Friday, June 30, 2006

North Korean Personality Cult

The personality cult of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il remained a virtual civil religion that provided a spiritual underpinning for the regime.

Refusal on religious or other grounds to accept the leader as the supreme authority exemplifying the state and society’s needs was regarded as opposition to the national interest and continued to result in severe punishment.

-- Excerpt of latest State Department’s Human Rights report, country section on North Korea

Thursday, June 29, 2006

North Korean Christians executed

“We know from eyewitness testimony that when North Koreans are repatriated they are subjected to harsh sentences, in some cases they are executed, especially if they have converted to Christianity.

“Since many Christians are willing to risk themselves to help these refugees, it is very common to hear of North Korean defectors converting to Christianity.

"Some, in fact, go back to North Korea to preach the gospel, which as you well know, is another crime against the state in North Korea, because Kim Jong-il considers Christianity to be the biggest threat to his God-head.”

--Excerpt of speech given by Suzanne Scholte, U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Christianity in North Korea

Aside from a few “show” churches in Pyongyang, the practice of Christianity is outlawed in North Korea. Yet the Rev. Tim Peters of the Seoul-based charity Helping Hands Korea believes the church is alive and well, with an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians still living in the country.

Statistics are notoriously difficult to come by in any restricted situation, Peters cautioned in a recent phone interview, “but Christian history shows us that wherever you have persecution, the church is flourishing.”

Leaving North Korea without official permission is a serious crime. Security guards closely question all refugees who are forcibly returned; many are tortured and/or imprisoned. Those who return with a Bible or admit having contact with Christians in China face certain torture and imprisonment, and, in some extreme cases, execution.

Despite these risks, hundreds of North Koreans continue to cross the border into China, seeking relief from the brutalities of the regime. The Chinese government recently increased the “bounty” payable for turning in a North Korean refugee from 1,000 yuan (US$125) to 3,000 yuan (US$374).

“The Chinese are extremely serious about ferreting out North Koreans,” Tim Peters confirmed.

According to Peters, China forcibly repatriates an average of 500 North Koreans every month, sometimes as many as 200 per week.

[Excerpt of article in Compass Direct]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Intervention on the Long Road to Freedom

[In an attempt to rescue 10 North Korean refugees apprehended in Laos], human rights groups sought urgent intervention from the United Nations, as well as from the U.S. and South Korean governments. When all efforts failed, a representative of Helping Hands Korea paid a ransom of US$500 per head for eight of the refugees; another activist ransomed the other two.

After almost two weeks of negotiation, the Lao government allowed South Korean embassy staff to collect the refugees.

Most refugees in China are not as fortunate. China has a mutual repatriation agreement with North Korea.

Multiple interviews with the refugees … show clear evidence of severe and widespread human rights abuses. Refugees report brainwashing tactics; tight control of movement; harsh labor requirements; imprisonment of up to three generations of a family for minor infractions; and severe shortages of food, medical care and other basic necessities.

In her memoir, Eyes of the Tailless Animals, former prisoner Soon Ok Lee described forced labor, torture, harassment and forced abortions in one of North Korea’s notorious labor camps. She also said Christians were singled out for particular punishment – an observation which led Soon to adopt Christianity following her unprecedented release from the labor camp.

[Excerpt of article in Compass Direct]

Monday, June 26, 2006

489 South Koreans abducted by North

South Korea's opposition Grand National Party has confirmed that 489 South Koreans have been abducted by North Korea.

The report said about 90 percent of the victims were fishermen detained by North Korea while operating in the area dividing North and South Koreas' territorial waters.

[Kyodo News]

Sunday, June 25, 2006

“We would rather die than go back to North Korea”

Hae Nam Ji is an example [of human trafficking]. She decided to flee North Korea after she served time in a political prison camp for the "crime" of singing a South Korean song.

Ji describes the several times she was sold. In one case the man who bought her was afraid she would try to escape while he was at work, so he took her to the factory where she was treated like an animal in a zoo, stared at and sexually molested by the man's co-workers.

Despite such horror stories, North Koreans continue to flee to China.

Time and time again, we hear the same story from them: "we would rather die than go back to North Korea."

[Excerpt from speech given by Suzanne Scholte at Congressional-Executive Commission on China Issues Roundtable]

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Shrewd Kim Jong Il

For all the attention he is getting concerning the missile crisis, North Korea's Kim Jong Il is one of the most mysterious leaders in the world. The reclusive communist leader has been portrayed variously as an unstable nuclear-armed madman.

But despite his reputation as being very odd, some experts maintain Kim is quite rational.

"He's not crazy. He might be somewhat emotional. He might be somewhat eccentric. But crazy? Absolutely not," says Peter Maass from the New York Times magazine.

Indeed, Kim's persona seems to have been carefully cultivated to become a leader who has played a poor hand of cards skillfully. As supreme leader of an impoverished, backward country, he has little to bargain with on the international stage and his reputation may work to his advantage.

Indeed, behind it all he seems to be a shrewd dictator.

"Really, everybody who's met with Kim Jong Il, and there've been quite a few -- South Koreans, Americans, Russians, North Koreans who've since defected -- they all come out saying this man knows what he's doing," says Maass.

[Excerpt of an article by Zain Verjee, CNN]

Friday, June 23, 2006

Pregnant North Koreans forced into abortions

"Pregnant women who are repatriated [to North Korea] are forced to undergo abortions.

"If the babies are born alive, they are suffocated, murdered on the spot.

"The crime that the baby committed is two-fold: he may have been the child of a Chinese man and he shares his mother's guilt for the crime she committed of leaving the country.

"Now, in addition to repatriating North Koreans, China penalizes its citizens for trying to help North Korean refugees, and rewards them for turning them in -- a double incentive."

--Suzanne Scholte, testifying at Congressional-Executive Commission on China Issues Roundtable

Thursday, June 22, 2006

North Korean Refugees Released to South Korean Embassy

North Korean refugees face forced repatriation to North Korea, where they face imprisonment and/or the death penalty. This news article highlights a recent near miss for refugees caught in Laos:

In early June, Communist authorities in Laos arrested 10 North Korean refugees along with two South Korean activists as they attempted to reach safety in Thailand. After almost two weeks of negotiations, including a ransom payment to officials, the refugees were released to South Korean embassy officials on Saturday, June 10.

Aside from a few “show” churches in Pyongyang, the practice of Christianity is outlawed in North Korea, yet the Rev. Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea said there are an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians North Korea.

Leaving North Korea without official permission is a serious offense, and numerous activists have developed an “underground railroad” that smuggles North Korean refugees out of China (where they are often deported if caught) and transports them to South Korea or other countries where they seek asylum.

[Excerpt from Compass Direct]

Background on this article, as provided by Tim Peters:
On behalf of all activists who persevered for almost two weeks during a rollercoaster drama that saw 10 North Korean refugees endure two separate imprisonments in Laos, a ransom standoff, the ever-present specter of repatriation to North Korea via China, I am most happy to announce that the embassy staff of the Republic of Korea took custody of the 10 North Korean refugees from the Luang Prabang Immigration Center.

In addition, two activists who had been imprisoned for part of this ordeal have been released.

We thank all of you for your encouragement, advocacy, camaraderie, and prayers throughout this grueling ordeal. Yet again, we remember the time-honored truism in times of darkness and difficulty: “God is still on the throne and prayer changes things.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

North Korean women subject to human trafficking

Over the years, field surveys conducted by human rights organizations documented that over 50% of North Korean women have been subjected to human trafficking, sold as wives to Chinese farmers, sold as sex slaves to brothels, and sexually exploited.

These statistics are now believed to be much higher, because now it is not just Chinese that are selling North Korean women and young girls but even desperate North Koreans are selling their own citizens.

Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea believes that at least 70% and possibly 90% of North Korean refugee females have been victimized by trafficking. He described one such victim, Kim Mi-Soon. Kim's parents died and she was left to fend for herself until a woman from a nearby town offered to take Kim to China to live with her relatives. She went gratefully. It was not until she reached China that she discovered the deception: the woman sold her to a Chinese man. She was sexually abused, beaten and treated like a piece of property.

Despite the abuse, Kim considers herself very fortunate, because she will tell you: "I was only sold once. Most of the teenage girls from my home town, 15 and 16 year olds have been sold 3 and 4 times as sex slaves." Many of these young women are terrified to come forward to tell their stories because of the stigma that they have to live with for the abuse they endured.

[Excerpted from speech given by Suzanne Scholte at Congressional-Executive Commission on China Issues Roundtable]

Suzanne Scholte is President of the Defense Forum Foundation and Chairman of North Korea Freedom Day being sponsored by the North Korea Freedom Coalition. She is also a Founding Board Member of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and a Founding Member and Advisor of the North Korea Freedom Coalition.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Tim Peters looking for a few good men

INTERVIEWER: It's been almost 10 years since you started the charity [Helping Hands Korea]. Have you ever thought about giving the reins to someone else and moving back to the States?

TIM PETERS: Most missionaries feel that there's no retirement in the Lord's work, and I guess I'm more or less of that mind. I'm still of good health, which I'm thankful for.

Naturally I'm also a bit of a headhunter; I'm always looking for new young and idealistic talent who have a heart for the North Korean people.

I must say I very much hope to stay fully engaged until we can see that all the North Koreans has a free government and people can really pursue their own dreams. I would love to be on this peninsula when that takes place.

[Excerpt of a radio interview with Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, on ABC Radio Australia]

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Helping Hands Korea helps North Koreans find freedom

[Portion of a radio interview with Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, on ABC Radio Australia]

The journey to flee North Korea may be perilous, but the will of many people to escape the hunger and repression in the communist state far outweighs the dangers. For many North Koreans, the uncertainty of successfully seeking asylum in China or South Korea is paramount. Yet the odds have improved somewhat thanks to an informal network of activists who try against formidable obstacles to help North Korean refugees in crisis. They're known as the Underground Railroad. Reverend Tim Peters has become the public face of this operation and he does so at great personal risk.

TIM PETERS: It numbers in the hundreds that were able to actually help per year; in 2004 we were able to put about 600 North Koreans in shelters in China. Those numbers have gone down a little bit, not because the need is any less, but simply that Chinese surveillance and Chinese security initiatives have so strengthened that it's not that easy to shelter them. But we are continuing to shelter a very good number of them in China. So we're not only in the endeavour of trying to bring people out, but trying to identify the ones that are really in the gravest danger if they were sent back to North Korea.

LOPRESTI: Well the US has recently announced that it will soon begin accepting North Korean refugees. Do you believe that Congress will appropriate funding, will it make good on its promise, because US President George W. Bush has made it very clear that he loathes North Korea, he's made that quite clear, saying I loath Kim Jong-il. So do you see the US taking up the cause?

PETERS: I'm still hopeful. As of October 2004 when the North Korean Human Rights Act was passed I think the entire human rights community was very optimistic. But [time] has dragged by and no significant funding for the authorized 24 million dollars that was stipulated in that act has been forthcoming. It's been agonizingly slow to get actually implemented. So again, I'm hopeful and I'm glad that there seems to be some movement, but I'm quite frustrated at how slow things are moving.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Humanitarian workers in Chinese jails

To give you an example of [humanitarian] "lawbeakers" that China has put in jail, Rev. Dong Shik Kim who disappeared on January 16, 2000, and Takayuki Noguchi who was seized on December 10, 2003.

Rev. Kim is a devout Christian who felt a special compassion for the handicapped, poor and oppressed because he had himself been handicapped after a car accident in 1986. Working in China since 1988, he became well aware of the suffering of the North Korean people and organized five shipments of humanitarian aid to North Korea. He and his wife helped North Korean athletes go to compete in the 1996 Olympic Games. He was helping shelter refugees in China when on January 16, 2000, he was visited by three men who told them they wanted to take him to see a North Korean refugee couple who needed help. He served the three men lunch, and then the three men took Rev. Kim away and he has not been seen since.

Takayuki Noguchi of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees was seized on December 10 with two Japanese born North Korean refugees. Noguchi is a 32-year-old humanitarian worker whose devotion to helping others led him to become involved in trying to rescue North Korean refugees. At the time he was caught, he was trying to help two Japanese born refugees return to Japan. Noguchi is in jail today being held by Chinese authorities for the crime of "illegally transporting people to cross the border."

China works aggressively with North Korean agents to catch and jail humanitarian workers. In fact, the North Korean government offered an incentive to catch Hiroshi Kato of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees: 440,000 yen and a brand new Mercedes Benz. Kato was in fact caught in November 2002, and jailed, but fortunately the Japanese government stood up for him and he was released after less than a week in detention.

[Excerpted from speech by Suzanne Scholte at Congressional-Executive Commission on China Issues Roundtable]

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Treatment of humanitarian workers in China and North Korea

I fully acknowledge China's right to protect its borders and concern about the flood of North Korean refugees, but you have a wealth of humanitarian organizations who wish to alleviate this problem. In fact, two years ago we got letters of commitment from twelve humanitarian organizations who wished to help establish a refugee camp to help relieve China of any burden for these refugees.

There are many organizations that have left North Korea in protest of the government's diversion of their humanitarian aid, that would be more than willing to assist these North Koreans wherever they are.

In essence, we have a situation where a government is terrorizing starving, helpless refugees and also terrorizing humanitarian workers who are simply in China to feed and shelter these refugees.

Today there are at least ten humanitarian workers in Chinese jails -- ten that we know of. Since they must work clandestinely to try to save people’s lives, there may be many others.

[Excerpt from speech by Suzanne Scholte at Congressional-Executive Commission on China Issues Roundtable] more

Suzanne Scholte is President of the Defense Forum Foundation and Chairman of North Korea Freedom Day being sponsored by the North Korea Freedom Coalition. She is also a Founding Board Member of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and a Founding Member and Advisor of the North Korea Freedom Coalition.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pyongyang policies could exacerbate famine

Many experts worry that the latest Pyongyang policies are the same as those that helped to exacerbate the famine. While food stocks may be stable at present, there is no certainty about what the next harvest will bring. And if there is a shortage, the ban on private sales of grain, the reliance on the rationing system, and the absence of WFP monitoring would again put the most vulnerable segment of the population at risk of severe hunger or even famine.

Once food shortages appear, North Korea is obliged by international law to distribute its available resources, including food aid offered by international donors. But in the meantime, the only way for an individual to avoid hunger, disease and starvation is to grow food or to buy it illegally from a private trader. If North Korea is concerned about its citizens' survival, the last thing it should do is to ban a hungry person from buying food.

The international community - particularly China and South Korea, the two main providers of food aid and the only countries with sufficient influence - must press North Korea to reverse its present course.

[Exceprt of an article by Kay Seok, International Herald Tribune]
Kay Seok is the consultant on North Korea at Human Rights Watch.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

North Korea’s Public Distribution System

North Korea has banned the buying and selling of grain by individuals at farmers' markets and ordered workers who abandoned their jobs during the famine of the 1990s to return to work, or be punished. It also announced it was reviving the Public Distribution System, under which only the state can distribute grain, through workplaces and schools.

Only 10 years ago, North Korea experienced a famine that killed from 500,000 to three million people, according to economists, demographers and aid agencies. Young children and the elderly were among the first victims. Many children who survived became orphans.

North Korea still hasn't recovered from the famine: After a decade of WFP assistance, a large number of children remain malnourished. According to WFP's most recent survey, more than a third of children up to six years old remain stunted. Large numbers of North Koreans continue to go to bed at night without the day's minimum caloric intake.

Even if North Korea were capable of delivering enough food to all its citizens, it's hard to believe that it would do so fairly. The government, which remains on a war footing against the United States, has long taken a portion of each year's harvest and put it into "war-preparation storage." It first feeds the elite class, including high-ranking military, intelligence, police and other law-enforcement officials, and then gives smaller rations, often less than the minimum needed to keep a person healthy, to the general population.

[Exceprt of an article by Kay Seok, International Herald Tribune] related
Kay Seok is the consultant on North Korea at Human Rights Watch.

Monday, June 05, 2006

North Korea headed toward another famine

'Choongoong," which means "spring food shortage," is well under way in North Korea, as farmers run out of food from the previous year's harvest. For many people dependent on state food rations, it's the season when food starts to disappear. It's the time of the year North Koreans dread.

That dread may be especially well founded, given a series of recent policy changes by the government of Kim Jong Il [and how they have curtailed the activities of the World Food Program].

The agency, which for the past decade has been assisting millions of vulnerable people, such as young children, pregnant women and the elderly, is now negotiating to provide sustenance to less than a third of its former beneficiaries.

Other aid providers, such as China and South Korea, do not make up the gap and do not monitor distribution to make sure their aid actually goes to hungry civilians, rather than the elite.

[Exceprt of an article by Kay Seok, International Herald Tribune] related

Kay Seok is the consultant on North Korea at Human Rights Watch.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

North Korean Food Situation

A 62-year-old North Korean, Lee Young Sung (pseudonym) who was in Dandong to visit a relative in China said, “It is better for me now that I found my older brother [in China]. People living in my village must go to mountains to dig for edible plants [in order to survive].”

"March and April, called the ‘Barley Period' (Borigogae) is the worst period of farming difficulties, before it is time for the crops and edible plants to be harvested. [If these] run out, North Koreans must prolong their lives by eating grass or wild plants.

"However, because of the starvation in the mid 90’s, which resulted in indiscriminate reclamation, even wild plants like bracken are not easily found now."

[Excerpt of article by Kwon Jeong Hyun, Dandong of China]

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Vocal North Korean Refugees Censored with Threats

Research reveals that one in five North Korean defectors who criticized the South Korean government or North Korean regime receive warnings or threats from [South Korean] administration officials.

According to a report by the National Human Rights Commission, “Research Report on Improvements in the Human Rights Situation of North Korean Escapees Living in South Korea,” 16% of escapees reported that they don’t have freedom of speech in South Korea today.
19% of escapees who had criticized the South Korean government, the North Korean regime, or Kim Jong Il [in writing] received a warning or threat by administration officials.

Another 18% responded that they were disadvantaged in the distribution of their initial government settlement benefit and living subsidies. Most escapees believed they had been discriminated against during the settlement process. Seven out of 10 reported being discriminated against at work, and more than half said they had been discriminated against in the promotion process.

Around half of North Korean-born students conceal their origins from their friends, and about 20% feel isolated by their peers at school because they are North Korean.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Where are the young to step into place?

A few weeks ago, Tim Peters [founder of Helping Hands Korea] stood in the pulpit of the Youngnak Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest, largest and most graceful churches in Seoul. The congregation was more than 2,000 strong, joined together in a two-day prayer vigil for North Koreans.

His sermon, on a text from the Old Testament, was stark: "Joshua had fallen to the ground in long and desperate prayer," Peters said. "But after a period of time the Lord said, 'Get up Joshua, why are you still lying on your face? Now is the time to do what I have shown you to do.'"

As Peters sees it, there is still much work to be done. … One underground-railroad activist held in Yanji is 68 years old. An American evangelical preacher drowned in 2004 leading a group of North Korean refugees across the Mekong River was 62.

"Where," Peters demanded at the Youngnak Church, "are the young men—the young soldiers—to step into the place that older missionaries now fill?"

He stepped from the pulpit, and the organist led the congregation into a loud, emotional version of the tune associated more than any other with escape from bondage. In Korean, 2,000 voices swelled to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

[Excerpted from TIME magazine “Long Walk to Freedom”]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Religious Freedom in North Korea?

"There are now some 7,000 North Koreans residing in South Korea, who are accessible to journalists and human rights investigators and are able to help fill in the gaps of information about conditions in North Korea.

"In many cases, interviewees clearly indicated that there was no religious freedom in North Korea. Similarly, results showed that very few North Koreans had ever seen a religious observance taking place in their country.

"The interviews also revealed a system of anti-religious propaganda in the schools and media.

"Shortly after the Korean War, the Kim Il Sung regime abolished all religions entirely.

"In 1988, the North Korean government set up three churches--one each of Protestant, Catholic, and Buddhist--in an attempt to cover up the country’s lack of religiosity, but only a handful of North Korean citizens were allowed to participate in public worship services.

"It is on this basis that the regime contends that it has religious freedom."

--David Hawk, author of “Thank You Father Kim Il-Sung”