Asia Rights

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Archive for the 'Korea' Category


Posted in Articles, Korea, News on October 8th, 2011

A number of reports from North Korea are suggesting that the food situation in North Korea continues to worsen.  In addition, North Korea is reported to have been hit by storms and torrential rain killing and injuring dozens of people.

However, Agence France-Presse reports that South Korea has abandoned its efforts and negotiations to send flood aid to the North amid disagreement with Pyongyang over what kind of aid to send. See here for the report.

The WFP recently gained access to North Korea and have produced this worrying report on hunger in North Korea. See here for the video.

Further, the UN World Food Programme has once again highlighted the situation in North Korea stating that at least one-third of North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished with more at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained. A report in the British Guardian newspaper also reiterated the threat of malnourishment, highlighting the case of orphans, official warnings of failed harvests and the scale of devastating food shortages in the country following a harsh winter and widespread flooding.

However, the South Korean government have stated that they believe that the food crisis in North Korea is ‘not serious’.

But given the scale of malnourishment in North Korea, even outside of periods of particular difficulty such as harsh winters and flooding, can anyone really deny that for the people trying to live and feed their families there is a perpetual and serious ‘Crisis in North Korea?


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

Michel Catuira (m)

Migrants Trade Union’s (MTU) President, Michel Catuira, had his appeal against attempts by Korean authorities to deport him upheld on 15 September. Seoul’s Administrative Court ruled that the Korea Immigration Service’s (KIS) efforts to deport him were in violation of South Korean and international human rights law. The KIS appealed this decision on 30 September and continue to deny Michel Catuira a visa.

In February, the immigration authorities cancelled Michel Catuira’s work visa, and ordered him to leave South Korea by 7 March. Michel Catuira appealed this decision and applied for an extension to his visa, which was denied by the Korea Immigration Service. Michel Catuira then applied for a G-1 visa, which is typically granted to people who need to remain temporarily in the country in special circumstances but this request was also refused. Since the MTU was founded in 2005, the South Korean government has arrested and deported at least five of its leaders, indicating that the authorities are attempting to stop the MTU from conducting its legitimate union activities.

Seoul’s Administrative Court noted in its ruling that the Immigration Service’s motives for attempting to deport Michel Catuira may be linked to his union activities. It declared that foreign workers employed in South Korea must be afforded basic labour rights, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The Court cited international human rights instruments which South Korea is party to. This includes Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides the right of everyone to form trade unions and join a trade union of their choice.

After the ruling Michel Catuira visited the KIS and was told they were appealing the judgement, and so they continue to deny him a visa on the original grounds that he obtained his work visa by deception. Michel Catuira therefore remains without any visa and is technically still ‘undocumented’.

Please write immediately in English, Korean or your own language:

* Demand that the Korean authorities ensure an extension of visa status for Michel Catuira while the appeal against the ruling of the Administrative Court takes place, and refrain from carrying out his deportation order;

* Urge them to stop practices aimed at deterring or preventing migrant workers from participating in unions;

* Urge them to remove obstacles preventing participation in the MTU, in particular through fully recognizing it as a legal union in South Korea in line with domestic and international law and standards.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 15 NOVEMBER 2011 TO:  (Time difference = GMT + 9 hrs / BST + 8 hrs)

Commissioner of the Korea Immigration Service
LEE Changse
Korea Immigration Service
NC Building 8th Floor
1-19 Byeolyang-dong, Gwacheon
Gyeonggi Province 427-705
Republic of Korea
Fax: 00 82 2 500 9127/9059
Salutation: Dear Commissioner

Minister of Justice
KWON Jae-Jin
Ministry of Justice
Building #5,
Gwacheon Government Complex, Jungang-dong1, Gwacheon-si,
Gyeonggi-do  427-720
Republic of Korea
Fax: 00 82 2 503 7113
Salutation: Dear Minister
And copies to:
Minister of Employment and Labour
LEE Chae-pil
Ministry of Employment and Labour
Gwacheon Government ComplexII
47 Gwanmoon-ro, Gwacheon
Gyeonggi Province 427-718
Republic of Korea
Fax: 00 82 2 504 6708



His Excellency Mr Mr Choo Kyu Ho
Embassy of the Republic of Korea60 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AJ. Fax: (020) 7227 5503. Website:


Michel Catuira has been in South Korea since February 2006 as a documented migrant worker employed under the Employment Permit System (EPS). He was employed at a shoe factory in Seoul. He became President of the Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU) in July 2009.

In July 2010, the Ministry of Employment and Labour ordered him and his employer to appear for an interview under suspicion of a false employment relationship. The Ministry did not find any prosecutable violation of labour or immigration law. However, it found that Michel Catuira’s workplace, a shoe factory, had little business. As the main goal of the EPS is to provide foreign labour to companies with labour shortages, the Ministry sent a memo to Michel Catuira’s employer suggesting that they file a change of workplace form for him.

In November 2010, Michel Catuira was called to appear before an investigation team of the Korea Immigration Service on “suspicion of violation of the Immigration Control Act in the course of applying for a workplace transfer and with relation to actual performance of work duties at present”. The Immigration Service concluded that he was not working at the shoe factory; thus, the grounds for his work visa were “deceitful”, in breach of article 89.1 of the Immigration Control Act. On 10 February, the immigration authorities cancelled his visa, and on 14 February, he was told that he had until 7 March to leave South Korea.

Amnesty International believes that this was another attempt by the South Korean authorities to crack down on the activities of the MTU and to threaten migrant workers’ rights, in particular the rights to freedom of association and to form trade unions. The rights to independent association, collective bargaining and collective action are protected in the Constitution of South Korea and apply to everyone, without discrimination, including migrant workers.


Individuals at Risk Programme, Amnesty International UK, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA, 0207 033 1572,

Call for compassionate approach to asylum seekers in Asia-Pacific

Posted in Australia, China, Human Rights Ideas, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Southeast Asia on October 8th, 2011

For the original report on the University of New England website please see here.

Call for compassionate approach to asylum seekers in Asia-Pacific

Researchers and human rights advocates meeting at the University of New England have pledged their support for replacing mandatory detention with the processing of asylum seekers within the Australian community.

Their resolution to this effect was an outcome of the international conference “Regional Responses to Labour Trafficking and Refugee Movements in Asia-Pacific” held at UNE on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 September.

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, defining their rights and States’ legal obligations to protect them,” said UNE’s Professor Amarjit Kaur (pictured here), the co-convener of the conference (along with Professor Ian Metcalfe). She said the conference resolution called for “the processing of asylum seekers in the community to replace mandatory detention in accordance with the Government’s ‘Detention Values Statement’ and in compliance with Australia’s obligations to international human rights conventions”.

“The general feeling among the participants was that the current approach of both of Australia’s major political parties – which relies on prolonged detention of many asylum seekers and ad hoc schemes for off-shore processing – is inhumane, counterproductive, massively wasteful of resources, and a violation of Australia’s responsibilities under international law,” Professor Kaur said.

A major focus of the conference was a comparison of the immigration policies of countries in the Asia-Pacific region over time, and an investigation of the causes and effects of immigration policies and their implementation.

Sharuna Verghis from Health Equity Initiatives, Malaysia, discussed the health-related vulnerability of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia – a country, she said, with “a conspicuous lack of a comprehensive and coherent migration policy”. Robin Jones from UNE reported on the plight of the minority Karenni people from Burma who have fled persecution to arrive at refugee camps over the border in Thailand. Dr Jones, who spoke from her first-hand experience with the Jesuit Refugee Service, talked about “the general hopelessness that pervades camp life” and “the children’s behaviour – which demonstrates their emotional state and suffering”.

UNE’s Professor Helen Ware spoke about the experiences of Sudanese refugees coming to rural and regional Australia, while Judith Roberts from Northern Settlement Services and Kim Hastings from Regional Development Australia – Northern Inland focused on the New England region in discussing patterns of settlement under the Federal Government’s Settlement Grants Program.

On the subject of labour trafficking, Professor Kaur explained how government policies relating to migrant workers in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand had weakened the legal status of those workers – increasing their vulnerability to labour trafficking and people smuggling. Sister Margaret Ng from the Josephite Counter-Trafficking Project looked at trafficking in Australia, the Australian Government’s approach to trafficking and response to trafficked people, and the impact of trafficking on its survivors.

Other key speakers included Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne,  Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki from the Australian National University (who focused on the situation in North-east Asia) and  Professor Farida Fozdar  from the University of Western Australia. Myat Mon from Thailand’s Assumption University described the situation of Burmese migrant workers and refugees in Thailand.  Four UNE PhD students presented papers on migrant workers and labour trafficking in Australia  (Melinda Sutherland), South Asia (Zahid Shahab Ahmed), Indonesia (Cakti Gunawan) and Macau (Pao Sio Iu), while Dr Zifirdaus Adnan (UNE) compared the labour-export policies of Indonesia and the Philippines. Dr Saroja Khrishnasawamy (Hunter New England Health and UNE) discussed mental health issues in refugee camps in Sri Lanka.

The Shadowy World of Korea’s People Smugglers

Posted in Korea on August 23rd, 2011

Go here for for the original broadcast.

Defecting from North Korea is a dangerous business.

It comes at a high price and there’s no guarantee of success.

Many make the journey to South Korea with the help of brokers – individuals and organisations who smuggle people along the illegal overland route known as the “Underground Railroad”.

For Assignment, Lucy Williamson meets some of the brokers in Seoul who make a living helping people escape North Korea.

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”.

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.

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.


This month’s photograph

Posted in Korea, This month's photo on May 4th, 2011

A photo of the Oh family from 1991 is the only known picture taken inside Yodok

Amnesty International on North Korean political prison camps

Posted in Korea, News on May 4th, 2011

Images reveal scale of North Korean political prison camps

Images of Yodok showed several buildings had been added since 2001

Images of Yodok showed several buildings had been added since 2001

© 2011 DigitalGlobe, Inc

Images of the Haengyong camp indicated signs of ongoing mining activity

Images of the Haengyong camp indicated signs of ongoing mining activity

© 2011 ImageSat, Intl

A photo of the Oh family from 1991 is the only known picture taken inside Yodok

A photo of the Oh family from 1991 is the only known picture taken inside Yodok

© Private

3 May 2011

Amnesty International has published satellite imagery and new testimony that shed light on the horrific conditions in North Korea’s network of political prison camps, which hold an estimated 200,000 people.

The images reveal the location, size and conditions inside the camps.  Amnesty International spoke to a number of people, including former inmates from the political prison camp at Yodok as well as guards in other political prison camps, to obtain information about life in the camps.

According to former detainees at the political prison camp at Yodok, prisoners are forced to work in conditions approaching slavery and are frequently subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.   All the detainees at Yodok have witnessed public executions.

“North Korea can no longer deny the undeniable. For decades the authorities have refused to admit to the existence of mass political prison camps,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International Asia Pacific Director.

“These are places out of sight of the rest of the world, where almost the entire range of human rights protections that international law has tried to set up for last 60 years are ignored.”

“As North Korea seems to be moving towards a new leader in Kim Jong-un and a period of political instability, the big worry is that the prison camps appear to be growing in size.”

Amnesty International believes the camps have been in operation since the 1950s, yet only three people are ever known to have escaped Total Control Zones and managed to leave North Korea. About 30 are known to have been released from the Revolutionary Zone at Political Prison Camp in Yodok and managed to leave North Korea. According to the testimony of a former detainee at the revolutionary zone in the political prison camp at Yodok, an estimated 40 per cent of inmates died from malnutrition .between 1999 and 2001.

Satellite images show four of the six camps occupying huge areas of land and located in vast wilderness sites in South Pyongan, South Hamkyung and North Hamkyung provinces, and producing products ranging from soy bean paste and sweets to coal and cement.

A comparison of the latest images with satellite imagery from 2001 indicates a significant increase in the scale of the camps.

In just one camp, Kwanliso 15 at Yodok, thousands of people are believed to be held as “guilty-by-association” or sent to the camps simply because one of their relatives has been detained.

The majority of prisoners, including some of those ‘guilty-by-association’, are held in areas known as ‘Total Control Zones’ from which they will never be released.

A significant proportion of those sent to the camps don’t even know what crimes they’re accused of.

Amnesty International spoke to former detainees of the political prison camp known as Kwanliso 15 at Yodok.

A former inmate, Kim, told Amnesty International: “Everyone in Kwanliso witnessed executions. When I was an inmate in Kwanliso15 at Yodok, all those who tried to escape were caught. They were interrogated for two to three months and then executed.”

Jeong Kyoungil was first arrested in 1999 and detained in Yodok from 2000-2003. Amnesty International interviewed Jeong in Seoul in April 2011.

“A room around 50m² in size, is where the 30 or 40 political prisoners sleep in. We sleep on some sort of bed made out of a wooden board with a blanket to cover. A day starts at 4am with an early shift, also called the ‘pre-meal shift’, until 7am. Then breakfast from 7am to 8am but the meal is only 200g of poorly prepared corn gruel for each meal. Then there is a morning shift from 8am to 12pm and a lunch until 1pm. Then work again from 1pm to 8pm and dinner from 8pm to 9pm. From 9pm to 11pm, it’s time for ideology education. If we don’t memorize the ten codes of ethics we would not be allowed to sleep. This is the daily schedule.”

“200g of poorly prepared corn gruel in a bowl would only be given if we finish our daily tasks. If not, we would not be given any food. The daily task is sweeping off overgrown weeds on fields. Everyone would be assigned to 1157 m² of field and only the people who finish off their task would be given food. If you only finish half of your assigned task, you would only be given half of your food.”

“Seeing people die happened frequently – every day. Frankly, unlike in a normal society, we would like it rather than feel sad because if you bring a dead body and bury it, you would be given another bowl of food. I used to take charge of burying dead people’s bodies. When an officer told me to, I gathered some people and buried the bodies. After receiving extra food for the job, we felt glad rather than feeling sad.”

The North Korean authorities are also known to use a cube ‘torture cell’, where it is impossible to either stand or lie down. “Disruptive inmates” are thrown in for at least one week, but Amnesty International is aware of one case of a child thrown into the cell for eight months.

In most of the camps, no clothing is provided and prisoners face harsh winters. Inmates are also expected to work long hours undertaking strenuous and often pointless manual labour.

Food in the camps is scarce. Amnesty International has been told of several accounts of people eating rats or picking corn kernels out of animal waste purely to survive, despite the risks – anyone caught risks solitary confinement or other torture.

“Hundreds of thousands of people exist with virtually no rights, treated essentially as slaves, in some of the worst circumstances we’ve documented in the last 50 years,” said Sam Zarifi.

“Conditions in these camps are inhuman and Kim Jong-il must close them immediately.”

See here for the original Amnesty report.


Posted in Korea on March 23rd, 2011

The Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies recently reported that since the end of January 2011, there are serious concerns over food security in North Korea. NTS reports that the current food crisis has arisen due to both internal and external factors:

‘External factors, particularly the recent spike in global food prices and the suspension of food aid support from major donors such as the US and South Korea between 2008 and 2009, have contributed to this situation. According to some reports, the delayed arrival of food aid from North Korea’s northern ally, China, has also aggravated food shortages.

The food crisis is exacerbated by a multitude of internal factors, including reported inequitable distribution of available food aid; foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks reportedly killing thousands of draught oxen, cows and pigs; and the country enduring its coldest winter since 1945, with frigid temperatures adversely affecting agricultural outputs.’

‘As a result,’ reports NTS ‘North Korean rice prices have hit record highs and the United Nations (UN) has warned that up to 5 million North Koreans are at risk of famine.’

This echoes the results of a WFP and FAO survey in November that found that Korea ‘faces a cereal import requirement for the 2010/11 marketing year (Nov/Oct) of an estimated 867 000 tonnes. The Government plans to import commercially only about 325 000 tonnes, leaving 542 000 tonnes as an uncovered food deficit. The mission recommended to provide some 305 000 tonnes of international food assistance to the most vulnerable population.’

Despite the critical food shortage in North Korea, the current political situation looks set to stand in the way of improving ties in the realm of humanitarian cooperation. The Choson Ilbo reported that the South stands ready to provide supplies of humanitarian aid for infants including infant milk formula, nutritional cookies and medical supplies. However, rice and corn shipments will only be considered if ‘the North apologizes for its attacks on the Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island last year.’ See here for the Choson Ilbo article on ReliefWeb.

See here for the NTS report.

See here for the latest on the food crisis from the WFP.