Friday, March 28, 2008

Brussels-based NGO helps 12 North Koreans find freedom

Yesterdayday at 11.55 am (local time), two senior leaders of Human Rights Without Frontiers Int'l (HRWF Int'l) from Brussels and Paris forced their way inside the Embassy of South Korea in Vientiane, Laos, with 12 refugees from North Korea who had travelled through China before getting stranded in Laos.

Nine of them had arrived 2 months ago and three more on 26 March.

At 1.40 pm, HRWF Int'l received the news that the South Korean Embassy was processing their requests for political asylum in South Korea.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Helping Hands Korea meeting with UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights

Helping Hands Korea, represented by founder Tim Peters, was one of several NGO’s invited to meet in Seoul with UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, Dr. Vitit Muntarbhorn.

The Special Rapporteur is preparing an important annual report on the North Korean refugee situation and solicited data from NGO’s to help him to make the report as comprehensive as possible.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fact Sheet on North Korean Refugees

Below are excerpts of a fact sheet submitted by Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, to UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, Dr. Vitit Muntarbhorn. The following is based on Helping Hand Korea’s experience and assessment of the North Korean refugee situations in China and surrounding countries.


· Estimate of roughly 300,000 to 450,000 North Korean refugees living in fear and hiding throughout China.

· As the Beijing Olympics approach, there is stronger and stronger evidence of yet another crackdown by Chinese authorities, similar to the "Strike Hard" campaigns in earlier years of this decade.Proliferation of CN_NK border surveillance cameras, heat & motion sensors.

· The Chinese leadership continue to ignore their nation's obligations as a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Protection of Refugees by its policy of forceful repatriation of North Korean refugees by the thousands every year.

· Courageous NGO activists have suffered long prison sentences in China for sacrificially assisting NK refugees.Sadly, all too often South Korean diplomats in China have done very little to come to the aid of their citizens in prison, choosing rather to echo the accusations of the Chinese government, scolding activists for their refugee assistance on Chinese soil.


· Although the Mongolian government has been relatively cooperative to NK refugees by not sending them back to China when they cross the Sino-Mongolian border, still the harsh geographic and climatic conditions of the Gobi Desert have resulted in the needless deaths of many scores of NK refugees who risked their lives to flee repatriation in China.


· There are currently approximately 600 NK refugees in Thailand. At present, there are approximately 400 NK refugees in the International Detention Center (IDC) near Bangkok. 300 of the internees are women and 100 are men.

· Conditions within the IDC have been deteriorating for many months, especially since the coup in September of 2006. Overcrowding, the extreme shortage of toilets and showers have made conditions extremely difficult for the NK refugees, even prompting hunger strikes.

· Up until early 2007, the South Korean embassy was processing a mere trickle 10 NK refugees per month for resettlement and transporting them to Seoul. During 2007,the pace of resettlement processing by the embassy increased to 40/wk. just after the presidential elections on Dec. 19, 2007.


· NK refugees consider Laos to be marginally better than conditions in China, but not nearly as safe as Mongolia or Thailand due to its communist government.


· Following the wrong-footed massive airlift of 469 NK refugees from Vietnam by the South Korean embassy in Hanoi in 2004, the Vietnamese government gave the embassy an ultimatum to stop processing NK refugees there.


· The Russian border patrol has history of sending NK refugees back to China if they enter Russian soil from that country.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Shifts underway in North Korea

South Korean daily Dong-a Ilbo reports that, fearing a military coup against him, Kim Jong-il is pulling back some power from his military, a major shift in North Korea’s military-first policy.

A North Korean government source says funds for the armed forces are being cut by 30 per cent to prevent the generals from taking over. Meanwhile the secret police apparatus is strengthened, the Ministry of People’s Security.

According to this anonymous government source, the shift indicates that Kim Jong-il is afraid of the power vacuum that his death might cause, and that he is convinced that his dynasty has the right to rule over the country. For this reason he does not want the military to dominate a power struggle.

Additionally, The Washington Post reminds us, “A grim rite of spring is the calculation of how many North Koreans could starve before the fall harvest -- and what the neighbors are willing to do about it.”

Severe crop failure in the North, surging global prices for food and tougher behavior by donors, particularly South Korea and China, are putting unaccustomed pressure on Kim Jong Il's dysfunctional communist state.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Please consider sending a letter to Chinese embassies and consulates in your area, using the letter below as a model if you wish. [To locate the embassy in your country]

His Excellency Hu Jintao
President, People’s Republic of China
c/o His Excellency Zhou Wenzhong
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20008

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing with an urgent request that your country not repatriate to North Korea the four North Korean refugees arrested on March 5, 2008, by the Chinese authorities and now being held in Shenyang Border Patrol Detention Center. The four include
three women and one man identified as follows: Hahn Chang Kuk (male, aged 30), Lee Jong-Sun (female), Lee Kung-Shin (female, 30) and Lee Jong-Shin (female, 33).

As you now, there have been several recent incidents reported by the media of public executions by the North Korean authorities for North Koreans that were sent back to North Korea by South Korea and China. We believe that these four refugees will
be executed if they are sent back to North Korea by the Chinese border patrol.

As we have stated in previous letters to you, we understand and respect China’s concerns about its borders with the influx of refugees from North Korea. We want to work with China to resolve this issue humanely working under international law and with respect for China and its border integrity.

We beg you to consider that these four refugees will be executed if returned by China to North Korea. They most certainly meet the conditions under the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which oblige China not to repatriate them.

We thank you in advance for considering our request and hope that you will protect these four individuals, whose lives are in your hands.


Suzanne Scholte

North Korea Freedom Coalition

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

China feels pressure over North Koreans

As the Olympics approach, activists push Beijing to halt its crackdown on refugees from its impoverished neighbor and those who help them defect to South Korea.

North Koreans cross over the Tumen River in an attempt to defect to South Korea. High barbed-wire fences have been erected along the banks of the Tumen River, which runs along part of China's border with North Korea. Recently, the Chinese have started blocking routes leading out of China as well, installing ultrared heat and motion sensors in the desert terrain near the border with Mongolia. Mobile telephone calls and e-mails among activists are monitored, and informants pose as defectors to infiltrate safe houses where North Koreans are hiding. Those caught are repatriated to North Korea.

Human rights advocates are now pushing China for at least a truce in honor of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in August. The treatment of North Koreans, along with concerns that China is not doing enough to stop the bloodshed in the Darfur region of ally Sudan, threatens to shadow the Games.

"These Olympics are just about the most important international event in Chinese history. If they want to brag to the world about what a safe and stable place China is, they have to do something for the refugees," said Do Hee-youn, who runs a fund for North Korean defectors in Seoul.

There are some indications that the Chinese are paying heed. In December, they unexpectedly released Yu Sang-jun, a defector who had become an activist. Caught guiding refugees to the border, he was held for less than four months, a short stay compared with the years-long sentences doled out to others who did the same. Christian activists in Seoul had lobbied hard for Yu's release and were delighted when he arrived safely home. But the activists were not counting on his release signaling a change of course by the Chinese.

"At best, they'll put on a public relations show for the Olympics," activist Tim Peters said. "But it won't be anything more than smoke and mirrors."

[Excerpt of an article by Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times]