Asia Rights

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Archive for July, 2011

Report by the International Crisis Group – Strangers at home: North Koreans in the South

Posted in Korea, News on July 15th, 2011

From the International Crisis Group, 14 July 2011. See here for original news release.

As the number of defectors from North Korea arriving in the South has surged in the past decade, reconfiguring integration programs for them has become crucial.

Strangers at Home: North Koreans in the South, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, draws attention to the difficulties South Korea is facing in absorbing North Korean defectors. The two sides of the Demilitarised Zone have diverged so much in economics, politics, language and social organisation that people are now strangers to each other. The possibility that it one day might have to handle a vast outflow of refugees from a collapsing North looms over the South.

“Some South Koreans believe a rapid unification could come soon, but the economic and social realities suggest such an event would be very costly”, says Crisis Group’s North East Asia Deputy Project Director, Daniel Pinkston. “The difficulties of handling just over 20,000 refugees over a few decades should be a warning to those who wish to encourage the collapse of the North rather than a more gentle integration”.

During the Cold War, the small number of defections was manageable. The end of the Cold War and the rapid increase in the number of defectors, many of them traumatised and destitute, created a number of problems. Defectors in the South have become an issue that affects inter-Korean relations, as they have been used by both sides for propaganda purposes. The South once rewarded them with wealth and prestige. That changed when rapprochement with the North began in the late 1990s. Defectors became something of an embarrassment, and policies to help them did not keep up with the numbers and types of people arriving. Since the famine in the mid-1990s, the mostly poorly educated defectors are on average significantly smaller and less healthy than Southerners, as well as less likely to have useful skills.

The South Korean government has devoted significant resources to helping defectors, but its efforts have often lagged behind new developments. Better coordination of such efforts, improved oversight to determine what works and a more sensitive approach to discrimination are all needed. Policy on defectors requires long-term approaches that allow a greater role for civil society and are less subject to change with each new government.

The government needs to improve public awareness among South Koreans to increase tolerance for Northerners, as well as to introduce tough anti-discrimination laws and practices. The international community should accept more refugees from the North and engage the South Korean government to provide help in such areas as English-language education.

“The South Korean government recognises that a precipitate change in the North would present it with immense problems”, says Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director, Robert Templer. “But it should not allow concerns about this or the occasional threats from Pyongyang on the resettlement of defectors to cloud the need to integrate them in the most effective way possible”.

Want to help in North Korea but don’t know how to?

Posted in Human Rights Ideas on July 15th, 2011

Here are a list of organisations that Asia Rights believe are doing great work in North Korea and that need your support:

The Eugene Bell Foundation: http://www.eugenebell.org/ (site available in English and Korean)

Christian Friends of Korea: http://www.cfk.org/

The Fukushima Crisis

Posted in Japan, News on July 13th, 2011

FUKUSHIMA’S ZONE OF ALIENATION

AND THE ROAD AHEAD

 

Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Australian National University

Not Yet “After”

We call it “3/11”, but it is important to be clear about one thing: Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident were not a triple disaster that happened on 11 March 2011. This was a disaster that began on 11 March 2011, and is still unfolding. No one yet knows when it will end. “After” is still somewhere in the uncertain future.

The official figures tell us that around 15,000 people were killed by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, and around 8,000 people are still missing. Of those, the great majority will probably never be accounted for. For the families and friends of these people above all, this disaster is still happening. Relatives of the missing still search the rubble for anything to hold on to, or (like one man interviewed a little while ago on Japanese TV) find it impossible to resist the impulse still, day after day, to ring the cell-phone number of a missing daughter, only to hear over and over and over again: “The cell phone you have called is switched off or out of range. You are being connected to an automated voice mail system. Please leave a message…”

Even the official statistics are full of uncertainties. Some people from the tsunami-affected areas say that the figures of missing simply do not add up, and that the real number is higher than 8,000. [i] Conversely, confusion and evacuations mean that figures of missing people from some areas may be exaggerated.[ii] Until the next nationwide census is held, we will probably not even know for sure the number of victims of the quake and tsunami. Meanwhile, 90,000 tsunami displaced people are still living in evacuation centers or makeshift temporary housing – many are elderly, and they are experiencing all the physical and mental health effects that go with such displacement and trauma.[iii] Japan has fewer than 20 experts specializing in the treatment of post-traumatic stress.[iv]

The most pressing human need at present is to address the ongoing sufferings of those who lost homes, families and friends in the earthquake and tsunami. In a broader sense, I believe that the disaster will also have a very significant impact both on the Japanese economy and on national politics. Here, however, I shall focus primarily on the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident, because this has enormously compounded the gravity of the crisis, and because there are steps that should be being taken now to address this aspect of the crisis, but that are being dangerously neglected or delayed.

The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant accident is still happening, and will (according to the relatively optimistic scenario spelled out by the plant’s operators Tokyo Electric Power Co – Tepco) continue at least until January next year – and that’s if all goes to plan. Only then will the plant management have things sufficiently under control to begin to lower the temperature of the fuel rods in the damaged reactors below 100 degrees: a process that is in turn a preliminary step to the immensely expensive, difficult and uncertain process of safely decommissioning the reactors.

The plan, however, depends on the successful operation of a complex and experimental system for purifying and recycling the approximately 110,000 tons of highly radioactive waste water that has accumulated under the reactors. This water contains about the same amount of radioactive material as was released during the initial explosions between 11 and 16 March.[v] After several false starts, operation of the system finally got underway at the end of June, narrowly averting a further disaster: the rapidly accumulating waste water would have started flooding out of the reactors had the start been delayed by a few more days. As a Tepco spokesperson has acknowledged, maintaining the four kilometres of hoses that connect the system involves substantial risks.[vi] Repeated breakdowns have occurred since the system started operating on 27 June.[vii]

The Uncertainty Principle

Meanwhile, so far, nine workers at the Fukushima plant are known to have been exposed to over 250 millisieverts of radiation.[viii] Like most people in Japan, before 11 March 2011 I had never even heard of a millisievert. Now (like many people in Japan) I know enough about them to realize that over 250 millisieverts is a serious matter: more than five times the annual upper exposure limit for nuclear workers imposed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and more than 12 times the upper limit for imposed in Germany. Among the nine most severely affected workers, at least two have been exposed to doses more than 30 times the upper annual limit allowed for German workers.[ix] What has happened to the health of these workers, and how they feel about their plight, has not been reported.

In a disaster of this magnitude, the irradiation of nine workers, though sad, might seem a relatively small social cost. But the truly alarming fact is that we know that these workers have been exposed to that level of radiation only because their radiation levels have been properly monitored. As of mid-June there were (according to the Japanese national broadcaster NHK) some 1,400 workers who had been employed at the plant after 11 March and whose radiation levels have not been properly monitored, so no-one knows for sure what levels of radiation they have been exposed to.[x] Even more extraordinarily, more than 60 workers who were brought in to help with the post-3/11 clean-up have apparently since left and can no longer be contacted for follow-up checks, because their addresses were never registered by Tepco nor by the labour contractors who supplied them to the power company.[xi] This reflects the fact that many workers have been recruited through contracting companies which draw their labour from the poorest and most marginalized Japanese communities. They are, in short, the latest generation in a long line of Japan’s “nuclear gypsies” who (as reported in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists more than 25 years ago) “do not have work records and do not qualify for workmen’s benefits… [but] are hired for each job by one contractor or another, dismissed when the job is completed, and then lost track of when they return to the pool of irregularly employed labourers.”[xii]

80,000 people have been evacuated from the 20 kilometre Danger Zone [Keikai Kuiki] around the Fukushima nuclear plant, and have no idea when or if they will be able to return to their homes, jobs and communities. Voluntary evacuations of those living in radiation hot-spots further away from the plant (in an area known as the “Planned Evacuation Zone” – Keikakuteki Hinan Kuiki) are now underway, and some suggest that as many as 70,000 more people will ultimately need to be evacuated. The first detailed survey of radiation levels in Namie-Machi, one of several communities straddling the Danger Zone, was conducted some three months after the accident began. This survey highlighted a fact well-known from other nuclear accidents: that radiation does not spread out in smooth rings from the site of the accident, but spreads unevenly across the landscape, depending on topography, prevailing winds etc. One primary school only 6 kilometres away from Fukushima No. 1 plant showed radiation levels little over normal background radiation (just 0.27 microsieverts per hour), while Tsushima campus of Namie Prefectural High School, 27 kilometres from the plant, showed radiation levels more than sixty times as high (17.2 microsieverts per hour).[xiii]

Another part of Namie-Machi, the mountain village of Akôgi, lies 31 kilometres from the stricken Fukushima plant. Between 23 March and 4 July 2011, residents of the village were exposed to over 48 millisieverts of radiation: more than twice the limit allowed for nuclear power workers in Germany, and a dangerously high level for children. This figure does not include the doses received immediately following the reactor explosions. Japan’s Ministry of Education and Science was aware within days of the accident that radiation doses in the village were at exceptionally high levels, but, although they released statistics of the radiation level, they did not reveal the name of the village where the reading had be taken, so the residents were not aware of the problem until 11 April, almost one month later.[xiv]

What does all this mean for the people who live in places like Namie-Machi?

No-one knows.

That, in a sense, is the most disturbing fact to emerge from this nuclear accident: human beings have the ability to release the enormous power of atomic fission, and use it for many purposes, but do not yet have the scientific capacity to determine the effects on human health or the natural environment of long-term exposure to low-to-medium levels of radiation. The effects of radiation are immensely complex – depending on the nature of the radioactive isotopes, the environment in which they exist, the way in which they are absorbed by the human body, the age, gender and genetic predispositions of the individual exposed to radiation etc. – and because everyone is already exposed to varying low doses of natural background radiation.

Twenty-five years after the Chernobyl disaster, therefore, no-one knows how many people died, or are likely to die in the future, as a result of that accident. Plausible estimates range from a low of around 9,000 people to a high of around 90,000 people, with all kinds of possible gradations in between.[xv] The lower figure comes from the 2005 report of the United Nations’ Chernobyl Forum, established under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) with input from other groups including the World Health Organization (WHO).[xvi] However, serious questions have been raised both about the content of the report and (particularly) about the way in which its findings were reported in the media.[xvii]  Some environmental groups have come up with much higher estimates of almost a million people, though most scientists treat these with skepticism.[xviii]

Of course, the amount of radiation released from the Fukushima plant in the period immediately following the explosion is believed to have been only about 14% of the amount released in the Chernobyl accident.[xix] A very crude extrapolation of the lower Chernobyl estimates would therefore suggest a possible death toll in Japan of about 1,200 people – though a wide range of factors such as population density, the effectiveness of evacuation programs, differences in the nature of the explosions, improvements in cancer treatment etc. would need to be taken into account to produce any genuinely meaningful projection (and, of course, no-one knows whether the 9,000 figure for Chernobyl is realistic or not).

Needless to say, many more people have suffered physical and mental health effects from the Chernobyl disaster, both from radiation and more widely from the social impact of evacuation and disruption to their lives. An equally profound problem, though, is our perception of deaths and health problems caused by a disaster like Chernobyl. With a few exceptions (such as cases of death from thyroid cancer) it is virtually impossible to determine which particular deaths are results of exposure to radiation caused by the disaster, rather than being results of the many other factors which can cause precisely similar cancers. So we can never put names and faces to these deaths. Even if “only” 9,000 people, or “only” half or a quarter of that number, die as a result of the Chernobyl accident, that is a terrible toll that would produce massive and dramatic media coverage if all these people died simultaneously in a fire or explosion. But instead, they die separately, one-by-one, dispersed and un-recordable. They are hypothetical statistics, not human beings. They are the bodiless dead, the invisible dead. They suffer and die just as much as they would if killed by single explosion, but they are very much easier to wipe from public consciousness.

It is true, as many nuclear experts point out, that the levels if ambient radiation being measured in Tokyo are only minimally above background radiation level, and that some of the fears being expressed by Tokyo residents about the dangers of radiation are exaggerated (though serious questions about food and water safety etc. remain). But for people living closer to the stricken plant, it is another matter. To put it in practical terms, if you live in Akôgi (or other similar radiation hot spots outside the official evacuation zone), you may go to the experts and say, “what should I do? Should I abandon my house and my job and the community where I have always lived, and move myself to another town and my children to another school?” (and I won’t, of course, be able to sell my house because there are no buyers; and I may not be able to find another job; and my children may by shunned by classmates if they go to another school because they are feared for being “radioactive”). But the answer you will receive from the experts is “Search us. We really don’t know. It’s up to you.”

Radioactivity does not just disappear or wash away in the rain. It enters into the environment and some cases remains there for hundreds of years. Consider one small example: Sewage plants all over northeastern Japan – from Shizuoka southwest of Tokyo to Aomori Prefecture, have been contaminated by radioactive cesium 137 by the accident. Cesium 137 has a half-life of 30 years. The sewage sludge that is normally used in land reclamation and building is therefore now accumulating at the plants because no-one knows what the effects might be of elevated levels of radioactive cesium in reclamation of building materials, and no-one can work out what else to do with it.[xx]

The Japanese government has not yet even begun systematic checking of food for radiation, though small-scale checks that have been carried out have found radioactive iodine and cesium in food samples from eight prefectures – a wide area of Japan extending as far as Kanagawa and Shizuoka to the southwest of Tokyo.[xxi] Radiation absorbed from food or from contaminated building materials etc is, of course, additional to radiation absorbed from the air and soil.

 

Institutional Fault-Lines

 

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Japan’s fifty-five nuclear power reactors, which were either undergoing routine checks at the time of the 3/11 earthquake or were shut down for additional checks thereafter, and still out of operation.[xxii] Reopening them involves the consent of Prefectural as well as national government, and given local concerns, this has not been readily forthcoming. The central government has introduced new requirements for Japanese nuclear reactors to undergo stress tests of the type currently being conducted throughout the European Union countries, a process which will further delay the re-opening of these power stations.[xxiii] Energy shortages, together with the massive costs responding to the disaster, are placing great strains on Japan’s already overblown national debt.

The nationwide, political “stress test” created by the crisis is, indeed, casting a new and harsh light on flaws in Japan’s system of government. When the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took the reins of power in 2009, after more than half a century of almost uninterrupted rule by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), there were high hopes that this would mark a shift in Japan to a genuine two-party system resembling that of European and North American democracies, in place of the one-and-a-half party system that had for so long prevailed. Since 3/11, though, the vision of an emerging two-party system has taken a battering.

The response to the disasters has revealed both the DPJ government’s inability to gain the trust and cooperation of important sections of the public service, and the LDP’s unwillingness to recognize the right of any party other than itself to govern Japan.  Remarkably, the LDP leadership has repeatedly refused to cooperate in passing the emergency supplementary budgets needed to deal with the crisis, seeking instead to use government problems in handing the disaster as an opportunity to force the Prime Minister to resign. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s opponents within the DPJ have become increasingly critical of handling of the natural and nuclear disasters, and long-standing divisions within the party have widened into rifts that are almost certainly beyond repair. Rather than a period of stable two-party rule, Japan is now facing a likely split in the ruling DPJ, a further phase of fissions, fusions and shifts of political forces, and ever-deepening public cynicism about parliamentary politics amongst an electorate who are repelled by the sight of politicians squabbling while disaster victims continue to suffer.

The institutional problems exposed by the crisis go beyond Japan’s shores: they have global ramifications. In the final week of May, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the international body responsible for monitoring the safety of nuclear power plants, somewhat belatedly sent a fact-finding mission to Japan. The resulting report criticized Tepco’s lack of preparedness for a tsunami, though it praised some other aspects of the company’s and the government’s response to the crisis. However, the IEAE’s own response to the crisis has also come under increasing critical scrutiny from (amongst others) the Agency’s former Deputy Director General, Olli Heinonen, who noted that the IAEA’s initial response to the accident was to issue “scant and at times contradictory information from Japanese sources”. Heinonen defined the problem as arising from the Agency’s weakness in relation to national governments, and argued that “Fukushima should be a wake-up call to re-evaluate and strengthen the role of the IAEA in boosting nuclear safety, including its response mechanism.”[xxiv] But the Fukushima crisis draws attention to a further issue at the core of the working of the IAEA itself. The organization’s overarching mission is to promote and expand the peaceful use of nuclear power. Although that brief of course encompasses promoting the safe use of nuclear power, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there may be a potential structural conflict of interest in a system that entrusts the global monitoring of the safety of nuclear power to a body whose central mission is to “accelerate and enlarge” the non-military use of nuclear energy.[xxv]

These global issues are further complicated by the fact that in 1959 the IAEA and World Health Organization entered into an agreement (UN Accord WHA 12-40) under which the two bodies agreed to “act in close co-operation with each other and will consult each other regularly in regard to matters of common interest.”[xxvi] This has raised concerns among some groups that the WHO lacks the independent capacity to research and monitor the effects of radiation on human health. Indeed, since 2006, a group of politicians, health professionals, environmentalists and others (largely based in France) have been energetically lobbying for a review of the 1959 agreement and the creation of a truly independent WHO.[xxvii] The World Health Organization itself, however, has publicly insisted that the 1959 agreement “does not affect the impartial and independent exercise by WHO of its statutory responsibilities, nor does it place WHO in a situation of subordination to IAEA”. As of 2001, the Organization stated that it was “in the process of developing a comprehensive Global Program on Radiation with a clear strategy and priorities to safeguard public health concerns in the use of nuclear techniques”.[xxviii] But ten years on, the program appears to have made limited progress, while the WHO/IAEA relationship has clearly weakened public confidence in the findings of the 2005 Chernobyl Forum report. 

 

Out of the Zone of Alienation

 

The evacuation zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant was known, after the 1986 accident, as Zona Vidchuzhennya, which translates into English as “the Zone of Alienation”.[xxix] The Belarus inhabitants evacuated from that zone are thought to have been exposed on average to about 31 millisieverts of radiation, somewhat less than the exposure to date of residents who have remained in the village of Akôgi and in similar Japanese hot-spots.[xxx]

The term “Zone of Alienation” seems to me an extraordinarily evocative one. People in Japan affected by this disaster have found themselves suddenly transported to a “zone of alienation”, not just in the literal sense that over 80,000 people have been uprooted from their homes and communities around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but in a wider and more metaphorical, or even metaphysical, sense. The ground beneath their feet has fallen away. The environment that they took for granted now seems to threaten them, but no-one can tell them exactly what the threats are or where they lie. The scientific and technological experts whom they trusted to come up with answers (and however much they may mistrust their politicians, most Japanese people do trust their scientist) turn out not only to have confusing answers, but to have no answers at all to the most pressing questions.

Many affected individuals and communities are responding to this alienation with remarkable resilience and determination, by falling back on their own resources. While the national political system is failing its own stress test, local governments, community institutions and NGOs have generally held together and continued to battle daily through the enormous challenges of the ongoing crisis. You have only to look at the web-pages of the towns and villages in the affected areas to get some sense of scale of the problem. Often working from temporary premises (having themselves been evacuated from the exclusion or voluntary evacuation zone) local officials deal simultaneously with everything from relocating local morgues and organizing the DNA testing of the remains of tsunami victims, to relieving the psychological stress of evacuee children and disseminating information on local radiation levels, to solving the problems of people who have lost their tax documents and driving licenses in the disaster and evacuation. Their courage and determination contain seeds of hope for recovery – for transition to a true “post-3/11” society.

But where is the national and global support that is needed to help these seeds to grow? An obvious and pressing need is for global bodies like the World Health Organization to conduct large-scale projects which monitor the health of people in the worst affected areas, and collect high quality epidemiological information on the health effects of this crisis. The Japanese government has been making efforts to collect radiation information, as well as information on the movements of people in Fukushima Prefecture, which would help in assessing individual levels of exposure to radiation, but the task is a massive one, and issue is not simply Japan’s problem but a global problem. Prompt action by the global medical and scientific research community would both help to ensure prompt health care for those who need it, and (in the long run) help to resolve some of the scientific uncertainties surrounding the effects of low-to-medium level radiation exposure. Given the controversies that surrounded the Chernobyl Forum report, and to avoid any perceptions of possible conflicts of interest, such studies should be carried out independently from the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Surely this is the moment for the WHO to give substance to its promise of “impartiality and independence”, and prove to the world its capacity to help human beings to understand and protect themselves from the negative health effects of radiation. The earlier this work starts, the more complete and reliable the information will be. So far, though, the WHO’s actions seem to have been limited to issuing, jointly with the IAEA, a few bland “Q and A” sheets on radiation effects[xxxi], and to publishing a generalized and uninformative statement about the Organization’s role in nuclear emergencies.[xxxii]

The main finding of the Chernobyl Forum report was that, however uncertain the direct health effects of the disaster may be, the social effects have been profound. Evacuees from around the Chernobyl plant (like those from Fukushima) have experienced loss of homes and jobs, and often developed a sense that “they are without place in society and have little control over their own lives”.[xxxiii] Older people in Chernobyl were particularly severely affected. The area around the Fukushima plant has a disproportionately high proportion of elderly people in its population. The major recommendation of the 2005 Chernobyl report was that governments and NGOs should focus on the “social and economic restoration” of the affected areas to help overcome these effects.[xxxiv] But the debates inspired by the Report have focused more on its controversial predictions of mortality statistics than on ways to take these recommendations forward.

In search of a future for Fukushima, it is important to think not just about the lessons of Chernobyl, but also about the lessons of a disaster nearer home: Minamata. The mass mercury poisoning of residents of the Minamata area in the 1950s by pollution from a local chemicals factory raised a number of issues with powerful resonances for Fukushima: issues of identifying health effects, demanding compensation from the company causing pollution, and addressing the social and economic losses and sense of alienation and powerlessness that affects communities damaged by severe pollution. Like the people of Fukushima, the people of Minamata found that the very name of their place of origin had been turned into a synonym for suffering and disaster. In the case of Minamata, after prolonged and exhausting legal battles with the polluting company, Chisso, some residents increasingly turned their attention to projects that would rebuild their community and help them reclaim a sense of agency in their own lives. The process involved a complex and painful confrontation with “victimhood” and its consequences, and with the powerlessness induced not only by the perpetrators of pollution but also, at times, by the well-intentioned but patronizing efforts of outsiders to “help the victims”. But the result was a wide range of creative skills and projects for overcoming the social and psychological as well as the physical legacies of Minamata Disease.[xxxv]

For many people in the immediate surrounds of the Fukushima nuclear plant, the challenges of dealing with the unfolding accident consume all their energies, and rebuilding remains in the future. But those not directly affected by this disaster can and should already be looking at lessons drawn from the disasters of the past, including Minamata, developing a fund of ideas that Fukushima citizens, and those who want to support them, can draw on as they embark on the long road to a world post 3/11. 

_______________________________________________________________


[i] Christopher Johnson, “Japan Death-Toll Numbers Don’t Add Up, Tsunami Survivors Say”, Washington Times, 15 June 2011, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jun/15/japan-death-toll-numbers-dont-add-up-tsunami-survi/

[ii]  Go Terada, Masanori Yamashita and Yasushi Kaneko, “No. of Missing Still Uncertain”, Daily Yomiuri Online, 29 June 2011. http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110628005467.htm

[iii] These effects include a sharp rise in suicide rates in disaster affected areas: “Suicide Rates are Increasing in Japanese Regions Most Affected by the Tsunami and Nuclear Disasters”, The Australian, 17 June 2011, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/suicide-rates-in-japanese-region-most-effected-by-the-tsunami-and-nuclear-disasters-have-jumped/story-fn84naht-1226076940518 ;

[iv] Mark Willacy, “Stress Takes its Toll on Japan’s Tsunami Survivors”, ABC News Online, 17 June 2011, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/06/17/3247138.htm?section=justin

[v] New York Times, 17 June 2011.

[vi] Kazuaki Nagata, “Water Treatment, Cooling Systems Finally Working”, Japan Times, 8 July 2011.

[vii] The most recent breakdown at the time of writing was on 10 July 2011; NHK 7pm new 11 July 2011.

[viii] NHK 7pm news, 17 June 2011; NHK 7pm news 20 June 2011.

[ix] “N-Worker’s Mask Left no Room for Glasses”, Daily Yomiuri Online, 19 June 2011. One worker received a dose of 678 millisieverts, and another a dose of 643 millisieverts

[x] NHK 7pm news, 17 June 2011.

[xi] Kevin Krolicki and Chisa Fujioka, “Japan’s ‘Throwaway’ Nuclear Workers”, Reuters / Swissinfo, 24 June 2011, http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/news/international/Special_report_-_Japans_throwaway_nuclear_workers.html?cid=30537866 ; NHK 7pm news 2011.

[xii] John W. Powell, “Nuclear Power in Japan, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May 1983, pp. 33-39, quotation from p. 37.

[xiii] NHK 7pm news, 17 June 2011.

[xiv] Tokyo Shimbun, 6 July 2011; Tokyo Shimbun, 7 July 2011.

[xv] Jim Green, “Do we know the Chernobyl Death Toll?” New Matilda, 7 April 2011.

[xvi] See The Chernobyl Forum, Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environment and Socio-Economic Impacts, and Recommendations to the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, (2nd revised edition), Geneva, International Atomic Energy Agency, 2005.

[xvii] Mark Peplow, “Counting the Dead”, Nature, vol. 440, 20 April 2006, pp. 982-983. The Forum report predicted that around 4,000 of the 600,000 people most directly exposed to Chernobyl radiation would probably have died or die as a result, and that a further 5,000 people might be expected to die Europe-wide. The initial summary of the report released to the media, however, included only the 4,000 figure, resulting in misleading media reports. 

[xviii] Green, “Do we know the Chernobyl Death Toll?” op. cit.

[xix] On 6 July, the Japanese government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency  [Genshiryoku Anzen Hoan In], a branch of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – METI) reported that the total emission of radiation from the Fukushima plant in the first week after March 11 was believed to 770,000 terabecquerels, an estimate revised upward from its earlier estimate of 370,000 terabecquerels, and the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission’s earlier estimate of 630,000 terabecquerels; see “Higashi Nihon Daishinsai: Hôshasei Busshitsu 77-man Terabekereru, Hoanin Sôhôshutsuryô o Jôhô Shussei”, Mainichi Shimbun, 6 June 2011; see also Hiroko Tabuchi, “Radiation Understated after Quake, Japan Says”, New York Times, 6 June 2011. The Chernobyl accident is widely believed to have released about 5.2 million terabecquerels of radiation.

[xx] NHK 7pm news, 17 June 2011.

[xxi] Aya Takada and Yasumasa Song, “Food Safety Fears Grow in Japan on Skepticism at Food Testing Regime”, Bloomberg, 16 June 2011, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-15/japan-s-piecemeal-radiation-testing-heightens-concerns-over-safety-of-food.html

[xxii] 35 nuclear plants were affected as of 16 June. NHK 7pm news 26 June 2011.

[xxiii] “Sutoresu Tesuto no Tôitsu Kenkai, ‘Shûake ni Hôkôsei Kenkai’, Shushô”, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 9 July 2011.

[xxiv] Olli Heinonen, “The IAEA and the Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima”, Power and Policy (Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University), 22 March 2011, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/power/2011/03/22/the-iaea-and-the-nuclear-crisis-at-fukushima/

[xxvi] For the full text of the accord, see “Agreement Between the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization”, http://www.independentwho.info/WHA_12_40_EN.php

[xxviii] “Interpretation of the World Health Organization’s Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency”, Statement WHO/6, 21 February 2001.

[xxix] Mary Mycio, Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl, Washington DC, Joseph Henry Press, 2005, p. 28

[xxx] On the exposure of Belarus evacuees, see From Peter Wehrwein, “Radiation Risk in Japan: Understanding Radiation Measurements and Putting them in Perspective”, Harvard Health Blog, 16 March 2011 (http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/radiation-risk-in-japan-understanding-radiation-measurements-and-putting-them-in-perspective-201103161976 ).

[xxxii] The statement on the WHO’s response to the Japan earthquake reads, in full: “What is WHO’s role in nuclear emergencies? In accordance with its Constitution and the International Health Regulations, WHO is mandated to assess public health risks and provide technical consultation and assistance in association with public health events, including those associated with radiation events. In doing so, WHO is working with independent experts and other UN agencies. WHO’s work is supported by a global network comprising more than 40 specialized institutions in radiation emergency medicine. The network, the Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN), provides technical assistance for radiation emergency preparedness and response.” http://www.wpro.who.int/media_centre/jpn_earthquake/FAQs/faqs_WHOresponse.htm  The statement contains no specific reference to Japan, or to any actions that the WHO intends to take to assist or monitor those in Japan exposed to increased levels of radiation.

[xxxiii] Chernobyl Forum, Chernolbyl’s Legacy, op. cit., p. 35.

[xxxiv] Chernobyl Forum, Chernobyl’s Legacy, op. cit., p. 8.

[xxxv] See Kurihara Akira, “Minamatabyô to iu Shintai: Fûkei no Zawameki no Seijigaku”, in Kurihara Akira, Komori Yôichi, Satô Manabu and Yoshimi Shunya eds., Naiha suru Chi: Shintai, Kotoba: Kenryoku o Aminaosu, Tokyo, Sanyôsha, 2000, pp. 17-81.

Asia over-represented in the Freedom House Worst of the Worst report

Posted in China, Korea, News, South Asia, Southeast Asia on July 4th, 2011

The world’s most repressive societies

The report lists 10 nations or territories that have received freedom in the world’s lowest ratings: 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties (based on a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free). Within these entitites, state control over daily life is pervasive, independent organisations and political opposition are banned or suppressed, and fear of retribution for independent through and action is ubiquitous. The list includes the Asian nations Burma, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the territory of Tibet.

‘On the Threshold’

The report also includes eight additional countries who ratings fall just short of the bottom of Freedom House’s rating scale. these include a nuber of Asian countries including China, Laos as well as Belarus and the territory of South Ossetia.

For the full report see here.

The Costs, Achievements and Collateral Effects of Australia’s Financial Sanctions Against Burma (Myanmar)

Posted in Australia, News, Southeast Asia on July 4th, 2011

Trevor Wilson,

Visiting Fellow, Department of Political and Social Change,

School of International, Political and Strategic Studies

Australian National University

Introduction

When Australia introduced targeted financial sanctions against the Burmese military regime in 2007, in response to the repression of peaceful popular protests led by Buddhist monks in August/September 2007, it was a sharp change of Australian policy towards Myanmar/Burma, but was not the first time Australia had used “autonomous” sanctions against a regime which was not subject of United Nations Security Council sanctions. Up until then, Australian governments of both persuasions had resisted the temptation to impose unilateral economic sanctions against Burma, knowing that such sanctions could never be enforced, but rather would be easily circumvented via Burma’s mainland Asian neighbours, none of which supported or observed such sanctions which were not mandatory. However, Australia had resorted to targeted, or “smart” sanctions against the regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, in association with some other Commonwealth countries, and against Fiji. Such sanctions had been increasingly applied by Western nations (mainly Europe and North America) after 1990 and especially following the increase in international terrorism and persistent human rights abuses by authoritarian regimes, mostly in Africa and Asia.

Australian’s financial sanctions against Burma were announced by then Prime Minister John Howard on 27 September, in the midst of an Australian election campaign and two days after US President George Bush announced a tightening of US economic sanctions in an address to the United Nations. (The UN Security Council had considered Burma as an issue in 2005, but has never voted on sanctions, in view of the known opposition of permanent Security Council members Russia and China.) Australia’s new sanctions were not promulgated until a month later on 24 October, taking effect under the Reserve Bank’s Banking (Foreign Exchange) Regulations Act 1959. A list of more than 460 “designated persons” was published in an Attachment to the regulation, very similar to the EU’s list of targeted Burmese individuals, but listing only individuals rather than state or state-related entities. The purpose of the sanctions, Howard said, was “To underline Australia’s dismay at the regime’s actions and our concern for the welfare of the Burmese people, the Government will move to implement targeted financial sanctions against regime figures and supporters.” [1]

Interestingly, in his 27 September 2007 statement, Prime Minister Howard had said “Our objective remains to maximise the pressure on the regime while avoiding harm to the Burmese people”, but there is no evidence of specific Australian action being taken subsequently to avoid harm to the ordinary people of Burma. No assessments of the actual impact of Australian sanctions against Burma have been published, so it is difficult to estimate what collateral damage might have occurred, let alone what ‘success’ could be attributed to these sanctions.

The operations of Australia’s financial sanctions against the Myanmar Regime

Australia’s financial measures are limited to restrictions on any financial transactions with Burma, but do not include a freeze on assets of regime members, as did the sanctions imposed by the EU and Canada, and as was called for at the time by the then Opposition Australian Labor Party. Targeted are 463 (increased from the original 2007 number) named individuals, including members of the (now dissolved) State Peace and Development Council, regional military commanders and their deputies, Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers, senior members of the military (Brigadier General and above), senior members of the regime front organisation the Union Solidarity and Development Association, ‘persons who benefit from government economic policies’ (mainly regime business cronies), directors of military-owned enterprises, former senior regime figures (many of whom are still in gaol following the purge of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in 2004), and a small number of officials from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. Like the EU list of designated persons, the Australian list includes by name the wives, sons and daughters of all the principals on the list, presumably on the grounds that otherwise ‘designated persons’ could use family members to circumvent the sanctions.

On behalf of the Australian banking industry, the Australian Bankers’ Association developed generic guidelines for the application of autonomous sanctions, with the stated objective of ensuring broad compliance. The ABA guidelines call for due diligence to be exercised by banks in relations to payments, customers and ‘trade transactions’. As the guidelines say: ‘ABA members will work with relevant government agencies, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to develop protocols to aid compliance with, and enforcement of, Australia’s sanctions regime’.[2]

Australia’s economic sanctions do not prohibit trade or investment links with Myanmar, prompting the Burma Campaign (Australia) to protest against the business operations of firms such as the airline Jetstar (which seasonally operates regular flights from Singapore to Yangon) and Twinza Oil.[3] In the Australian parliament, the Greens Party has pushed for the introduction of trade and investment sanctions focusing on the oil and gas sector.[4] In this respect, Australian financial sanctions are much less ambitious than US or the EU sanctions: in 2007 the EU added a ban on imports of timber, gemstones and precious metals to its existing sanctions against Burma; and the US Congress passed the JADE Act imposing similar sanctions. The targets of the EU travel and financial sanctions also include members of the police, the judiciary, state-owned media firms, military officers as low as captains and majors, and some 40 named enterprises.

Australia’s financial sanctions are amended from time to time to update listings, correct changes (designated persons dying, for example) but they are not the subject of regular substantive review, as the EU sanctions against Burma are (under their ‘Common Position’ against Burma), or as some US sanctions are (requiring a Presidential decision to extend them annually). The last time Australia’s lists were adjusted was 2008; it is not clear how they might be further amended since the dissolution of the SPDC on 30 March 2011 and the transfer of power to the ‘new’ government of mostly newly appointed ministers.

According to DFAT, since their inception in 2007 Australia’s financial sanctions have resulted in only two transactions being stopped, one for A$10,742.63 and the other for A$200. Only one bank account has been closed and one frozen, with the amounts of A$60 and $147.76 respectively. However, the Reserve Bank has responded to 1,167 queries about ‘potential matches’ with regime figures and supporters, in respect of both transactions and accounts. DFAT says the RBA is not aware of any breaches of the sanctions.[5] Despite the commendable level of compliance achieved, these figures suggest an extraordinary amount of effort in screening and cross checking of names for a very small number of offending actions. They also tend to bear out the proposition that regime figures are unlikely to be seeking to conduct financial transaction through Australia and that such sanctions in reality have little or no concrete impact.

It is not clear what inconvenience or “disutility” might have been caused to these account holders, or other regime figures who may have to avoid attempting to conduct financial transactions with Australia, since no details or assessments are published by the government. (Australia’s travel restrictions on regime figures are occasionally activated when a designated person seeks to travel to Australia, and this is sometimes disclosed when specific questions are asked in parliament.)

The Australian Government can amend any of its Burma sanctions at any time, either simply for updating them (which last happened in 2008) or for more substantive reasons. In fact, Australia has never relaxed any of its various Burma sanctions with the exception of the longstanding ban on Australian Government scholarships for residents of Myanmar. When Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May 2002, this resulted in Foreign Minister Alexander Downer visiting Yangon in October that year, the first such visit in 19 years. No easing of Australian sanctions occurred after her release from house arrest in November 2010 either. According to DFAT: “There is no formal review mechanism required to keep our autonomous sanctions active. But we do keep our sanctions measures under regular review with regard to political developments in Burma. We are watching very closely what emerges from the Burmese political process and will calibrate our sanctions accordingly.”[6]

No Australian government has ever provided a detailed report on the implementation of sanctions against Burma since the first measures in 1989. While Australia’s financial sanctions represent a significant toughening of Australia’s policies towards the Myanmar military regime, they have not been the subject of much publicity either in Australia or in Myanmar. Moreover, without making any change to these sanctions, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was able to introduce some significant “engagement” measures in his major parliamentary address on Burma on 10 February 2010. These measures include the restoration of Australian government scholarships for people living in Burma to attend Australia universities, the first time in 20 years that this was possible.

 

Doubtful Efficacy of Australia’s (and Western) Sanctions Against Burma

A mere month before Australia’s economic sanctions were imposed, the then foreign minister Alexander Downer publicly insisted that Australian economic sanctions “would have absolutely no impact (on the regime)”.[7] Arguably, imposing sanctions against financial transfers in a country with a very undeveloped financial sector and where many individuals and firms do not even have bank accounts was never likely to have much impact. More importantly, there was never any evidence that regime members held bank accounts in Australian or were engaged in financial transactions in or through Australia. So a large “catch” of illegal financial transactions would never have been expected.

Australia’s financial sanctions are often not mentioned when media in Burma/Myanmar criticise Western sanctions, nor are they often the topic of government-to-government conversations. However, in February 2011, when the NLD’s review of Western sanctions prompted a response in the official Burmese media, Australia was included with the US, the EU and New Zealand (but not Canada or Japan). When the blatantly pro-government article went on to criticise sanctions for causing harm, they did not mention any harm caused by Australian sanctions. This is not surprising: anecdotally, no suggestions of adverse economic impacts inside Myanmar from Australian financial sanctions have been reported; indeed, the overall economic impact of Australian financial sanctions has been extremely limited. Since their imposition in October 2007, no Australian government has ever claimed any concrete outcome arising from its financial sanctions.[8]

The financial sanctions are usually included in any list of Australia’s policy responses to the situation in Burma, but they are not necessarily the subject of frequent public mention – in Australia or internationally – and are not all that well known. (Australia is often omitted when media articles list countries applying sanctions against Burma.) While the sanctions clearly suit Australian Governments wanting to demonstrate that they have taken firm action in response to the numerous ‘sins’ of the military regime, and obviously send a clear message to the regime itself, they generally do not seem to have been used by Australian Governments for wider purposes, such as to educate Australians about the troubled situation in Burma or to influence international debate about Burma policy. Yet administratively, they are labour intensive and leave little to show in the way of outcomes, presumably why the Reserve Bank itself expressed ‘concerns’ about this use of Australia’s banking regulations.[9]

On the other hand, sanctions against Burma – both economic and political – have frequently been raised in questions in the Australian parliament. Any negative development in Burma triggers call for additional sanctions. Commercial dealings with Myanmar/Burma are often targeted, and Australian companies with operations in Burma/Myanmar have been named on a “dirty list” by the Australian Campaign for Burma.[10] Adverse comparisons are sometimes made with sanctions imposed by other western countries, regardless of the efficacy of those sanctions regimes (none of which is claimed to have been successful). Stricter enforcement of existing sanctions is sometimes called for, and strict bans on any Australian funding of Myanmar government programs and stricter bans on scholarships for or travel by children of regime members (“the sons and daughters of generals”) are often requested (even though many other Western countries offer scholarships to students from Myanmar).

Australian commercial firms with experience of dealing with Burma are openly cynical about what impact they expect from sanctions, comparing it to the negligible impact US sanctions had against Cuba.[11] Australian non-government organisations operating in Myanmar say they cannot attribute any behaviour change on the part of the Myanmar Government to the existence of Australian sanctions. Some “normative” changes to better behaviour have occurred when “sanctions” have been applied in multilateral contexts (often with active Australian support), but these are relatively rare and sometimes incomplete.[12]

However, almost all of the international sanctions that are imposed unilaterally against Burma are not effective, not just Australia’s. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton famously said in September 2009, after a review of US policy towards Burma, “US sanctions against Burma have failed”. Because the pressure for US sanctions against Burma comes mainly from the Congress, Congressional Research Service reports are equivocal about the efficacy of US Burma sanctions in most of the reports it prepares, while allowing that US sanctions have not produced the results desired.[13] There has been no such frank admission of failure in respect of its Burma sanctions on the part of Australian governments.

Under governments of both persuasions, Australia’s Burma policy has been more complex and involved some elements of engagement. Thus, former Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in November 2009 acknowledged “a consensus view that we need to do more to try and encourage the regime back to a democracy”.[14] Consistent with this view, Smith’s major Burma policy statement of 8 February 2010 lifted a long-standing prohibition on residents of Myanmar being eligible for Australian Government scholarships to study in Australia, but reiterated that other sanctions would remain in place. Significantly, Smith’s 2010 statement confirmed, almost in passing, that sanctions would remain “to exert pressure on the military regime”, but outlined various ways in which Australia found it worthwhile trying to engage the Myanmar regime to initiate reforms. [15] This reflects the reality that sanctions are not the sole focus of Australian Burma policy as they are in the United States and some other Western countries.

Australia’s Labor Governments have doggedly resisted pressure from other parties wanting to strengthen Australian sanctions, although at times they have been tempted by adverse events to do so. (As Foreign Minister, in 2009 Stephen Smith indicated that members of the judiciary might be included in the Australian list, but in the end no action along these lines was taken.) Moreover, the Rudd Government rejected a 2008 Greens motion to include grandchildren of regime figures on the list of designated persons.[16] Similarly, a Greens proposal in March 2010 to “ensure that Australian companies with links to Burma’s oil and gas industry are not contributing to the financial stability of the military regime” was met by the response: “Australia’s existing sanction measures-financial sanctions and travel restrictions-are carefully targeted to place pressure on senior members of the Burmese regime and their supporters. Until we see significant change from Burma’s authorities, the Australian government will maintain a policy of targeted financial sanctions.”[17] Australian supporters of tougher sanctions against Burma rarely try to demonstrate how tougher sanctions might achieve more than previous sanctions.

Taking their cue from the expatriate Burmese democracy movement, and on the basis that existing sanctions were not producing the intended effect, Australia’s non-government parties have consistently called for tougher measures against the military regime, despite any evidence that such new measures would be any more effective. The holding of the (albeit flawed) elections and release of Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2010 did not soften their hard-line views. In response to these events, Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Julie Bishop urged a review of, but no relaxation of Australian sanctions, insisting that “we need to be careful [that] sanctions target members of the regime and don’t cause unnecessary additional suffering for the Burmese people”. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam simply said Australia’s sanctions were ‘not adequate’ and called for a full trade embargo.

Sanctions tend to be easier to impose than to lift. In Burma’s case, given the variety of reasons for imposing sanctions and often the lack of clarity in the first place about what would cause them to be eased, this is particularly true. So far only the EU has relaxed (on a provisional basis, in April 2011) some of its travel restrictions against some ministers in the newly-sworn-in Myanmar government. The Obama Administration has merely said easing sanctions now ‘would be premature’. Yet recently several substantive reviews of sanctions have been carried out, including by the National League for Democracy inside Burma. While the March 2011 NLD statement said it did not wish to see sanctions lifted, Aung San Suu Kyi had initially implied that she might contemplate some adjustment of sanctions, but has now indicated she wished to consult other countries about their sanctions. After the elections an the convening of the new parliament, some political representatives in Burma have petitioned for sanctions to be lifted. Several think tanks operating outside Burma have also called for sanctions to be eased to recognise that some improvements have resulted from recent initiatives by the regime.[18]

 

Reviewing Australian Sanctions against Burma

Australian governments make no commitment to review any of their sanctions, or to assess the effectiveness of the sanctions, or to report on the implementation of sanctions. DFAT maintains that it routinely keeps sanctions under review, but this must be a very ad hoc and random process.[19] Occasionally, information about the operation of Australia’s sanctions is conveyed in answer to questions in the Senate Budget Estimates process.

However, in Australia, the government maintains that it keeps sanctions under continuous review in the light of ever changing circumstances.[20] At the same time, DFAT acknowledges that: “There is no formal review mechanism required to keep our autonomous sanctions active. But we do keep our sanctions measures under regular review with regard to political developments in Burma. We are watching very closely what emerges from the Burmese political process and will calibrate our sanctions accordingly. (However) We are not aware of any specific benchmarks or criteria for changes to our sanctions being announced publicly.”[21] While this might mean that there are fewer chops and changes in Australian sanctions, it does not necessarily imply a more strategic approach is taken.

Australian sanctions against Burma are notable in not requiring any report or assessment of their effectiveness or their implementation. Few sanctions regimes, other than those applied under the EU Common Position on Burma, are accompanied by any assessment of their efficacy. In contrast, Australian Governments have never published any report on these sanctions and behave as if they are working effectively. So it is not easy to assess whether there may have been unintended impacts from  Australian sanctions.

 

Unintended Targets of Australian Financial Sanctions

Of the few independent assessments into sanctions that have been made, several find significant collateral harm from sanctions. For example, after the United States introduced wider economic sanctions in 2003, the State Department was initially required to report to the US Congress on their impact and in 2004 and 2005 reported that Burmese textile workers had been adversely affected and that many had been trafficked into prostitution in Thailand. Also in 2005 the most detailed scholarly analysis of US economic sanctions concluded: “In conclusion, the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act is a half-measure that does more harm than good. It reflects fundamental ignorance of Burmese society and underestimates the determination of the junta to stay in power, whatever the cost to the country. The act also contains politically motivated loopholes. The U.S. government, working in cooperation with other countries, including those whose Burma policies differ from Washington’s, should support policies that help, not hurt, the people of Burma.” [22]

Yet, in many instances sanctions did cause indirect harm to ordinary Burmese people, for example, in the tourism sector, which is perhaps the largest employer in Burma outside the public sector, and one of the few Australian sectors still doing business with Myanmar. Australian tour operators note that Australian travelers are increasingly disinclined to spend money while in Burma. Tourism to Burma is not prohibited by the Australian Government, but it is the general negative image of the military regime, and in particular its unjustifiably harsh treatment of NLD Leader Aung San Suu Kyi, that has resulted in a noticeable decline in business activity after 2003, arguably until the elections and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from detention in November 2010. Australia’s financial sanctions certainly complicated tourism to Burma, especially after 2008 when Burma’s leading tourism officials were designated persons on Australia’s sanctions list.

One extraordinary case of an innocent victim of Australia sanctions is the daughter of the Burmese Air Force General who was deported from Australia just before completing her masters degree even though she had entered Australia legally as a private student, was not named on any sanctions list, and claimed not to share her father’s views.[23] It is hard to believe that the constant outcry from Burma activists about the possibility that “the sons and daughters of generals” may be studying in Australia was not a large reason why this case was pursued in this way by the Australian Government. This rather hysterical campaign seems to find its inspiration in the desire to punish and extract revenge rather than any objective judgment about the possible positive (or negative) impact that study in Australia might have.

It is also relevant to question in general terms the effectiveness of Australia’s ‘targeting’. The Australian list of targeted Burmese persons was drawn up after fairly close consultation with the US and EU authorities, as well as upon the recommendations of the Australian Embassy Yangon, resulting in a sensible degree of consistency and harmony across sanctions regimes. An obvious problem, if there are insufficient rigorous checking of the name, is that mistakes appearing in the earlier US or EU lists, will be perpetuated in later EU lists. When the Australian list was expanded in October 2008, a few Myanmar tourism officials were Burma added, even though on the face of it officials are only implementing policies of their government and have not engaged in specific activities which might warrant sanctions being taken against them. The only explanation for their inclusion that DFAT can offer is: “While we do not have broad sanctions against tourism, this category of sanctioned individuals was created to acknowledge government-run tourism as a key source of income for the Burmese military regime. We note that the NLD recently decided to lift its opposition to tourism and this will be a relevant factor in future iterations of our list.”[24]

One Australian tour operator explains how Australian tourism to Burma was effectively discouraged, despite the Australian Government claims that it was neutral on the matter. He stated: “In ten years of selling our small group journeys to Myanmar, I have consistently encountered rejection by potential travelers who grapple with the moral question of “Should I go”. Whilst this response cannot by totally attributed to sanctions, the insistence of the European Union and the United States in maintaining sanctions in terms of trade & finance are often interpreted by the general media as a warning to travelers. The assumption follows that by visiting this country you are assisting the regime to maintain its stranglehold over the people. Central to this line of thinking is the backbone of sanctions which the Europeans and the US argue will eventually bring about change in Myanmar. This uncompromising position and the vigorous support it receives in the media discourages many travelers from considering Myanmar as a destination.” [25]

According to a typical Australian tourism company: ‘The sanctions initiated against Burma by the Australian Government are directed at individuals within the ruling government apparatus, in this case the Australian government’s actions have minimal impact on the operations of [our firm].’[26] Specifically, the inclusion of Burmese tourism officials on Australia’s targeted list of Burmese associated with the military regime after 2008, had no direct impact on Australian tour operators. The reason for this is the nature of Australian tours to Burma, which are organised as small guided tours in conjunction with private Burma-based travel companies, rather than through government tourist operators, and using private hotels and transport firms. Australian tour operators claim to have no dealings whatsoever with government tourist agencies. But they also have witnessed that any decline in tourism they experience with Burma will immediately be felt by small private operators and individuals, not government bodies. What this means is that sanctions that try to target ‘individuals who benefit from the military regime’ have failed, and that these particular sanctions missed their targets.

It is fairly clear, however, and not altogether surprising, that some routine Australian business dealings with Burma have also been significantly discouraged by the general presence of sanctions. For example, broader Australian commercial dealings with Burma may have been indirectly affected by US and EU economic sanctions, rather than Australia’s own financial sanctions, as one Australian tourism operator specialising in trips to Myanmar explains: ‘…the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union have impacted our business in the last ten years… [for example] the lack credit card or [international] banking facilities’.[27] While this is not the stated aim of Australia’s sanctions, it may not have greatly displeased Australian political leaders.

Until 2007, official Australian government statements always claimed that there were no economic sanctions against doing business with Burma, and that Australian policy neither encouraged nor discouraged trade and investment with Burma. However, after 2007 the reality was rather different. As one business representative explained: ‘Our Australian client base has been reluctant to consider Myanmar as an investment target…We are finding it is easier to offer [the very few] commercial opportunities which do become evident to other nationalities, primarily Thai and Indian’.[28] Australian business could not see the point of yielding business opportunities in Burma to others, and watching as bad business practices proliferated. Restrictions on financial transfers made it almost impossible for them to continue to do business with legitimate and decent Myanmar business partners.

A similar problem has occurred with humanitarian NGOs engaged in fund raising activities for Burma/Myanmar. One smaller humanitarian NGO complained that ‘It (fund raising) has been difficult particularly when funds come from a foundation or trust as the boards act on behalf of members. Individual donors do not seem to be concerned.’[29]

 

Effect on Humanitarian Assistance operations in Burma/Myanmar

According to an informal survey by the author with the main Australia-based international humanitarian assistance NGOs, Australia’s financial sanctions have not had any direct effect on their humanitarian operations in Burma. Unlike other Western financial sanctions regimes, Australia’s financial sanctions regime does not have any specific provision for exemptions for humanitarian operations, so none of the INGOs contacted had sought a humanitarian exemption from the Australian government. Unusually, one of the Australia-based organisations said it had successfully obtained a humanitarian exemption from the US government under the US Treasury sanctions scheme. But almost all Australian INGOs operating in Burma claimed that Australian financial sanctions did not adversely affect their financial transactions in and with Burma.

Some of the INGOs contacted continued to carry cash into Burma for the conduct of their operations, as has been done for many years. While this is awkward and involves obvious risks, it apparently remains an effective way of transmitting funds and formal sanctions regimes seem to ignore the practice. The traditional Burmese informal funds remittance arrangement, the hundi scheme, would also presumably allow the formal financial system (such as it is) to be circumvented, but most INGOs did not seem to be using these arrangements regularly. (Anecdotally, private Burmese residents of Australia make extensive use of the hundi system to transfer funds into Burma.) This helps explain why financial sanctions imposed through the formal international financial system would be less effective in the case of Burma than in many other situations.

One Australia-based INGO said it originally transferred humanitarian assistance funds to Burma through an overseas-based associated INGO. More recently, and after the Australian financial sanctions began, this INGO transferred funds through a Myanmar-based sister body which is actually associated with the Myanmar government. They said the  arrangement was working satisfactorily and met auditing and other checks.

Australian humanitarian INGOs said they had no evidence of direct negative consequences from Australia’s financial – or other – sanctions. Australian donors generally had negative attitudes towards the probity of financial transactions in Burma, as well as towards the widespread corruption reported there, but they said these attitudes were not directly affected by Australian policies.

Humanitarian assistance from Australia is possibly another unintended casualty of Australia’s sanctions, although repressive actions by the military regime have probably been more significant in persuading Australians against donating aid for Burma/Myanmar. As the Australian CEO of World Vision, Tim Costello, pointed out after Cyclone Nargis devastated southeastern Myanmar in May 2008:  ”Australians have not given (assistance)”. “It would be interesting to compare the figures to China after they opened up, responded fast, allowed helicopters and journalists in, the whole lot.” He continued: “There is deep, deep cynicism in the donor public in Australia. They think … it’s going into the Government’s pockets, they (the Burmese people) are not getting the money. In truth, not a cent of our aid is going to the military…Getting that message through is very difficult …But we must not give up on them. They did not choose their government.”[30]

 

Conclusions: Moving Forward in 2011?

Change has started to happen in Burma, prompted as much by internally driven political needs as by external pressure. In 2008, in a widely criticised referendum a new constitution was adopted which reserved too much power for the army but contained some human rights protections.[31] In 2010 an election was held in which some, but not all, opposition parties participated, although the ballot boxes were blatantly “stuffed“ to give the pro-military party an unconvincing majority. In January 2011, the new parliament was installed with 25 percent of seats held by mid-level military officers, and with federal-like state assemblies for the first time ever. In March 2011, the military regime handed control to a new government some, but not all, of whose members were in the previous government or former military officers. By mid-2011, more public discussion of policy issues was occurring through question time and committees in parliament, through slightly reduced censorship in the media, and through the activities of elected representatives as well as of Aung San Suu Kyi (no longer in detention) and of the National League for Democracy. The new president, a former general but now elected, has called for reforms and appointed experts from outside the government as advisors. These changes are incomplete, very imperfect, not necessarily permanent, and quite a long way from what would be regarded as a functioning democracy, but they hold the promise of further change for the first time in decades.

Much remains to be done: the international community is calling for the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners and an end of human rights abuses; Burma’s neighbours have welcomed the changes made, but called for further political reconciliation; Western countries, including Australia, are monitoring developments while largely retaining their sanctions. In Burma some, but not all, leaders have called for sanctions to be lifted and for international assistance to be increased so that badly needed socio-economic improvements can occur and civil society can rebuild.

Australia’s Burma scholars are divided over sanctions. Some support sanctions, including the financial sanctions[32]; some acknowledge that sanctions have failed and call for a rethinking of Burma policy[33]. No comprehensive studies of the effect of Australia’s Burma sanctions have been carried out since the introduction of financial sanctions in 2007. In reality, there is no political will among the major parties to ease Australia’s Burma sanctions, and the Greens, the minor party who now in effect have a casting vote, sympathise strongly with the pro-democracy activists and are enthusiastically in favour of additional sanctions. However, there is no empirical evidence that Australia’s sanctions have added any direct weight to western sanctions, or had any impact in terms of moderating policies of the military regime. With the military no longer exercising direct control since March 2011, continuing sanctions policies without any change is disconnected from reality and loses any rational basis.

Sanctions against Burma’s military regime were never mandatory or endorsed by the United Nations, were never imposed by Burma’s neighbours, had little direct impact on the military or their cronies, and if anything compounded the deprivation of Burma’s socio-economic infrastructure and human capital development. Trade and investment sanctions imposed by the US and the EU have had indiscriminate effects.

The direct impact of Australian sanctions was not great: at the most, they probably ensured that a consistent, coordinated and reasonably effective network of restrictions and meant that US and EU sanctions could not be easily circumvented. While the symbolic affect of Australia’s sanctions was significant, they were often not much noticed, in public or in practice. Australia’s sanctions naturally gave comfort to the democratic opposition, and expatriate Burmese groups tended to lead the calls for increased sanctions whenever the military regime committed fresh assaults on freedoms.

The changes now occurring in Burma have nevertheless reopened the issue of what to do about sanctions. After her release from detention in November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi announced that she would initiate discussions with some countries imposing sanctions, including Australia. In the meantime, several groups inside Burma called for sanctions to be lifted and in mid-January 2011, ASEAN Foreign Ministers echoed these calls. When the NLD in February 2011 issued its “review of sanctions” calling for  their retention and rejecting claims that sanctions harmed ordinary people, Aung San Suu Kyi indicated that she expected sanctions to remain in effect until substantial changes occurred. In April, the EU retained almost all its Burma sanctions but suspended its travel sanctions against Burmese officials for 12 months.

The Australian Government initially said it would retain sanctions, but has not made any recent public statements on sanctions, although there have been some sanctions-related questions in recent Senate Estimates hearings. The Australian Embassy has had a number of discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi about sanctions since her release from detention last year, but the Australian Government avoided setting any schedule or deadline for such contacts.

One of the biggest problems now faced by all governments imposing sanctions, is that the authoritarian and repressive military regime and many of its leading members are no longer in power. The basic rationale for retaining sanctions against designated individuals, as stated in the NLD February 2011 statement, is: “Targeted sanctions serve as a warning that acts contrary to basic norms of justice and human rights cannot be committed with impunity even by authoritarian governments.”

However, it is difficult to argue than most of the reasons for the targets of smart sanctions are still valid, given that so many of the designated individuals are no longer in the same positions of power. Human rights abuses are still being perpetrated, but almost certainly not to the same extent, and any offences as are still occurring, are not necessarily being carried out be these designated individuals Even though the new Myanmar Government has made no serious effort to stop human rights abuses by the army, and still refuses to punish the perpetrators, how can preserving existing sanctions serve such a purpose?

Largely missing is any accounting of concerted efforts to engage the regime to release political prisoners and carry out further reforms without delay. High-level US and EU representatives (including 2008 US Presidential contender Senator John McCain) have visited Burma for discussions with the new government and Aung San Suu Kyi. No high-level Australian official has visited recently. Given the minimal response so far by the Burmese authorities to pressure to release many more political prisoners, serious negotiations may be needed over the remaining political prisoners. Part of any discussion may be dialogue over future assistance including in new areas where it might directly enhance livelihoods, governance and human capacity.

Sanctions have not featured much in the government-to-government discourse between Australia and Burma/Myanmar, even if the debate about sanctions vs engagement amongst interested observers been intense. Senior members of the military regime rarely raised sanctions directly, although they not infrequently let it be known that they wanted a resumption of scholarships (as did most Burmese) , and sometimes indicated they would like to involve Australia in assistance in the agriculture area. It was fairly typical that an anti-sanctions opinion piece in the official Burmese media in 2009 did not even mention Australia’s sanctions.[34] In the end, Australian Governments themselves dropped both of these sanctions, when Foreign Minister Downer authorised ACIAR to engage in agricultural research cooperation in the early 2000s, and then when Foreign Minister Stephen Smith reintroduced AusAID scholarships after February 2010.

In any event, therefore, the direct impact of Australian sanctions was not great. At the most, they probably ensured that a consistent, coordinated and reasonably effective network of restrictions meant that US and EU sanctions could not be easily circumvented.

However, the symbolic affect of Australia’s sanctions was never insignificant, even if they were often not much noticed, in public or in practice. Australia’s sanctions naturally gave comfort to the democratic opposition, especially while their members were still able to receive scholarships. Expatriate Burmese groups tended to lead the calls for increased sanctions whenever the military regime committed fresh assaults on freedoms. Whenever Aung San Suu Kyi made it clear that she expected sanctions to remain in effect until substantial changes occurred, it was usually assumed that she was including Australian sanctions in this.

After her release from detention in November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi announced that she would initiate discussions with some countries imposing sanctions, including Australia. Little more was heard publicly about Australia’s inclusion in this list, but it was not especially surprising when the NLD issued its “review of sanctions” in February 2011, that it indicated that Aung San Suu Kyi wished to discuss the future of sanctions with those government imposing them, mentioning Australia by name. The EU quickly scheduled formal talks with the NLD, which as expected attracted considerable media attention (probably ensuring that minimal changes in sanctions were possible).

When asked in April 2011 where matters stood in regard to these consultations, DFAT would only say: “Our post in Rangoon has had a number of discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi about sanctions, since her release last November. We’ll continue to engage her and other stakeholders on sanctions issues… Sensibly, perhaps, the Australian Government avoided setting any schedule or deadline for such contacts. So DFAT merely repeated that “We (Australia) haven’t made any recent public statements on sanctions, although there have been some sanctions-related questions in recent Senate Estimates hearings.”

However, one of the biggest problems now faced by all governments imposing sanctions, is that the authoritarian and repressive military regime and many of its leading members are no longer in power. The basic rationale for retaining sanctions as stated in the NLD statement, is: “Targeted sanctions serve as a warning that acts contrary to basic norms of justice and human rights cannot be committed with impunity even by authoritarian governments.”[35] But if the names are wrong and the offences, such as are still occurring, are not being carried out be these individuals, how can sanctions serve such a role.

While it might still be hard in the West to sell politically the idea of lifting sanctions, given the incomplete and insufficient nature of the political changes that have so far occurred in Myanmar, it is equally difficult to argue than most of the reasons for the targets of smart sanctions are still valid, given that so many of the designated individuals are no longer in the same positions of power. Human rights abuses are still being perpetrated, but almost certainly not to the same extent, even though the new Myanmar Government has not noticeably sought to stop them and still refuses to punish the perpetrators.

The time has come to adjust our strategy to improve the prospects of promoting reform and protecting the changes already achieved. Curiously missing so far is any public accounting of efforts to engage the regime to release political prisoners. Given the minimal response by the Burmese authorities to pressure to release many more political prisoners, the situation could hardly be worse if the results of any negotiations over the more than 2,000 political prisoners were made public.

 

References

Ewing-Chow, Michael, 2007 ‘First Do No Harm: Myanmar Trade Sanctions and Human Rights’, Northwestern University Journal of International Human Rights, Vol 5 Issue 2 (July 2007).

Farrelly, Nicholas, 2009. ‘Rethinking the Burmese sanctions’, Inside Story, 12 October 2009.

Frost, Frank 2009. ‘Burma/Myanmar: internal issues and regional and international responses’, Background Note, Parliamentary Library, Parliament House, Canberra.

International Crisis Group, March 2011 ‘Myanmar’s Post-Election Landscape’, Asia Briefing No.118, Brussels.

Martin, Michael F. 2011. ‘U.S. Sanctions on Burma’, CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Washington DC.


End Notes

[1] Prime Minister John Howard’s Media Release 27 September 2007.

[3] The Burma Campaign Australia’s 2009 campaign “Don’t Deal with Burma” listed only eight Australian companies with alleged dealings with Myanmar on its “Dirty List”. See: http://www.aucampaignforburma.org/DontDealWithBurma.htm. Not all of these are normally regarded as Australian companies, and probably none of them would be regarded as carrying out activities in Myanmar that should be challenged.

[4] See interventions by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in Senate Estimates hearings for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 1 June 2009.

[5] DFAT communication to the author, February 2011.

[6] DFAT communication to the author, April 2011

[7] See article by Mark Dodd,  “No trade sanctions on Burma: PM”, The Australian 27 September 2007.

[8] In a communication with the author in April 2011, DFAT said: ‘To the best of our knowledge, no public reports have been made referring to detail of the application of Australia’s autonomous sanctions against Burma.’.

[9] Speaking in general terms, the Reserve Bank submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee inquiry into ‘Autonomous Sanctions’ states: ‘For some time the Reserve Bank has held concerns about the legal efficacy of the current regime and the inadequate legislative basis for effective enforcement of the sanctions’, June 2010.

[10] See Australian Campaign for Burma

[11] Communication in confidence to the author, March 2011.

[12] See the author’s ‘The Use of Normative Processes in Achieving Behaviour Change by the Regime in Myanmar’ in Ruling Myanmar From Cyclone Nargis to National Elections, (Cheesman, Skidmore and Wilson eds.) ISEAS Press, Singapore 2010.

[13] Unlike its predecessors, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report U.S. Sanctions on Burma in 2011 by Michael Martin, does not attempt any assessment of the efficacy of US sanctions on Burma, but states: “Fourth, it is unclear if the imposition of sanctions has had a demonstrable effect on the SPDC or its predecessors. Fifth, it is equally unclear if the absence of U.S. sanctions on Burma would have led to an improvement in the political situation in Burma.” (Washington DC,

[14] Comments to journalists by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith after attending the UN Secretary General’s Friends of Burma group meeting in November 2009..

[15] ‘Statement on Burma’ House of Representatives. Successive Australian Ambassadors to Myanmar had called for scholarships to be restored to expose more young Burmese to Australian education and values. See:

http://www.foreignminister.gov.au/speeches/2010/100208_burma_statement.html

[16] DFAT’s response to the proposal from Greens leader Senator Bob Brown was: ‘Grandchildren fall outside the scope of Australia’s range of sanctions measures  against the Burmese regime. The Department does not track or collate this information and it is not usual for the Department to hold such information. The Department is aware, however, of three grandchildren present in Australia of former and current senior regime figures. Two of these children are 14 and 17 years of age respectively. The age of the third child, also a minor, is unknown to the Department… The criteria for listing these individuals remain appropriate in order to maintain a comprehensive and effective sanctions regime.’ Senate Supplementary Budget Estimate, October 2008.

[17] Response by then Special Minister of State, Joe Ludwig, to the motion by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, 11 March 2010 (Hansard).

[18] Notably the International Crisis Group’s March 2011 Briefing Note states: ‘Improved policies must start with the recognition that sanctions have had counterproductive effects and caused ordinary people to suffer, and have impeded the country’s development’.

[19] DFAT explained: ‘For the time being, our targeted sanctions measures will remain in force. Should there be grounds to change our sanctions measures against Burma (either downscaling or ramping up) under current legislative arrangements this would be implemented through a ministerial directive. If the Autonomous Sanctions Bill and Regulations are put in place, future changes would be via amendment of the Regulations and, where necessary, legislative instruments pertaining to Burma.’ (DFAT Communication to author April 2011).

[20] In answer to questions in Senate Estimates Committee on 26 October 2009, a senior DFAT referred to an ‘ongoing review’ of Australia’s sanctions against Burma.(Senate Estimates questions by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam).

[21] DFAT communication to the author, April 2011.

[22] Donald M Seekins, ‘Burma and U.S. Sanctions: Punishing an Authoritarian Regime’, Asian Survey ,Vol. 45, No. 3, May/June 2005, pp. 437-452.  See p. 452

[23] Queensland Law Society Supplementary Submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Inquiry into Autonomous Sanctions, dated 5 July 2010. http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/fadt_ctte/autonomoussanctions_43/submissions.htm

[24] Communication to the author from DFAT June 2011. In fact, the NLD’s “opposition” to tourism was never absolute, but was always qualified, as some NLD MPs participated directly in the tourism sector. The NLD position was frequently misrepresented among the expatriate pro-democracy movement, especially in the UK.

[25] Communication in confidence with the author.

[26] Communication in confidence with the author, March 2011.

[27] Communication in confidence to the author, April 2011.

[28] Communication in confidence to the author, March 2011.

[29] Communication in confidence to the author, February 2011.

[30] ‘Tim Costello dejected over inability to help in Burma.’ Julia Medew, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 2008.

[31] For example, it contains specific provisions for freedom of the press and freedom of association.

[32] Sean Turnell, founder of Burma Economic Watch at Macquarie University, whose ‘The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions on Burma’ October 2009, is not primarily about Australia’s sanctions regime. It can be found at: http://www.econ.mq.edu.au/Econ_docs/bew/2009/2009_Burma_Sanctions.pdf

[33] Nicholas Farrelly, ‘Rethinking the Burmese sanctions’, Inside Story, 12 October 2009.

[34] New Light of Myanmar

[35] For NLD Press release, see Burmanet: National League for Democracy Sanctions on Burma.htm.

Arrests in Advance of Rally for Electoral Reforms in Malaysia Raise Deep Concerns

Posted in Articles, Southeast Asia on July 4th, 2011

See here for original article at Freedom House.

June 29, 2011

The wave of arrests and ongoing intimidation of activists by the Malaysian government in advance of a July 9 rally for clean and fair elections is a blatant attempt by authorities to prevent citizens from exercising their right to peaceful public assembly and free expression and is a clear illustration of the immediate need for democratic reform in Malaysia.

Approximately one hundred activists have been arrested for wearing Bersih 2.0 t-shirts and/or distributing its leafletssince calls for the July 9 rally began. On the morning of June 29, authorities raided the offices of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), a coalition of civil society organizations campaigning for electoral reforms, without a warrant. The organization’s materials were confiscated and six staff members and one volunteer were arrested. The Malaysian government has made clear that the July 9 rally will not be permitted to take place and is considered “unlawful.”
“The Malaysian government’s actions fundamentally violate the basic rights to freedom of expression and association guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “The actions by the government are particularly troubling, given that Malaysia is also a member of the UN Human Rights Council and is ostensibly charged with protecting human rights, not with violating them.”
The home affairs minister, Mr. Hishammuddin Hussein, has repeatedly indicated that the authorities may apply the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) to prosecute the organizers of the Bersih 2.0 rally as well as any other gathering on July 9. Section 73(1) of the ISA allows the police to detain any individual for up to 60 days without a warrant, trial or access to legal counsel. Malaysian civil society has consistently expressed serious concerns over electoral irregularities in Malaysia, including rampant vote-rigging in favor of the ruling coalition. Freedom of assembly, although protected under the Malaysia constitution, is often limited on the grounds of maintaining security and public order.  A previous rally by Bersih in 2007 was attended by approximately 60,000 people and led to improved performance by the election commission in the 2008 elections.
“The fact that the Malaysian government is going to such outrageous lengths to prevent peaceful dialogue about the country’s elections only reinforces the importance of what Bersih 2.0 is trying to accomplish,” said Sue Gunawardena Vaughn, senior program manager for SouthEast Asia at Freedom House. “These actions raise deep concerns about what might happen on July 9. Freedom House calls upon Malaysian authorities to allow the rally to proceed without interference and to listen to the call of Malaysian citizens for meaningful reform in their country.”
Malaysia is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.

ABC on the North Korean food crisis: N Korean children begging, army starving

Posted in Articles, Korea on July 4th, 2011

By North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy

For the original article go here.

For more information on the story go to the Rimjingang website here.

Footage shot inside North Korea and obtained by the ABC has revealed the extent of chronic food shortages and malnutrition inside the secretive state.

The video is some of the most revealing footage ever smuggled out of the impoverished North Korean state.

Shot over several months by an undercover North Korean journalist, the harrowing footage shows images of filthy, homeless and orphaned children begging for food and soldiers demanding bribes.

The footage also shows North Koreans labouring on a private railway track for the dictator’s son and heir near the capital Pyongyang.

Strolling up to the site supervisor, the man with the hidden camera asks what is going on.

“This rail line is a present from Kim Jong-il to comrade Kim Jong-un,” he is told.

The well-fed Kim Jong-un could soon be ruling over a nation of starving, impoverished serfs.

The video shows young children caked in filth begging in markets, pleading for scraps from compatriots who have nothing to give.

“I am eight,” says one boy. “My father died and my mother left me. I sleep outdoors.”

Many of the children are orphans; their parents victims of starvation or the gulag.

But markets do exist – private markets that stock bags of rice, pork, and corn. The state no longer has any rations to hand out.

But the state wants its share of this embryonic capitalism.

In the footage, a party official is demanding a stallholder make a donation of rice to the army.

“My business is not good,” complains the stallholder.

“Shut up,” replies the official. “Don’t offer excuses.”

It is clear that the all-powerful army – once quarantined from food shortages and famine – is starting to go hungry.

“Everybody is weak,” says one young North Korean soldier. “Within my troop of 100 comrades, half of them are malnourished,” he said.

Jiro Ishimaru is the man who trained the undercover reporter to use the hidden camera.

“This footage is important because it shows that Kim Jong-il’s regime is growing weak,” he said.

“It used to put the military first, but now it can’t even supply food to its soldiers. Rice is being sold in markets but they are starving. This is the most significant thing in this video.”

Kim Jong-il’s grip on power depends on the military and if some of its soldiers have growling, empty bellies, it is bad news for the dictator and his hopes for a smooth transition to his son.

“The priority for Kim Jong-il is the succession,” said Mr Ishimaru.

“But Kim Jong-un is still very young, just 27 or 28. He doesn’t have any experience and hasn’t achieved anything. So opposition to a third generation of the Kim family taking over is growing.”

But this dynasty of dictators has proven that it is more than capable of keeping its wretched population in line through gulags, hunger and a total control over every aspect of life.

But as this footage shows, occasionally, a crack of light emerges from this dark, dark place.