Spotlight on North Korea’s Brutal System of Repression

While North Korea’s global reputation is shaped by its repression and insularity, the eccentricity and absurdity of Kim Jong-Il may have distracted many of us from the true depth of the regime’s cruelty and brutality, which persists to this day under his son Kim Jong-un. A recent report by the United Nations highlights just how extraordinarily harsh life is in North Korea, detailing the widespread, systematic violation of basic rights and the overall depravity of this genuinely, unambiguously evil regime. The report states, “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”The report reveals crimes against humanity that entail “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” The following are some key highlights of the report:

  1. Denial of Fundamental Rights: The commission finds that there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.
  2. State Indoctrination Machine: The State operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader (Suryong), effectively to the exclusion of any thought independent of official ideology and State propaganda.
  3. Total Absence of Subsidiarity: Virtually all social activities undertaken by citizens of all ages are controlled by the Workers’ Party of Korea.
  4. No Freedom of the Press: State-controlled media are the only permitted source of information; access to television and radio broadcasts, as well as to the Internet, is severely restricted; and telephone calls are monitored and mostly confined to domestic connections for citizens.
  5. Anti-Christian Policies: The State considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat. Apart from the few organized State-controlled churches, Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion and are persecuted.
  6. Discrimination and Sexual Violence against Women: Discrimination against women remains pervasive in all aspects of society. Sexual and gender-based violence against women is prevalent throughout all areas of society. Violations of the rights to food and to freedom of movement have resulted in women and girls becoming vulnerable to trafficking and increased engagement in transactional sex and prostitution.
  7. No Freedom of Movement: The State imposes on citizens where they must live and work, while the forced assignment to a State-designated place of residence and employment is heavily driven by discrimination based on songbun. This has created a socioeconomically and physically segregated society, where people considered politically loyal to the leadership can live and work in favourable locations, whereas families of persons who are considered politically suspect are relegated to marginalized areas.
  8. Forced Abortion and Infanticide: Repatriated women who are pregnant are regularly subjected to forced abortions, and babies born to repatriated women are often killed.
  9. No Escape: China pursues a rigorous policy of forcibly repatriating citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who cross the border illegally.
  10. Sex Trafficking: Many women are trafficked by force or deception from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea into or within China for the purposes of exploitation in forced marriage or concubinage, or prostitution under coercive circumstances.
  11. Denial of Right to Food: The State has used food as a means of control over the population. It has prioritized those whom the authorities believe to be crucial in maintaining the regime over those deemed expendable. Even during the worst period of mass starvation, the State impeded the delivery of food aid by imposing conditions that were not based on humanitarian considerations. The State denied humanitarian access to some of the most affected regions and groups, including homeless children. Decisions, actions and omissions by the State and its leadership caused the death of at least hundreds of thousands of people and inflicted permanent physical and psychological injuries on those who survived.
  12. State Failure in Food Production: State-controlled production and distribution of food had not been able to provide the population with adequate food since the end of the 1980s.
  13. Starvation as Punishment: The State has also used deliberate starvation as a means of control and punishment in detention facilities. This has resulted in the deaths of many political and ordinary prisoners.
  14. The Climate of Fear: The police and security forces systematically employ violence and punishments that amount to gross human rights violations in order to create a climate of fear that preempts any challenge to the current system of government and to the ideology underpinning it. The institutions and officials involved are not held accountable. Impunity reigns. The use of torture is an established feature of the interrogation process.
  15. The “Disappeared”: Persons who are found to have engaged in major political crimes are “disappeared”, without trial or judicial order, to political prison camps (kwanliso). There, they are incarcerated and held incommunicado. Their families are not even informed of their fate if they die. In the past, it was common that the authorities sent entire families to political prison camps for political crimes committed by close relatives (including forebears, to the third generation) on the basis of the principle of guilt by association. The commission estimates that hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in these camps over the past five decades. Well over 200,000 persons, including children, who were brought from other countries to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea may have become victims of enforced disappearance.
  16. Violations against Prisoners: Gross violations are also being committed in the ordinary prison system, which consists of ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso). Torture, rape and other arbitrary cruelties at the hands of guards and fellow prisoners are widespread and committed with impunity.

Options for addressing and ending these crimes against humanity are limited, given China’s support for the regime and other factors. The report argues, “The Security Council should refer the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court for action in accordance with that court’s jurisdiction. The Security Council should also adopt targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity.” Overall, as the report says, “the international community must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity,” even if it is unclear how this responsibility can be fulfilled in their short-term.

Quote of the Day

Ambassador Samantha Power: “A woman in a poor country is still fifteen times more likely to die giving birth than her wealthier counterpart. That is just wrong: for any mother anywhere, a bank account should never spell the difference between death and life.”

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Around the Web (Part 1)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Jesus and the Bullied by Brian Pinter: “Jesus, by his own example and preaching, empowers us to move beyond being bystanders, to embrace and shield, through bold but loving action, those suffering under the yoke of bullying and taunting.”

New Philippines cardinal calls for church to turn toward poor by  Joshua McElwee, NCR: “The Catholic church must fundamentally reorient itself to place its institutions and financial resources at the service of the world’s poor, one of the 19 new members of the select and powerful group of church prelates known as the College of Cardinals said. ‘The origin of the church is poverty,’ said Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo. ‘And the journey of Jesus Christ was the journey with poor people.’‘Today, the church has riches, institutions,’ Quevedo continued. ‘But I would like to think that the only way the church can redeem these resources as well as its institutions would be to place them at the service of justice and of the poor for the sake of the kingdom of God.’”

The Real Meaning of Marriage Preparation by Andy Otto: “So what makes for good marriage prep? Primarily, it’s a chance to communicate with each other about major topics like managing conflict, forgiveness, finances, intimacy, faith, communication and values.”

Bishop: Synod questionnaire shows most reject teaching on contraceptives by Jerry Filteau, NCR: “Even the ‘choir’ — the 78 percent of respondents who said they attend Mass at least every Sunday and holy day (including 9 percent who said they go to Mass every day) — overwhelmingly said that most Catholics they know do not accept church teaching on natural family planning and birth control. Of all respondents, only 13 percent agreed that Catholics they know accept church teaching in that area; 81 percent disagreed, and 6 percent said they were uncertain or declined to answer.”

Why I am Leaving My Other Full-Time Job by Beth Haile: “In the era of the ‘nones,’ how do we keep our kids Catholic, or even more generally just Christian? For many of us, passing on the faith becomes just another thing on the to-do list: RE classes, bake sales and parish raffles, youth group field trips. But I am convinced that the key to passing on the faith is living it ourselves. Passing on the faith means passing on a relationship with Christ that is central and life-giving. Such a relationship, like any relationship, takes time and effort.”

Understanding the Mechanics of the Incarnation: An Interview with Larry Chapp by Artur Rosman: “And it is in this deep level of existential intimacy that God interfaces with creation, not as a foreigner who comes to plunder, but as the very act of Being that makes nature, nature.”

Koch-hold at Catholic University by Morning’s Minion, Vox Nova: “Recently, the new business school at the Catholic University of America (CUA) received a decent donation from the Koch Brothers. In response to a barrage of justifiable criticism, university president John Garvey and business school dean Andrew Abela penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal declaring that they would keep the money and that their accusers could take a flying leap. If this is an exaggeration, it is only a slight one. The tone of the piece is petulant and hyper-defensive. Clearly, the critics have hit a nerve.”

Crisis grips a fragile new South Sudan by Chris Herlinger, NCR: “But in the two-years-plus since its July 2011 independence, South Sudan has found itself embroiled in internal political battles that have destabilized the young nation, weakening its already fragile social and humanitarian fabric.”

Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws by Michael Sean Winters: “The Christian Church must learn how to promote family life without attacking the human dignity of gay men and women.”

Women Lose Most When Parenthood Isn’t Valued by Ashley McGuire, Family Studies: “All the can-women-have-it-all conversations in the world are futile until American society once again appreciates parenthood as the most important human work there is. Are millennials up to the task?”

Ethnic Cleansing in Central African Republic

Millennial has been tracking the crisis in Central African Republic in our Around the Web posts since August, when we linked to an article that stated:

“The landlocked former French colony – one of the poorest places on earth – has been plunged into chaos since the Seleka rebels seized power from President Francois Bozize four months ago, triggering a humanitarian crisis in the heart of Africa.”

Fabrice Musoni recently wrote about the crisis and ways a disaster might be averted. However, violence has been escalating, and we are now witnessing the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. Amnesty International has a short video describing recent developments:

South Sudan at a Crossroads: World’s Newest Nation at Risk

South Sudan faces its sternest challenge yet, as a political struggle in the upper echelons of power threatens to engulf the world’s newest nation in a full-scale civil war with ethnic overtones. Fighting appears to have intensified even though rival factions recently signed a cease-fire, intended to suspend the five-week long hostilities, which has claimed over a thousand lives and displaced more than half a million people from their homes.

The onus is on key stakeholders—at the national, regional, and international levels—to  react swiftly to ensure that the agreement is implemented fully, afford the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) the necessary support to protect civilians,  and promptly address growing humanitarian concerns.

There are several underlying factors behind the instability in South Sudan— fragile statehood, widespread poverty, and prevalent insecurity. However, the trigger to the latest tragic episode points to the heavy clashes that erupted in Juba on December 15th of last year, after President Salva Kiir accused former Vice President Riek Machar (who was removed from office in July 2013) of leading an attempted coup.

Machar has denied the charge, but praised the rebels’ capture of two key oil producing states—Jonglei and Unity. Machar has also publicly criticized President Kiir and has vowed to challenge the incumbent for leadership of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).  This has resulted in politicians settling their scores on the battlefield, just a few years after the success of a long struggle to earn independence, which came in July 2011.

Of greater concern is the ethnic dimension of the heavy fighting, which has largely pitted soldiers against one another from the two largest ethnic groups—Dinka and Lou Nuer—within the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), groups that are politically aligned with the President and former Vice President, respectively. Both sides have been accused of targeting civilians based on their ethnicity, as evidenced by a spike in inter-communal violence across the country. In December alone, an estimated 2,000 Lou Nuer attacked Dinka civilians sheltered at a UNMISS base in Jonglei State, killing 11 people, including two UN peacekeepers, showing a disturbing disregard for international law.

Moreover, approximately 5,000 Lou Nuer fighters known as the “White Army” have joined Machar’s forces—estimated at 10,000 regular soldiers—which are fighting government troops. Astute observers suggest that the SPLA are gaining the momentum, particularly in major urban centers in the greater Upper Nile region, but retreating rebels still pose a military threat. Still, a military solution, on account of historical precedent, is a poisoned chalice considering the ethnic component and cyclical nature of the violence.  For the sake of civilian lives, a peaceful resolution to the crisis should be the way forward.

The severity of the situation prompted a swift response from Washington, with the current administration having invested political capital and real money in the country’s genesis. The United States got the Security Council to commit an additional 5,500 peacekeeping troops and has been working with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to organize peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which led the warring factions agreeing to a cease-fire. US President Barack Obama welcomed the agreement signed on January 24th as a first step toward ending the civil strife, but urged the leadership to immediately and fully implement the deal.

While calling for the cessation of hostilities and the release of 11 politicians arbitrarily detained by the government in Juba, the agreement failed to address a key rebel demand—withdrawal of Ugandan troops fighting alongside government forces.  The unfortunate record of broken agreements continues as both sides accuse each other of violating the truce amid increased fighting. Rebels accused government forces allied with the Justice and Equality Movement—a Darfur-based rebel group—of taking advantage of the cessation of hostilities to make inroads into rebel-held territory in Unity State.

Rebels have also clashed with the SPLA in Upper Nile region, with allegations of the latter killing civilians, a charge the government denies. Further complicating matters has been the slow deployment of the monitoring and verification team to oversee the cease-fire, and there is no agreed-upon date for the release of political prisoners. These are concerns that must be addressed to revive the already tenuous cease-fire, as fresh talks are slated to resume imminently.

Yet these steps will not suffice to fully address the root causes that have led to the current upheaval and which has brought the country on the brink of civil war. United to End Genocide reached out to citizens, civil society leaders, women, youths, and academics directly affected by the crisis to hear their thoughts on the next steps. These include: security sector reform to improve an unprofessional national army that is deeply-divided along ethnic and ideological lines; an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue; the institution of a truth and reconciliation commission; investigation into the killings and accountability for perpetrators; and last but not least, a constitutional review to limit power and install fixed term limits for the presidency.

The global community owes it to the people of South Sudan to take the necessary actions that will avert a further escalation of violence.