North Korea atrocities exposed, but what next?

9 11 2015

NK GULAG(SEOUL, Agence France Presse, February 18, 2014) Defectors and activists welcomed Tuesday a UN-mandated inquiry’s searing indictment of gross human rights abuses in North Korea, but analysts questioned the international community’s ability to act on its recommendations.

Pyongyang’s grim rights record has already been well documented by specialist monitors. But the size, breadth and detail of the report compiled by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea – and the UN imprimatur it carries – set it apart.

Kim Young-Soon, one of the many defectors who provided harrowing testimony to the COI, said she was grateful to the commission for recording the “nightmares we went through” for posterity.

“North Korea has not and will never admit the existence of prison camps and this report won’t change anything overnight,” Mrs Kim told AFP.

“But that does not mean sitting back and doing nothing. We need to keep collecting testimony so that someday it can be used as undisputed evidence to punish those behind the atrocities,” she added.

Now 77, Mrs Kim was a well-connected member of the North Korean elite in 1970, when she was suddenly dragged off to a labour camp as part of a purge of people who knew about the then-future leader Kim Jong-Il’s affair with a married actress.

So began a nine-year ordeal in what Mrs Kim described to the COI as “the most hellish place in the world” where inmates worked from dawn to dusk, supplementing starvation rations with anything they could catch, including snakes, salamanders and rats.

‘My heart still aches’

Family contacts managed to get Kim released in 1979. In 2001, she bribed her way across the border with China and eventually made it to Seoul in 2003, where she works as a dance teacher and lectures on life in North Korea.

“My heart still aches and I still wake up at night sweating just thinking about the prison camp I was in and family members I lost,” she said Tuesday.

The COI report detailed murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence in North Korea, which chairman Michael Kirby said carried echoes of the Nazi Holocaust.

A key conclusion was that many of the violations “constitute crimes against humanity”.

Hong Soon-Kyung, a defector who now heads the Seoul-based Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, told AFP that no report could truly reflect the brutality of the regime in the North.

Although the COI’s findings were nothing new to those working on North Korean rights issues, Hong said their publication was a “very meaningful step” with a UN mandate that would help pressure Pyongyang and its few backers.

North Korea refused to cooperate with the commission, claiming its evidence was “fabricated” by “hostile” forces.

The COI panel said that North Korea’s leaders should be brought before an international court for a litany of crimes against humanity – a recommendation that many observers suggested was wishful thinking.

Any substantive action on the part of the world community would require the participation of the North’s key ally China, which has made clear it opposes any move to refer the Pyongyang leadership to the International Criminal Court.

Perpetual emergency

Noted North Korea watcher Leonid Petrov said there was no simple solution in the current context of a diplomatically isolated, totalitarian state whose leadership is intent on survival at all costs.

The issue of rights abuses “cannot be resolved unilaterally, nor swiftly, without transforming the political climate of the whole region”, said Mr Petrov, a researcher at Australia National University.

This would require, he argued, formally ending the Korean War – which concluded in 1953 with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty – as well as diplomatic recognition of North Korea and the lifting of sanctions imposed for its nuclear programme.

Otherwise the North would remain in a “perpetual and assiduously cultivated state of emergency” in which human rights were sacrificed on the altar of regime survival.

“Without the goodwill of regional policy makers to address the problem of the Korean War especially, the issue of human rights in Korea is unlikely to be resolved,” Mr Petrov added.

Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the UN and a regular visitor to North Korea, said China would “probably” veto any attempt by the UN Security Council to give the “devastating” COI report any binding legal weight.

But he questioned the notion that North Korea is impervious to such criticism.

“It’s an isolated, unpredictable country,” Mr Richardson told the BBC, but the shockwaves from the report “could be a source of pressure for moderates in Pyongyang who realise that there have to be some changes”.

North Korea’s 70th anniversary parade suggests little change in policy

11 10 2015

KJU-Oct-10-2015-parade( 10.10.2015) Parade demonstrates party commitment to nation’s defense, shows off some newer equipment.

North Korea stands ready to fight any war with the United States and its armed forces are now so strong that the country has become a global military power, leader Kim Jong Un said at major anniversary event on Saturday.

But despite the strident tone of his speech, North Korea refrained from carrying out anticipated missile tests to coincide with the event, held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), or a satellite launch that many observers had expected earlier in the year.

“Our revolutionary forces are capable of dealing with any kind of war being waged by the U.S.,” Kim said during a 25-minute address prior to the military parade.

“Through the line of Songun (military-first) politics, our Korean People’s Army has become the strongest revolutionary force and our country has become an impenetrable fortress and a global military power,” he continued.


Following Kim’s speech a widely anticipated military parade kicked off, featuring formations of soldiers in various KPA uniforms – including historic versions – among the first to pass by the reviewing stand in Kim Il Sung Square.

Being a commemorative event, the approximately two hour parade featured old equipment as well as new, including the T-34 tank, a model which was used in the Korean War.

At various points during the parade, light aircraft flew above Kim Il Sung Square in formations, including CJ-6s depicting emblem of the WPK and An-2s depicting the number 70.

Among the artillery in the parade were self-propelled multiple rocket launchers (MRL) of various calibers including 107mm MRLs, 122mm MRLs, 240mm MRLs, and the previously unseen (though known to exist due to test firings) 300mm MRLs.

Other self-propelled field artillery included 122mm howitzers, 152mm gun-howitzers, and 170mm Koksan guns.

The parade featured several armored personnel carriers such as the BTR-60 and M-2010 and tanks such as the Type-59, Chonma-ho, and Pokpung-ho. Notably, there was a lack of any towed artillery in the parade, perhaps intentionally so in order to present an image of a more mobile and rapidly deployable force.

The only unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, a.k.a “drone”) featured in the parade was a previously seen, indigenously produced UAV believed to be based on the American MQM-107. The designation of this UAV, which is mounted on ZIL-130 trucks, is unknown.

Following the UAVs were Kumsong-1 (a.k.a. KN-01) surface-to-ship missiles.

Three different surface-to-air missiles (SAM) were featured in the parade including the S-125 (NATO reporting name SA-3) and S-200 (NATO reporting name SA-5) and the KN-06, a North Korean version of the Russian S-300.

The parade also featured ballistic missiles such as the Scud (Hwasong-5/6), the Rodong-A, the Rodong-B (BM-25 Musudan), and what appears to be a new version of the KN-08 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM).

Following the missiles, the parade ended with a military band marching in formation to spell out the word “victory” (seungri) and Su-25 ground attack aircraft flying overhead with colored smoke trails.


The attendance of China’s No. 5 leader Liu Yunshan at the parade further suggested a thawing of relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, him being the most senior Chinese visitor to Pyongyang since Kim came to power.

Video of the parade on Saturday showed Kim and Liu standing shoulder to shoulder on a viewing platform overlooking Kim Il Sung square, frequently talking and laughing among themselves.

Chinese state media said Liu brought Kim a message on Friday from President Xi Jinping, extending congratulations and best wishes from Beijing to Pyongyang to commemorate the 70th anniversary.

Notably, Kim Jong Un did not mention North Korea’s signature “Byungjin” policy of simultaneously pursuing economic and nuclear weapons development, something some analysts suggested Saturday could be in respect of Liu’s presence. China is opposed to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The prime-position presence of Liu at the event stood in stark contrast to the distant positioning of a North Korean delegation at recent Victory Day anniversary celebrations in Beijing.

At that September 3 event, which Kim Jong Un did not attend, DPRK envoy Choe Ryong Hae stood watching the parade over 40 people away from President Xi. South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye stood adjacent to Xi, reflecting the increasingly close ties between the two countries.

Dr. Leonid Petrov, a North Korea researcher at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, told NK News the parade emphasized the regime’s rule and military policy, rather than any hopes of changing inter-Korean relations which were evident in another recent event.


This parade appears to have emphasized not only the current state of the DPRK’s military technical capability, showcasing much of its newer equipment, but also the role of the party in fighting for and defending the country – both historically and presently – and the party’s leadership in military affairs.

“KJU’s speech and today’s military parade were to convince people inside and outside of the DPRK that after the 70 years of dictatorship and militarism nothing is going to change,” Petrov told NK News.

“The country will remain an ‘impenetrable fortress’ and its perpetual conflict with ‘American imperialists’ will continue,” said Petrov, paraphrasing Kim. “It would have been much more memorable if KJU had repeated what he had apparently told the visiting Chinese envoy, Liu Yunshan: namely, that he wants to improve relations with South Korea.”

Brainwashed Youth of North Korea

28 08 2015

NK children in PY subway(, AUGUST 25, 2015) If there’s one thing you wouldn’t expect Gen-Y to do, it’s rise up in support of a “sacred war” and pledge their “faith and will to annihilate the enemies”. One million North Korean millenials have vowed to defend their country as tensions with the South boil over, at least according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. We’re used to antagonistic rhetoric and displays of strength from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but the strangest aspect of the latest confrontation is the visible enthusiasm of the country’s teens.

This positivity abounded in the capital, Pyongyang, yesterday, with truckloads of young soldiers singing martial songs driving around the city and large crowds materialising for impromptu rehearsals of activities planned for the ruling Workers Party’s 70th anniversary in October. By evening, people had gathered around televisions in public places — not to learn the outcome of crisis talks with the South, but to watch the debut of Boy General, a popular cartoon revamped for the first time in five years at the order of Kim Jong-un. It may seem like unusual teenage behaviour, but experts say it’s no surprise. It’s what they’ve been trained for since birth.

Citizens in North Korea live in a bubble sealed off from the rest of the world, where they have no choice but to adhere to the status quo. They are expected to show the unerring devotion to their leader that was demonstrated when Kim Jong-il’s subjects took to the streets wailing and tearing their hair after his death, in scenes that baffled the world. Young people growing up under the totalitarian regime have little freedom of movement, means of communication or economic independence. Foreign film and literature are banned and they are taught a revised version of history in school, learning songs of worship that praise the ruling Kim family.

“The young generation don’t know much about life outside,” Dr Leonid Petrov from ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific told “They’re curious about what’s going on but constantly brainwashed that the world is hostile.”
Kim Jong-un has made a great show of being a progressive young leader, introducing new freedoms including letting people eat fast food, allowing them to own mobile phones and permitting women to wear pants and jewellery and ride bicycles. But the regime continues to exercise control over these changes.

“Life in North Korea is pretty artificial,” said Dr Petrov. “There’s access to fashionable clothes in Pyongyang, where people can see, but in rural areas, even if you have a mobile phone there’s no electricity, or access to the web. People eat a little better now but life is pretty difficult.” For most young people, there’s little time to think about politics before they begin their mandatory service in the Korean People’s Army at 17. It can last as long as a decade for men, while women serve for around seven years.

With young people not leaving the military until their mid-20s, many commentators see the slightly older generation of “in-betweeners” as the state’s best hope for rebellion. Middle-aged people, known as jangmadang, have little interest in a revolution after surviving the Great Famine of the 1990s, focusing on becoming pioneers in a more capitalist market, explains Professor Kim Sung-kyung, from the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, South Korea.

The youngest members of society are increasingly influenced by trends from the outside world, she told the NK News, such as fashionable clothes and eating pizza — but these advances are “superficial” and carefully managed by the government.
Prof Sung-kyung says the real subversion comes from those in their late 20s taking the opportunity to “punch holes in the regime in their everyday lives” through “secretive experiences they can share each other, without being caught by the government”. As young people start to share ideas, smuggling videos and USBs in from South Korea, there is an opportunity for freedom: which is exactly what the state is so working hard to suppress.

It’s when citizens dissent that the harshest side of Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship is revealed. Park Ji-hyun left North Korea with Chinese traffickers during the famine, forced to leave her dying father behind. After six years, she was reported to the authorities and sent back. Classified as a defector, she was sent to a labour camp and worked to the bone, clearing mountainsides with her bare hands. “You could say the whole of North Korea is one big prison,” she told Amnesty International.

Eventually she was discharged with tetanus in her leg and, homeless and sick, managed to make a second escape. Her story shows how hard it really is. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, including young children, are enslaved in prison camps, and arbitrary arrests and public executions are commonplace, according to Human Rights Watch. The organisation says it’s this, along with the lack of political opposition, independent labour unions, free media or civil society that constitute the real challenge to youth empowerment.

“It’s very easy to manipulate people when they’re locked in a country without information,” said Dr Petrov. “They blame the outside world’s blockades for lack of food and so on. “North Korea has been mobilising people since the Korean War in the 1950s. Creating a crisis is part of the game. It’s a country frozen in time and needs mobilsation for something to change. People are prepared to go to extreme lengths.”

When we hear stories about defectors or progressive material slipping into this repressive society, it’s tempting to think it’s only a matter of time until the regime is overthrown. The young people who swore allegiance this weekend somewhat dispel that notion. Propaganda is key. Defector Jang Jin-sung, formerly one of Kim Jong-il’s poets, said he fully believed the rhetoric he helped to spread. That was, until he obtained special permission to visit to his hometown and saw corpses piled on the pavement, realising for the first time that the famine rumours were true.

The propaganda is psychological and emotional, he told The Guardian. People are not willing to risk the lives of their families by speaking out, and they are so isolated they have “no concept of basic human rights” anyway. Jang himself had to flee execution. “If anyone thinks North Korea is opening up, they are completely mistaken,” he said. While the state recently started allowing some tourism, such industries are controlled by the elite. “If there was any hint of real change,” added Jang, “ … the whole thing would collapse.”

The current atmosphere illustrates that. The stand-off began with explosion of landmines south of the heavily fortified border, which Seoul said had been planted by the North. The South responded by blasting a barrage of world news, pop music and criticism of Kim Jong-un’s oppressive government from loudspeakers along the border. The North denied involvement in the mines and demanded it cease this “psychological warfare” or face attack.

By Saturday, the DPRK had mobilised more than 70 submarines and undersea vehicles, according to Seoul’s Defence Ministry, and artillery fire has been exchanged. It’s unclear what will come of the talks. Analysts in Seoul say the North fears the broadcasts could demoralise its frontline troops and inspire them to defect. This forceful response shows it knows only too well the power of propaganda, and is determined not to let its young people hear it.

Isolated Kim Relies on Old North Korea Tensions Playbook

28 08 2015

One Korea_One enormous challenge (By Sam Kim and David Tweed, Bloomberg News, August 25, 2015) SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s military standoff against South Korea, with his threats to annihilate the government in Seoul, was not just about the loudspeakers blasting propaganda and K-pop tunes over the demilitarized zone.

Rather, the events that took tensions on the peninsula to their highest level since the aftermath of North Korea’s nuclear test in early 2013 reflected Kim’s efforts to control how ties between countries in North Asia are evolving.

The young dictator, who came to power in late 2011, is looking isolated. Kim’s nuclear ambitions and his unwillingness to take guidance from Beijing have irritated China and strained ties with Pyongyang’s traditional ally. South Korean President Park Geun-hye enjoys a rapport with President Xi Jinping and is inching toward improved ties with Japan.

Faced with a dilapidated economy and drought at home, and potentially pressured by senior officers in his military to show some mettle, Kim resorted to an old North Korean playbook — pick a fight to force concessions from South Korea on trade and aid. It’s also a warning to Park against taking North Korea lightly in her dealings with China, Japan and the United States, all of whom have urged Kim to abandon his nuclear weapons program.

“This is more than a loudspeaker issue,” said Zhang Baohui, director of the Center for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. “In the end this could be Kim’s outreach strategy. Maybe they think the South hasn’t been responding enough, so provoked a crisis to get to this stage.”

The stakes are high for Kim. He has a series of upcoming anniversaries where he must prove he’s worthy of commanding North Korea’s 1.2 million troops. Economic woes facing his 24 million people are unlikely to ease soon, while North Korea’s increasingly porous border with China means ordinary people have greater access to electronics and news of life outside the reclusive country.

In the end, both leaders gave some ground after days of high-level talks among negotiators at a border village — and both can probably claim a victory. The regime in Pyongyang agreed to lift its “semi-state of war” and expressed regret over landmine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers, while Seoul said it’d stop the propaganda broadcasts.

Risks remain, and Kim faces the challenge of a more strident Park in the face of any further provocations.

“The question is will the dialog stick? That will be harder because there is going to be some kind of crisis that tests this in relative short order,” said John Delury, a political science professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, citing the potential for skirmishes on the maritime border or over the demarcation line.

Since Park’s government said last week it traded fire with North Korea across the demilitarized zone, her approval rating has risen. Even as the tensions roiled South Korea’s financial markets she said Monday she would not stop pressuring Kim.

“The broadcasts play to particular parts of her support base, particularly the Christian right and the nationalist right,” said Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor of Asian affairs at the Australian National University in Canberra, of the South Korean leader who passes the half-way mark of her five-year tenure on Tuesday.

On the same day Kim marks the day of “Songun,” a military-first philosophy chartered by his late father Kim Jong Il. In less than two months he’ll celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party as he seeks to promote himself as a shrewd politician and tough military tactician.

“This is a very important commemorative year for Kim Jong Un,” Lee Sung-yoon, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University, said by email. “The young Kim has a compelling need to mark it with a bang, as he did in 2012 on the 100th anniversary of his grandfather’s birthday, when North Korea was miraculously to become a powerful and prosperous country.”

Kim can’t afford to look weak. Since taking power he’s conducted a series of purges to root out potential threats.

“His spate of high-level executions shows a high degree of frustration that his policies are not being implemented to his satisfaction,” Patrick Cronin, senior adviser for the Asia- Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said in an email.

The country is suffering chronic food shortages. North Korea said earlier this year it had been in the worst drought in a hundred years and the United Nations said in June that was worsening food-security concerns in the country.

“They’re facing a poor harvest, so this could be a way to divert people’s attention to patriotism and jingoism that wouldn’t be necessary had there been plentiful crops,” said Leonid Petrov, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra. “Kim knows he cannot offer much to his population other than superficial window dressing. He has to use the same methods his father and grandfather did.”

North Korea: Slovenian rock group Laibach set to become first foreign band allowed to tour communist country

17 07 2015

Laibach in Pyongyang(ABC News, 17 July 2015) Slovenian rock group Laibach is set to become the first foreign band to tour the politically and culturally isolated communist dictatorship of North Korea.

In August, the group will play two concerts in the Kim Won Gyun Music Conservatory in Pyongyang in front of up to 2,000 people.

Laibach describe themselves as “an avante garde group” who play industrial, martial, and neo-classical music styles, and it is expected they will play a combination of their own hits and North Korean folk songs.

It is sure to be a change from the socialist-style operas and classical music most North Koreans are used to.

Laibach’s sound is best described as electronic rockers Kraftwerk meets heavy rockers Rammstein, with a bit of Soviet-era patriotic music thrown in for good measure.

The band was formed in 1980 in then-communist Yugoslavia. The band has been criticised for its use of political and nationalist imagery, but others argue it parodies totalitarianism.

The tour was organised by Norwegian director Morten Traavik, who has been one of the few to arrange artistic and musical performances in North Korea.

Dr Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the Australian National University, said North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un was trying something new and unusual.

“Bringing into North Korea a Slovenian group such as Laibach, I think gives a perfect substitution to South Korean K-Pop, which is illegal in North Korea.

“[It’s] something that is not really Western, something which is palatable to the regime and purely apolitical.

“It’s obvious North Korea is trying to demonstrate and pretend that it is looking for some change or trying to introduce some changes or innovation, but not really.”

Dr Petrov said, surprisingly North Koreans did listen to wide range of music.

“Popular culture in North Korea does exist, it mostly relies on local tunes mixed with Chinese or Russian pop and South Korean pop is also very popular in North Korea but it’s illegal, it’s underground,” he said.

But in North Korea most of the finer things in life are reserved for the elite and Dr Petrov says it is highly unlikely the average North Korean will get to see Laibach perform.

“The question is how many people are going to listen to that concert,” he said.

“It’s probably going to be restricted to the members of elite families, children and descendents of the regime and decision-makers going to view the concert, but I doubt that it is going to be broadcast across the country.”

The band announced on its Facebook page that the concerts would also be subject of a documentary film, scheduled to premiere in 2016.

Security Implications of Kim Jong Un’s Leadership Consolidation for Korea and Beyond

1 12 2014

LP interview with AIIA ACT_2014.05.05The public lecture, “Security Implications of Kim Jong Un’s Leadership Consolidation for Korea and Beyond”, was given at Australian Institute of International Affairs in Canberra on 05 May 2014.

Here the short interview with Dr. Leonid Petrov before the lecture.

Kim Yo-Jong is the latest family member rising to power in North Korea

1 12 2014

Kim Yo-Jong( November 29, 2014) THERE’s a new Kim climbing the ranks in North Korea — and this time, it’s a woman. Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-Jong, has been promoted to what is effectively a second-in-command position to the country’s notorious dictator. She has been increasingly visible in recent years, and now the ambitious young woman is firmly situated in the highest echelons of the ruling Workers’ Party. Yesterday, the North’s official KCNA news agency listed her as a “vice department director” in the central committee.

Believed to be 26 years old, Kim Yo-Jong first made her first public appearance in 2011 at the funeral of her father and longtime ruler Kim Jong-Il. When Kim Jong-un was sick recently, she is thought to have been acting as leader behind the scenes, according to Dr Leonid Petrov, from the ANU School of History and Culture.

“She is powerful and ambitious,” Dr Petrov told “She’s participated in family gatherings, ordering food and drink for guests before the party starts. “Last month, when Kim Jong-un disappeared from view to undergo medical treatment, there were reports that she was acting as leader.”

Now the Supreme Leader has a problem. He is considered young, at just 31 years old, and “needs to uplift his image”, Dr Leonid explains. He has already changed his hairstyle and started using a walking stick to make himself appear older to generate more respect. His health is poor — he has diabetes and high blood pressure — and he isn’t sure who he can trust.

Enter Kim Yo-Jong. As a family member, she will not betray him. She will show loyalty and will not try to take power while he is alive. But should he die, whether of natural causes or at the hands of his many enemies, she could continue the reign of the ruling family.

“She has a thirst for power,” said Dr Leonid. She has begun accompanying her brother to political events and on his “field guidance trips”.

Analysts suggest she is either in the powerful organisational department handling personnel changes or a propaganda unit. Kim Jong Il was also seen as relying on his own sister during his 17-year rule.

While women, especially young ones, would not normally come to power in Korea, things are changing, culturally and politically.

South Korea now has a female president, which no one would have expected in the past, who again was the daughter of a leader. North Korean observers have speculated that Kim Yo-Jong is being groomed to playing a similar leadership supporting role to her powerful aunt, Kim Kyong-Hui.

Kim Jong-un has removed many members of the old guard, with Kim Kyong-Hui, 68, largely disappearing from public view after her husband Jang Song-Thaek was executed last December for charges including treason.

Just as Kim Jong-un entered the public eye in 2009, so Kim Yo-Jong has taken a central role. She is a safety precaution for her brother, and she could become the perfect dictator to carry on the dynasty.


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