Asia Rights

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Archive for the 'Korea' Category

Challenges of racism in Japan

Posted in Articles, Japan, Korea, News on March 10th, 2013

These articles express the challenges of racism in Japan, but also highlight the difficulties faced by the many Japanese who are trying to combat these misunderstandings and attitudes.

Mr. Norman-Mikine Desaki, a Japanese American who worked as an English language teacher in Itoman City in Okinawa Prefecture has produced two videos on his experiences and concerns regarding racism in Japan among his students.

Video One: Racism in Japan

Video Two: Racism in Japan Part Two

See also an article in the Washington Post looking discussing this issue.

Write to your foreign minister on North Korean human rights

Posted in Articles, Human Rights Ideas, Korea on January 16th, 2013

See the original post at Human Rights Watch.

Dear Foreign Minister,

We are writing as the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), a global coalition of non-governmental organisations engaged in advocacy to address the very grave human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We were formed in September 2011 and draw together over forty organisations from across the world, including the world’s largest human rights organisations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Specifically, we strongly believe the time has come for the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea.

Recently, 179 former North Korean political prisoners and defectors, including survivors of severe human rights violations in North Korea, wrote to you to appeal for your government to support an international inquiry into crimes against humanity in the DPRK. We strongly support their request.

As you may know, on 3 October, 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Marzuki Darusman, presented his latest report to the UN General Assembly. In that report, he noted “that for several decades egregious human rights abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have been extensively documented by various actors, including organizations of the United Nations system.” Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur “called on States and the international community to undertake a comprehensive review of the relevant documents to assess the underlying patterns and trends and consider setting up a more detailed mechanism of inquiry.”

The Special Rapporteur’s recommendation is very timely and we urge you to seriously consider his proposal, which is in line with the request by survivors of grave violations in North Korea. The time is long past due for prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial international investigation of the system of political prisoner camps known as gwa-li-so, in which gross violations of human rights, including torture, denial of medical care, dire living conditions, forced labour, sexual violence, and executions are widespread and systematic, have been extensively documented. Furthermore, North Korea has a documented record of abducting foreign nationals, with hundreds of Japanese, South Koreans, and persons of several other nationalities forcefully taken to North Korea.

While the international community has pressed for an end these systematic and pervasive human rights abuses, it is clear that those efforts have not been sufficient. Simply put, the government of North Korea has resolutely ignored international criticism and mass violations continue unabated. The time has come to end the culture of impunity in North Korea and hold the government of the DPRK accountable for these violations. An international, independent inquiry, mandated by the UN and supported by the UN Special Rapporteur and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is needed to investigate and further establish facts, and evaluate both new and existing evidence and allegations to ascertain if there are, prima facie, sufficient grounds to view those violations as crimes under international law, and make recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.

Such a Commission of Inquiry will complement and help strengthen the work being done by the UN special rapporteur by bringing more attention, experts, and resources to address the crimes against humanity that we believe are being committed in North Korea on a daily basis.

There is growing momentum for international action on North Korea demonstrated first by the adoption of the annual resolution on North Korea for the first time ever by consensus at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012. And more recently, in November 2012 the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee (the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee) also adopted the annual North Korea resolution by consensus for the first time ever. While we recognize and appreciate the efforts that have led to increasing numbers of member states supporting the resolutions on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, culminating in the above-mentioned consensus adoptions of 2012, regrettably this has not led North Korea to change its repressive policies. Those resolutions have also not been able to elicit any appreciable change in North Korea’s wholly negative attitude towards the legitimate role of UN human rights mechanisms to work to ensure respect for human rights. Thus we believe a further mechanism of inquiry under UN auspices is fully warranted.

We hope your government will contribute to maintaining this momentum for accountability for human rights abuses in North Korea, and work with other governments in the UN to ensure that the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation is acted upon and a commission of inquiry can be established immediately.


ICNK members

Activists say China returned 31 North Korean refugees

Posted in Korea, News on March 12th, 2012


Click here to read original article


SEOUL (AFP) – China has repatriated all 31 North Korean refugees it arrested last month despite international pressure against the move, refugee advocates in South Korea said Friday.

The advocates say the refugees could suffer abuse or even execution for fleeing North Korea during the mourning period for its late leader Kim Jong-Il.

Do Hee-Yun, head of the Seoul-based Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, said the refugees left North Korea in three separate groups and were arrested in different places in China.

“They were returned to the North clandestinely over the past two weeks,” Do told AFP. “They are likely to be severely punished as they fled the North during the mourning period.”

The North has been in mourning since Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on December 17. He was succeeded by his youngest son Kim Jong-Un.

Rumors are common near the border that the new leader issued a shoot-to-kill order against people attempting to cross the border during the mourning period and also called for stern punishment for their relatives, Do said.

North Korea has in the past treated its citizens who crossed the border to find food with relative leniency while punishing severely anyone who attempted to flee to the South, according to the dissident group North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.

More recently, all refugees are now treated as traitors worthy of severe retribution, the group of North Korean defectors based in Seoul said.

Seoul has repeatedly urged Beijing to treat people fleeing North Korea as refugees and not to repatriate them. China says the group sent back in recent days consists of economic migrants and not refugees deserving protection.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when asked about the issue during a joint news conference in Washington with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan, said America opposed sending refugees back to countries where they face retribution.

Clinton did not comment directly on accounts of repatriation but said: “We urge every country to act according to international obligations” including the 1951 UN refugee convention and the 1967 protocol.

“The United States shares the concerns by both the government and the people of the Republic of (South) Korea about the human rights situation in North Korea and the treatment of North Korean refugees,” the chief US diplomat said.

“We believe that refugees should not be repatriated and subjected once again to the dangers that they fled from,” Clinton said.

She said that Glyn Davies, the US special representative on North Korea policy, raised concerns about the refugees with senior officials during a visit to China last month.

“We urge all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees within their territories,” Clinton added.

The UN refugee agency had also urged Beijing not to send back the North Koreans. Rights watchdog Amnesty International says returnees are sent to labor camps where they are subject to torture.

US lawmaker Chris Smith, co-chair of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, earlier urged Washington to link Pyongyang’s treatment of refugees to its decision last week to deliver 240,000 metric tons of food aid to the country.

More than 21,700 North Koreans have fled to the South since the 1950-1953 war, the vast majority in recent years. They typically escape on foot to China, hide out and then travel to a third country to seek resettlement in the South.

The Battle for Jeju Island: How the Arms Race is Threatening a Korean Paradise

Posted in Korea, News on March 6th, 2012


Click here for original article

Imagine dropping fifty-seven cement caissons, each one the size of a four-story house, on miles of beach and soft coral reefs. It would destroy the marine ecosystem. Our imperfect knowledge already tells us that at least nine endangered species would be wiped out, and no one knows or perhaps can know the chain reaction.

That’s what is about to happen on the pristine coastline of Jeju Island, a culturally and ecologically unique land off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. It seems motivated by the United States’ urge to encircle China with its Aegis anti-ballistic system — something China has called a dangerous provocation — and by the South Korean navy’s construction of a massive naval base for aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers to carry Aegis

If you’re wondering why this isn’t better known, it’s certainly not the fault of Jeju villagers. Those tangerine farmers and fishing families have been camping out on the endangered coast for five years, putting their lives on the line to protect it. They include the legendary women sea divers of Jeju who harvest abalone on lungpower alone, knowing that oxygen tanks could cause them to over-harvest.

But Jeju’s distance from the mainland has combined with military secrecy and misleading official reports to preserve the global ignorance locals have come to refer to as “the Jeju bubble.” As a result, hundreds of acres of fertile farmland have already been bulldozed to prepare for concrete, and caissons would extend this dead zone into the sea.

I learned about this last summer when I read an Op Ed in The New York Times called, “The Arms Race Intrudes on Paradise” by Gloria Steinem. As she wrote:

There are some actions on which those of us alive today will be judged in centuries to come. The only question will be: What did we know and when did we know it?

I think one judge-worthy action may be what you and I do about the militarization of Jeju Island in service of the arms race.

Jeju isn’t just any island. It has just been selected as one of the “Seven Wonders of Nature” for its breathtaking beauty, unique traditions and sacred groves. Of the world’s 66 UNESCO Global Geoparks, nine are on Jeju Island. It is also culturally unique with a tradition of balance between people and nature, women and men, that causes it to be called Women’s Island. It is also known as Peace Island.

Now, the proposed base is near a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve, which is also a nationally designed environmental protection area. Indo-Pacific bottle-nosed dolphins spawn there because of the rich biodiversity of the coast. The South Korean navy claims endangered species could be relocated and the coral beds reconstituted; something both scientists and villagers reject as absurd. The massive cement structures would not only crush all marine life, but block out sunlight critical to other ocean-based species, and the frequency signals from submarines would bring painful deaths to whales. It has also been a fact of life surrounding military bases that human cancer rates, violence and sexual violence have increased.

I am moved and impressed that the residents near the coastline have been waging a fierce nonviolent struggle to stop the base. They’ve used their bodies to block bulldozers and cement trucks, sacrificed their personal freedom, been beaten and imprisoned, and paid heavy fines for “obstructing” the business of the navy and such construction companies as Samsung and Daelim — all to protect their homeland and an irreplaceable treasure on this planet Earth. Though 94 percent of the villagers voted against the base, the South Korean government is proceeding with construction. It is also bound by treaty to let the U.S. military use all its bases.

I think the least that environmentalists, peace activists and supporters of democracy can do is express our outrage. You can take action now by visiting the Save Jeju Island Campaign website.  As individuals, tourists, professionals and citizens, you may have added access to pressure points that only you know. For example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature will be holding its World Conservation Congress on Jeju Island from September 6 to 15, 2012; something that should be used as leverage.

Secrecy and hypocrisy have let this military base get under way. Facts and activism can stop it before it’s too late.

For more information and to get involved go to:

Top photo: Matthew Hoey of sits at Guroumbi Rock, a spiritual site that is now being destroyed, Credit: Rain Jung. Second: Local activists guard the Guroumbi Rock site. Third: Street art. Bottom: Local activist Sung-Hee Choi puts her body in front of a bulldozer. Credit:

Jeju base protests

Posted in Korea, News on March 6th, 2012



Click on individual photos to view in full size

Protest flags read ‘dead set against naval base’ and are hung on the streets of Kangjeong Village where the government plans to construct a naval base

‘Kangjeong Village’

North Korea nuclear deal: Five ideas about what it means

Posted in Korea, News on March 5th, 2012


Click here for original article

North Korea has offered to suspend nuclear tests and enrichment as part of a deal under which it will  receive 240,000 metric tons of food aid, U.S. officials have announced. What does this mean? The Times turned to four experts for their insights. Here are five key points they made about this important deal.

1. It’s a good sign about new leader Kim Jong Un.

The U.S. and North Korea were reportedly close to a food-for-cooperation deal in December when former leader Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack. When his baby-faced son Kim Jong Un took over, no one was sure what to expect and what it meant for nuclear talks.

“My assumption was the military would press for further tests and Kim Jong Un, being young and inexperienced, wouldn’t be in a position to say no to them,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation and disarmament program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Instead, he’s striking a deal with the United States. It bodes well for his foreign policy smarts.”

2. This deal only goes so far, but it could start the ball rolling on bigger changes.

Halting nuclear weapons testing and enrichment means that North Korea would stop heading down the path to weapons that could threaten Japan and South Korea, at least temporarily. It will also put its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon under foreign monitoring.

The deal doesn’t wipe away the nuclear stockpiles or devices that North Korea already has. There are also suspicions that North Korea has other, unrevealed nuclear facilities, though there is no evidence that it has another plant that could enrich uranium on the same scale as its main reactor.

“The problem is not knowing what elements of the gas centrifuge program [used to enrich uranium] exist outside of Yongbyon,” its main reactor, said Paul Brannan, a senior analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security based in Washington.

But these steps could help bring North Korea back into multilateral talks, which could someday lead to getting rid of its nuclear weapons, said Peter Crail, a research analyst with the Arms Control Assn.

3. Smoothing relations with South Korea and Japan are an important, more difficult next step.

Before taking more aggressive steps to dismantle its nuclear program, North Korea will want a serious peace process on the Korean peninsula, said Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council. It also will want more serious political and economic engagement from the U.S., South Korea and Japan.

4. North Korea is trying to make good on its “strong and prosperous” slogan.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung, with North Korea gearing up to show it’s a “strong and prosperous nation.” That slogan upped the ante for getting food aid, Crail said. North Korea wanted to show it was healthier and happier on the big anniversary.

5. The linchpin of this agreement is a pledge of American goodwill.

The U.S. doesn’t have to give much for this agreement, Sigal said. The food aid is “a trivial amount in dollar terms.” In his view, the heart of the agreement is reiterating a statement the two countries made 12 years ago -– that they wouldn’t have “hostile intent” toward each other.

That may seem surprising for Americans used to alarming North Korean rhetoric, but strengthening relations has long been a goal.

World Report 2012: North Korea

Posted in Korea, News on January 26th, 2012

See here for original article

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) systematically violates the basic rights of its population. Although it has signed four key international human rights treaties and includes rights protections in its constitution, it allows no organized political opposition, free media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain serious and endemic problems. North Korea also practices collective punishment for various anti-state offenses, for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children. The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other “anti-socialist” crimes.

During 2011 observers increasingly concluded that Kim Jong-Il, North Korean leader and chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC), has selected his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, to continue the Kim family’s dynastic rule of the country. In February 2011 Jong-un was appointed vice-chairman of NDC, reinforcing his earlier appointments in September 2010 to the Central Committee of the Ruling Workers Party and the Central Military Commission.

The new International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), comprised of 41 international NGOs, was launched in September to advocate for the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry on North Korea.

Food Shortages and Famine

In March 2011 a joint UN survey estimated that over six million vulnerable persons in North Korea urgently required international food assistance to avoid famine. As estimated food shortages reached more than one million metric tons, the World Food Programme called it the worst famine in a decade, and South Korea-based NGOs and media with informants inside North Korea reported hunger-related deaths. Causes include dismal harvests resulting from floods and an extremely harsh winter; economic mismanagement of a monetary devaluation scheme in November 2009 that wiped out many peoples’ savings and heavily damaged informal food markets; and the government’s blatantly discriminatory food policies that favor the military, government officials, and other loyal groups. North Korea’s two largest food donors, the United States and South Korea, refused to provide food aid until North Korea apologizes for the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.

Torture and Inhumane Treatment

Testimony from escaped North Koreans indicates that individuals arrested on criminal charges often face torture by officials aiming to enforce obedience and extract bribes and information. Common forms of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings with iron rods or sticks, kicking and slapping, and enforced sitting or standing for hours. Detainees are subject to so-called pigeon torture, in which they are forced to cross their arms behind their back, are handcuffed, hung in the air tied to a pole, and beaten with a club. Guards also rape female detainees. One study done in 2010 found that 60 percent of refugee respondents who had been incarcerated witnessed a death due to beating or torture.


North Korea’s Criminal Code stipulates that the death penalty can be applied only for a small set of crimes, but these include vaguely defined offenses such as “crimes against the state” and “crimes against the people” that can be and are applied broadly. In addition, scholars and NGOs monitoring conditions in North Korea say that a December 2007 amendment to the penal code extended the death penalty to many more crimes, including non-violent offenses such as fraud and smuggling.

Forced Labor Camps

Testimony from escapees has established that persons accused of political offenses are usually sent to forced labor camps, known as gwalliso, operated by the National Security Agency.

The government practices collective punishment, sending to forced labor camps not only the offender but also his or her parents, spouse, children, and even grandchildren. These camps are notorious for abysmal living conditions and abuse, including severe food shortages, little or no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, mistreatment and torture by guards, and executions. Forced labor at the gwalliso often involves difficult physical labor such as mining, logging, and agricultural work, all done with rudimentary tools in dangerous and harsh conditions. Death rates in these camps are reportedly extremely high.

North Korea has never acknowledged that these camps exist, but US and South Korean officials estimate some 200,000 people may be imprisoned in them, including in camp No. 14 in Kaechun, No. 15 in Yodok, No. 16 in Hwasung, No. 22 in Hoeryung, and No. 25 in Chungjin.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

North Korea criminalizes leaving the country without state permission. Those who leave—most often by crossing the country’s northern border into China—face harsh punishment upon repatriation, including interrogation, torture, and punishments depend on North Korean authorities’ assessments of what the returnee did while in China. Those suspected of simple commerce or other money-making schemes are usually sent to work in forced labor brigades. Others suspected of religious or political activities, including contact with South Koreans, are given lengthier terms in horrendous detention facilities or forced labor camps with chronic food and medicine shortages, harsh working conditions, and mistreatment by guards.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have fled since the 1990s, and some have settled in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Beijing categorically labels North Koreans in China “illegal” economic migrants and routinely repatriates them, despite its obligation to offer protection to refugees under both customary international law and the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 protocol, to which China is a state party.

Many North Korean women in China live with local men in de facto marriages. Even if they have lived there for years, they are not entitled to legal residence and face the risk of arrest and repatriation. Some North Korean women and girls are trafficked into marriage or prostitution in China. Many children of such unrecognized marriages are forced to live without a legal identity or access to elementary education because their parents fear that if they register the children the mother will be identified by Chinese authorities and forcibly repatriated to North Korea.

Government-Controlled Judiciary

North Korea’s judiciary is neither transparent nor independent. All personnel involved in the judiciary—including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, court clerks, and jury members—are appointed and tightly controlled by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. In cases designated as political crimes, suspects are not even sent through a nominal judicial process; after interrogation they are either executed or sent to a forced labor camp, often with their entire families.

Labor Rights

North Korea is one of the few nations in the world that is not a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ruling Korean Workers’ Party firmly controls the only authorized trade union organization, the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea. South Korean companies employ some 44,000 North Korean workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), where the law governing working conditions falls far short of international standards on freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and protection from gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

Freedom of Association, Information, and Movement

The government uses fear—generated mainly by threats of forced labor and public executions—to prevent dissent, and imposes harsh restrictions on freedom of information, association, assembly, and travel.

North Korea operates a vast network of informants to monitor and punish persons for subversive behavior. All media and publications are state-controlled, and unauthorized access to non-state radio or TV broadcasts is severely punished. The government periodically investigates the “political background” of its citizens to assess their loyalty to the ruling party, and forces Pyongyang residents who fail such assessments to leave the capital.

Key International Actors

The North Korean government continues to refuse to recognize the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK or extend any modicum of cooperation to him. However, the government did permit a visit in May 2011 by Robert King, US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, and during the visit released US citizen Eddie Jun after holding him for more than a year.

In March the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution against North Korea for the sixth straight year, citing member states’ serious concerns about continuing reports of “systemic, widespread, and grave violations of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights” and concerns about “all-pervasive and severe restrictions on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association.” In the same month, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution against North Korea for the fourth year in a row for abysmal, systematic human rights violations. Both resolutions condemned North Korea’s failure to state whether it accepted any of the 167 recommendations that it took under advisement from a HRC Universal Periodic Review session of its record in December 2009.

In July 2010 the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the European Union to sponsor a resolution to establish a UN commission of inquiry to assess past and present human rights violations in North Korea.

The six-party talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula—involving North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the US—remain stalled. The US and South Korea demanded that North Korea halt its uranium-enrichment program, freeze nuclear and missile tests, and allow international nuclear inspectors back into the country before talks could start, while North Korea insisted there be no pre-conditions to resumption of talks.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visited Chinese leaders in Beijing in May 2011 to discuss economic cooperation and security issues and met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in August.

North Korea’s relations with Japan remain frosty, largely due to a dispute over abductees. North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents had abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s for use in training North Korean spies. It returned five to Japan, but claimed the other eight had died. Japan insists the number of abductees is higher. No legal means of immigration between the two countries exists; of the nearly 100,000 migrants from Japan to North Korea between 1959 and 1984, only 200 have been able to return to Japan by escaping clandestinely.

Film Underscores Koreans’ Growing Anger Over Sex Crimes

Posted in Korea, News on October 24th, 2011

By CHOE SANG-HUN See here for original article

SEOUL — At an appeals court in the southwestern city of Gwangju in 2006, a school official was convicted of raping a 13-year-old deaf girl and sentenced to one year in prison. When the verdict came, an outraged middle-aged man, also deaf, let out an incomprehensible cry from the galley, signaling frantically with sign language.

Samgeori Pictures

Chung Yoo-mi portrayed the human rights activist Seo Yoo-jin in a courtroom scene from the movie “The Crucible.”

“It was clear that the man was shouting, ‘This is wrong! This is wrong!”’ Lee Ji-won, a newspaper intern, wrote in her blog later that day under the subject line, “I saw the foul underside of our society.”

The man was forcibly removed for disrupting the courtroom. And that might have been the end of it. Except that the intern’s blog inspired a best-selling author, Gong Ji-young, to write a novel based on the sexual assaults at the Inhwa School for the hearing impaired, the school’s attempts to conceal the abuses and the victims’ struggle for justice.

Now, a film based on that novel — “Dogani,” or “The Crucible” — has roiled South Korea.

Since its release on Sept. 22, 4.4 million people, including President Lee Myung-bak — nearly a 10th of the country’s population — have seen it. The film has tapped into widespread anger over official reluctance to take sexual crimes seriously, and over how justice is served, or not, in South Korea.

The cabinet has vowed to inspect all facilities for the disabled and minors to ferret out teachers with records of sexual abuse. The head of the Supreme Court admitted that “society is simmering with resentment” toward a legal system long criticized as “yujeonmujoe mujeonnyujoe,” or “not guilty for the rich, guilty for the poor.”

Lawmakers are pushing for tougher penalties for sexual crimes. The Education Ministry has said it will shut down Inhwa School.

For a low-budget movie barred to people under 18, “The Crucible” has had an extraordinary impact.

In a way, that reaction seems at odds with South Korean society. Here, disregard for the disabled is so entrenched that the subway authorities began installing elevators for wheelchair access only in recent years following protests by the handicapped in which they chained themselves to the tracks with signs that read, “We want to use the subway too.”

“What people see in the movie is a capsule version of their society,” said Chun Sang-chin, a sociologist at Sogang University. “There is anger over how the strong bully the weak, despair over how the system protects the well-connected, and fear that the same can happen to the rest of us.”

In the Inhwa case, four teachers and administrators — including its principal and his brother — were convicted of raping or sexually molesting at least eight students aged 7 to 22, some orphaned or mentally disabled, from 2000 to 2004.

But only two of the four served any jail time. The principal was found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl and taking a bribe of 3 million won, or $2,630, from a teacher. But he was freed when an appeals court suspended his sentence.

“The Crucible” graphically depicts sexual and physical violence against minors. But just as sensational is the cynical collusion it portrays among the elite of the movie’s fictional town of Mujin. A judge gives a lenient sentence to defendants represented by a lawyer who until recently was his colleague on the bench. A police detective pockets cash from a school principal who is both a church leader and sadistic rapist.

Scenes in the film showing demonstrations in support of the defendants mirror events in the Inhwa case.

“When court was in session, members of the Protestant church the principal and his family attended rallied outside the courthouse,” said Park Chan-dong, a human rights advocate who campaigned for the children. “They called us ‘evil’ and ‘Satan’ and loudly prayed that ‘hell fires’ would consume us.”

Judges, defense lawyers and police detectives involved in the Inhwa case have denied any misconduct. But to many here, some of the movie scenes look all too plausible.

“I wanted to show that, although our society has developed a lot, barbarous things still happen,” said the film’s director, Hwang Dong-hyeok.

Underneath the vibrancy of South Korea’s young democracy runs an unease about what many consider deepening inequality — a problem the government recognized last year when it listed “building a fair society” among its top policy goals.

Kim Yeh-ram, a college student who saw the film, said its release had “added fuel” to public outrage. The release followed a series of high-profile incidents that bolstered accusations that the state was failing to protect the vulnerable while some of the rich and powerful acted as if they were above the law.

Last year, for example, Chey Cheol-won, 41, a trucking company owner and cousin of one of the country’s richest men, was convicted of hitting a 52-year-old former union activist 13 times with an aluminum baseball bat while his executives watched. He then wrote out a 20 million won check on a company account and threw it in the victim’s face. Mr. Chey received a suspended sentence.

The number of sexual crimes against mentally or physically disabled people reported to the police was 320 last year, up from 199 in 2007, according to the National Police Agency. But the government estimates that fewer than 10 percent of victims report sexual crimes to the police for fear of being shamed in public trials.

In South Korea, sex crimes generally can be prosecuted only if the victim presses charges, and charges are often dropped if a financial settlement is reached between the defendant and the plaintiff. Two years ago, the law was revised to require that all sex crimes involving alleged victims aged 18 or under be prosecuted, even if they have not themselves pressed charges. Following the uproar over “The Crucible,” the government has promised to extend this to cases where the alleged victims are mentally or physically disabled.

When sexual assault cases involving victims aged 13 and under come to trial now, roughly 95 percent of defendants are found guilty, but penalties are weak, with about a third receiving prison terms and the rest receiving suspended sentences or assessed fines. Half of the teachers who were convicted of sexually assaulting their students or others were given nothing more severe than a pay cut or a short suspension, according to the Education Ministry.

“Many of the facilities for the disabled are stamping grounds for human rights abusers,” said Ser In-whan, secretary general of the Korean Federation of Organizations of the Disabled. “It’s not just Inhwa School.”

The Inhwa case came to light in 2005 when a teacher alerted human rights groups. For that, the teacher was fired.

The police began an investigation four months later, only after former students talked to a national TV station. As the Gwangju city government and school board tossed the case back and forth, students and parents staged a sit-in for eight months outside their offices, calling for justice.

In a movie scene that highlights the disconnect between the authorities and the disabled, a judge slams his gavel and shouts “Silence!” to deaf viewers in the galley using sign language. In the early days of the Gwangju trial, no sign-language translation was provided in the courtroom, Mr. Park said.

Im Eun-jeong, a prosecutor in the case, wrote in her diary at the time of a courtroom filled with “deaf children crying out silently to society with their sign language.”

She noted in the diary, which she recently posted online, “Their anger and despair made every hair on my body stand up.”

A View of Hunger in North Korea

Posted in Articles, Korea, News on October 9th, 2011


October 7, 2011, 12:34 pm


Damir Sagolj, a Bangkok-based Reuters photographer, was among a group of journalists invited last week by North Korea’s Economy and Trade Information Center to document the food crisis in the country’s farm belt. North Korea has appealed for food aid after a harsh winter and a series of summer floods and storms, but so far, only 30 percent of a United Nations aid target has been met.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters Pak Su Dong, the manager of the Soksa-Ri cooperative farm in South Hwanghae Province. Sept. 29.

Alertnet — a humanitarian news service run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation — asked Mr. Sagolj to spend a week traveling in Pyongyang, the capital, and South Hwanghae Province with a reporter and video journalists. The tour, which presented an image of a region in distress, was controlled by government officials. “The regime’s motive in granting the access appears to be to amplify its food-aid appeals,” wrote Tim Large in the Reuters report, which was published Friday morning.

Mr. Sagolj’s work has been featured often on Pictures of the Day — notably from Japan, Thailand and Pakistan. He was born in Sarajevo in 1971 in what was then Yugoslavia and spent five years in the Bosnian army. In 1997, he joined Reuters, where he is chief photographer in Thailand. Kerri MacDonald interviewed him via e-mail. His responses have been edited.

This trip was organized and tightly controlled by government officials. We were, as you can imagine, not free to do what we would like to do, or to photograph what we would like to photograph. However, the visit included rare access to collective farms, orphanages, hospitals, rural clinics, schools and nurseries where we photographed farmers, children, orphans and had at least a glimpse at their daily life.

This was my first-ever trip to North Korea. But as a teenager, I spent years in the former Soviet Union and former Communist bloc, where my father worked as a correspondent for a Bosnian newspaper. So certain things I’ve seen in North Korea were not new to me: collective farms, tightly controlled movement, streets with no advertisements, shops with very little to offer, empty roads, propaganda music and posters on every corner.

But there was some sort of order, which makes this crisis very different from the chaos we see in countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan, Iraq or the Balkans.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters Orphans suffering from waterborne diseases waited to be examined for possible signs of malnutrition. South Hwanghae Province. Sept. 29.

I have worked with government officials that follow every step I make on many occasions earlier in my career — in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in Iran, or embedded with different armies.

Only a few weeks ago, on a very different occasion, with very different hosts, I had an exclusive access to shoot and write a story on a United Nations war-crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I was the first journalist ever to report from inside its detention unit since it was established in 1993.

As you can imagine, that was controlled, too. There were doors I could not peek behind, although to do so would have satisfied my curiosity. One can argue about the freedom of press, but rules are rules in different places. If you don’t follow them, there will be no pictures and no witness report.

It is similar with the hospitals we visited in Haeju, North Korea, where we saw just part of the story. There were not many patients there. When we asked why, officials would give us different reasons. One was the lack of transportation. A doctor told us that one mother traveled about 45 miles on her bicycle to bring her sick child to the hospital.

Some of children had purple paste on their faces. An expert from Doctors Without Borders who was traveling with us explained that that is normal. It works as an antiseptic, but it also makes wounds, and cuts dry faster. It certainly made my pictures stronger, although the condition of the child I photographed — his tiny body, almost no signs of life — made them strong even without that detail.

Some of the children in the hospitals had their mothers next to their beds. Some had younger relatives accompanying them, as their parents had to work in a field. In orphanages there were kids huddled together on the floor of a very basic clinic, looking straight into my camera. Their eyes burnt through the lens as experts from Doctors Without Borders were measuring their mid-upper arms, a standard test for possible signs of malnutrition.

Still, they just looked straight into us, no crying. They sang “We Have Nothing to Envy” (an anthem to North Korea’s policy of self-reliance) as we were leaving.

The hardest aspect of the assignment, as in many in my career, was to see kids suffering, knowing their status might not change before it’s too late. It is always difficult to leave a room after photographing a helpless child, weak and sick, whose life might be very short even by North Korean standards. According to the U.N., North Koreans live on average 11 years less than South Koreans, due mainly to malnutrition.

I have never seen so many pictures — through the window of our bus or just walking the streets — without being able to capture them. I had to follow the strict instructions of the officials. But knowing the nature of the regime in North Korea and how difficult it is for a reporter to work there, what we have seen in the provinces is more than we expected. It was a rare trip, different from the routine coverage of the military parades and mass games that foreign journalist usually see in the capital. What I managed to photograph — people struggling with food and health in the 21st century, just across the border from a country that has plenty — made this trip worth taking.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters A child suffering from malnutrition at a hospital in Haeju. South Hwanghae Province. Oct. 1.

Campaign for Investigation into North Korea’s Crimes Against Humanity

Posted in Articles, Human Rights Ideas, Korea on October 8th, 2011

See here for original article at the Human Rights Watch website.

October 3, 2011

The world’s three largest international human rights organizations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), along with 40 other organizations from around the world, today launched a major global campaign to seek the establishment of a United Nations (UN) Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea.

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), launched in Tokyo today, includes human rights campaigners from around the world, including Asia, Latin America, North America, and Europe (see list below). Reflecting the global commitment to hold the North Korea government accountable for widespread and systematic violations, human rights organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Jubilee Campaign, People In Need, Freedom House and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea have joined forces with organizations such as Kontras (Indonesia), Odhikar (Bangladesh), Conectas (Brazil) and the Inter-American Federation of Christian Lawyers toput the spotlight on one of the world’s most abusive human rights situations. Survivors of North Korean prison camps, and their groups such as Free NK Gulag, added their support to the Coalition.

“The time has come for the UN to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity that characterize North Korea today,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “We demand the world pull back the curtain on the egregious human rights violations that make the North Korean Governmentone of the most brutal regimes on earth.”

The initiative follows a two-day conference in Tokyo on crimes against humanity in North Korea, attended by human rights activists, survivors of North Korean prison camps, diplomats and members of the Japanese Diet and the South Korean National Assembly. Participants hearda video address by former South Korean President Kim Young Sam.Three survivors of the North Korean prison campsand family members of Japanese abductees also provided their testimonies.Other speakers included Japanese Member of Parliamentand former Minister of State for the Abduction Issue Hiroshi Nakai.

The Coalition will campaign for the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry, drawing on the words of the former UN Special Rapporteur, Vitit Muntarbhorn, who,in his final report to the UN demanded an “end to impunity” in North Korea describing violations as “harrowing and horrific,” “egregious and endemic,” and “systematic and pervasive.” He urged the international community to“mobilize the totality of the UN to promote and protect human rights in the country; support processes which concretise responsibility and accountability for human rights violations, and an end to impunity.”

On July8, 2010, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, condemning the North Korean Government for its “ongoing, grave, widespread and systematic human rights violations perpetrated against its own people.”

“Establishment of this important coalition will help move human rights to centerstage in all ofthe international community’s interactions withNorth Korea,” said Ha Tae Keung, President of Open North Korea.  “It’s critical that UN member statestake up this calland include language to establish a Commission of Inquiry in the coming annual UN resolution on North Korea.”



  1. The full statement summarising the objectives of the Coalition is as follows:

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea unites the world’s major international human rights organizations, campaigners for freedom for North Korea and survivors of the North Korean gulags in a global campaign seeking a full investigation of the regime’s crimes against humanity through a United Nations Commission of Inquiry.

The Coalition aims to bring together all the key organizations and individuals working on North Korean human rights, because we believe that a common, united effort will influence international political and public opinion and send a powerful message to the regime.

The Coalition fully recognizes the need to deploy a wide range of skills and initiatives to bring change to North Korea, and completely respects the individuality of each Coalition member. Coalition members will be free to pursue a variety of approaches, but will unite in a common campaign to seek the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry.

Coalition members will include organizations and individuals from across the world, including throughout Asia, North America, Latin America and Europe.