Archive for July, 2010

Group sues North Korea for 1972 terror attack (and wins)

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

UPDATE (Oct, 3, 2010): The Los Angeles Times has also picked up this story:

Plaintiffs’ attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner was in her Jerusalem office in July when she got news of the Puerto Rican court’s verdict.

A judge there had just issued a $378-million civil judgment for her clients: the families of 17 Puerto Rican missionaries killed by Japanese Red Army militants at an Israeli airport in 1972.

Yet her euphoria was tempered by pragmatic reality: She would have to try to collect the judgment from a defiant North Korea, which the judge ruled had decades ago given training and support to the assailants.

Over the years, Darshan-Leitner has collected more than $72 million in judgments against Iran and the Palestinian Authority. But cash-strapped, isolationist North Korea had already ignored her legal motions and none of its officials showed up for even a day in court.

Legal judgments against Kim Jong Il and his Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in several civil cases have added up to more than $500 million. But not a dime has been collected.

The regime in “Pyongyang is secretive and they’re poor,” said Darshan-Leitner, director of the Israel Law Center, which pursues lawsuits against nations accused of sponsoring terrorism. “Since they don’t export many things, you have to look hard for the money.”

North Korea has for years been an elusive legal target. In 1988, it was added to Washington’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism. But U.S. law at the time precluded suits against foreign countries.

That changed in 1996 when Congress amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, allowing plaintiffs to pursue in court governments identified as state sponsors of terrorism. In 2008, then-President George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list after it agreed to allow international inspection of its nuclear facilities, closing the door on further lawsuits against Pyongyang.

But in the 12-year window of opportunity, some attorneys were successful in suing North Korea. In 2008, Washington-based attorney Richard Streeter won a $65.8-million judgment in a District of Columbia federal court on behalf of several crewmen of the U.S. Navy intelligence ship Pueblo, who had been held captive for 11 months by Pyongyang in 1968.

Silent for decades, the plaintiffs contacted Streeter in 2006 after his success in helping to collect on a judgment against Iran for a case involving the murder of a U.S. Navy diver by hijackers in 1985.

On Oct. 10, 2008, the day before North Korea was removed from the terrorism list, Darshan-Leitner filed suit against the regime on behalf of the family of Kim Dong Shik. The Chicago minister was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 2000 while on a trip to China and presumably died in a North Korean prison camp. The case is still pending.

Armed with her judgment in the Puerto Rico case, Darshan-Leitner is on the hunt for North Korean money and property worldwide and is looking into reports of $32 million in regime assets frozen by the U.S. government.

For his part, Streeter has filed motions against banks nationwide to disclose the names and balances on frozen accounts and has petitioned the U.S. government in court for more leads. He’s also preparing to take the search outside the country.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are reluctant to give specifics of their search for fear of alerting target nations. In a case against Iran, Darshan-Leitner found banks in Germany and Italy where assets were being held, but by the time she filed motions, Tehran had withdrawn them, she said.

“We have some leads, but we can’t say in what countries — bank accounts that belong to the North Korean government and the Central Bank of North Korea,” she said. “When we confirm the money is there, we will approach lawyers in those countries to go to court and try to collect.”

In another case against the Iranian government, Darshan-Leitner filed motions in a Texas court to collect on funds from the sale of a seized Lubbock home once owned by the shah of Iran. She is also attempting to seize Persian antiquities kept at the University of Chicago as a way to collect on a judgment against the current government of Iran, she said.

In their collection efforts, lawyers often run up against the U.S. government.

“The U.S. State Department doesn’t like these cases,” said David Strachman, a Rhode Island attorney who has collected on judgments against foreign countries. “They take the position that private litigation by victims interferes with their closely held prerogative of international relations. In many cases, they come in as the 1,000-pound gorilla to try and stop us.”

The State Department declined to comment, but an official familiar with such cases says the agency has no written policy on citizens trying to collect judgments against foreign countries.

Still, one expert called such pursuits “a new and evolving area” that have prompted State Department interference.

“They don’t want to set a precedent,” said Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University’s School of Law in San Antonio. “Their argument is that if we seize assets of another nation to distribute to victims, what’s to stop them from fabricating cases to seize U.S. assets abroad?”

Darshan-Leitner hopes that Kim Jong Il’s regime might one day follow the lead of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, who, after years of resistance settled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of judgments over his nation’s involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

“Nobody pays attention unless these nations are held accountable,” said Han Kim, the son of the Chicago minister abducted by North Korea.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ lawyers continue their hunt for North Korean assets.

“I don’t know whether we’ll ever be successful. That’s the sad part,” said Streeter. He said he charged each of four plaintiffs a $5,000 retainer but will receive no more until a judgment is collected.

“But I want to see some of that money that Kim Jong Il is using to buy his yachts and his Courvoisier as payment to my clients,” he said. “I’ll take it in Courvoisier. I don’t care.”

Read the full story here:
Plaintiffs’ attorneys hunt for North Korea’s money
Los Angeles Times
John M. Glionna

UPDATE (July 18, 2010): Being a lawyer, Joshua does a great job finding and posting posting legal documents related to the DPRK at One Free Korea.  Most recently he posted a civil ruling which finds the DPRK liable for an airport attack in Israel. According to Joshua:

North Korea was held liable for its role in supporting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Japanese Red Army, which planned the attack together in North Korea. North Korea did not contest the suit. The award consisted of $78 million in compensatory damages awarded to the estates and surviving relatives of the victims, and $300 million in punitive damages.

You can read the ruling here (PDF).

Joshua has posted information from other civil litigation cases here.

The Washington Times did a story.

ORIGINAL POST (Dec 2, 2009): According to the

Families of victims have filed suit against North Korea on charges of supporting a major attack by the Japanese Red Army in Israel.

The group, Shurat HaDin, has filed a suit in a U.S. district court in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the families of the victims of the 1972 attack.

During the assault on Lod Airport, 26 people were killed and 80 others were injured by attackers alleged to have been trained by North Korea. The attack was attributed to the Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“This will be the first time North Korea is being held to account in a U.S. court for its support of terrorism over many decades,” Shurat HaDin said on Dec. 1.

According to Shurat HaDin‘s web page:

The case arises from a lawsuit brought by the families of victims of the 1972 terror attack at the Lod Airport in Israel in which 26 people were killed and 80 injured. The complaint alleges that the government of North Korea trained and financed the terrorists who perpetrated the heinous massacre.

The families are represented by Shurat HaDin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the Osen Law group, attorney Robert Tolchin of New York and attorney Manuel San Juan of Puerto Rico.

In May 1972, terrorists from the Japanese Red Army (JRA), working in league with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), placed automatic weapons, ammunition, and grenades in their check-in luggage on a flight from Italy to Israel. When their bags emerged in Tel-Aviv at the arrivals hall, they took out the weapons and opened fire in every direction mowing down passengers, flight crew members and airport workers. They also attempted to blow up airplanes on the ground using hand grenades. Two of the three attackers were killed, and a third, Kozo Akumoto, was captured, tried, and sentenced to prison in Israel.

Most of the victims were Catholic pilgrims from Puerto Rico who had come to visit the Holy Land for the first time.

North Korea was behind the attack. As the trial will show incontrovertibly, in the months leading up to the massacre the leaders of the JRA and PFLP met each other and with North Korean officials, who provided funding, intelligence, training, and other material support for the terrorists. The attack was part of the JRA’s declared strategy of taking their anti-Western violence and plans of communist revoultion to other parts of the world, beginning with Israel—a strategy approved by the North Korean government.

This will be the first time North Korea is being held to account in a U.S. court for its support of terrorism over many decades. It is widely known that one of the world’s most oppressive regimes is also a consistent support of terrorism, including providing weaponry, training bases, and funding for Palestinian terrorist organizations. They were also responsible for building an enormous underground bunker system for Hezbollah that dramatically increased the terrorist group’s fighting capacity in the 2006 Lebanon War.  For this reason, the U.S. State Department put North Korea on its official list of states that sponsor terror in 1988—a fact that makes it possible for American victims to sue the North Korean government and collect against their assets in a U.S. court. Although North Korea was removed from the list late in 2008 for political reasons, the current lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Puerto Rican families before the deadline for filing lawsuits, as were two other lawsuits Shurat HaDin currently has pending against North Korea.

The trial will begin on December 3 in the U.S. Federal Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.


China launches anti-drug smuggling boats on Yalu river

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

By Michael Rank

China has launched a fleet of patrol boats to combat drug trafficking on the North Korean border, a Chinese website reports.

The report shows pictures of the four boats, which are being deployed on a stretch of the Yalu river known as Badaojiang八道江, but gives few details.

The only drug named in the report is opium, which North Korea is reported to produce in large quantities. It says officers warn local people not to become engaged in drug smuggling by showing them pictures of opium and other banned substances.

“The creation of the anti-drugs speedboat force is not just a foundation in the people’s war against drugs, it also increases our strength in banning drugs on the river border and will be a force for us in building a harmonious border and in contributing to a drugs-free border,” an official from the new force is quoted as saying.

A separate Chinese newspaper report names a methamphetamine (known as magu 麻古) as another of the main drugs smuggled between North Korea and China, and says a haul of 13,775 magu pills, seized in winter 2004, was the largest amount of drugs ever confiscated by Dandong border guards. It says smuggling reached a peak in the years 2000-2006 and gives little information about the current situation, probably because this is politically too sensitive.

But it does mention the killing of three Chinese smugglers by North Korean border guards in June, and says the dead men were members of a gang led by a man known as Sun Laoer who controls much of the smuggling on one particular stretch of the Yalu. One man was injured in the incident, for which China demanded an apology. North Korea said it was “an accident”, while according to a Chinese television report the North Koreans suspected the smugglers of being South Korean spies.

The Chinese newspaper report says the main goods smuggled between China and North Korea are drugs, scrap metal, cigarettes, DVDs, chemicals and secondhand cars.

The most notorious gang was led by an individual called Jiang Weijia, who specialised in smuggling cigarettes and oil products from North Korea into China. Between June and December 1999 Jiang smuggled 45.8 million yuan worth of cigarettes. The gang was finally smashed in 2003.

The article in Southern Weekend, one of China’s more adventurous newspapers, also mentions human trafficking across the border. It says that “in 1996 you could exchange 50 jin [25 kg] of rice for a Korean daughter-in-law” and adds that the women had to pretend to be deaf and dumb since if they opened their mouths and were found to be from North Korea they would be sent straight back.

It notes that “world opinion suspects that North Korean government departments are covertly involved in smuggling on the Chinese-North Korean border, the reason being that in a country where power is highly concentrated, it would otherwise be almost impossible for large-scale smuggling to take place on the Yalu river border. But despite such suspicions, there is no complete proof.”

The report recalls how in the 1990s North Koreans, in the wake of the famine, would exchange scrap copper for rice at a rate of one kg of metal for one kg of rice and that many North Korean factories were stripped bare of all their metal fittings.

It also recalls how in the 1960s North Korea was richer than China, which suffered through years of Mao-induced famine, and people from Dandong would cross the Yalu at night in search of food.

“This shouldn’t be called smuggling, should it. People were bartering for food in order to survive,” it quotes one man as saying. It quotes another man as saying the border was largely unguarded until recently and when he was a boy (in the 1990s apparently) he would cross the frozen river in winter and North Korean guards would give him sweets.

The report says border trade with North Korea stopped during the Korean war, was revived in 1958 and faded during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and 70s. It was officially revived in September 1981 with an agreement between China’s Liaoning province and North Korea’s Pyeong’an Bakdo. Most of the trade from the early 1980s consisted of China bartering oil for fish.

The article says China-Korean smuggling goes back centuries, and in the 1930s an area of Dandong near the river called Shahezi 沙河子 was a famous smuggling centre under the Japanese. It also says a Qing dynasty customs office has been restored in Jiuliancheng 九连城, some 20 km from Dandong, and the area remains a smuggling centre.

North Korea has been widely reported to be a significant producer of illicit drugs. The CIA World Factbook notes  that for years, from the 1970s into the 2000s, citizens of North Korea, many of them diplomats, were apprehended abroad while trafficking in narcotics and police investigations in Taiwan and Japan in recent years have linked North Korea to large illicit shipments of heroin and methamphetamine, including an attempt by the North Korean merchant ship Pong Su to deliver 150 kg of heroin to Australia in April 2003.

In 2004 the Jamestown Foundation published a report by a North Korean defector who says he “learned of and witnessed first-hand the drug trafficking activities of the North Korean regime” when he worked for the North Korean National Security Agency from 1983 until 1998.


First real estate auction held in Kaesong Industrial Complex

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.10-07-15-3

A real estate auction was held in the Kaesong Industrial Complex for the first time since the joint inter-Korean project was launched. According to the Kaesong Industrial District Development Committee, factory plots (20,472.7 ㎡) in the stage-1 area of the KIC were being auctioned off on July 12. A government source stated, “Land in the KIC has been sold before, but this is the first I know of land rights being auctioned off.”

The company currently on the plot was awarded land rights and permission to build a factory after signing a contract with the North Korean Central Special Development Guidance Bureau. The land rights being auctioned off run until April 12, 2054. It is not known why the land rights are being auctioned off, but it appears that the company currently holding rights to the plot have some financial difficulties, forcing them to sell.

The rights are estimated to be worth more than 1.37 billion won, and the auction is set to close on the 23rd of July. The sale is being handled by the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee. The committee is handling the sale in accordance with the rules set forth on May 10 by the KIC real estate management office. These rules established a seven-member committee of lawyers and other specialists to handle the auction and sale of real estate within the industrial complex.

After the sinking of the ROK warship Cheonan, Seoul authorized more flexible management of South Korean workers in the KIC in order to help companies avoid financial losses in the complex. The government also increased the amount of the inter-Korean cooperation fund from 50 trillion to 60 trillion won in order to ease financial concerns of South Korean companies operating joint ventures, and announced that loans to 183 companies involved in processing-on-commission, as well as 530 other trading companies, would be made at 2 percent.

This move by the government highlights the fact that South Korean companies in the KIC continue to tread on rocky financial footing, despite the announcement by the Ministry of Unification that emergency management stability funds would be made available.

Following the sinking of the Cheonan, the number of South Korea workers in the KIC on any given weekday was reduced from more than 1000 to around 500, and this has caused companies to produce less, have higher costs, and see lower buyer interest. While Seoul tries to keep the industrial complex open, it is also looking into the laws on the Mount Keumgang tourism project, seeking ways to aggressively assist companies involved in the joint scheme.


Bronze Kim Jong il statue unveiled

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

First of all, here are the images (from the Daily NK web page):

3-stars-of-paektu.jpg  kim-jong-il-bronze-statue.jpg

The Daily NK also offers the following commentary:

A statue of Kim Jong Il has been revealed in a North Korean newspaper obtained by Open Radio for North Korea.

Open Radio managed to obtain a copy of the May 11th, 2010 “Chosun People’s Army,” the North Korean military’s own publication. That day, the publication ran a banner headline, “The greatest privilege and highest honor of the Mt Baekdu revolutionary army.”

“There has been an unveiling ceremony of statues of the ‘Three Mt. Baekdu Generals’ (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Suk) dressed in military uniform at the Revolutionary History Museum of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces,” the front page article explained.

The report added that Chief of Staff of the Chosun People’s Army Lee Young Ho and First Vice-Director of the General Political Department of the People’s Army Kim Jung Kak took part in the ceremony.

Kim Jung Kak emphasized in his speech at the ceremony that the statue of Kim Jong Il is the first dressed in military attire, claiming, “It is the luckiest and most honorable thing in the world for the Chosun People’s Army to have this, the first statue of its highest commander dressed in military uniform.”

On the subject of the relative lack of Kim Jong Il statues, Cheong Young Tae, a researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification, explained to The Daily NK today, “Kim Jong Il inherited the family’s ruling legitimacy by making his father the eternal ‘Suryeong’ (supreme leader). It seems, then, that the process of justifying and enhancing the legitimacy of the revolution now includes setting Kim up as the second ‘Suryeong’ in order to hand over power to the next generation.”

But while statues of Kim are rather rare, they do exist. Open Radio cited a defector as saying, “I’ve seen a Kim Jong Il statue at Kim Jong Il Political Military University in Pyongyang. However, most people do not know about it.”

“I think that is natural, because it is the only university which is named after Kim Jong Il. There is no Kim Jong Il statue in any other province or in official buildings, though” he added.

Additionally, a 2008 report asserted that a gold statue of Kim Jong Il can be found “in the area in front of the National Security Agency office building at the foot of Mt. Amee in Daesung district, Pyongyang.” This one, the report asserted, was erected on Kim Jong Il’s 46th birthday in 1988, but no photos exist to corroborate the claim.

Another, white plaster statue of Kim can be found at the International Friendship Exhibition at Mt. Myohang, north of Pyongyang, this one a stalwart on the North Korean tourist trail.

Additional information:

1.  An image of the Kim Jong-il statue at Myohyangsan can be seen here (link).  Scroll down until you see it.

2.  The Kim Jong il statue reminds me of the Laurent Kabila statue in Kinshasa (both made by the Mansudae Art Studio).


UN to provide $5m to DPRK operations

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

According to the Associated Press:

The U.N. humanitarian chief has released $42 million to help people suffering from hunger, disease and conflict in nine countries from Congo and Yemen to North Korea and Nepal.

John Holmes said Friday the United Nations has received insufficient funds from donors to meet humanitarian needs in the nine countries.

The money, from an emergency fund to help the United Nations respond quickly to humanitarian emergencies, will be given to U.N. humanitarian agencies and the International Organization for Migration. Through them, funds will go to humanitarian and other nongovernmental organizations to cover funding gaps.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, humanitarian actors in Chad and Congo will receive $8 million apiece, agencies in Yemen will receive $7 million, the humanitarian team in North Korea will get $5 million, humanitarian agencies in the Central African Republic, Djibouti, Eritrea and the Republic of Congo will each receive $3 million, and the U.N. team in Nepal will get $2 million.

The General Assembly revamped the Central Emergency Response Fund in December 2005 after world leaders decided to make up to $500 million available so the U.N. could act speedily to help people caught in conflicts, natural disasters and other emergencies instead of waiting for donors to respond to appeals for aid.

Since then, more than 116 countries and dozens of private sector donors have contributed nearly $2 billion to the fund, OCHA said, and it has disbursed more than $1.7 billion to help millions of victims of natural disaster and conflict in more than 76 countries and territories.

OCHA said nearly $415 million has been pledged for the fund for 2010.

Read the full story here:
UN gives $42 million to underfunded humanitarian crises in nine countries
Associated Press


DPRK agent now RoK pastor

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

An interesting story in the Los Angeles Times:

He looks more like a graying clergyman than the boogeyman of thousands of South Korean childhoods.

But Kim Shin-jo is both.

The 69-year-old may preside over a Protestant church in this picturesque community where the Han River bends among mountain peaks. But he is also the reluctant grandfather of North Korean spies, a reminder of a cloak-and-dagger world that refuses to be dispatched to the history books on this divided peninsula.

On a recent day, Kim read a news story about the sentencing of two North Korean military spies. Such stories stir bitter memories of the night in 1968 when Kim and 30 other heavily armed North Korean commandos slipped into Seoul  on a mission to assassinate then-President Park Chung-hee.

For the infiltrators, the operation ended in disaster. Cornered outside the presidential residence, they waged a deadly, days-long gun battle with South Korean police and military forces. Although nearly all of the North’s commandos were killed, Kim was captured. Interrogated for months about his spy career, he was eventually released and later became a South Korean citizen, marrying and having a family.

Years in a free society have exposed the fallacy of North Korea’s argument that the South is an agonized wasteland that must be recolonized. Still, Kim feels pity for these newest Northern moles.

“I know they must be punished — we have a rule of law here,” he says. “Still, I’m a human being. I feel sorry for them.”

As the recent U.S. arrest of nearly a dozen Russian agents illustrates, international espionage still exists decades after the Cold War — especially on the Korean peninsula, where North and South are still technically at war.

Without money for high-priced satellites, a cash-starved North Korea relies on a more practical resource.

“It’s hardly believable, but in this high-tech age, North Korea still relies heavily on humans as information gatherers,” said Lee Dong-bok, a former member of South Korean intelligence and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Kim, whose parents were executed when he pursued citizenship here, still faces derision over his sinister mission of long ago. He’s not a man of God, some say, but a would-be assassin. He remains haunted for surviving when others didn’t.

“Sometimes,” he says, “I think it would have been better if I had died that day.”


The operation code names were Cuckoo and Skylark.

At 27, Kim was chosen from among tens of thousands of North Korean agents to form the elite 124th Special Forces Unit. Their task: Cross the heavily mined DMZ and execute the South Korean president, taking pictures to verify the kill.

The 31 commandos were divided into six teams. As an army lieutenant, Kim led a squad whose role was to take out the bodyguards at the presidential mansion, known as the Blue House.

“I felt gratified to be part of the revolution to emancipate South Korea,” Kim recalls. “We thought the president there was a stooge, an American collaborator. I hated him.”

The unit set off at 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1968, dressed in South Korean army uniforms. Moving by darkness, hiding during the day, they snipped barbed wire and marched south through the mountains.

One night, they ran into a group of farmers gathering wood. Instead of killing them, they warned the villagers not to report them. The civilians immediately contacted authorities, who launched a manhunt for the infiltrators.

Still, Kim and his teams made it to within 200 yards of the Blue House before being stopped by a suspicious South Korean soldier who demanded their identification.

The commandos opened fire, setting off a series of deadly street battles. Eventually, 35 South Koreans were killed and 64 wounded — soldiers, policemen and civilians, including a 15-year-old boy, who was among the victims of a grenade thrown at a loaded bus.

Insisting that he made a point not to kill civilians, Kim says that he scattered from the rest and never fired his gun. Instead, he fled south into the woods, where he was captured within hours.

Two days later, Kim was trotted out in handcuffs on live television. Asked about his mission, the unrepentant prisoner gave an answer that still haunts many older South Koreans: “I came down to cut Park Chung-hee’s throat,” he declared.

But his revolutionary spirit would not last — thanks to a South Korean army general who headed Kim’s interrogation. Over months of patient reasoning, the officer broke through Kim’s defenses. The two eventually became close.

“He told me, ‘We have a problem with the North Korean regime, not you,’ ” Kim recalls. “He was my father’s age and treated me as his son. He said, ‘I was a young soldier too once. As a commander, I will never kill you. But I will forgive you.’ ”


After four decades, the South Korean government recently opened a trail that leads south toward the capital from the North Korean border. It is the path the commandos took on their fatal mission. For years, the winding path has been known as the Kim Shin-jo Route, after a man whose name for many is as recognizable as any former president.

Officials called on Kim to act as a tour guide on the trail’s opening day. He could have refused, he says. But he realized that in order to come to terms with this painful national incident, South Koreans needed to see him in the role of the everyman, to see that he was no longer their boogeyman.

All day, people pointed at him. Those old enough often spoke with scorn. Kim, they swore, was the reason many South Koreans fled their homeland in the early 1970s, fearful of another war with the North. Because of Kim, many of the older generation who remained behind lived in perpetual fear.

“Wherever I go, I get the comments,” says Kim, who became a Protestant clergyman in 1997, finding solace in his faith. “It will happen as long as I am alive. People will point and accuse me.”

Every Jan. 21, Kim memorializes the day of the attack. The day once brought what Kim calls “indescribable pain.” But his wife has taught him to think differently.

“My family tells me that as of Jan. 21, 1968, I was dead,” he says. “On that day, I started a second life. I’m really 69, an old man. But they joke that I’m only 42. And that day that once caused me so much grief should be celebrated as my birthday.”

Read the full story here:
The face of South Korea’s boogeyman
Los Angeles Times,0,7204441.story?page=1
John M. Glionna


Pyongyang’s boundaries reduced

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

According to the Asahi Shimbun:

The long-term effects of continued food shortages have apparently reached the city limits of North Korea’s capital.

According to news agency Radiopress, which monitors North Korea, the physical size of Pyongyang’s administrative district has been recently reduced by more than one-third.

It said Radio Pyongyang and other state-run domestic media have recently introduced the counties of Kangnam-gun, Junghwa-gun and Sangwon-gun as well as the Sungho district as being under the jurisdiction of neighboring Hwanghae-bukdo province. The counties and the district previously belonged to Pyongyang.

South Korean human rights groups see this as an attempt to trim the capital’s population to better manage continuous food shortages.

Pyongyang, now believed to have a population of between 2 million and 2.5 million, is used as a showcase for foreign visitors. The capital city is home to a number of high-ranking officials of the Korean Workers’ Party, and gets privileged treatment for food and other necessities compared with other areas.

A South Korean humanitarian support group on Monday quoted a Korean Workers’ Party official on its website as saying, “The decision was made in response to food shortages.”

A source close to North Korea said the reduction might be designed to lessen the city’s food and infrastructure needs.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang now more than one-third smaller; food shortage issues suspected
Asahi Shimbun


Amnesty International publishes report on DPRK

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

UPDATE: UN World Health Organization has criticized the Amnesty report.  According to the Associated Press:

The World Health Organization found itself Friday in the strange position of defending North Korea’s health care system from an Amnesty International report, three months after WHO’s director described medicine in the totalitarian state as the envy of the developing world.

WHO spokesman Paul Garwood insisted he wasn’t criticizing Amnesty’s work, but the public relations flap illustrated an essential quandary for aid groups in unfree states: how to help innocent people without playing into the hands of their leaders.

Amnesty’s report on Thursday described North Korea’s health care system in shambles, with doctors sometimes performing amputations without anesthesia and working by candlelight in hospitals lacking essential medicine, heat and power. It also raised questions about whether coverage is universal as it — and WHO — claimed, noting most interviewees said they or a family member had given doctors cigarettes, alcohol or money to receive medical care. And those without any of these reported that they could get no health assistance at all.

Garwood said Thursday’s report by Amnesty was mainly anecdotal, with stories dating back to 2001, and not up to the U.N. agency’s scientific approach to evaluating health care.

“All the facts are from people who aren’t in the country,” Garwood told reporters in Geneva. “There’s no science in the research.”

The issue is sensitive for WHO because its director-general, Margaret Chan, praised the communist country after a visit in April and described its health care as the “envy” of most developing nations.

Major global relief agencies have been quietly fighting for years to save the lives of impoverished and malnourished North Koreans, even as the country’s go-it-alone government joined the exclusive club of nuclear weapons powers and wasted millions on confrontational military programs.

Some groups may fear being expelled from the country if they are openly critical of Pyongyang, which is highly sensitive to outside criticism. Still, Chan’s comments were uncommonly ebullient.

Garwood and WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib insisted that Amnesty’s report was complementary to their boss’ observations, and sought to downplay Chan’s praise for North Korea. Instead, they focused on the challenges she outlined for North Korea, from poor infrastructure and equipment to malnutrition and an inadequate supply of medicines.

But whereas Chan had noted that North Korea “has no lack of doctors and nurses,” Amnesty said some people had to walk two hours to get to a hospital for surgery. Chan cited the government’s “notable public health achievements,” while Amnesty said health care remained at a low level or was “progressively getting worse.”

Asked Friday what countries were envious of North Korea’s health, Chaib said she couldn’t name any. But she highlighted the importance of maintaining the health body’s presence in the country, where officials do their best to save lives despite “persisting challenges.”

“We are an organization dealing with member states, and we respect the sovereignty of all countries,” Chaib said. “We need to work there to improve the lives of people.”

Sam Zarifi, head of Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific program, said the human rights group stood by its findings.

“We certainly have a lot of restrictions in terms of working in North Korea, but we did our best in terms of capturing the information we could verify,” Zarifi said. “We don’t take the WHO’s statements as criticizing or rejecting Amnesty’s findings.”

He said Amnesty had spoken to North Koreans as well as to foreign health care and aid workers, and relied heavily on WHO for information — including the assessment that North Korea spends $1 per person per year on health care, the lowest level in the world.

The U.N. estimates that 8.7 million people need food in North Korea. The country has relied on foreign assistance to feed much of its population since the mid-1990s when its economy was hit by natural disasters and the loss of the regime’s Soviet benefactor.

North Korea, ruled by Kim Jong Il, is routinely described by U.N. and other reports as one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Garwood said Amnesty’s research added a needed element to understanding health conditions in North Korea, but added that it didn’t even mention recent improvements in the country as the result of a program funded by South Korea and aided by WHO.

The U.N. body claims that maternal mortality has declined by over 20 percent since 2005, and diarrhea cases and deaths in operations have also dropped. It says more than 6,000 doctors and nurses have been trained in emergency obstetric care, newborn care and child illnesses, while clinics have received better material for operations, blood transplants and other medical interventions.

As for Chan’s April claim that “people in the country do not have to worry about a lack of financial resources to access care,” Garwood said hundreds of field missions have been conducted in North Korea.

“None have come back reporting the kinds of things in the Amnesty report in terms of payment for services,” he said.

“I’m not saying they’re not credible accounts,” he added. “But it’s not taking into account some of the things that are happening today.”

Zarifi, of Amnesty, said the whole debate would be ended if North Korea’s government provided access to monitors so that everyone had a better understanding of the country’s health care system.

“Every indication we have indicates the state of health care in North Korea is dire,” he said.

ORIGINAL POST: Here is the introduction to the report (which you can download here as a PDF):

In the early 1990s, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) faced a famine that killed up to one million people in a population that at the time hovered around 22 million (the current population stands at 23.9 million). Food shortages and a more general economic crisis have persisted to this day. The government has resolutely maintained that it is committed to, and capable of, providing for the basic needs of its people and satisfying their right to food and a proper standard of health. The testimonies presented in this report suggest otherwise. The people of North Korea suffer significant deprivation in their enjoyment of the right to adequate health care, in large part due to failed or counterproductive government policies. These poor policies include systematic failure to provide sufficient resources for basic health care (North Korea had one of the lowest levels of per capital funding for health care recorded by the World Health Organisation in 2006). After nearly two decades, food insecurity remains a critical concern for millions of North Koreans. This has been compounded by the government’s reluctance to seek international cooperation and assistance, which the government is obligated to do when it would otherwise be unable to ensure minimum essential levels of food for the whole population, and its restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This delayed and inadequate response to the food crisis has significantly affected people’s health.

Additionally, a currency revaluation plan in November 2009 caused spiralling inflation that in turn aggravated food shortages and sparked social unrest. In the first few months after the plan went into effect, the North Korean government exacerbated the situation by restricting the use of foreign currency, closing down food markets, and prohibiting small-plot farming. Many people died of starvation and many others lost their entire savings.

Amnesty International has documented how widespread and chronic malnutrition, which suppresses people’s immune system, has triggered epidemics and mass outbreaks of illnesses related to poor diet. Interviews with North Koreans depict a country that professes to have a universal (free) health care system but in reality struggles to provide even the most basic service to the population. Health facilities are rundown and operate with frequent power cuts and no heat. Medical personnel often do not receive salaries, and many hospitals function without medicines and other essentials. As doctors have begun charging for their services, which is illegal under North Korea’s universal health care system, the poor cannot access full medical care, especially medicines and surgery.

The interviews conducted by Amnesty International indicate that the North Korean government has also failed its obligation to provide adequate public health information. As a result, most of the interviewees were unaware of the importance of seeking proper medical diagnoses or completing a course of medication. And, because many hospitals no longer supply free services or medicines (despite government commitments to the contrary), many people normally do not visit doctors even when they are ill.

In a 2004 report, Starved of Rights: Human rights and the food crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Amnesty International documented actions of the North Korean government that aggravated the effects of the famine and the subsequent food crisis, including denying the existence of the problem for many years, and imposing ever tighter controls on the population to hide the true extent of the disaster from its own citizens. It also documented the government’s refusal to allow swift and equitable distribution of food and its imposition of restrictions on freedom of information and movement, which exacerbated the population’s ability to search for food.3 Although some progress has been made since 2004, access to food is still a critical issue in North Korea. As this report demonstrates, the inadequate and sometimes counter-productive actions of the North Korean government over the country’s food crisis have had a devastating impact on the health of the population.

Under international law and standards, North Korea is obligated to protect the rights of its population to the highest attainable standard of health. This means that, at the very least, the state must provide for adequate health care and the underlying determinants of health, including food and nutrition, housing, access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, safe and healthy working conditions, and a healthy environment. North Korea’s responsibilities under international and domestic law will be addressed in greater detail in section 5.

To improve the situation, Amnesty International presents the following key recommendations to the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with more detailed recommendations in the conclusion of this report.

Amnesty International calls on the North Korean government to:

1. as a matter of priority, ensure that food shortages are acknowledged and effective steps taken to address these shortages, including acceptance of needed international humanitarian assistance;

2. ensure the need-based and equitable distribution of health facilities, goods and services throughout the country;

3. co-operate with the World Food Programme and donors, allow unrestricted access to independent monitors, and ensure non-discrimination, transparency and openness in the distribution of food aid;

4.ensure that medical personnel are paid adequately and regularly so that they may carry out their duties properly;

5. undertake information and education campaigns to provide accurate and comprehensive information on prevalent infections and diseases; their causes, symptoms and treatment; and the importance of medical diagnosis and effective use of medicines.

Furthermore, Amnesty International recommends to the international community, and in particular, major donors and neighbouring countries such as China, Japan, Russian Federation, South Korea and US to:

1. ensure that the provision of humanitarian assistance in North Korea is based on need and is not subject to political conditions.

This report has received wide coverage in the media.  Here are the links:

Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

Choe Sang-hun, New York Times




Demick’s “Nothing Left”

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Barbara Demick wrote an interesting piece in the New Yorker this week which captures first-hand stories about how the DPRK’s currency reform affected local families (not well).

Here is her article in PDF format.


Cato Institute panel on DPRK

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

This week the Cato Institute hosted a panel on North Korea.  Participants include:

Stephen Linton, Chairman and Founder, Eugene Bell Foundation
Karin J. Lee, Executive Director, The National Committee on North Korea
Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
Ted Galen Carpenter (Moderator), Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute

You can see a video of the panel discussion here.  It includes an interesting fundraising video by the Eugene Bell Foundation.

UPDATE: Tad at has a write up of the panel here.