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.
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
Introducing the retirement home for old age pussycats
Elderly cats can spend the last years of their nine lives in comfort at special accommodation dedicated to looking after senior felines.
By Becky Barnes
Last updated: 04 March 2015, 16:19 GMT
Elderly cats whose owners pass away or can no longer look after them can live out the rest of their years in comfort at a retirement home dedicated to felines.
There are 76 ‘Old Age Pussycats’ aged 10 to 20 living at the Lincolnshire Trust for Cats retirement home, which has been adapted especially for moggies.
Pet owners must pay a one-off fee of £850 for their cat to be taken in at the home, which is south-facing – giving animals plenty of sunshine to relax in – and furnished for their comfort.
Jain Hills, who set up the retirement home in 2001, wanted to do something for older cats when she saw they were being rejected by rehoming charities.
“I don’t think anywhere else does it because people come all the way from London with the cats to come here,” the 65-year-old said.
The oldest cat at the home is Henry, 20, whose owner died. He has a favourite armchair, which the other cats know not to sit in.
The home is also open to cats whose owners leave the country. One of the whiskered residents gets parcels sent to her from overseas, which she is apparently happy to share with her furry friends.
The seven-acre retirement facility offers individual rooms for new arrivals while they get settled and has three sitting rooms for the cats to lounge in, linked by enclosed outdoor areas.
The house is kept warm with central heating, is decorated in cat memorabilia and has leather sofas and Indian rugs for the cats to nap on.
There are also more than 400 stray cats taken in by the charity now living on the grounds.
If you know this man please help if you don’t blog,tweet, Facebook this Thank You