Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Atrocity of North Korean Lives for Sale

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea just released its latest report: "Lives for Sale: Personal Accounts of Women Fleeing North Korea to China." This 64-page document delves into the agonies that await many North Korean women who manage to escape Kim Jong Il's domain by fleeing into China, only to find they have become human commodities, with no rights and no recourse. Chronically threatened with being sent back to harsh punishment in North Korea, widely abused, they are given no protections whatsoever, no refugee status, no legal rights … nothing.

To compile this report, HRNK sent a South Korean woman, Hae-young Lee, a human rights specialist, on a series of research trips to China from 2004-2006. In China, she quietly sought out North Korean women. Many of these women end up in the hands of brokers who collect fees for peddling them to the "boarding houses" of China's sex trade or sell them into forced "marriages," in which they have no legal standing and function as virtual slaves.

"Lives for Sale" includes a price list of amounts paid in 2005 for such "wives," with the price for a North Korean woman for life ranging from $257 to upward of $1,027.

The individual accounts, with identities disguised to protect the women, include such tales as "They beat me so frequently that I thought I would die." A few of the women describe themselves as content with forced marriages, but the great majority describe lives of gross abuse. Some lost family members to famine in North Korea and were then deceived by human traffickers into seeking a better life in China, unaware of their real fate until the money changed hands. In some cases, they described themselves as having been kidnapped outright.

[Contains excerpts from a Forbes article by Claudia Rosett]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Changing face of North Korean refugees

In the late 1990’s, defectors from North Korea were mostly young men without families. In recent years, though, about 80 percent of defectors have been middle-aged women, many with children in tow. Most of these women were traders -- and in many cases, cross-border smugglers. Often, they bribed their way across the border.

They filter into South Korea at the rate of about 35 a week, usually after months or years in China and an arduous detour through Vietnam, Burma or Thailand. Seoul does not encourage North Koreans to defect. But once they arrive, the South Korean government quietly grants them citizenship, gives them an apartment and tries to teach them how not to sink in an education-obsessed capitalist culture.

All adult defectors who arrive in South Korea from the North are required to spend three months at Hanowan, a government-financed operation about 70 miles south of Seoul, where they receive psychiatric counseling, learn their rights under South Korean law, take driving lessons and go on field trips to department stores, banks and subways. Teenage defectors spend two months to two years at nearby Hangyoreh Middle-High School, a remedial boarding school.

The government's Ministry of Unification runs Hanowan and Hangyoreh, staffing them with psychologists, career counselors, medical staff and teachers who have a mix of specialties. In interviews, they described the defectors, the young and the middle-aged, as highly motivated but difficult to engage. But helping defectors is rarely easy, the staff says, for they trust no one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Calls for Release of American Journalists in North Korea

Demonstrations across the U.S. are to call for the release of two American journalists who face trial on spying charges in North Korea. Euna Lee, a Korean-American, and Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, were seized by North Korean soldiers in March while working on a story about North Korean refugees along the Chinese border.

A regular event dubbed North Korea Freedom Week in Washington, D.C. will also call for their release. Participants will seek to draw international attention the reporters' detention in a rally near the Capitol Building on Tuesday and at a press conference Wednesday by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

International journalists' group Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) will deliver a petition to North Korea's permanent mission to the UN this week.