Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Public executions curtailed in North Korea

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

How does international pressure on its human rights situation impact things on the ground in North Korea? Daily NK reports on one result. Those public executions that have previously been filmed on occasion and seen globally are now moving indoors, they report:

The North Korean authorities have been refraining from the conduct of public trials and executions, which were previously carried out to  maintain control over the residents, following a mandate issued last December.
“Until last year, individuals accused of sowing discontent or creating social disorder by offenses including cutting into electric lines [to steal power] , watching South Korean media, or attempting to defect, underwent public trials and execution by firing squad. But this year, the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of People’s Security have been laying low,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on May 2.
“For example, a man in his 40s who helped dozens of defectors in Hoeryong was arrested in early March but not put to a public trial. The arrest went quietly, unlike a similar case that preceded it, when the state broadcast the news and conducted a series of executions to send a strong message.”
Kim Jong Un has ruthlessly executed a number of high-ranking executives, including his uncle Jang Song Thaek, in order to consolidate his grip on power. Open trials are conducted on residents to instill fear among the population.
They also cite public sentiment as a reason:
The Institute for National Security Strategy (under the National Intelligence Service) stated in its assessment last December of Kim Jong Un’s five years in power that Kim Jong Un continues to commit crimes against humanity through cycles of purges and executions of high-ranking officials.
However, as public sentiment towards the regime has worsened, law enforcement agencies are said to be becoming marginally softer in their approach. In fact, Kim Jong Un ordered a probe into human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ministry of State Security and banned public trials and executions in December 2016.
“The authorities acknowledge that the residents are going through difficulties, and thus are refraining from open trials and executions. They seem to be aware of the danger of worsening public sentiment,” the source noted.
North Korean authorities curtail public trials and executions
Kim Chae Hwan
Daily NK
The development stems from a decree issued in December last year. Daily NK reported on it when it was issued:
Kim Jong Un has reportedly issued instructions to government bodies including the Ministry of People’s Security to ban further public executions.
“Kim Jong Un has issued instructions to ‘prohibit public executions’ to judicial and prosecution bodies including the Ministry of People’s Security (police). The instruction containing the orders forbids both public trials and executions,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on December 13.
“The instruction is not aimed at reducing or abolishing executions. It just means that capital punishment will be conducted privately in future.”
The North Korean authorities have often been documented carrying out public executions against those who break its draconian laws, including the distribution of South Korean TV shows. Such acts serve as an example to spread fear among residents and deter them from engaging in such activities. Under the Kim Jong Un regime, ruthless executions of high-ranking officials have been conducted for actions running ‘counter to the Party and the revolution.’
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) reported in October that the Kim Jong Un regime has resumed purges which were in temporary decline following the execution of Hyon Yong Chol, former defense chief of the People’s Armed Forces (MPAF). The number of people publicly executed by the regime reportedly reached 64 by September, according to the NIS.
Some suspect that Kim Jong Un’s decision to revert to private executions has been influenced by recent momentum built up by the UN and NGOs highlighting North Korea’s human rights violations, even suggesting that the North Korean authorities may be put on trial at the ICC (International Criminal Court).
“(The authorities) have been continuously conducting public executions in order to instill fear among the population, but it seems to have realized the drawbacks of the measure. The regime is presumably becoming sensitive about scenes of public executions escaping to the outside world,” a source in North Pyongan Province explained.

Full article:

North Korea orders ban on public trials and executions
Choi Song Min
Daily NK

Cyber attack capabilities and speculation

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

According to the Joong Ang Ilbo:

North Korea was caught attempting cyberattacks on Incheon International Airport using viruses planted in game programs, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

A 39-year-old South Korean game distributor was arrested on Sunday for involvement and charged with violating the National Security Law. The National Intelligence Service helped arrest him, police said.

According to the police, the South Korean man, identified by the surname Jo, traveled to Shenyang, northeastern China, starting in September 2009 and met agents of an alleged North Korean trading company. He allegedly asked them to develop game software to be used in the South.

The North Koreans were actually agents from the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, and Jo was aware of that, police said.

Jo purchased dozens of computer game software for tens of millions of won, which was a third the cost of the same kind of software in the South. The games were infected with malignant viruses, of which Jo knew, an official at the police agency said.

Jo sold the games to South Korean operators of online games. When people played the games, the viruses used their computers as zombies, through which the cyberattack was launched.

So-called “a distributed denial-of-service attack,” this cyberattack against Incheon International Airport occurred two or three times in March 2011, police said. The attack was fended off by the intelligence authorities in the South.

The police and intelligence authorities also suspect that the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau is behind a technical glitch in the flight data processor that paralyzed air traffic control at Incheon International Airport for nearly an hour last Sept. 15. It’s not clear if Jo’s viruses were linked. The glitch disrupted the departures of 18 airplanes from the airport. Initially, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said it wasn’t linked to North Korea.

AFP reports some slightly different details:

Cho, who was detained on May 23, sold the programmes to South Korean game operators, according to police.

They said the malicious software would paralyse users’ computers and steal personal information. It was not immediately clear how many computers may have been infected.

Cho is also accused of allowing North Korean agents to use his server for distributing denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on the South’s online systems.

He is alleged to have kept personal information on hundreds of thousands of people from major portals at his home.

Read the full stories here:
Incheon Airport cyberattack traced to Pyongyang
Joongang Ilbo

S. Korean held for selling N. Korean malware


DPRK trade bank sued for failure to settle debt

Monday, August 9th, 2010

UPDATE 8/9/2010: According to Yonhap:

A state-run North Korean bank has lost a lawsuit for not paying back a loan it borrowed from a Taiwanese bank nine years ago, the New York district court said Friday.

The District Court of New York confirmed it ordered the Foreign Trade Bank of Korea to pay compensations of just under US$6.77 million to the Mega International Commercial Bank (MICB) in a ruling made earlier in the week.

And as Josh notes: “By which they really mean the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

Some additional case information may be found here.

As an aside, North Korea also recently lost another court case in the US.  Read more here.

ORIGINAL POST (5/6/2010): According to KBS:

The Taiwanese bank filed its lawsuit to claim some five million dollars in interest and principal on August 25th, 2001.

It is unclear whether the North Korean bank will repay the Taiwanese plaintiff, but North Korea experts say this will at least add to the crunch on North Korean finances.

Some reference information can be found here.

According to the Korea Times:

A state-run North Korean bank is facing trial in the United States for failing to pay a $5 million loan that it borrowed from a Taiwanese bank in 2001, according to sources Wednesday.

The District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) of North Korea to make a court appearance on May 17 and submit a proposed case management plan and scheduling order.

The FTB reportedly borrowed $5 million from the Mega International Commercial Bank (MICB) in Taiwan on Aug. 25, 2001 on the promise to amortize the principal and interest in three installments by Sept. 15, 2004.

No repayment was made until December 2008, when the FTB paid the MICB $100,000 to cover some of the interest. The North Korean bank has thus far paid off a total of $462,000 to the MICB, still owing $1.78 million in interest and $4.7 million in principal.

“It has been almost unprecedented for North Korea to be sued in a commercial dispute, though there were occasions that the North was asked to stand in U.S. courts for terrorist activities,” an official of the South Korean Consulate General in New York told Yonhap News.

The official said the litigation will hamper Pyongyang’s recent move to aggressively attract foreign investment in an effort to revive its flagging economy, given that obviously doubt will arise over its debt repayment capacity.

Despite a recent currency reform, the North’s economy remains in a parlous state as the U.N. sanctions have cut off virtually all sources of foreign currency.

Seoul has also suspended tours to the North’s popular tourist destination of Mt. Geumgang, following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the mountain resort in July 2008. The tours were a cash cow for the North, generating more than $500 million between 1998 and 2008.

On May 1, the FTB’s official exchange rate was 96.9 won per dollar, but it was traded at 180 won in Pyongyang and higher in other areas, demonstrating the instability of the North’s economy, according to the sources.

Since established in 1959, the bank has served as the reclusive regime’s main foreign exchange bank, they said. It has branch offices in France, Australia, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Read the full story here:
NK trade bank sued for failure to settle debt
Korea Times


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.


Life tough in Pyongyang

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

The gap between the rich and poor in North Korea is growing as the number of people trying to sell their family home to buy food expands in the aftermath of last November’s currency reforms, according to a source from inside the country.

The source from South Pyongan Province told The Daily NK on Thursday, “An increasing number of homes are being sold to buy food, and now it seems like about two out of every ten people around here have lost their home.”

According to the source, the rich buy up the houses, demolish them and build new ones to sell for a profit. Those who have amassed dollars or Chinese Yuan from trading are now turning to the housing market.

Even in Pyongyang, where the public distribution system continues to function, there are homeless people on the street, according to the source, who added, “When I was in Pyongyang, there were homeless people sleeping in the subway in large numbers.”

The source went on, “People’s lives are very difficult. There are even some who rely on digging up 5kg of wormwood, walking three hours to sell it, and only getting 100 won per kg.”

Currently, 1kg of rice sells for 400 to 500 won in Pyongyang, and 500 to 600 won in other areas.

The source also explained, “While public distribution still functions in Pyongyang, there are strict restrictions on movement, and even with our salaries we can’t buy food because there is too little.”

Since the economy is so bad, the crime rate is also going up, he added, “There are now more and more pick pocketing cases, and these days, they not only use small knives to steal purses, but even tweezers to pick stuff from pockets.”

The source’s assertion that there was public distribution until mid-June contradicts the claim of one NGO, which said that on May 26 the authorities ordered each area to look out for its own food supply. The source, when asked about the decree, said he was unaware of its existence.

Read the full story here:
Life Even Tough in Pyongyang
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol


Chongryon headquarters on block after ruling

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

Japan’s Supreme Court has ruled that Chongryon headquarters are a legitimate Chongryon asset which may be seized and auctioned as part of proceedings to recover loans made by a defunct credit union to the organization, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported on Tuesday.

A collection agency recently took over a number of bonds issued by the bankrupt Joeun Credit Union, which loaned around $700 million to Chongryon, the organization of North Koreans in Japan. The agency then announced its intention to pursue collection by putting Chongryon headquarters land and buildings in the Chiyoda district of Tokyo up for auction.

However, since the land and buildings are registered under a separate firm, Chosun Central Hall Management Association, the collection agency was required to file a lawsuit to get the necessary recognition of its right to seizure.

The court initially dismissed the collection agency’s claim on the grounds that the assets are held by a separate entity, but accepted, “It is possible to seize (the assets) if they can be shown to be actual Chongryon assets.”

Therefore, the collection agency filed a separate lawsuit to ask for recognition of the Chongryon headquarters estate and buildings as such an asset, and the Supreme Court has now ruled in its favor.

If the judgment is allowed to stand, the collection agency will be able to legally seize the estate and buildings of the Chongryon headquarters, adding to the organizations mounting woes.

Read the full story here:
Chongryon HQ on Block after Ruling
Daily NK
Yang Jung A


Pueblo crew awarded $65 million by US court

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

From the Associated Press (via the New York Times):

A federal judge has awarded more than $65 million to several men of the Navy spy ship Pueblo, who were captured and tortured by North Korea in 1968.

The judge, Henry H. Kennedy Jr. of Federal District Court, issued the judgment against North Korea on Tuesday.

North Korea did not respond to the lawsuit, which accused it of kidnapping, imprisonment and torture. Four former crewmen of the Pueblo filed the suit in 2006.

Judgment Is Issued in North Korea Suit
Associated Press


DPRK stiffens drug laws

Friday, May 16th, 2008

From the Daily NK:

“The North’s adoption of partial open door policy has resulted in the rapid spread of western culture into the society, which could trigger the collapse of socialist ideology and regime. So, as part of efforts to prevent the collapse, the North adopted a series of amendments to its criminal laws,” explained Choi.

“In March 2008, North Korea introduced another amendment according to which individuals charged with drug possession are to be sentenced to death by shooting because drug use has been increasing among people suffering from the lack of basic necessities and medicine despite the state’s strict drug control,” said Choi.

According to the 2004 amendment, North Korea sentences those charged with drug manufacturing to two to five years in the labor reeducation camp (Article 216), those with drug use to up to two years in the labor-training corps (Article 217), and those with drug trafficking and sales to either up to five years in the labor camp (Article 218).

“The amendment of March 2008 further stiffened penalties against drug offenders. Individuals found to be possessing more than 300 grams of drug are to be sentenced to death penalty,” Choi said, “In addition, North Korea which did not have sufficient legal grounds to punish individuals involved with new types of offenses including making international phone calls, possessing copies of foreign pictures and smuggling now appears to have strengthened legal punishment against them.”

The passage of these statutes is probably as close as the DPRK government will get to admitting that markets for recreational drug use are firmly established.  Stiffening drug laws will make no difference to the dissipation of the state’s socialist ideology, but North Korea’s drug cartels will certainly benefit.

The Economics of Cartels

In a competitive market, it is difficult to maintain a cartel.  Cartels work by restricting output to raise prices.  The problem is that once everyone in the cartel has done so, each individual member has an incentive to sell more than his quota to capture those artificially high profits.  After everyone figures out how to do this, the cartel falls apart and prices return to their competitive equilibrium.

So how can cartel members be relied on to maintain their production quotas and not cheat/sabotage each other?  Many times this is done by group acquiescence to government statutes and regulations.  Restrictions on prices, services, quality standards…these can all be used to protect incumbent firms by driving up costs for smaller competitors, and what’s more, the government pays for the enforcement.

And now for the conspiracy theory 

If there is not already a cartel of “companies” or families seeking to corner the DPRK drug market, there soon will be.  Stiffening criminal penalties for drug production simply raises the costs of small-scale producers and distributors, forcing them out of the market because they cannot afford protection/bribes.  This helps the big guys, who can afford these services, to maintain their price premium.

No doubt the groups coming to dominate the drug trade had representatives involved in making sure these statutes were changed (meaning they are now sufficiently politically connected to protect themselves).  What will be the effects on crime?  Well, if the cartel members keep to their agreements, crime could drop, and police would only be used to break up non-cartel operations.

Small-scale producers will respond by shifting into “high quality, low volume” drugs (much like in prohibition when smugglers carried liquor over beer and wine). 

Thoughtful comments appreciated. 

Read the full story here:
North Korea Has Introduced Amendments to Its Criminal Codes to Save the Regime from Falling Apart
Daily NK
Yang Jung A


North Korea stoic in the face of famine

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Andrei Lankov is the first in the media to construct a narrative which details the series of decisions that have led to North Korea’s current food crunch.

From his article:

Merely a year ago, North Korean leaders were optimistic. The good harvest of 2005 persuaded them that food shortages were behind them, and that North Korean agriculture had begun to recover. The 2005 harvest was merely 4.6 million tons, well below the 5.2 million tons which are necessary to keep the entire population alive. Still, it was clearly an improvement.

Lankov’s assertion that 5.2 million tons of grain are needed to sustain the DPRK population comes from the UN.  Recent work by Marcus Noland estimates that this number is closer to 4.6, although exact figuress are not possible because the actual size of the DPRK population is unknown.

In addition, for a decade South Korean administrations have maintained their Sunshine policy of unilateral concessions and unconditional food aid. Since 2000, about 450,000 tonnes of food have bee delivered to North Korean granaries from the South every year, free of charge. Its distribution was almost unmonitored. Pyongyang leaders came to believe that such aid would continue for the foreseeable future. Additionally, increasing Chinese involvement with North Korea, while not necessarily welcomed by Pyongyang, was seen as a sign that additional food would be coming – and Chinese shipments were roughly equal to those of South Korea. Finally, the basic agreement with the US on the nuclear issue was perceived in Pyongyang as a sign of Washington’s willingness to pay generously for rather minor concessions.

As noted by many besides Lankov (here), this good fortune prompted the DPRK government to reimpose elements of the planned economy which failed long ago: 

In 2005, authorities claimed that the public distribution system would be completely revived, and banned private trade in grain. This ban was generally ignored and eventually failed, but subsequent moves were more successful. In late 2006, authorities banned male vendors from the country’s marketplaces. In 2007, women under 50 years old were also prohibited from engaging in business in markets. The assumption is that every able-bodied North Korean should go where he or she belongs, specifically to the state-run factories of the Stalinist economy.

The government also staged some campaigns against semi-legal private businesses that had been tacitly tolerated since the late 1990s. After 2005, authorities successfully cracked down on the trafficking, smuggling and illegal labor migration occurring on the border with China. There was also a remarkable increase in the volume of anti-market rhetoric in the official Pyongyang propaganda.

The economic problems they were attempting to achieve at home through these policies, however, were only the first of several shocks to hit the DPRK economy in the last year: 

1. Low harvest numbers

First of all, the 2007 harvest was a failure. It was estimated at only 3.8 million tons, well short of the critical 5.2 million ton benchmark [and Noland’s 4.6 benchmark]. As usual, floods were officially blamed (as if the impoverished North does not share the same small peninsula with the prosperous South, where no signs of food shortage have been seen in decades).

2. Drop in aid from South Korea

The presidential elections of December 2007 led to a change of leadership in Seoul. The new government, led by right-of-the-center pragmatist Lee Myong-bak, said that the era of unconditional concessions to the North was over.

3. International food prices rising

The situation was aggravated by the explosive rise of international food prices. The North Korean press has reported the trend widely obviously in an attempt to,place the blame for the current crisis on factors clearly beyond the government’s control. On April 20, Nodong Sinmun, the major official daily newspaper, ran an article that described food supply difficulties worldwide and mentioned a dramatic increase on food custom duties in “certain countries”.

4. Cold shoulder from China

The worldwide price hike means that the amount of food coming to North Korea via foreign aid channels is likely to decrease. China, preoccupied with the Summer Olympic Games in August, and increasingly annoyed by North Korean antics, is not too willing to help the North out of its trouble which, as some people in Beijing believe, were brought on Pyongyang by its own stubborn resistance to the Chinese reform model.

So what is Lankov’s prediction?

In North Korea, the domestic food situation is deteriorating fast. The sudden hike in food prices seems to be a sign of deepening crisis. There were reports about farmers who refuse to toil the state-owned fields, stating that they are too weak to work (but still willing to work on their private plots). There are rumors of villagers starving to death even though observers believe the food shortage has not yet developed into a famine. If the shortage of fertilizer damages this year’s harvest, a famine may develop by the end of this year.

The political consequences are unclear. Knowledge about the situation inside North Korea remains grossly inadequate. If the past is an indication, however, nothing of great political significance will happen if a few thousand fresh graves appear in the hills of North Hamgyong province. In all probability, Kim Jong-il’s government will use its time-tested tactics: the political elite and the best units of the army will receive full rations; the residents of major cities, police and common soldiers will get barely enough to survive; and the “politically unreliable”, largely villagers from the remote northwest, will be left to their sorry fate.

There is hope the government will momentarily halt its counter-offensive against free market economics, and will ease its border controls to allow more people to China – but even such moderate measures are unlikely. Isolated revolts are possible, but the government seems to be supremely confident. After all, the disorganized, isolated population, deprived of any opportunities to organize or even communicate between themselves, is not capable of challenging the system.

Read the full story here:
North Korea stoic in the face of famine
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov


Women of Hoiryeong Should Not Go out at Night

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin

A source inside North Korea reported on the 22nd of November that all sorts of crime are rampant in Hoiryeong of North Hamkyung Province, and locals, especially women are so afraid that they dare not go outside at night.

The source said, “At meetings of people’s units, locals received instructions not to go out late at night and women were especially advised to get back home not too late.” The source added, “Most crimes are committed by soldiers who have been posted to Hoiryeong for construction work.

Since early this year, the North Korean authorities have been carrying out apartment building construction and road expansion work in Hoiryeong under the project named “Embellishing Mother’s Hometown.” Hoiryeong is known as the birthplace of Kim Jong Suk, Kim Jong Il’s mother.

This year celebrates the 90th anniversary of Kim Jong Suk’s birth, and many construction projects are being proceeded under the slogan, ‘‘Let’s invite our benevolent general to Hoiryeong.’’ Last year in November, a mosaic mural depicting Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il was installed in both Poongsan-ri and Daedeuk-ri in Hoiryeong.

Early May, the nation’s new prime minister Kim Yong Il visited Hoiryeong by train. His train was loaded with glass and cement, and the minister delivered the construction material to Hoiryeong’s people’s committee, leaving a message saying, “Hoiryeong is the birthplace of Kim Jong Suk. Clean up and embellish the entire city.”

As the authorities started carrying out the extensive construction work in Hoiryeong, it needed more labor power. Starting with last month, the state began to bring construction units of the People’s Army into the city for the expansion and pavement works of the road between Hoiryeong-Chongjin. It is the solders of these construction units who are responsible for ongoing violent crimes such as rape and plunder occurring in Hoiryeong

The source said, “Ever since those soldiers came to Hoiryeong, the city has been afflicted with many incidents and crime, all of which concern the city’s party committee to great extents.” The source said, “Even though October is the harvest season, there is not enough corn left for harvest in many cornfields around construction sites.”

What is worse, many households are being sacked by the soldiers, and local residents cannot leave home empty even for a moment, the source said.

The city’s party committee is casting suspicion on the soldiers. However, it cannot recklessly push for an investigation against the soldiers because the committee lacks hard evidence and the army has gotten too powerful over the years.

“A few days ago, there was an incident where a soldier broke into a house, raped a twenty-two-year old woman, and ran away,” the source said. “In order to protect themselves from the soldiers, each community has placed a guard at its people’s unit guard post twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and made sure that the guard reports to the People’s Safety Agency in case an incident takes place.”

Individuals who go to a night market and females who get back home from the market late at night are particularly vulnerable. The Safety Agency of Hoiryeong has decided to increase the number of patrols and ordered the locals to organize their own securities in their areas, the source said.

A defector who came to the South in 2006 said, “People used to admire the People’s Army. Nowadays, the Army is treated as a gang of thieves.” The defector said, “The army behaves highhandedly, and there are always conflicts in the areas around army bases.”