It is almost anyone's guess, but I would multiply State Department figures of [30,000] to 50,000 by 10," he said.
He cited food shortages and the aftermath of disastrous flooding last month as "push factors" driving North Koreans out of their land, adding that China has recently deployed 2,000 extra troops to seal its border with North Korea.
[Excerpt of article by Andrew Salmon, The Washington Times]
The refugees had escaped North Korea via China and are thought to have been awaiting processing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the South Korean and possibly U.S. embassies, before transit to a third country.
A Seoul official familiar with North Korea-related issues said: "We do not believe this marks a change in Thai policy. They have said that they will release them to third countries -- South Korea or the United States -- after interrogation. I don't think they are going to send them back to North Korea."
Activists urged more action. "Governments have to deal with this and look this crisis in the face," said Tim Peters, a U.S. Christian activist who heads up the charity Helping Hands Korea. "Hopefully, the main players are going to start looking at ways they can absorb more of these refugees."
[Excerpt of article by Andrew Salmon, The Washington Times]
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
As was the case when I was invited to appear before the International Relations Committee, first in May of 2002, then again in April of 2004, I would like to give prominent place to the fellow activists who have sacrificed so much in rescuing North Korean refugees. … I would like to emphasize one case in particular today. This year the arrow of misfortune has struck closer to home. Fellow American, Pastor Phillip Jun Buck, aged 68, was detained in May of this year in his courageous work of sheltering and protecting North Korean refugees.
I am mentioning Pastor Buck in part because I have the privilege of knowing him personally and cherish the honor of being among the supporters of his refugee shelters in recent years. Phillip Buck would appear quietly and unannounced at our weekly Catacomb meetings in Seoul. He would then share uplifting testimonies from his refugee shelters in China. Particularly worrisome to his family and loved ones, Pastor Buck suffers from severe sleep disorders that stem from an auto accident in Russia years ago, and which pose particular hardships under prison conditions in China.
I would ask, Gentlemen, that just as you exerted such swift and critical influence with the Chinese government that resulted in the release of Chun Ki Won in August of 2002, that you would give equal attention and commitment to the unjust and harsh imprisonment of fellow American Pastor Phillip Jun Buck. His case is particularly urgent as the bitterly cold winter of northeastern China is very nigh.
Wearing a baseball hat and dark sunglasses Monday night on his arrival at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the Rev. Phillip Jun Buck, 68, said returning home was like being in a "dream state."
A son, Jamin Yoon, 35, holding flowers as his father was swarmed by reporters, said his father's attire was chosen to shield his appearance in case the longtime evangelist decided to try to go back to China for more missionary work.
Buck, who provided shelter and work for North Koreans in northeastern China, was convicted in December of trying to sneak North Korean refugees through China into South Korea. He could have faced up to 20 years in prison but was sentenced recently to deportation and a ban on re-entry to China.
Although activists concerned with religious freedom agitated openly for Buck's release, his four adult children shunned publicity while pressing for action from Congress and government agencies. His case was raised at a congressional subcommittee hearing in April.
"He's OK," said Senior Pastor Chang Cheh, adding that he had spoken by telephone with his fellow seminarian and colleague of nearly 40 years.
Buck was trying to help refugees who fled to northeast China from hunger and repression in North Korea when he was arrested in May 2005 and incarcerated in Yanji. He was convicted in December of trying to smuggle North Korean refugees though China into South Korea. Facing as much as 20 years in prison, he was instead deported and banned from returning to China.
Buck fled his home and family in North Korea as a child, never forgot his roots and wanted to improve the lot of his homeland, said his youngest daughter, Grace Yoon, 30, who translates Korean sermons into English at the church.
He built several shelters in China, and ran a noodle factory in North Korea for a year, starting in 1997, feeding thousands of hungry people until government officials became suspicious and forced him to leave in 1998, Yoon said.It was after that eviction that he decided to take his efforts to China, she said."He's very passionate about helping North Korean refugees," she said. "He would just give everything for them."
[The Daily News of Longview, Washington]
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Iwao Matsuda, Japan's state minister for science and technology policy, held talks with Gadhafi in Sebha, about 375 miles south of Tripoli, the ministry said in a statement issued Friday.
Gadhafi surprised the world in late 2003 when he swore off terrorism and announced plans to dismantle his country's weapons of mass destruction programs. Libya was eager to end his international isolation and economic hardships from United Nations and U.S. sanctions, and Gadhafi concluded the weapons programs were best used as a bargaining chip.
Gadhafi told Matsuda that Libya has been urging North Korea to follow his country's example and called for cooperation from developed countries including Japan in persuading Pyongyang, the ministry said.
Monday, August 21, 2006
In a telephone news conference, the former security officials took particular aim at the Bush Administration's policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists or with states that support them. "That seems strange since Ronald Reagan was willing to negotiate with the Soviets even though they were the 'Evil Empire," said retired Lt. General Robert Guard, who served as special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War.
"When you announce an axis of evil of three countries and invade one and then say that [others] should take that as a lesson, it does seem that it may give them an incentive to do precisely what they don't want them to do," Guard said.
Former director of Policy Planning for the State Department, Morton Halperin, said … the more belligerent the Bush Administration behaves, the faster North Korea will work to develop nuclear weapons. "
The North Koreans want to talk to us directly," said Halperin, who now works for the Washington, DC-based Center for American Progress. "Their concern is about getting security assurances from us and about getting diplomatic recognition. We should not be afraid to talk to our opponents."
Saturday, August 19, 2006
The North Korean capital Pyongyang is a city of monuments; statues to Kim Il-Sung (the country’s founder) and various revolutionary ideals abound. There is not much vehicular traffic, as few North Koreans can afford bicycles, let alone cars. There really isn’t much need for cars anyway, since travel between cities is forbidden without a permit.
Juche is the Korean philosophy of self-reliance. It is an important part of the ideology of control developed by Kim Il-Sung. To give you an idea of the personality cult in the DPRK, just before the guides took us there we went to a flower exhibition. The Koreans renamed two common flowers to the Kim Il-Sungia and the Kim Jong-Ilia. How's that for Big Brother?
We glimpsed a military parade in the center of town, with thousands of flag-waiving North Koreans lining the streets to greet their soldiers, who will defend them from the American invasion that the regime constantly talks warns of. Defining the United States as a powerful and common enemy is one of the many levers of control the regime uses to unite the people and maintain its ironclad grip on power.
The North Koreans seem to have a flair for dramatic monuments, and so built themselves their own Arc de Triomphe. Theirs is actually a little taller than the one in Paris. Nearby the Arc was an amusement park, which was the only place the group was able to mix fairly freely with regular North Korean citizens. North Korean children played the same types of games American kids do, only they shoot at U.S. Marines instead of rabbits and clowns.
Friday, August 18, 2006
“It is the view of the intelligence community that a test is a real possibility,” said a senior State Department official.
A senior military official told ABC News that a U.S. intelligence agency has recently observed “suspicious vehicle movement” at a suspected North Korean test site.
The activity includes the unloading of large reels of cable outside P’unggye-yok, an underground facility in northeast North Korea. Cables can be used in nuclear testing to connect an underground test site to outside observation equipment.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
It is an apparent turnabout for the impoverished communist country, which spurned aid from South Korea's Red Cross after the floods hit in mid-July, saying it would handle the disaster on its own.
Meanwhile, the Seoul-based private aid agency Good Friends raised its death toll estimate Thursday to 57,700, up 3,000 from its earlier figures.
Good Friends said it has 'many sources' inside North Korea but did not say where it obtained the figures, which could not be independently confirmed because the North tightly controls all media and information. Good Friends refused to elaborate on the report, saying their sources could face government reprisals.
The agency's previous reports of activities inside the isolated country have been confirmed by South Korean government sources, although some of the aid group's figures have been disputed.
Good Friends said the floods destroyed more than 230 bridges and inundated hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, further straining the North's ability to feed its population.
Good Friends said it would take up to three years for the North to recover from the disaster without international aid, and starvation similar to that during the 1990s might strike the North again within that time.
'Food prices are skyrocketing as food distribution has become nearly impossible' due to the floods, the group said.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Han Wan-sang said in an interview with KBS radio he hoped South and North Korean Red Cross officials would hold talks soon about the aid plan so that shipments can begin next week. When asked whether that would include as much as 100,000 tonnes of rice, Han said: "Yes, that would be a basis."
Three major storms hit North Kora last month, causing floods that killed [hundreds]. The flooding damaged farms and experts said the loss of crops could push the state, which already battles food shortages, to famine. The extent of the damage is not known because the secretive North Korea has limited inspections by aid groups.
[Yahoo Asia News]
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The government has already decided to provide some 10 billion won (US$10.3 million) to the country's civic organizations in order to send emergency relief supplies to the flood-hit North, and it is expected to spend another 50 billion won to ensure rice and other supplies are sent as part of a separate project.
"The government decided to join the efforts (by civic organizations) to help repair flood damage in the North after considering the seriousness of the flood damage and requests from various sectors of the society," Vice Unification Minister Shin Un-sang told a press briefing.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Kim visited a farm run by an army unit and was accompanied by top generals, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. As usual with such reports, the exact time or location of the trip were not given.
Kim's absence from public view had fueled speculation of a possible crisis in the country in the wake of the missile tests and international reaction.
However, Kim has dropped from sight before for longer periods of time: In 2003, he was not reported to have ventured out for seven weeks after the country quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the United States moved toward invading Iraq.
Some North Korea watchers have speculated that Kim might have been in a bunker, since the country is believed to have imposed a quasi-war footing after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning the missile tests and calling for nations to stop any missile-related trade with it.
Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst at the independent Sejong Institute, attributed Kim's latest absence to massive floods in North Korea, saying he has shied away from the public in times of crisis in the past.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
The wire fences are 1.5 to 1.7 meters high and two to three meters wide T-shaped concrete pillars, similar to those along the Military Demarcation Line on the Korean peninsular.
Beijing reportedly claimed that the fence is there to stop North Korean defection. This view is widely held as many North Koreans pass the areas near Mt. Baekdu and the Duman River to flee their country.
The border fencing [may also have] something to do with the recent Sino-DPRK relations estranged by Pyongyang’s missile tests.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
On the Chinese side, high-rise hotels and modern condos tower overhead. Huge outdoor plasma-screen monitors brighten the fronts of karaoke bars, massage parlors and bathhouses. Late-model cars ply the manicured streets along the riverfront, where boats with dragon motifs fill with tourists for cruises.
At nighttime, the Chinese side is ablaze in neon lighting.
Barely a light flickers on the North Korean side, a sign of dire energy shortages in the most closed society in the world. Some 350,000 residents dwell in the border city of Sinuiju, but smokestacks over dilapidated factories issue nary a wisp. Along the river, rusted fishing boats list, and residents squat, staring aimlessly.
"When you compare the two sides, you see how prosperous China is," said Wu Zhanjun, 36, who's from Liaoning province, in China's surrounding industrial heartland.
"I saw their children catching fish," added Han Quanyi, a truck owner who was taking a vacation here. "They don't look like Chinese children. They are very thin. Their clothes are old and dirty. And the women have mud all over their bodies."
Friday, August 11, 2006
Producers of “Yoduk Story” said the musical will debut there on September 21. The 165-year old National Theater is right on Pennsylvania Avenue, about 100 m from the White House, and is one of the national symbols. There will be 10 shows until October 1 at the theater.
Suzanne Scholte, the head of the activist group Defense Forum Foundation who played a key part in arranging the show's U.S. tour, said U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush were invited to the premiere, although it is unclear whether the first family will attend. But she said several senators, representatives and leading figures wanted to see it.
On the eve of the first performance, a reception for the show will be held on Capitol Hill hosted by Sen. Sam Brownback, one of the sponsors of the U.S.’ North Korean Human Rights Act. Brownback also recently campaigned for six North Korean refugees to be given asylum in the U.S. The musical’s run is tipped to boost the case of hardliners in the U.S. who want to put more pressure on Pyongyang.
After the run in Washington, “Yoduk Story” will tour New York, Los Angeles and Seattle till November. The show’s director Chung Seong-san will announce the schedule next week.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
It was the first time the communist nation has officially requested South Korean aid since flooding in mid-July spawned by heavy rains
The North asked South Korea to provide food, blankets, medical supplies and construction materials and equipment including cement and trucks to help it recover from the disaster, said Park Ji-yong, an official at a South Korean committee working for reconciliation between the Koreas.
A private South Korean relief group sent flood relief to the North last week.
North Korea had initially said it would handle the disaster on its own and rejected aid from South Korea’s Red Cross, but a North Korean official said the country was in urgent need of food and would accept aid from South Korea.
Seoul refused last month to discuss regular humanitarian aid during high-level talks with North Korea, after the North Koreans refused to address the country’s missile or nuclear programs.
The North has told international aid groups operating in the country that it does not want them to launch an emergency appeal on its behalf. Such aid would likely come with requirements of strict monitoring to ensure those affected are benefiting, unlike with past South Korean aid that is virtually unmonitored.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
In a program of the Washington-based Radio Free Asia monitored here, Richard Bridle, deputy director of UNICEF's Regional Office for East Asia and the Pacific, said UNICEF has raised less than 10 percent of its annual target for North Korea so far this year.
"Our fundraising this year has not been good," Bridle said. "Other donors have been shying away because of political developments. It's a pity, I think, because humanitarian principals call for us not to mix politics with humanitarian needs."
Bridle, who was a representative of the UNICEF office in Pyongyang from 2001 to 2003, visited the North three weeks ago, according to the report. Bridle was concerned notably about its operation of supplying clean water for 150,000 people affected by the situation after the North's water was contaminated by the flood.
UNICEF has allocated its budget for improving prenatal health, nutrition, environment and education in the North. The North's children, who suffer from malnutrition, are smaller by about 10-15 centimeters than their counterparts in the South, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Ma Young-ae told Yonhap she met with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) at his office last Thursday.
The former North Korean fled from Pyongyang through China in 2000 and initially settled in South Korea where she acquired citizenship.
Monday, August 07, 2006
China never before has permitted North Korean refugees to depart directly for safety in the United States, returning them instead to imprisonment in their homeland.
The move underscored frictions between North Korea and China, its only major ally, after Pyongyang's launch July 4 of at least seven ballistic missiles that rattled East Asia. Of the four North Koreans protected in the U.S. consulate in Shenyang, three chose to leave for the United States on July 22 and one opted to travel to South Korea.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Jeong Se-hyun, head of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, said it is unlikely the North will announce an accurate damage assessment because the damage will be too great to admit to its people. Because North Korea first walked away from inter-Korean Red Cross projects, the regime probably feels embarrassed to ask for help at this point, he said.
[Joong Ang Daily]
Saturday, August 05, 2006
"We asked the North Korean government what it would need in terms of relief aid to help in their efforts to recover after last month's heavy rains,'' said Kim Hyung Sup, a spokesman at South Korea's National Red Cross. "North Korean authorities replied that, while they appreciate the offer, they are able to manage on their own. I seriously doubt that.''
Floods last week also damaged farmland, tens of thousands of shelters and public buildings. Hundreds of roads, bridges and railways were destroyed.
North Korea canceled two festivals this month, citing relief efforts. It postponed its Arirang Festival, which features its mass games, as well as an annual festival with South Korea to mark their independence from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II.
"The biggest problem for North Korea will be food shortages, especially in winter and next year, because most of its farmlands were flooded,'' Kim said. ``Water and medical supplies are likely to be in demand, either because of the wounded as well as concerns of infectious diseases that may spread in the aftermath of the rains.''
Friday, August 04, 2006
After the country provoked international ire by test-firing seven ballistic missiles, the United Nations Security Council voted to bar U.N. member states from trading missile-related technology and materials with the North.
South Korea is holding back rice and fertilizer aid; Japan is preparing to impose its own economic sanctions including tough restrictions on high-tech exports to the North.
Then Typhoon Ewiniar battered one-third of the country.
China, the North's closest ally, largest trading partner and aid donor, had frozen North Korean assets held in the Macau branch of the Bank of China. Beijing's clampdown, which took place last year, followed a similar freeze on about $24 million of Pyongyang's cash in another Macau bank—Banco Delta Asia—which the U.S. claimed was funneling money the North earns from drug smuggling and counterfeiting.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
North Korea "expressed thanks for Seoul's offer" but said "it will handle the recovery efforts from recent floods by itself," a senior North Korean Red Cross official said, according to the South Korean Red Cross.
North Korea's official media has said the disaster caused hundreds of casualties and cut off roads, bridges, railroads and communications. However, the Seoul-based Good Friends group, an aid organization for North Korean refugees, said in a statement Wednesday about 10,000 people were dead or missing and some 1.5 million people were left homeless from the floods.
Lee Seung-yong, the group's project coordinator, declined to identify sources for the information, but previous reports of activities inside North Korea from the same group have later been confirmed.
The flooding washed away some 245,000 acres of farmland, putting further strains on the North's ability to feed its 23 million people.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
It is the first time that a South Korean civic group to provide aid to the communist state since Seoul stopped all efforts in the wake of the North's recent missile tests and its ongoing boycott of protracted six-way nuclear talks.
"The North's flood damage is believed to be far greater than previously known. The situation is also feared to hark back to that in 1995 and in the following years, when millions of people reportedly died of hunger caused by natural disasters," a JTS official said.
North Korea has been relying on international handouts since the mid-1990s to help feed its 23 million people. South Korea regularly provided food and other humanitarian support to the impoverished North, but it has suspended all of its aid for the communist state in early July after Pyongyang test-fired seven ballistic missiles despite warnings from Seoul not to do so.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Loyalty ratings determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, and certain stores. They also affected the severity of punishment in the case of legal infractions.
Citizens with relatives who fled to the ROK at the time of the Korean War were classified as part of the “hostile class.” Between 20 and 30 percent of the population was considered potentially hostile. Members of this class were subject to discrimination, although defectors reported their treatment had improved in recent years.
Indirect evidence in recent years–for example, favorable portrayals of persons with bad class backgrounds who were hard workers–suggested that the regime wished to moderate its stance. Economic reforms may also have eroded rigid loyalty‑based class divisions to some extent, although growing economic disparities have also resulted from price and wage reforms. In his August report, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea stated that “while this practice may have been abolished in law, it seems to persist and is implied by the testimonies of those who leave the country in search of refuge elsewhere.”
-- Excerpt of latest State Department’s Human Rights report, country section on North Korea