New Camp for Political Prisoners Discovered in North Korea
November 22, 2016 by Jannelle P in Asia
The Human Rights in North Korea Committee reports the discovery of a new kwan-li-so, the name North Korea uses for political labor camps from which there is no escape. The official name of the camp is unknown, so the researchers call it Ch’oma-Bong, after the name of a nearby village. Though the camp was initially built over a decade ago and has recently been expanded, it is still one of the smaller camps. As far as North Korean camps go, it appears to be fairly well maintained. There is no way to determine the prisoner population, but the recent construction of over 54 new housing units suggests significant growth. Detainees, and possibly civilians, work mainly in agriculture and mining around the camp. It’s likely that prisoners are required to do the majority of the dangerous work in the mines.
Ch’oma-Bong is located only 45 miles northeast of the capital Pyongyang. A portion of the camp’s security fence is shared with infamous Camp 14. Two high security compounds have been built, which suggests that “high value” prisoners are being kept there. There are no roads leading up to the security guard posts, which indicate that they patrol largely by foot. The camp is connected to a railway station located just over a mile away.
North Korea has led the World Watch List for 14 consecutive years now. According to 2016 WWL information,
Kim Jong-un has continued to consolidate his power, and no changes or improvements have been seen over the past year. Ideology again trumped everything as could be seen in the celebration of the ruling Korean Workers Party’s 70th anniversary in October 2015. North Korea remains an opaque state and it is difficult to make sense of most of the news pouring out of the country. This is even truer when it comes to topics like human rights or the situation of the Christian minority. Christianity is not only seen as “opium for the people,” as is normal for all communist states, it is also seen as deeply Western and despicable. Christians try to hide their faith as far as possible to avoid arrest and being sent to labor camps with horrific conditions. Thus, one’s Christian faith usually remains a well-protected secret, and most parents refrain from introducing their children to the Christian faith in order to make sure that nothing slips their tongue when they are asked.”
Though the Committee did not specify that Christians are among those in the detainment camp, manybrothers and sisters in Christ in North Korea are imprisoned in kwan-li-so facilities like this one. Please pray for the people held here. God knows those who are His children.
Our Heavenly Father, who upholds the cause of the oppressed and sets the prisoners free, we pray for our fellow Christians in North Korea, imprisoned for their faith in Christ. Sustain them, Lord. Be their strength and joy in this earthly suffering. Encourage them with Your Word and Presence when their faith wanes, when loneliness sets in and when intense suffering is inflicted on them. Give them opportunity to share their faith boldly but wisely with other prisoners. May Christ be evident in their lives, not only to the prisoners, but also to the guards, and may You use their stalwart faith to draw many to Yourself. Turn their eyes from this earthly suffering to the glory set before them. In the name of Jesus, who has set us free from bondage to life, that we might be called His brothers. Amen.
Why North Korea sanctions are unlikely to produce desirable results
For multiple reasons, there is little reason to be hopeful of positive results
August 16th, 2016
As of late, the issue of sanctions has been at the front and center of all discussions regarding North Korea. Because of well-founded disappointment in the ‘soft-line’ approach – centered around negotiations and mutual concessions – an unavoidable result has emerged for many: that sanctions are now “the only game in town”.
Despite this recent shift in opinion, I cannot be enthusiastic about the tightening sanctions on North Korea, which are firstly difficult to implement and, secondly, unlikely to produce desirable results – even if properly implemented
This position – which I recently articulated in an interview with RFA in Washington – has consequently invited some criticism, notably from Joshua Stanton, an experienced and observant North Korea watcher who has very different views from mine on this issue.
This lengthy piece is, therefore, in a sense an indirect response to Joshua Stanton’s criticism – “indirect” because, instead of arguing point by point, I will reiterate my arguments about the inefficiency of sanctions in a more systematic manner.
Chinese boat sailing along Yalu River, adjacent to DPRK | Picture: NK News
HURDLES TO IMPLEMENTATION
To start with, North Korea sanctions don’t work. To put it in a more cautious way, so far they have failed to produce any noticeable impact on the state of the DPRK economy or the lifestyle of common North Koreans or members of the elite.
The international sanctions regime was first introduced by the UN Security Council in 2006, at the time when the North Korean economy began its slow recovery from the 15 years of crisis experienced after the collapse of the communist bloc. Yet despite ever-tightening sanctions, the ten years that since passed have been a time of steady economic growth and significant improvement in the living standards for a majority of the North Korean population.
The ten years that since passed have been a time of steady economic growth and significant improvement in the living standards for a majority of the North Korean population.
The inefficiency of those sanctions has been once again demonstrated by the results of Resolution 2270, which was adopted by the UN Security Council in early March 2016. This resolution envisioned sanctions of hitherto unprecedented severity, including, for example, a complete or partial ban on mineral exports from North Korea. However, after nearly half a year of the sanctions being implemented, it is still “business as usual” in North Korea. Such vital economic indicators as grain market prices and market exchange rates for foreign currencies have remained virtually unchanged, while most of the construction projects (including resource-wasteful hallmark projects in Pyongyang) are still continuing apace.
There are many reasons why initial UN sanctions and those outlined by Resolution 2270 have been so inefficient, but the major role is played by the uneasy and controversial attitude of China.
When from time-to-time the Chinese government expresses its support for some sanctions or criticizes North Korean policies on nuclear and missile issues, there are outbursts of joy in Washington and other Western capitals where people start saying that “finally the Chinese are in the same boat with us”. But such optimism has so far always been proven to be misplaced, for the Chinese are not in the same boat with the United States and they are unlikely to share this proverbial boat ride in the foreseeable future.
There is little doubt that China is seriously annoyed by North Korea’s nuclear brinksmanship and its nuclear and missile program as an indirect but significant security threat. However, on the list of the problems the Chinese government has to deal with, this particular danger is not very high. For China, any possible change in status quo on the Korean peninsula constitutes a potential challenge, and this is well understood in Beijing.
From decades of painful experiences, the Chinese have learned that the North Korean government is remarkably indifferent to minor pressures, so Pyongyang reacts to outside demands only when it faces a mortal threat. China, having a near complete monopoly on North Korean foreign trade, is in a position to create a crisis of such magnitude that it would indeed put in danger the survival of the DPRK economy and – perhaps – even reverse its policy on the nuclear issue. Indeed, if China stops all trade and dramatically reduces the number of North Koreans residing and doing business in China, this would wipe out the North Korean economy in a year or two.
China does not need regime collapse, revolution, and anarchy in a nuclear country located on its borders
However, such a crisis is likely to produce results which will not serve China’s long-term strategic interests. It is possible that the North Korean government would yield and indeed surrender its nuclear program, but it is even more likely that it will remain stubborn to the bitter end, leaving the crisis to trigger a revolution. However, this is clearly not what China wants. China does not need regime collapse, revolution, and anarchy in a nuclear country located on its borders. And, of course, it is not very enthusiastic about the emergence of a unified Korea, which is likely to be democratic, nationalistic, and friendly to the United States, Beijing’s major strategic adversary.
Thus, one should not be surprised that the Chinese are using their trade, economic exchanges and aid to North Korea in a very measured manner. They sometimes decrease the amount of economic exchange and giveaways, but it is usually done for symbolic purposes to indicate Chinese dissatisfaction with particular North Korean actions.
And it seems that this is exactly what we see now again: after a few months of a tough approach, China appears to be getting softer on Pyongyang. While this turn is currently being brought about by the general deterioration in Beijing-Washington relations and emergence of the THAAD deployment issue, it is nevertheles something that was going to happen anyway.
Targeting only elites in North Korea is difficult | Picture: E. Lafforgue
ELITE ONLY SANCTIONS?
Proponents of sanctions are likely to reject what has been said above, claiming that the major goal is not to damage the North Korean economy nor to make the life of common North Koreans more difficult. Instead, they will claim, it is rather to create uncomfortable conditions for the North Korean elite so they will start considering a change of their policies in order to have their life comforts returned to them. To simplify things a bit, it is assumed – or hoped – that if top decision makers are deprived of their Hennessey cognac, overseas travel and Mercedes Benz luxury cars for a sufficiently long period of time, they will start considering the denuclearization of their country.
Such logic would possibly work in most authoritarian states, where the ruling elite does not face an existential threat. Therefore in an average dictatorship, elite dissatisfaction might lead to a palace coup or revolution. But such political changes are unlikely to produce a wholesale replacement of the entire ruling elite, for while former colonels might become generals after revolutions, the overall elite change little. Just look at the Soviet Union: as of early 2016, only four of all leaders of post-Soviet States are neither former Soviet-era officials nor officials’ children.
This is not the case in North Korea, however, since the existence of a rich, free and highly seductive South Korea means that any serious internal disturbance there will likely result in regime collapse, soon followed by absorption of the North by its rich twin state.
In other words, unlike a majority of dictators’ henchmen in other countries, North Korean elite members understand that in case of even a successful coup, the winners will face too high a risk of rapidly losing everything as a result of instability, a popular uprising and potential unification (a cross of East German and Romanian scenarios).
They need stability, and, if worst comes to worst, they also need nuclear weapons to safeguard themselves against foreign powers
Taking this into consideration, these people are significantly less likely to start conspiracies – even if they are indeed deprived of their usual nightly glass of Hennessey cognac. They need stability, and, if worst comes to worst, they also need nuclear weapons to safeguard themselves against foreign powers being involved with their domestic crisis, Libya style. Thus in order to ensure stability, and stay alive, they can survive without a daily glass Hennessy cognac.
A poster promoting a ‘strong and prosperous’ economy | Picture: E. Lafforgue
TARGETING THE ECONOMY?
So let’s talk about a more realistic and tested model of sanctions – those which target the economy at large and whose (usually unstated) aim is to decrease the living standards of the general populace in order to create some discontent, hence putting the government under political pressure.
Such sanctions have been tried many times, from Serbia to South Africa. In most cases, they were not remarkably efficient, but there have been cases when sanctions seemingly made a great contribution towards desirable change. However, there is a tendency which is often overlooked; that sanctions have worked much better in countries which were democracies or semi-democracies, or where the common people had at least some opportunity to express their discontent with the government’s policy.
Indeed, such sanctions usually work in an indirect way, by making the lives of the common people more difficult, in some cases being without daily bread, in others, without the opportunity to buy a car every few years. All the pressure is built with the hope that discontent can crystalize into all kinds of opposition movements. And, if they are given the luxury of relatively free elections, citiznes become more likely to vote for opposition candidates, as was the case in Serbia and South Africa, for example.
However, this model is not applicable to North Korea.
North Koreans have no way to influence their government’s decisions or even register their dissatisfaction with government policy. They vote in elections with claimed 100% approval rate, and most of them cannot even think about any kind of open civil disobedience.
We have seen how it worked back in the late 1990s when the country faced a grave shortage of food and basic necessities. At least half a million people starved to death during the so-called ‘Arduous March’ of 1996-1999, but their deaths had little, if any, impact on government policy. Indeed, Kim Jong Il and his advisors did not abandon their goals of developing nuclear weapons and missile-based delivery systems, nor did they introduce reforms which, if applied correctly and timely, could have saved most –if not all – the lives lost during the famine.
At least half a million people starved to death during the so called ‘Arduous March’ of 1996-1999, but their deaths had little, if any, impact on the government policy
Of course, North Korean society has changed much since then, so widespread starvation might indeed lead to a revolution, for nowadays citizens are significantly less docile and much better informed about the possible alternatives. However, this is a risky bet, especially if we take into account that an economic crisis will kill many people before it can lead to a revolution.
This is the reason why economic sanctions so far have remained unsuccessful and the North Korean economy continues to perform at a modest, but acceptable level.
This is not to say that harsh economic sanctions do not make sense at all, for such measures might make sense if your goal is denuclearization at any cost. However, if your goal is to improve lives of common North Koreans, this is clearly not the way to go. Fortunately, due to the position of China and other reasons described above, sanctions are not going to drive the North Korean economy to the brink.
Capitol in DC | Picture: Flickr Creative Commons
SOME SAD CONCLUSIONS
It is clear now the dominant mood in Washington and other world capitals is in favor of sanctions, so a sanctions-centered policy is likely to continue for a long time, perhaps many years to come. No amount of debate is likely to change this fact – especially since such a policy sells well with voters, creating a false and misleading impression that a principled and morally correct stance has been taken, and “something is being done” about North Korea and its nuclear threat.
Furthermore – as the experience of Cuba sanctions has demonstrated – even a long-term absence of political effect resulting from the sanctions regime is not going to discourage proponents, who will probably keep saying that “results are just beyond the corner”. In the case of Cuba, such figures were making claims like this for more than six decades, or a period of two generations.
Therefore, we have to accept that we are going to live in a sanctions-dominated world, and find ways to encourage desirable changes within it, even when the environment is harsh and unproductive. But sanctions are not conducive for policies which could probably be significantly more successful, such as cultural and personal exchanges which familiarize North Koreans with the outside world and help them realize that they live in a remarkably inefficient and backward society.
While programs targeting refugees might still be compatible with sanctions, working with the still loyal subjects of the Kim family might be a lot more difficult. Unfortunately, academic and personal exchanges are usually frowned upon by hard-liners who tend to believe that such programs ‘reward’ the North Korean dictatorial regime by inviting their students – who will be scions of the elite – to study in Western schools or encourage other exchanges between North Korea and the outside world. This ability to nearly freeze exchanges and thus reduce the information in-flow to North Korea is a major negative side-effect produced by the excessive adherence to the sanctions regime.
However, as I have said, sanctions are likely to remain part of the American and, broader speaking, Western policy for the foreseeable future. So we have to live within this, unfortunately.
Main picture: NK News
August 16th, 2016
PAKISTAN A Pakistani family converted to Christianity is hounded, victim of death threats – Asia News
A Pakistani family converted to Christianity is hounded, victim of death threats
by Stephen John
Since 2006, the couple has had two children and constant persecution from certain Muslims because the wife converted to her husband’s religion. Attempts to file a case against their tormentors have fallen on deaf police ears. After years on the run, the family is now in hiding. Human rights activists want the government to defend religious freedom, human rights and the country’s constitution.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – A Christian family has been on the run for almost ten years, finding temporary refuge but no safe haven. Jobless and desperate, they are unable to meet their own needs, as they continue to be threatened, hounded, and attacked because they want to live a Christian life and raise their children in accordance with Christ’s teachings.
After hearing their tragic story, AsiaNews decided to present it. Names, places and other details have been changed to protect the family, but their fate is part and parcel of the fight for religious freedom and the rights of Christians in Pakistan.
In May 2006, Amina, a 29 year-old Muslim woman, married 34-year-old Salamat Masih, a Christian. Her family was against it from the start, especially since they had already arranged her marriage to a trusted Muslim man.
However, Amina would not give in to her family’s pressures, and decided to marry the man she loved. The two also wanted a Christian wedding, but no pastor was willing to do it for fear of retaliation by her relatives.
To stop the marriage, Amina’s family filed a case against the would-be husband for rape and kidnapping. Thus, fearing arrest, Amina and Salamat decided to elope in accordance with Islamic law. This meant that Salamat, a Christian, had to convert to Islam since Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims.
Two Muslim men, Naveed Asim and Kareem Ahmad, acted as witnesses to the Islamic wedding. Proud of converting a Christian to Islam and of the greater standing they achieved among Muslims, they also took on the responsibility of monitoring the newlywed’s life.
With this purpose in mind, the two “guardians” forced the couple to move to Sadar, a town near Karachi, and live according to Islamic traditions, including fasting during Ramadan.
Still, Amina and Salamat did not want to live as Muslims and sought help from a local Church to arrange a Christian marriage and live among local Christians.
Eventually, the pastor of a local church agreed to register their marriage as Christian on 26 October 2006. The couple also found refuge among local Christians because of threats of reprisal from Muslims.
In the following years, the couple had two daughters. Yet, their secret did not last and threats started again, especially from the two men who had taken on the task of acting as their “guardians”.
For Amina, constant threats and pressures proved too much and she miscarried a third child. This further aggravated the conflict because the father chose to give his son a Christian burial rather than laying him to rest in a Muslim cemetery. The family’s enemies had one more reason to persecute them.
Fearing for their life, the family went from city to city, finding temporary shelter in various homes. Muslims from Amina’s community, especially the two “guardians”, kept tracking them down, proffering fresh threats and exerting more pressure on them.
Two years ago, threats turned into an actual attack. Gunmen shot at Salamat, in the leg, then drove their motorcycle over the injured limb. Only the presence of bystanders forced the attackers to flee, thus preventing them from finishing off their victim.
Because of the family’s difficult economic circumstances, Salamat was never properly treated and his leg has not fully healed. Such an impairment has limited his ability to work, making family life that much harder.
The couple’s relatives are no longer able to help for fear of reprisals and attacks by Muslims. The same goes for co-workers and friends who helped them and gave them refuge. The fear of an attack has proven stronger than the desire to help.
Since March 2015, the family has been hiding in one of the country’s largest cities. Since the family has been tracked down once and attacked before, the location has been kept secret for security reasons.
Attempts to file a case with police for the violence and threats against the family have fallen on deaf years. Law enforcement agencies have refused to deal with it.
Forced into hiding for weeks on end, Amina and Salamat have been unable to work and lead a normal life. Although a local NGO has helped them with their immediate needs, the couple and their children have gone to bed hungry on several occasions.
For Amina’s family, marrying a Christian and converting to Christianity are dishonourable acts, hence the threats. This is the more acceptable since her attackers have walked away, scot-free, ready to strike again.
However, not everyone has stood idly by. Citing the Constitution of Pakistan, the Asian Human Rights Commission has called on Pakistani authorities to respect the principle of equality of citizens, and guarantee freedom of religion. Likewise, it has called for action against the police officers who failed in their duty to protect the family.
Syrian Priest, 270 Christian and Muslim Hostages Kidnapped by Islamic Militants Reportedly Alive
By Stoyan Zaimov , Christian Post Reporter
September 7, 2015|9:32 am
(Photo: Reuters/Rodi Said)
Displaced Assyrians, who fled from the villages around Tel Tamr, gather outside the Assyrian Church in al-Hasaka city, as they wait for news about the Assyrians abductees remaining in Islamic State hands, March 9, 2015. Islamic State released 19 Assyrian Christian captives in Syria on March 1 after processing them through a sharia court, a monitoring group which tracks the conflict said. More than 200 Assyrians remain in Islamic State hands, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A Syrian priest, along with 270 Christian and Muslim hostages kidnapped by Islamic militants earlier this summer in an offensive on the city of Homs, are reportedly alive and hoping that they’ll be released after negotiations.
Fides News Agency said that Father Jacques Murad, who belongs to the monastic community of Deir Mar Musa, is still alive, according to local sources, but is being held hostage with groups of Christians and Muslims taken by jihadists in August. The hostages are reported to be "stable and secure," and are waiting as local ecclesial communities are carrying out negotiations through mediators for their possible release.
"The sources contacted by Fides confirm that all the hostages are still in Quaryatayn, and specify that the news on the story of father Murad broadcast in recent days by Lebanese television network Nursat TV did not include any statement regarding the religious person kidnapped, but only reassuring considerations about his fate, expressed by another priest," the report added.
Murad was captured in May by two armed men on motorbikes who arrived at the Mar Elian monastery, before forcing the priest into his car and taking him to an unknown destination.
The monastery has reportedly been hosting hundreds of refugees from the Syrian civil war, including over a hundred children younger than 10. Before he was captured, Murad had been helping provide basic necessities for the refugees.
It was not made clear which groups the jihadists belong to, though the country has been torn apart by clashes between government forces and various Islamic rebel groups seeking to take power.
Christians have been targeted especially heavily by the Islamic State terror group, which has captured significant territory in Syria, and has forced believers to agree to live under strict conditions or be driven out of the captured cities.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights obtained a copy of a document Christians in the captured town of al-Quaryatayn are being forced to sign, which lists 11 stipulations that must be followed.
The contract prohibits: the establishment of churches, the displaying of crosses, making Muslims hear Christian prayers or rituals of worship, the hiding of spies, offending Islamic religious beliefs, the carrying of weapons, the sale of pork or wine to Muslims, and failing to dress modestly.
Father-of-five to leave UK to fight ISIS despite admitting he may NEVER see family again
A FATHER is leaving behind his life in the UK to join the battle against Islamic State (ISIS) – despite admitting he might never see his family again.
By Selina Sykes
PUBLISHED: 17:36, Wed, Sep 2, 2015 | UPDATED: 20:25, Wed, Sep 2, 2015
Jamie McCarroll is taking the fight against extremism into his own hands
Former soldier Jamie McCarroll, 40, is taking the fight against extremism into his own hands as he feels the UK government is not doing enough to help persecuted Christians in northern Iraq.
The father-of-five from Glasgow, who quit his job to fight ISIS, has not yet explained his decision to his three daughters and two stepsons but has told them the news.
He said: "I’m leaving my life here and my kids, they’re my whole life.
"I’m giving up a lot to go over there to nothing. But I understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it."
Mr McCarroll, who is self-funding his efforts, plans to join Dwekh Nawsha, a militant group founded in 2014 to help protect the country’s Christian population.
The group’s Facebook page refers to them as "The Sacrificers" who are "doing our duty to the Assyrian people who are in need".
Mr McCarroll said: "They aren’t getting any help from any organisations, and just looking at everything that’s going on is so difficult.
"They’re being murdered all over that part of the world by Islamic State if they refuse to convert their religion.
"It’s very bleak for them as there’s no one helping them at all. The UK and US governments aren’t doing anything to help them."
Mr McCarroll admitted he might never see his family again
I’m giving up a lot to go over there to nothing
Mr McCarroll, who fought with the Royal Highland Fusiliers, said: "I don’t really think about something bad happening. It’s not something you think about because if you do you won’t last long.
"I’d rather think about going over there and helping those people than worrying about my own safety."
He is hoping to fly out to Erbil, northern Iraq, in the next six to eight weeks, where he’ll be taken to a safe house and undergo training before fighting on the front line.
It is thought more than 2,000 Britons have joined ISIS, while a small handful have also flown out to Iraq and Syria to fight against the extremist group.
Mr McCarroll said: "I’ll be on the frontline fighting, putting my life at risk, and knowing that my children might never see their father again.
"I couldn’t live with myself doing nothing, when I knew I could help."
Mr McCarroll, who joined the army at 18 and served during the Bosnian genocide, stressed there are too many untrained men going over to fight who are a liability to professional soldiers.
He said: "You need to have formal training if you want to go out and help, but there’s people out fighting at the moment who’ve not got any formal training and who’ve been there for over a year now."
Forty years This January 2016
In Memory Of One Of My Best Friends…….JBoy2244
John McConville, a devout Christian and only 20, was working to save up his fees for Bible College when he was gunned down on a cold, dark winter’s day in January 1976, along with 10 other Protestant workmen. Today, in the second extract from ‘A Legacy of Tears’, a new book by David Patterson the McConville family of south Armagh tell how the murder of their son has left them with an open wound.
By David Patterson
06 July 2006
The McConville family Tommy and Esther, with their four children, John, Karen, Mandy and Tania, lived at 30 Moninna Park, Cloughrea, about two miles from the village of Bessbrook.
Bessbrook was a close knit rural community and a model industrial village, initiated by Quakers in the 18th century. The McConville children enjoyed a happy childhood playing in the countryside and spending time with their grandmother and her sister. The family attended the local Presbyterian church, where the children were involved in Sunday school, the Boys’ Brigade and Girl Guides also played an important role in their lives during their formative years.
Village life was most harmonious and although two diverse denominations lived side by side, the McConville children grew up in an environment in which they were not aware of any tensions or divisions between the two communities.
Mrs McConville and her eldest daughter, Karen, described John as, “a gentle, caring considerate and fun loving young boy.” They recalled his sense of humour and the constant flow of laughter with his sisters through childhood and teenage years.
They bantered and played pranks on each other continually, much to the dismay of their mother.
John became a Christian at the age of 16 and sometime following his conversion became a member of Newry Baptist Church. John’s only desire was to go to Bible College to prepare for missionary work in South Africa, to which he believed God was calling him.
He enrolled and completed various Bible correspondence courses in which he gained distinctions. He also sought to be a faithful and inspiring advocate for Christ.
John would faithfully, in the most practical and unassuming way, seek to share God’s Word with all whom he met. His faith in God and subsequent witness was a great inspiration to all who knew him. He touched many lives across the community divide by his honest and humble ministry.
At the age of 20, John was accepted at a Bible College in Scotland where he was to commence full time study in the autumn of 1976. He was delighted and shared with the family how he felt so sure that this was God’s plan for his life.
To save up for the college fees, John had taken a job at Compton’s Spinning Mill at Glenanne, about four miles from Bessbrook, where he had been working for about two years.
On the January 5, 1976, the ‘Mill’s’ minibus set off to return 12 workers to their homes. John McConville was among the passengers on that minibus. As the vehicle wended its way along the dark, lonely country roads of South Armagh, its happy occupants were having a very normal conversation about a recent football match.
The conversation also turned to the tragic events of the previous night when two Roman Catholic brothers had been shot and killed at their home in nearby Whitecross.
As the minibus approached the brow of a hill near the Kingsmill crossroads, a red torchlight was spotted by the driver, who slowed down and stopped, believing this to be a routine Army check. Men wearing combat jackets, with their faces blackened, immediately joined the man waving the torch.
The occupants were ordered out of the minibus and were asked to state their religion. Initially, the one Roman Catholic passenger was thought to be the intended target, but when the gang ordered him to run, it was quickly realised by the Protestant passengers that only his life was to be spared.
The remaining 11 workmen were then lined up at gunpoint along the side of the minibus, and 10 of them were slain in a hail of gunfire. One man, though badly wounded, survived the attack and was able later to relate the horrific event that saw his colleagues murdered.
That evening, Mrs McConville had returned from work and had made the tea when she heard on the television news that there had been an incident involving a minibus. Mrs McConville immediately said to her husband Tommy: “John’s on that minibus.” Tommy told her to phone the police and enquire, but when she phoned Bessbrook RUC station they couldn’t tell her anything and asked her to ring back later.
Mrs McConville then asked her husband to take her out to Kingsmill, though at this time she did not think about death, she simply thought that maybe it was some kind of an accident.
Her husband agreed to take her to the house of a neighbour, a Mrs McWhirter, whose husband would also have been on the minibus.
Said Mrs McConville: “Mrs McWhirter came to the door and related that she had also heard about the minibus incident. She asked me to make her a wee cup of tea and Tommy went up to the police station. When Tommy returned some time later he had no further information about the incident and I insisted that he take me out to Kingsmill.
“We went out to the scene where a policeman, Constable Billy Turbitt, who was also to be abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1978, stopped us. We told him who we were, and explained to him that our son was on the minibus and could he tell us what had happened.
“Constable Turbitt told us that he couldn’t, but to pull our car in to the side of the road. At that point, three ambulances arrived at the scene and Constable Turbitt told us that the best thing to do was to follow the ambulances into Daisy Hill hospital in Newry.”
Tommy and Esther followed the ambulances to the hospital, where they met one of the ambulance drivers, Stuart Roland, and asked him: “What about John?” He said that he couldn’t tell them, but that their daughter Karen was also at the hospital.
Mrs McConville had left the three girls at home and told them not to move, but they had heard further news on the radio about the incident and Karen had gone up to her uncle’s and asked him to take her to the hospital.
As soon as Mrs McConville entered the hospital, she met their local minister, the Rev Nixon. With tears, Mrs McConville recalled how he just caught her by the two arms and said: “John’s gone.”
They waited in a room and Mr Nixon gave Mrs McConville a tablet as a doctor and a policewoman arrived to offer help. The family then headed home to find it overflowing with neighbours – many of them Roman Catholics.
Overcome by grief
Tommy went over to break the news to Esther’s mother, then brought her over to the house where, overcome by grief, she took a ‘turn’. The intensity of the family’s grief was at times uncontrollable. Karen at times screamed, such was her anguish.
Mrs McConville was in such shock that she did not know the details of how her son had been killed and thought that it had been a road accident involving the mini bus. She later had to be told of how her son had actually died.
A policeman who arrived first at the scene described it as an, “indescribable scene of carnage.” The survivor had been shot 18 times.
More than 3,000 people attended the funeral services of the 10 murder victims.
The funeral service for John McConville was held jointly with five other massacre victims in Bessbrook Presbyterian Church on January 8 amid driving rain, and his body laid to rest in the adjoining graveyard.
Mrs McConville treasures the hundreds of sympathy cards the family received on her son’s death. She has a beautifully inscribed Bible which was presented in John’s memory, while a hymn written especially for children in Northern Ireland was published by the John McConville Memorial Trust.
Mrs McConville became a Christian at the time of the murder and believes that only by God’s grace and her faith in Christ was she able to cope and to keep going.
After the tragedy, Mandy and Tania, the younger children, experienced nervous reactions as a result of their grief and had to attend the hospital.
The following June, the McConvilles moved house to Riverside Crescent in Bessbrook, as they felt it impossible to stay in their home at Moninna Park. But Karen felt she had to move to Belfast to live and work.
Mrs McConville returned to work just two weeks after the murder, but was on anti-depressants.
“It was a terrible time, it was awful, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” she said. “I just had to go on. Only by God’s help did I get through it.”
The McConvilles have found the strength to go on, but still keenly feel a great sense of pain and loss. Yet they bear no bitterness or resentment to the evil perpetrators of this most atrocious crime.
Like dozens of murders in Co Armagh, no one has been brought to the courts or convicted of the Kingsmill Massacre.
Karen said: “Evil men had in the most brutal and inhuman way extinguished the life of John in his prime and I am going to miss him for the rest of my life.
“The loss of John has taught me many things, not least the sanctity and preciousness of life. I had been forced into a position where I was confronted with the effects of the hatred, courage and intolerance of certain members of society that had claimed the lives of innocent people.
“If John and his companions were murdered in order to create further hatred within society then for that reason I would not allow myself to be so influenced.
“I have learned to leave justice, retribution and revenge in the hands of the Lord. This is a great comfort to me, as I know that God will have the final say as far as the perpetrators of this evil deed are concerned.
“More so, considering that no one has been charged with the Kingsmill murders. Although these men walk free, they are tethered to this dreadful event for the remainder of their lives.
“I, on the other hand, can remember my dear brother with pride, happiness and admiration for his devotion, tolerance and love. He is in a much better place and for this I am happy. No one can take him or these memories away from me ever again.”
David Patterson is a baptist pastor who has previously worked in banking and as a political researcher.
To obtain a copy of A Legacy of Tears (£5.99) email email@example.com or tel: (028) 3755 2808. Also available in bookshops
Are you special, basic or complex? Behind North Korea’s caste system
‘Songbun’ separates citizens according to ancestral and social standings – or whether they’ve had their photograph taken with the great leader. NK News wonders how will it coexist with Kim Jong-un’s proposed reforms
North Korean Army soldiers and civilians on the stands of the Kim Il Sung Stadium, a photograph by Ilya Pitalev which won at the Sony World Photography Awards in 2013. Photograph: Ilya Pitalev/Sony
Fyodor Tertitskiy for NK News, part of the North Korea network
Wednesday 4 March 2015 05.00 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 4 March 2015 12.13 GMT
It might not be obvious from the outside, but experts agree that North Korea is undergoing significant upheaval. Kim Jong-un’s regime is said to be serious about reforms, with the so-called “30th May measures” promising to increase personal income and allow greater social mobility.
But this has left many wondering how North Korea’s strict songbun system of social classification will coexist with such unprecedented reforms.
Songbun was most important element in the social structure of Kim Il-sung’s North Korea. Sung, who established the Democratic People’s Republic in 1948, initiated the system of social classification in the late 1950s, dividing the population into groups according to the actions and status of their paternal ancestors during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War.
Songbun determines, among other things, whether North Koreans are allowed to live in the capital or in special cities, the workplace they’re allocated, and what kind of education they can receive.
While there has been some research into songbun, much of it is either outdated or incomplete. Researchers aren’t allowed to access official North Korean documents of this kind, which are always classified, but fortunately I have a friend who served in the North Korean police and is very familiar with the songbun documents, who was able to explain it in more detail.
Brahmins and untouchables, North Korean style
According to this system of social classification North Korean society is divided to five groups, from the best to the worst: special, nucleus, basic, complex and hostile. Earlier research has usually only mentioned three strata, because the existence of the special class was largely unknown, and the complex classification was only introduced in the 2000s.
Nucleus, also known as core, is the standard. Special is very rare and acts as a bonus in status. In contrast, basic (also known as wavering) can lead to slight discrimination, while people deemed complex and especially hostile face substantial prejudice.
‘Awarded with an audience’ is a title given to North Koreans who have talked to the leader for 20 minutes or more
A possible exception from this system would be blood relatives of the Kim family, who are seemingly excluded from all official documentation, although this remains to be verified.
Songbun is calculated from two factors. The first measures the social position and actions of one’s paternal ancestors during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War. Did they fight with Kim Il-sung and later remain close to the Great Leader? Congratulations, your ancestry songbun is as good as it can be. Or, did they work as a clerk in the colonial administration, or worse, were they part of a faction in the independence movement that later proved hostile to Kim? Well then, your ancestry songbun is very bad and you’re unlikely to advance to any meaningful position in society.
The second – social songbun – measures the place occupied by a person in North Korean society; a worker, farmer, military man, teacher or policeman. There is, however, one variation of social songbun which overrides all others – party member – and another, the strange sounding “awarded with an audience”.
Portraits of North Korea’s national founder Kim Il-sung (left) and late leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, North Korea. Photograph: AP
The latter is a title given to North Koreans who have talked to the leader for 20 minutes or more, or who have had their picture taken with him. That’s why commemoration photos printed in the official newspaper of the ruling Worker’s Party, Rodong Sinmun, often include thousands of people – the songbun of all of them has just increased.
Songbun influences many aspects of life in North Korea. If your songbun isn’t good enough, you cannot live in Pyongyang. Or, you cannot enter a good university, no matter how smart you are. You cannot be employed as a teacher or a policemen with bad or even average songbun. And if you want to join the ranks of the secret police (as many North Koreans do) not only you, but all you relatives up to the sixth generation must have a good songbun, or you do not qualify.
Can you alter your songbun? When it comes to ancestry , the answer is almost always no. Records are kept in four locations: at the local administration office, ordinary police, secret police and at specific organisations, like the Worker’s Party, Women’s Union, or labour union.
The situation during the Kim Il-sung era was much the same: a person of bad ancestry could not get a good job, so his or her songbun remained bad too. However, many things have changed since Kim Il-sung died in 1994, and the role of this system of classification is one of them. Now, a person who has worked for three years gets a new social designation decided upon by the decision of the local party committee. And these days even people of questionable ancestry can join the party. Some North Korean officials have also started to simply ignore songbun, reasoning that punishing someone for the sins of their ancestors is unfair and unjust.
The role of songbun is gradually reducing, as the country embraces new ways and new economic models. If Kim Jong-un really wants to proceed with promised reforms, one of the necessary steps would be to abolish songbun, at least in practice.
A version of this article first appeared on NK News
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Our Letter of Confession
“A witness saw a young woman who folded her hands in a praying fashion when the SSD [State Security Department] interrogated her. The SSD suspected therefore that she was a Christian. They took her to another room and beat her until she confessed.”
Now is the time to make our confession to Kim Jong Un. We declare that we will remain loyal to the one true God and continue to stand with our persecuted family members in North Korea.
We know what is happening in North Korea. We commit to telling the world about the crimes of its leader and to do everything in our power to assist our persecuted family there.
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