Category Archives: Defectors

The summer of their discontent: Is Kim Jong Un losing the elite classes?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen a spate of reports about defections from North Korea. Broadly, this is nothing new. The defection, for example, of three crew members of a fishing vessel is life-changing for three men, but is no more likely to rend the fabric of Kim Jong-Un’s regime than 27,000 other defections, almost all of them of people the regime had written off as expendable. 

Recently, however, we’ve seen multiple reports suggesting something very different, and vastly more consequential for Kim Jong-Un: a surge of defections from the Inner Party. The defection of the biochemical researcher I wrote about in last Thursday’s post is just one of a series of reports that causes me to wonder whether Kim Jong-Un’s purges—“on a scale not seen since at least the late 1960s,” according to Andrei Lankov—are alienating the ruling class that keeps him in power. I’m not alone in asking this question. No less an authority than Ken Gause opines that, assuming the reports are accurate, “they could reflect … that leaders within North Korea are becoming increasingly anxious about politics around Kim Jong Un.”  I’ve held and added to this post for more than a week as enough evidence emerged to suggest the start of a trend.

Continue reading »

4th Annual North Korean Human Rights International Film Festival

4th NHIFF banner

NKnet is hosting its 4th annual North Korean Human Rights International Film Festival this coming Friday and Saturday, September 26-27, in Gwanghwamun, Seoul.

This year there are 14 films from Korea, the US, and Saudi Arabia, and two of the films received financial support from the festival:

poster: November 9th
November 9th
100 min. – Korea – documentary – no English subtitles
Directed by: Kim Gyu-Min (the director of Winter Butterfly, which played at the first NHIFF in 2011)
Category: Reunification of the Korean Peninsula
*Following the film, there will be a conversation with the director, who is originally from North Korea (interpretation not available).


10 hours from now, the ceasefire line will collapse and the Korean peninsula will be reunified.

On Thursday, November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall – symbolizing the division of Germany – fell. It wasn’t through an agreement of the East and West German governments that it happened on that day. Nor were East or West German academics or anyone else from around the world for that matter able to foresee the wall would come down on November 9, 1989. A year later Germany was reunified for the first time in 41 years through the votes of the East and West German citizenry in free elections.

Continue reading »

North Korea doesn’t want defectors from South Korea or the U.S. anymore.

There was a time when North Korea would have welcomed a defector from the United States and, long after any intelligence value had been squeezed out of him, put him in propaganda films for a generation. Today, if you try to defect to North Korea, they’ll sentence you to hard labor until Jimmy Carter comes to make them a different kind of propaganda film.

More surprising, however, is that North Korea doesn’t want South Korean defectors, either. There was a time when such a defector would have been heralded as proof of North Korea’s superior ideology, legitimacy, and standard of living. When North Korea rejects defectors from the South, it suggests to me that its security forces know that no one believes those things anymore, except for a few crazies who aren’t worth feeding and caring for.

Continue reading »

Top N. Korean money man defects to “third country”

A senior North Korean banking official who managed money for leader Kim Jong Un has defected in Russia and was seeking asylum in a third country, a South Korean newspaper reported on Friday, citing an unidentified source.

Yun Tae Hyong, a senior representative of North Korea’s Korea Daesong Bank, disappeared last week in Nakhodka, in the Russian Far East, with $5 million, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported. [Reuters, Ju-Min Park and James Pearson]

Daesong Bank is sanctioned by both the U.S. Treasury Department and the European Union, and is closely linked to the infamous Bureau 39. This guy could know where a lot of bodies are buried, metaphorically speaking. Also, literally.

The Joongang Ilbo, which broke the story, says that Yun “officially worked as president of the bank” and “was in charge of raising and managing slush funds for Kim in Northeast Russia.” Apparently, Yun made a withdrawal of about $5 million from that slush fund before his defection, and North Korea has a substantial penalty for early withdrawal.

North Korea’s activities in the region include its infamous logging camps and the recently-sanctioned, Vladivostok-based Ocean Maritime Management, the agent for the Chong Chong Gangthe Mu Du Dong, and other sanctioned vessels.

Continue reading »

ROK Army shoots, kills man attempting to swim to N. Korea

I’ll withhold my criticism until I know a few more facts, but I can’t immediately understand why South Korean troops had to shoot and kill a South Korean man who was swimming the Imjin toward North Korea.

This would not be the first South-to-North defection, but I don’t know why one the loss of one more nut or fugitive would be a great loss to the South. If the South doesn’t address the appropriateness of the use of force, it will weaken calls for North Korea to treat would-be defectors from North Korea differently.

By day’s end, we should know more than we know now. I’d like to know whether this was really necessary.

Update:  The more I read, the harder I find the ROK Army’s explanation to accept as a sufficient justification. I can’t see punishing soldiers who followed the rules of engagement they were given, but the army should review its rules of engagement for incidents like this one.

Continue reading »

Escape from North Korea: An Incremental Review

Nov. 7, 2012.  Early in Melanie Kirkpatrick’s Escape from North Korea, you start to find powerful phrases that stay with you — phrases that make you stop reading and chew on them, to extract the full significance of some aspect of life in another reality.  I couldn’t help quoting two of them.  The first is illuminating:

So accustomed are North Koreans to the lack of light that when I asked a North Korean who had settled in an American city if there was anything she missed from home, she replied, “the darkness.”

The second is ghastly:

“I keep thinking, maybe he would still be alive if we hadn’t buried him,” the young man told the reporters in Washington. He didn’t want his name used, for fear of retribution against his family in North Korea. But he told us the name of the man he buried, and I record it here: Kim Young-jin.

On a related note, I saw this quote in a link from another review that registered in my comments:

Interestingly, Haggard’s research is quoted at multiple points in the text, while Stanton does not merit a mention by the author.

Oh, my.  This is more than just a passive-aggressive blog post; it’s a life lesson:  Just as a reader shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, a reviewer shouldn’t judge a book before he actually reads the last chapter (beginning with its title).

Continue reading »

Learn about North Korean Human Rights Crisis at JFNK Volunteer Orientation

JFNK Orientation Program Flier English 2011May7 (web version)

For those of you in Korea, if you don’t know much about the human rights crisis that is North Korea (and spilling into China and South Korea) and/or if you want to learn how to get involved, there’s a great opportunity for you this Saturday in English or next Saturday in Korean (please encourage your Korean friends. coworkers, students to attend!).

I volunteer with Justice for North Korea, and we’re holding our third round of informational orientation sessions for volunteers and anyone who’s interested in learning more.  Each time we’ve held these sessions we’ve tried to improve them, and I think we’ve got a great program in place now.

  • Learn about the situation North Koreans must endure in North Korea, China, and South Korea.
  • Taught by those with extensive experience assisting North Korean refugees. One speaker was himself once such a refugee in China.
  • Learn about opportunities to get involved.

Saturday, May 7, 2011, 9:30 ““ 6:00 in English (Saturday, May 14 in Korean)

Sinchon Station, line 2, exit 5 — straight for 50m
키세스(KISES) Language Hakwon, 1st Floor.

Course Fee (includes lunch): 20,000 won if received by May 6th or 25,000 won at the door
(The fee will cover your lunch and help us pay for the facility rental.

Continue reading »

31 North Koreans cross into S. Korean waters near Yeonpyeong

It’s not just the boat that smells fishy here:

Thirty-one North Korean people crossed the tense Yellow Sea border by boat and arrived in South Korea two days ago, but they have not expressed any wishes to defect to the South, a military official said Monday. The North Koreans, consisting of 11 men and 20 women, arrived on Yeonpyeong Island by a wooden fishing boat in thick fog at around 11 a.m. Saturday and were towed away to the western port city of Incheon, said the official at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

“So far, the North Koreans have not expressed a wish to defect,” the official said, asking not to be named because an investigation is still under way. The official confirmed that the North Koreans are a “work group,” not family members. [Yonhap]

Yonhap has a map of the path the vessel took, parallel to the coast for a considerable distance on both sides of the maritime border. Not only this, but the boat came all the way from Nampo, west of Pyongyang.

There are three ways I can explain this, none of them mutually exclusive:

(1) This is an attempted defection, as was the case in October 2009, when “three men, two boys and six women” came south in a creaky boat (photo here) and declared their intention to defect after spending a year preparing their escape.

Continue reading »

Kim Jong Il, Unplugged Again

First, I’ll just say that I have nothing to say about Eric Clapton that I didn’t say more than two years ago. We’ve already heard Eric Clapton unplugged. The economic unplugging of Kim Jong Il is a more consequential thing, one that I see as closely related to domestic discontent inside North Korea. My suspicion, though it is not yet supported by much direct evidence, is that these recent developments have reduced him to new lows of extortionate desperation.

When I posted the other day about Kim Jong Il’s Austrian shopper, the story mentioned that he’d attempted to purchase yachts for His Dessicated Majesty. This more recent story confirms that the seller was Azimut-Benetti, which cooperated in the investigation of violations of UNSCR 1718 and 1874, and which I first wrote about here. The “shopper,” who was not named but should have been, claims he is merely a businessman, which is what Don Corleone also said if I recall correctly. Maybe the violation of two U.N. Security Council resolutions isn’t malum in se, but the diversion of resources from the starving certainly is.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the foreign exchange ledger, there are several new stories about hard times for the industries that earn North Korea that Earth money it needs to buy all that … infant formula.

Continue reading »

Hwang Jang Yop Dies at 87

Hwang Jang Yop survived multiple purges and power struggles, a defection, at least one assassination attempt, and 87 years in some especially cruel places and times. I was ambivalent about Hwang, who became Kim Jong Il’s strongest critic, but who still defended the juche ideology as misunderstood and misinterpreted by its more recent oracles. We can appreciate what Hwang did to expose the system’s ruthlessness, even as we must recognize that he probably stepped on plenty of skulls to ascend to its higher ranks.

When my wife told me that Hwang had died, the first thing I wondered was whether it was of natural causes. Officially, the answer is “yes,” and I see no reason to question that, given Hwang’s advanced age. Still, South Koreans love a good conspiracy theory, or even a bad one. The fact that two officers of the Reconnaissance Bureau of the North Korean Workers’ Party pled guilty to charges of trying to give Hwang the Trotsky treatment just months ago would be as good a basis for a conspiracy theory as, say, any of the completely baseless ones that have caught fire on Naver recently. But because a conspiracy theory’s traction is a function of ideology, rather than plausibility, I’d bet that any conspiracy theories about Hwang won’t likely involve any North Korean agents bearing ice-axes.

Continue reading »

Of Conferences and Reports … and Reports from Conferences

10-10-10 has been another busy day for North Korea watchers, what with the military parade being broadcast live from Pyongyang and the passing of Hwang Jang-yop.

But I want to mention several things I’ve spotted over the last weeks and months and the upcoming NKnet conference in Washington, D.C., on October 21st.  This will be in no particular order.


In the beginning of September Tim Peters chaired a panel and other OFK favorites (e.g., Chuck Downs) spoke at a conference at the Marine Corps University in Virginia.  Tim’s website linked to C-SPAN footage of the event — there’s a neat feature there that (sort of) lets you see just the video segments for the speaker you’re interested in.


Han Voice of Canada joined with Citizens’ Alliance of South Korea to hold CA’s 10th annual international conference on NKHRs in Toronto in late August.  Han Voice has posted the conference transcripts in English and Korean and photos.


Curious about NED grants that go to projects related to North Korea?      I haven’t looked recently, but I always came up empty in past attempts to find a similar list for the State Department’s grants.

Continue reading »

Toronto: 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees; Seoul: Beautiful Dream Concert

promo posters for 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees

On August 19-22 Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul is partnering with this year’s host HanVoice in Toronto for their 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees.  This will be the first time the conference has been held in North America; to date the ICNKHRR has been in Seoul (3x), Tokyo, Prague, Warsaw, Bergen (Norway), London, and Melbourne.

The main session this year is Saturday, August 21st, from 9 – 6.  Events open to the public also include an art exhibition and concert Thursday, and movie screenings of Kimjongilia (followed by a Q&A session with the director) and The Red Chapel Friday evening.

All events are free, though for the main conference Saturday they’re asking that people register in advance since they’re providing free lunch and a translation device.

Here is the schedule on Saturday:

@ The Isabel Bader Theatre (U of T)

08:30 Registration

09:30 Opening Session

Opening Remarks
Benjamin H. Yoon, Founder & Chairman, Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

Welcoming Speeches
– Randall Baran-Chong, Chair ““ 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees , HanVoice, Canada
– Carl Gershman President, National Endowment for Democracy, USA

Congratulatory Remarks
– Michaelle Jean (Written), Governor General of Canada

– Hon.

Continue reading »

If North Korea’s Attempt to Kill Hwang Jang Yop Isn’t the State Sponsorship of Terrorism, I Don’t Know What Is

Two North Korean agents sent to South Korea to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking official ever to defect from Pyongyang, have been arrested, intelligence and law enforcement authorities announced yesterday.

According to the National Intelligence Service and prosecutors, Kim Yong-ho, 36, and Dong Myong-gwan, 36, have been arrested. Both men were majors of the North Korean Army’s reconnaissance bureau, the authorities said.

The two agents were ordered in November by the bureau’s chief, Colonel General Kim Yong-chol, to assassinate Hwang, the former secretary of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party. [Joongang Ilbo]

According to the Chosun Ilbo, which has more on the Reconnaissance Bureau, the spies had orders to “cut Hwang’s head off.” The AP, quoting an anonymous prosecutor, reports that the instruction was to “slit the betrayer’s throat.”

As North Korean spies have often done in recent years, Kim and Dong posed as defectors; in this case, they came to South Korea via Thailand. This time, however, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service smelled a rat, and the two men confessed under questioning. The hunt is now on for the spies’ contacts in South Korea.

AFP puts the new revelation into the context of North Korea’s recent threats against Hwang.

Continue reading »

Hwang Jang Yop Calls for Ideological Warfare Against Kim Jong Il

I was too busy to see Hwang Jang Yop speak in D.C. the other day, but a few news services picked up his remarks:

North Korea’s highest-ranking defector said “ideological warfare,” not military action, would help topple the regime of Kim Jong Il.

“We don’t need to resort to force,” Hwang Jang-yop told a small audience Wednesday at the Center for Strategic International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “We need to use ideology and markets and diplomacy. We need to take a lesson from the cold war.” [….]

“Simply trying to make Kim Jong Il die would not be the solution,” he said. “The solution is ideological warfare. We need to focus on the people of North Korea and alert them to the human rights abuses that are taking place.” [CNN]

I agree with Hwang’s message about ideological subversion and believe that most North Koreans are ready to be subverted. I’m not sure, however, that I’d want Hwang, who still professes belief in the “misunderstood” juche ideology, to be the messenger or the author of the message. I’m deeply ambivalent about Hwang. North Korea’s Inner Party is the sort of place where you don’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Continue reading »
1 2 3 5