Kim Jong-un could face prosecution for ‘crimes against humanity’

18 02 2014

NK prison drawing(Peggy Giakoumelos, SBS Radio, World News Australia, 18 February 2014)

A United Nations report says senior North Korean officials should be brought before an international court for crimes against humanity that include exterminating, starving and enslaving its population.

The report also accuses the North Korean government of denial of basic freedoms of thought, expression and religion, and abduction of citizens of neighbouring South Korea and Japan. The 400-page report was prepared by a Commission of Inquiry on North Korea set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

It comes after a year-long investigation included hearing public testimony by defectors, including former prison camp guards, at hearings in South Korea, Japan, Britain and the United States.

Chairman of the inquiry, former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby, says North Korean security chiefs and possibly even leader Kim Jong-un should face international justice for crimes against humanity.

“We indicated that he should be aware of this, he should be aware of the international crime of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, even if not himself involved in the actual perpetration of those crimes and we informed him that he himself may be responsible in any subsequent prosecution that occurs.

“And all of this is contained in the letter that is being sent with the authority of the Commission of Inquiry to Kim Jong-un informing him that that is a possibility that he must consider and that the international community must consider.”

The North Korean government refused to co-operate in the investigation, and did not allow the inquiry team to visit. Instead, the report is based on testimony from 320 North Korean exiles. The report says political prison camps in the country are widespread and believed to hold up to 120,000 people.

The North Korean government denies the existence of the camps, but the report says this claim was disproved by testimony from former prisoners, guards, neighbours and satellite imagery.

Generations of whole families are believed to be held in the camps, and hundreds of thousands of people have reportedly died as a result of starvation, torture, forced labour, forced medical experiments and widespread executions.

Michael Kirby says the world can longer feign ignorance about what is happening in North Korea.

“At the end of the Second World War, so many people said ‘If only we had known, if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces. If only we had known that.’ Well now, the international community does know, the international community will know. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn’t know. We do know.”

The report adds that for those outside the camps, public executions and the fear of imprisonment are a constant part of life. It says daily life is marked by constant surveillance, coercion, fear and punishment, to suppress expression of any dissent.

Dr Leonid Petrov is an expert in Asian and African studies at the Australian National University. He says after decades of secretive rule, the population of North Korea isn’t sure what to believe any more.

“The country is traumatised. The population live on the verge of a state of mind where the population simply cannot distinguish reality from an imaginary state of things which the country and leadership tries to impose on people. And basically that’s what the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic is trying to achieve to detach the population from reality and force them to live in an artificial world where the survival of the regime is the main purpose of the existence of North Korea.”

Felix Patrikeeff is Associate Professor of International Politics at the University of Adelaide. He says what to do next is a difficult proposition but he believes helping South Korea is important.

“One of the things that we can focus on more is to offer South Korea greater support in its initiative in actually negotiating and dealing with North Korea. We can encourage it to open up a broader conversation with that state, because clearly international voices don’t count that much.”

Dr Leonid Petrov from the ANU says North Korea is likely to ignore the UN report, a move that should prompt the international community to take a different approach.

“The issue of North Korean human rights has to be resolved in a holistic way, where an understanding of the context of the reasons of human right abuses is extremely important.

“We can’t expect that North Korea unilaterally disarms. Equally we can’t expect North Korea would improve human rights records without changing the atmosphere in the whole of North-East Asia. Inter-Korean relations are extremely important and at the moment there is simply no communication between Pyongyang and Seoul. Relations in North East Asia in general must be improved first before we expect that the North Koreans will humanely treat their people.”

Korea was split in two at the end of the Second World War, and remained split after the Korean War in the early 1950s. Since 1948 North Korea has been under the control of the communist Korean Workers Party, ruled by three generations of the same family.

Transcripts of all witnesses’ testimonies (in Korean and English) see here… http://www.ohchr.org/…/CoIDPRK/Pages/PublicHearings.aspx

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What action will the world take on North Korea?

18 02 2014

Image(ABC Radio’s Eleanor Hall reported this story for “The World Today” program on February 18, 2014)

ELEANOR HALL: As he released this report accusing the North Korean regime of horrific crimes against its own people, Michael Kirby called on the international community to act, saying, “We can’t say we didn’t know.”

So what action can the international community take?

Dr Leonid Petrov is a Korean specialist at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and he says Justice Kirby’s recommendation that the North Korean leaders be tried before the International Criminal Court is likely to be far less effective than using the report as a bargaining chip with the regime.

LEONID PETROV: Even if Moscow and Beijing decided to go ahead and join the international community, I very much doubt that Kim Jong-un himself is going to react to one more resolution.

So human rights is a minor issue for Pyongyang leadership but I believe that the report which has been produced by International Commission of Inquiry is actually a perfect bargaining chip in grand bargaining, grand discussion with Pyongyang.

ELEANOR HALL: It sounds like you don’t agree with Justice Kirby that the UN should launch a crimes against humanity trials.

LEONID PETROV: You know I’m not a lawyer, I’m a historian, unlike Justice Kirby, and I propose to look at the history of North Korean history of region.

Actually I met with Justice Kirby just last week who, before he left for Geneva, and I proposed to him that we have to look at the issue of North Korean human rights as a by-product of colonialism, a by-product of world war, cold war, the result of the ongoing conflict, and the Korean War has never ended and in order to stop this violation of human rights, we have to stop the war.

North Korean regime is also expecting the diplomatic recognition, the lifting of sanctions, more engagement in economic reparation but there is simply no interest in seeing North Korea reformed.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, the North Korean leadership refused to participate in this UN inquiry and has now announced that it categorically and totally rejects the findings so if there’s no cooperation, what can world leaders do short of regime change? Is regime change the only answer?

LEONID PETROV: I don’t think so, that’s the only answer, but everything is being done to see the regime collapses is the only solution to this problem. I’m originally from Russia so I grew up in the Soviet Union behind the iron curtain and I remember that in 1970s things were changing – political prisoners were permitted to leave the country, soviet leadership was convinced and persuaded to engage with the West in exchange for certain actions in improving its human rights records, Soviet Union was permitted to deal more actively on the economic front.

I believe that the same grand bargain can be achieved in relations with North Korea.

ELEANOR HALL: You mentioned sanctions, are Western sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear actions contributing to some of the problems that are raised in this report like hunger? I mean how does the international community balance ensuring that the people of North Korea get food with applying sanctions to try to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions?

LEONID PETROV: Absolutely, I believe that sanctions involve both multilateral, bilateral sanctions against North Korea. They contributed to the aggravation of situation of human rights. Sanctions never work and sanctions hit only the population. They never make life of the cruel regime harder.

By continuing sanctions, by not diplomatically recognising the regime, by isolating them, we continue, we preserve the regime, we help the regime to keep the situation in North Korea and unchanged and justice Kirby just very graphically showed the world that the situation in North Korea is intolerable. People suffer from all possible violations of human rights.

The report which the Commission of Inquiry has produced is basically an encyclopaedia of human rights abuse so what can be done in relation to like improving it from our perspective? I think it’s more preparation, engagement and understanding as well.

So North Korea simply shouldn’t be blamed unilaterally for what is happening. I believe that inter-Korean relations must be improved first of all before we summon Kim Jong-un to the International Court of Justice.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, China’s government’s reaction to this report is of course critical. China’s leaders are not making particularly helpful noises at this stage about the referral to the International Criminal Court but what sort of role could the Chinese government play in addressing some of these human rights problems and the problems of starvation.

LEONID PETROV: China has very limited influence over North Korea and recently we just saw that North Korea’s resentment of Chinese influence, both economic and political, and the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle was the most telling example that North Korea is actually rejecting Chinese interference in domestic economic political matters. I don’t think that China, that the key to the issues of Pyongyang really lies in China.

ELEANOR HALL: You say that China has limited influence over North Korea but the economic links between the two surely give the Chinese leadership more leverage than many other international leaders?

LEONID PETROV: Yes but China is not interested in the collapse of the regime. China is still captivated by this Cold War mentality where they look at North Korea as a buffer state. They will implement certain resolutions of United Nations Security Council; they do so but in a very limited way. They understand that the disadvantages of North Korea’s collapse is going to hit Chinese national interest.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s Korea specialists, Dr Leonid Petrov from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Transcripts of all witnesses’ testimonies (in Korean and English) see here… http://www.ohchr.org/…/CoIDPRK/Pages/PublicHearings.aspx





N. Korea claims S. Koreans are “committing suicide everyday”

14 10 2013

suicide-korea(NK News, by OLIVER HOTHAM , OCTOBER 3, 2013) North Korean state media labeled a Korea Institute for National Unification paper on human rights as an anti-DPRK “smear campaign” on Thursday, claiming that South Korea’s own human rights record is so poor that citizens there commit suicide everyday.

Pyongyang’s response to the White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2013 quoted a spokesperson from the DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies, who described the report as “slandering the dignity and social system in the DPRK” and alleged that the publication of the paper was “politically-motivated”.

“It is preposterous and ridiculous for the worst human rights abusers, who reduced south Korea to a tundra of human rights, a veritable hell on earth, to talk about “human rights” in the north,” the spokesman was quoted by North Korean media as saying.

North Korea’s strident response goes on to argue that South Korea has returned to the “Yusin” era of 1972 to 1981, when the late Park Chung-hee and his successors used a state of emergency to crush dissent and quell social unrest.

The white paper was published by the South Korean government funded Korea Institute for National Unification, an organization that publishes annual reports “on human rights and humanitarian issues including human rights of North Korean citizens, defectors, South Korean Prisoners of War (POWs), abducted South Koreans held in North Korea, and separated families”.

Dr Leonid Petrov of the Australia National University in Canberra told NK News that “it is…pointless to call upon Kim’s regime in North Korea to observe [the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] now”.

“Dictatorships turn “human rights” into invective used for attacking foreign critics and praise themselves as peace-loving and good-willed “peoples’ democracies. “Despite of all rhetoric the DPRK remains a feudal satrapy based on the slave-ownership and fear that make the ideas of humanism and freedom ephemeral,” Petrov explained.

North Korea’s response to the white paper comes as the Korea Central News Agency reported on Tuesday that two North Koreans who had re-defected to the north blamed a low standard of living and “deception” by South Korea as reasons for making their decision…

See the full text of this article here…





Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in North Korea

20 08 2013

DPRK flag_Sex,Drugs and Rock'n'RollJoin a free event featuring two internationally preeminent scholars in North Korean studies: Professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University, Professor Seok-Hyang Kim of Ewha Womans University, and a panel of Australian experts to discuss North Korea’s quiet transformation.

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University of Technology Sydney,
Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre,
Level 3, MaryAnn House, 645 Harris Street, ULTIMO, NSW 2007.
9:30am -12:00 pm
Thursday, 29 August 2013

“SEX, DRUGS and ROCK‘n’ROLL in NORTH KOREA”

North Korea is often described as the world’s last Stalinist country, but this description is misleading in several important ways: the country is now an emerging market economy and undergoing significant cultural change. While the Stalinist facade remains, de facto private enterprises (ranging from small markets and private plots, all the way up to large pseudo-state coal mines and trading companies) have come to dominate the North Korean economy. The cultural landscape is also experiencing significant change.

In this workshop the panel of experts, who conducted numerous interviews with North Koreans, will outline some of the key changes that are occurring in this country in transition. A particular focus will be directed to economic and social change, including changes in consumption patterns and the spread of popular culture. These issues will be discussed in the context of the emerging market economy. This workshop will also include presentations on the lives and rights of North Korean immigrants in Australia, and the depiction of North Korea by the Australian media.

Program

09:30-10:00am Coffee and welcome

10:00-10:30am Introduction and “Sex, Drugs and Rock-n-Roll in North Korea: new phenomena in the land of ‘no change’” (Dr. Leonid Petrov)

10:30-11:00am North Korean Restaurants: the new economy in North Korea (Prof. Andrei Lankov)

11:00-11:30am Everyday life in North Korea: From the lives of women to the impact of drugs (Prof. Seok-Hyang Kim)

11:30am-12:00pm North Koreans in Australia (Dr. Kyung-Ja Jung);
North Korea and the Australian media (Dr. Bronwen Dalton)

The workshop is funded by the Australian Research Council and the University of Technology, Sydney’s Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies (CCS)

Andrei LankovProf. Andrei Lankov was born in 1963 in St. Petersburg. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Leningrad State University (PhD in 1989). Between 1996 and 2004 he taught Korean history at the ANU, and since 2004 he has been teaching at Kookmin University in Seoul. His major English language publications on North Korea include: From Stalin to Kim Il Sung: The Formation of North Korea, 1945-1960 (Rutgers University Press, 2003); Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of De-Stalinization, 1956 (University of Hawaii Press, 2004), North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea (McFarland and Company, 2007), The Real North Korea (Oxford University Press, 2013).

김석향_1Prof. Seok-Hyang Kim worked at the Center for Unification of the ROK’s Ministry of Unification. Since 2005, she has been a Professor at the Department of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.  Her research topics include the everyday life of ordinary people in North Korea and defectors’ lives after leaving North Korea. She has recently published: People from  Hyeryong, North Korea, Let  Others Know Their Own Stories. (Seoul: Kookmin University Press, 2013); ‘Study on the Consumption Trend Phenomenon in North Korea after 1990: Based on the Experiences of North Korean Defectors,’ in North Korean Studies Review (2012); and ‘Public and Private Discourse on Human Rights in North Korea,’ Ewha Journal of Social Science (2012).

kyungja-jungDr. Kyung-Ja Jung ‘s academic interests are grounded in and inspired by her involvement in women’s activism in Australia and Korea. Her areas of expertise include women’s movements, women’s policy, North Korean female defectors, migrants, sex workers, and violence against women. Dr. Jung’s research has been published in academic journals (Hecate, Asian Survey, Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, and International Review of Korean Studies) and as book chapters in Women’s Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance (Routledge, 2008) and The Work of Policy: an International Survey (Lexington, 2006). She has also published a co-authored book Sex Trafficking or Shadow Tourism? (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010). Her most recent book Practicing Feminism in South Korea: Sexual Violence and the Women’s Movement (Routledge, 2013).

Bronwen Dalton_1Dr. Bronwen Dalton has a BA degree from the ANU, an MA from Yonsei University, and a PhD from the University of Oxford (2001). She is the Director of the Masters of Not-for-Profit and Community Management Program at the University of Technology, Sydney; the Board Member of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs’ Australia-Korea Foundation; and Regional Vice-President, Oceania of the International Council of Voluntarism & Civil Society. Dr. Dalton has conducted extensive research in the field of North Korean Studies and published a number of journal articles on North Korean defectors, gender relations, and international NGOs in North Korea. Together with Dr. Kyung-Ja Jung, she co-authored the book Sex Trafficking or Shadow Tourism? (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010).

LP_photo_2007_minimizedDr Leonid Petrov graduated from the Department of Oriental Studies, St. Petersburg State University in 1994, where he majored in Korean History and Language. Between 1996 and 2002, Leonid Petrov worked on a doctoral thesis “Socio-economic School and the Formation of North Korean Official Historiography” at the ANU. Between 2003 and 2007, Dr. Petrov taught Korean History at the Intercultural Institute of California in San Francisco, and Korean Economy at Keimyung University in Daegu; he acted as Chair of Korean Studies at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) in France. Between 2009 and 2012, he taught Korean History and Language at the University of Sydney. Currently, Dr. Petrov teaches Cross-cultural Management and other business-related courses at the International College of Management, Sydney. He is also a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.





North Koreans Always Ready for War

23 05 2013

Soldiers of the Korean People's army in military training(Tania Branigan, The Guardian, 22 May 2013) Pyongyang’s angry rhetoric sparked fears abroad but its people are taught at an early age that they live in the shadow of conflict…

It might not be immediately obvious from her neat wool jacket, black frock and smart perm, but 55-year-old Kim Su-yeong is, she insists, “very good with weapons” – trained in throwing grenades and firing machine guns.

Her expertise is the legacy of the regular military training that she underwent in her youth in North Korea. “When I was there I believed that the US and South Korea were every day, all the time, trying to eat us up,” said Kim, who now lives in the South Korean capital, Seoul. “When I came out, I couldn’t believe that everything was so peaceful.

“Then I realised everything was a lie and felt terrible … Once you are here, everything is different, by 180 degrees. When I look at the news, I think war will not happen.”

The furore over Pyongyang’s angry rhetoric and possible missile launch, and its nuclear programme may have raised tensions internationally, but like the vast majority in Seoul, Kim said she did not believe there was any risk of a military conflict.

But the idea of an impending clash is nothing new to the North, a society structured around the belief that it is still at war. Technically, that is true. No peace treaty was signed when the Korean war ended in 1953, only an armistice. More pertinently, say analysts, the rhetoric of being under siege is used to explain and justify its straitened circumstances.

“This kind of regime can only exist under the conditions of isolation and crisis,” said Leonid Petrov, an expert on the North at Australian National University in Canberra.

The struggle against the enemy is imbued in people from the earliest age. Tatiana Gabroussenko, an expert on propaganda at Korea University, said a recent North Korean magazine showed under-fives at a kindergarten using wooden clubs to whack dummies of South Korean leaders.

Even maths books for primary schools include – among examples based on train timetables and children’s games – calculations of the number of “American imperialist bastards” killed by the Korean people’s army.

Gabroussenko said the longstanding militarism of North Korea was typical of a “national Stalinist” society and also reflected Kim Il-sung’s background as a guerrilla leader rather than an intellectual.

But after the fall of the Soviet Union, propaganda shifted from presenting the North as “a people’s paradise” to showing it as “a paradise under siege”, she said, stressing the message: “We have to make a fortress of our country to protect ourself from these attacks.”

Because the North’s ideology is also heavily ethnocentric, “it is easy to believe the whole world is against you, because the whole world is different from you,” Gabroussenko added.

Other analysts suggest that the shift was exacerbated by the plummeting of trade as the Soviet Union collapsed, accelerating the disintegration of an economy that had once been one of the most advanced in continental East Asia.

For Kim – who did not want to give her real name to protect relatives still in the North – the rationale of leaders is simple: “When you are preparing for war, you will never complain about where you are.”

The North still holds regular military training for civilian militias, though these days they are more likely to involve drilling, marching with backpacks or practising evacuations, and air raid and blackout drills for the population as a whole.

Hazel Smith, an expert on North Korea at Cranfield University, recalled seeing people training with wooden guns, presumably to save on precious resources. Conscription was also introduced as the prestige and security of becoming a soldier declined, reflecting increasing disaffection with authority and the government’s inability to feed its own troops.

North Korean men are supposed to spend 10 years in the army, though soldiers are often used primarily as labour; last week, one visitor to Pyongyang saw them planting flowers around a monument. “I think the big change was from 1997, with the institutionalisation of the military-first policy,” Smith added.

“With the military being in control, the tendency is to adopt military solutions to political problems as the first thing you do.”

The problem for the regime, she noted, is that “North Koreans think the military leadership has failed to achieve anything good for North Korea … In Kim Il-sung’s day, people felt life was getting better. These days, I don’t think they believe in anything.”

That view is echoed by Kim, who recalls how she used to hope that the war would start quickly, assuming the North would win.

“We had certainty that when the Americans attacked the war would finish very quickly and no one would suffer any more and then we’d be able to stop tightening our belts. Now, when I look at it from outside, they do the same – but fewer people believe it,” said Kim.

It is not uncommon for North Koreans working in China to say they wish that war would come, but often they seem to expect neither victory nor defeat – they just want to get it over with, say those who work with them.

Those living away from the border areas, where information from the outside world spreads more easily, may have more faith in the government, Kim acknowledged.

But even so, external military threats seem less important these days, she said: “Their fears are much more focused on what they will eat.”





South Korean agents arrest ‘spy with poison-tipped needle’

17 09 2011

(Mark Willacy, ABC Radio Australia) South Korea’s spy agency has arrested a man allegedly sent by North Korea to assassinate an anti-Pyongyang activist with a poison-tipped needle. The alleged North Korean agent has been identified only as a man in his 40s known as An.

An is a former special forces commando who supposedly defected to the South more than a decade ago. But recently he asked to meet outspoken anti-Pyongyang activist and defector Park Sang-Hak. After a tip-off from South Korean intelligence agents, Mr Park said he did not show up for the meeting, which was supposed to be held at a subway station in southern Seoul on September 3.

“An told me by phone that he was to be accompanied by a visitor from Japan who wants to help our efforts. But then I was told by the NIS not to go to the meeting due to the risk of assassination,” Mr Park said. “Following advice from intelligence authorities and police, I don’t see any strangers these days.”

Instead An was arrested at the rendezvous point, allegedly carrying a poison-tipped needle and other weapons that investigators believe he was going to use to kill Mr Park. South Korea’s intelligence agency says it will not comment on cases under investigation.

Mr Park is a former North Korean defector who along with other activists sends thousands of anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border, sparking angry protests from North Korea. It has threatened to fire across the border at launch sites for the towering gas balloons that carry the leaflet bundles. Recent leaflets have urged North Koreans to rise up “like Libyan rebels” and topple the regime.

North Korea has a history of trying to silence critics in the South. In January a court jailed a North Korean spy for 10 years for plotting to assassinate the highest-ranking defector ever to flee to the South. The court said the would-be assassin intended to murder Hwang Jang-Yop on orders from Pyongyang, after entering the South posing as a defector.

Mr Hwang died of natural causes at his closely guarded Seoul home last October aged 87. In July last year, two other North Korean spies were sentenced to 10 years in prison for plotting to murder Mr Hwang.

In 1997 Lee Han-Young, a nephew of Sung Hye-Rim – the deceased first wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il – was shot dead outside his apartment in South Korea. Mr Lee, who had lived in the South for 15 years, was murdered after breaking his long silence about Kim’s private life.





Park Jung-bum Offers Notes on his Unique POV

24 05 2011

by Adam Hartzell (SF360, May 16, 2011)

Eleven directors were in the running for the $15,000 New Directors award at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, and the jury (Nick James, Daniela Michel, and Marie Therese Guirgis) selected South Korean director Park Jung-bum’s The Journals of Musan (English trailerInfo.) as the winner. “The unexpected ways that the film fuses the personal with the sociopolitical makes it truly original,” they offered, “especially its sophisticated use of imagery and point of view.” Director Park was in attendance at the Festival and, before the honor was announced at the SFIFF Golden Gate Awards, I was able to interview him thanks to the arrangement of San Francisco Film Society’s Hilary Hart, with Korean translation provided by Jacki J. Noh.

SF360: I understand that this film was based on a friendship you had. Could you tell me a little bit about how the film developed?

Park Jung-bum: Jeong Seung-chul is a friend of mine whom I met in 2002 when he came to South Korea from North Korea. He came into our University and he was my friend at school. We both majored in physical education and that’s how I met him. He used to play ice hockey in North Korea. He was always very positive and very bright. I felt like we matched. He was more like my younger brother. I felt very close to him and there were times that we lived together. As a friend of his, I naturally met people that he hung out with, other North Korean defectors. So I was able to see their world. It was a kind of darkness within South Korean culture.

SF360: So it sounds like the relationship you had with your friend is very different from the portrayal in the movie, but you learned about the more pessimistic experience that North Korean refugees had through your friendship with him?

Park: That is correct. [North Korean refugees] came to South Korea to be happy. Well, the main reason was because they had nothing to eat there. But you cannot just live with food. You need other things. What they were seeking was general happiness, but what they found was that it’s also difficult to find genuine happiness in South Korea as well. South Korea did not allow them to be happy, to seek what they were looking for. So people get really disappointed and some do commit suicide and some were even tying to return to North Korea. And, as you see in the movie, some betray their friends.

But I also saw this [dark side of the experience of North Koreans in South Korea] was a kind of dichotomy that existed in our [South Korean] society. I thought, well, this darkness is not just about them, but also about the very poor people, the people we don’t pay attention to or are very difficult for us to meet. So I wanted to throw a question to the audience that with these kinds of people surrounding us, how should we live? What kind of life should we lead?

SF360: Your film completed a triptych of North Korean refugee films in San Francisco, The San Francisco International Asian American Festival was a couple months ago, and they showed both Jeon Kyu-hwan’s Dance Town and Zhang Lu’s Dooman River. Like yours, they are all very pessimistic of the plight of North Korean refugees. Do you see your film as a counterweight to mainstream portrayals of North Korean refugees in South Korea or are most portrayals of that community consistently pessimistic?

Park: I know the director Jeon Kyu-hwan. But I didn’t get to see his film. I saw Dooman River. So I am aware that all these movies talk about North Korean defectors. So I am very familiar with [Zhang Lu]. We are close. We talk a lot. What he portrays is from the perspective of Koreans living in China, [coming over] from Yanggang [Province in North Korea]. What I portray is the lives of North Korean defectors in South Korea, what they experience.

But if I can find something in common between myself and Zhang Lu, we didn’t make the films to attract some empathy or sympathy or attention [to the plight of North Korean refugees]. It’s more showing the reality of these peoples’ lives. We both feel that the most realistic film [is what we should] pursue and try to create. So in that sense, we both agree.

I asked myself this question How should I live? We have these neighbors that share the same space but there’s indifference [towards them]. There is lack of empathy and sometimes we might not even acknowledge that they exist. Is it OK to do that? Is it the correct way or is it wrong? [What is] the meaning behind that? Again, we are living in the same society, same era, same space, yet is it OK to just ignore, is it OK to pretend that they don’t exist? And I find that very sad and maybe that’s a very selfish [response] that capitalism breeds. So I wanted to report that. These people exist. They are your neighbors. So that’s the kind of question that I wanted to ask the audience, but also, it’s the question that I ask myself. With these neighbors, how should I live? Interestingly, I get a lot of questions about that via email or questions when we have a screening…

See the full text of the interview with Park Jung-bum here…

Documentary Film and North Korea

By Andray Abrahamian (38 North, 20 May 2011)

Foreign documentaries on North Korea suffer from a number of unique challenges, including issues of access, verifiability, and potemkinism. They also face the challenge of how to fairly represent “the other” to an audience that has no direct experience of the object of study. To what extent can the filmmaker allow audiences to make up their own minds, when so much mediation necessarily takes place? How can he ensure some balance between competing voices? How can the film be fair to its subject? These are challenges that face any documentary, but are present to a greater degree when the subject is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a radically different society with a singular media image that has been built up over the past six decades. Four of the most widely-viewed documentaries on North Korea illustrate the many failings and occasional successes in addressing (or avoiding) these issues: Welcome to North Korea, The Vice Guide to North Korea, A State of Mind, and North Korea: A Day in the Life