Category Archives: Useful Idiocy

@GloriaSteinem @ChristineAhn & @WomenCrossDMZ: When will you call on Kim Jong-Un end the rape & murder of women prisoners?

The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea’s new report on forced labor is rightfully attracting media attention for calling out 18 countries — Algeria, Angola, China, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Malta, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates — for using North Korean slave labor. (In fairness, they might have included South Korea on the list, too.)

What reporters should not overlook, however, is the section of the report on slave labor in North Korea’s prison camp system. Within that section is a long list of witness accounts of rampant sexual violence they saw or experienced there.

“The guards called girls into a room and ordered them to take off their clothes. There were girls who were fifteen or sixteen years old and they started to cry. The guards would put on rubber gloves and push their hands inside their vaginas to check if they had money. The girls were still virgins and had not even started their menstrual cycles. They would bleed and cry. The guards kept doing this even though they didn’t find any money… …In the National Security Agency prison, the room was small and had a toilet to the side. The door had a hole through which the guards would send food. There were nine girls in the room. At 22:00, when we were ordered to go to sleep, a guard that stayed outside our room on patrol would call out for this nineteen year old girl to stand up and come close to the door where the hole was. He would tell her to come closer and then he would molest her and touch her breasts. I saw that when I was in the Sinuiju National Security Agency prison” [Kim XX, 40, Saebyul County]

“Sexual assaults are somewhat hidden, but if you find women whose workload has been lessened, that is probably because they have some kind of sexual relationships with the officers” [Suh XX, 43, North Hamgyeong Province]

“From China, when we were being repatriated back to North Korea, the guards from the Ministry of National Security stripped women naked to conduct examinations. They checked their vaginas to make sure there was no money hidden. If there were attractive women or girls, they were quietly taken away by the guards and sexually abused. These girls were unable to speak about what happened, because if they did they would be beaten further” [Park XX, 45, North Hamgyeong Province]

“Younger and more attractive girls are often sexually abused. The guards take them out to the hall [of the detention facility] and sexually molest them. Other guards who are passing by just pretend not to see anything. They do not report what they see to their superiors” [Kim XX, 49, Pyongyang]

This testimony is in addition to, and consistent with, what the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and the Korean Bar Association have already reported about the rape and murder of women prisoners in North Korea. At some point, evidence of a course of criminal conduct becomes so cumulative that it overwhelms reasonable doubt. It also strongly suggests that at a certain level, the state condones or tolerates this. I cannot, for the life of me, see how anyone can go to Pyongyang, take part in staged propaganda theater, remain silent about the worst abuses of women imaginable, and dare call herself a women’s rights activist.

As members of the U.N. Security Council consider what new sanctions to impose on Pyongyang if it tests a missile, they should consider clarifying that the financial due diligence measures in UNSCR 2094 apply to these arrangements, which have become an important source of income for Pyongyang. The Security Council should prohibit any use of North Korean labor — including labor within North Korea — that fails to comply with International Labor Organization standards, authorize the ILO to report to the Panel of Experts on any suspected violations, and designate any North Korean entities known to be involved in this slave trade. To assuage Chinese objections, this need not be any more explicitly about human rights than the luxury goods ban in UNSCR 1718 was.

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Twenty women Senators do what @GloriaSteinem and @WomenCrossDMZ won’t: Stand up for women in N. Korea’s gulag

With the possible exceptions of Mosul and Raqqa, there may be no worse place on earth to be a woman today than inside North Korea’s prison camps. There, according to a U.N. Commission of Inquiry, “the conditions of subjugation of inmates, coupled with the general climate of impunity, creates an environment, in which rape perpetrated by guards and prisoners in privileged positions is common.” The Commission found that “[w]ithout exception, pregnant victims are subject to abortion or their child is killed at birth.” High percentages of female prisoners die of starvation, disease, torture, and arbitrary execution.

One former prisoner, a woman named Kim Hye-sook, told the Commission of Inquiry that “the women who worked in the mines of Political Prison Camp No. 18 feared assignment to the nightshift, because guards and prisoners preyed on them on their way to and from work and rape them.” Another witness “reported that the guards of Camp No. 18 were especially targeting teenage girls.” A former guard told of “how the camp authorities made female inmates available for sexual abuse to a very senior official who regularly visited the camp,” and that “[a]fter the official raped the women, the victims were killed.” One former guard recalled that after the commander of his unit raped a woman, who subsequently gave birth, “[t]he mother and her child were taken to the detention and punishment block, where the baby was thrown in the feeding bowl for the dogs.” (U.N. Commission of Inquiry, Full Report, para. 766) Another former guard at Camp 16 told Amnesty International that “several women inmates disappeared after they had been raped by officials,” and concluded “that they had been executed secretly.” 

Especially beautiful women suffered the most. It has been known that Kim Byeong-Ha, who was the Bowibu director and set up political prison camps in 1972, selected pretty women and slept with them in an inspection visit to the camps. Then those women were transferred to the director of the 3rd Bureau (Pretrial Examination Bureau) of the Bowibu and used as an experiment subject and killed. [….]

There is a “Cadre Guest House” at No. 14 Political Prison Camp. It is a special building where ministers or deputy ministers from Pyeongyang stay. When senior officials come from Pyeongyang, pretty maidens aged 21 to 25 are selected among female inmates, bathed and then sent to them. After the officials make a sexual plaything of those females, they charge the women with fleeing and kill them to keep secrets. [Korean Bar Association, 2008 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, page 165]

To this evidence, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea adds a new report on the expansion of Camp 12, Chongo-ri (opens in pdf), to include a special women’s section.


According to HRNK:

Sometime after 2008, however, a women’s section was added to Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, reflecting the huge increase of refouled (forcibly repatriated) North Korean women from China. Five additional former prisoners from Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 Jongo-ri interviewed in Seoul in March 2015 update this enlargement of the Jongo-ri prison. This reflects North Korea’s ongoing policy to wrongfully imprisoned persons for reasons not permitted under contemporary international law. Many of the North Koreans who are deprived of their liberty and subjected to forced labor and inhumane conditions suffer this punishment for having taken actions that are explicitly provided for and protected in international law, including conventions that North Korea has acceded to.

It would be fair to call Chongo-ri a “death camp.”

The first edition of Hidden Gulag (2003) cited the testimony of a former prisoner on the deplorable conditions and high rates of death in detention at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. Between December 1998 and July 1999, “Out of twenty-three prisoners who entered on the same day… only two survived. The rest died within eight months of arrival, from hard labor and sub-subsistence food rations–small mixtures of corn and beans, with rice added only on holidays.” A former prisoner interviewed for that report believes that eight hundred prisoners died while he was there; so many, according to what another prisoner told him, that the guards had to burn the corpses.

This former prisoner reported that he weighed 50 kilograms (kg) (110 pounds (lb)) prior to his arrest and only 30 kg (66 lb) upon his release from Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. This was fifteen years ago during North Korea’s “great famine.” Reportedly, not all that much has changed in this regard at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. Tudor and Pearson, publishing in 2015, wrote that “it is common for men serving time there to lose 30 kilograms [66 lb] in body weight. Many end up starving to death.”[*] One of the former women prisoners at Jongo-ri interviewed for this present report in March 2015, Ms. Kim Min-ji, reported that during her time in Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 from 2009 to 2011, nearly all people lost weight and many died of malnutrition and related diseases.

Images of Chongo-ri were first published at this site in 2009.


In January 2014, two OFK readers first brought the expansion of the camp to my attention, and I published this image of the expanded camp.

The new women’s section was added sometime between 2009 and 2013. HRNK’s report contains the first accounts of the women who were held there:

Another former female prisoner at Jongo-ri interviewed for this report in March 2015, Ms. Choi Min-gyang, went from 57 kg (125 lb) to 27 kg (60 lb) during her time at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 Jongo-ri (mid-2008 to September 2010). She was put in the ho-yak-ban (severely sick) unit and lost consciousness. Her condition was so severe that prison officials called her family to come get her rather than deal with her death. It took her a year to regain her health, after which she fled to China and on to South Korea.

Another woman prisoner interviewed for the present report stated that she weighed 79 kg (174 lb) while in China, but her weight during pre-trial detention in North Korea dropped to 34 kg (74 lb). She arrived at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. Jongo-ri in 2010 already so weak that the prison authorities initially did not want to accept her. Nonetheless, even though she was clearly weak and sick, she was assigned to the logging work unit and fed only rotten corn. She never regained her weight until she was released in 2012.

Two male former prisoners at Jongo-ri interviewed for this report in March 2015 indicate that, for men, Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 has operated almost the same for several decades.

The vast majority of the women who live and die at Chongo-ri have been “convicted” in five-minute sham trials of nothing that any other country recognizes as a crime — fleeing across the border to escape starvation and earn a living. The women prisoners of Chongo-ri aren’t even defectors; if they were, they’d end up in far worse places. Many of the women at Chongo-ri were forced to make wigs, presumably for export, to earn hard currency for the regime. Let us not forget the men of Chongo-ri, who worked in an unsafe mine, or a furniture factory, where deadly accidents were common.

What is most maddening about all of this is that it isn’t the cause celebre of Hollywood stars, famous activists, or the big names of the Human Rights Industry, because in terms of numbers and depravity, it deserves to be. That’s why it adds just a drop of hope to a sea of despair when all 20 female U.S. Senators, Republicans and Democrats, take a moment to remember North Korea’s female political prisoners in this resolution.

(16) serving as a composite for prisoners of concern worldwide, an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, including men, women, and children, who are detained in the brutal political prison camps of North Korea where starvation, forced labor, executions, rape, sexual violence, forced abortions, and torture are commonplace and whose offenses, according to defectors, include—

(A) burning old currency or criticizing the currency revaluation of the Government;

(B) sitting on newspapers bearing the picture of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il;

(C) mentioning the limited formal education of Kim Il Sung; and (D) defacing photographs of the Kims;

It merits mention that the resolution was in support of the Samantha Power-led #Freethe20 campaign. No, words and hashtags will not free any prisoners. The hard truth is that few of the women in Chongo-ri or the other camps today will ever get out alive. But words can build a consensus toward policies that can free the next generation of prisoners.

And what of the world’s most famous women’s rights activist, Gloria Steinem? A woman who is rightly remembered both for her activism for the rights of women, and for human rights globally? Today, she has cast her lot with the notorious North Korean sympathizer Christine Ahn and Code Pink, opposing the very pressure that can force Pyongyang to end its atrocities against North Korean women. Instead, a woman who was once arrested for blocking the street in front of the South African Embassy, and who supported the sanctions and isolation that forced the end of apartheid, when asked about sanctions to force change in North Korea, answers: “The example of the isolation of the Soviet Union or other examples of isolation haven’t worked very well in my experience.”

~   ~   ~

The book cited is “North Korea Confidential,” by James Pearson and Daniel Tudor. It’s one of several books I’m reading, as scarce time permits. So far, I’ve found it well researched and interesting.

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Pro-North Korean group denies that it’s under investigation for tax evasion

According to the UPI, which in turn cites reports from Yonhap and SBS, one of America’s most infamous and influential pro-North Korean groups is under investigation “for tax evasion and political activities that violate U.S. tax laws.”

The nonprofit Korean American National Coordinating Council in New York is under investigation according to local Korean American and diplomatic sources, but it was unclear which government agency was conducting the full-scale investigation, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The investigation also is the first reported case of a probe into a group that previously has expressed views sympathetic to the Pyongyang regime. [UPI, Elizabeth Shim]

That’s more than a mild understatement.

Investigators arrived on Thursday at the office of KANCC in the Interchurch Center building near Columbia University to begin their query, South Korean television network SBS reported.

A New York-based diplomat who spoke to Yonhap on the condition of anonymity said the organization was under investigation because of an alleged violation – and that U.S. investigators were probing other organizations that have expressed pro-Pyongyang sentiments.

The mere expression of pro-Pyongyang sentiment, without more, is protected by the First Amendment, and would not be a basis for a criminal investigation in the U.S., but is illegal in South Korea. I wonder if that means our “diplomatic sources” are South Koreans. Clearly, the report doesn’t tell the whole story, but then, KANCC’s president was unavailable for comment when the story broke. He was in North Korea for the big Liberation Day celebrations.Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 9.02.20 PM

[KANCC President Yoon Kil Sang in Pyongyang last week. Front row, fourth from left]

KANCC has since posted an angry denial of Yonhap’s story, calling it a malicious lie and a total fabrication, threatening a libel suit, and demanding an apology. KANCC denies having been searched or even contacted by the feds. It claims that it merely advocates for human rights, peaceful reunification, and meetings of separated families. As early as 2003, after KANCC arranged for Suki Kim to travel to North Korea, its then-President, Michael Hahm, took exception to her characterization of it as “US-based organization of pro–North Korea activists.” (Kim’s story is well worth reading.)

I don’t know if KANCC is really under investigation or what for, and they’re innocent of tax evasion or any other crime until proven guilty. What’s incontrovertible is that KANCC is, at the very least, strongly sympathetic to North Korea. Its contribution to the North Korea human rights discourse has been to publish claims that the whole issue is a fabrication and a “racket,” criticizing the establishment of a U.N. human rights office in Seoul, and arguing that the world’s greatest human rights violator is (of course) the United States. Its relations with Pyongyang are, to use the Rodong Sinmun‘s quaint term, “compatriotic.”

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The reports don’t specify why the feds might be interested in KANCC’s political activities, but this public database has posted some of its tax returns online.* On its 2013 return, which is marked “open to public inspection,” KANCC claimed tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and described its work this way:


Section 501(c)(3) grants tax-exempt status to organizations “operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition,” but limits their ability to engage in political campaigning, lobbying, or — here’s the kicker — “carrying on propaganda.” Now, words don’t always mean in law what they mean in daily usage, and you should not read anything in this post as a legal opinion. I’m not a tax lawyer, and you can parse or stretch a legal definition of “propaganda,” but as far as the daily use of the term goes, I know propaganda when I see it:
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Post after post praises Kim Il-Sung, sows anti-American conspiracy theories, or generally portrays North Korea as an earthly paradise. The content consists almost entirely of pro-Pyongyang tracts, republished propaganda from Uriminzokkiri and KCNA, and assorted maniacal batshite (“Kim Il Sung, Iron-willed Commander,” “Pyongyang Mass Rally Marks Day of Struggle against US Imperialism,” “Information Songun politics Beneficial to People,” and “Zionist-Anglo-Saxon Caliphate vs BRICS“). Also, don’t miss the letter, published on KANCC’s site, that compares the U.S. to Josef Mengele and Unit 731.

What I did not find on KANCC’s web site is much evidence of its “civic affairs” work.

Interestingly enough, KANCC’s web site also caught the attention of the New York Times back in 2003, for its many “selections from the writings of the Great Leader, as Kim Il Sung is known, and his son, Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader.” KANCC’s then-President, Rev. Michael Hahm, told the Times he was “not happy with the site,” and that it was “run independently out of the group’s Washington office,” which did not return the reporter’s calls. And yet the web site doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last 12 years.

UPI’s report claims the feds are also looking into KANCC’s contacts with North Korean officials, including a visit to the North Korean U.N. mission “on the first anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death in 2012 to deliver condolences,” and a possible attempt to contact members of Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong’s entourage during a visit to the U.S. last year.

These things, by themselves, would not necessarily violate U.S. law, either, although there are legal restrictions on contacts with foreign officials, which the Justice Department helpfully summarizes here. One of these is the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires “publicity agents” and “information-service employees” acting “subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official” to register with the Justice Department. I can’t say one way or another whether KANCC is acting under Pyongyang’s direction or control; perhaps it’s just independently sycophantic. According to DOJ records, however, it isn’t FARA registered.

On the other hand, there’s no question that KANCC officials have met with senior North Korean officials. KANCC’s 2013 tax return lists one Yoon Kil-Sang as the President of KANCC. For your reference and identification, here are two photos of Yoon from KANCC’s web site. The Korean Central News Agency lists a “Yun Kil Sang” as a frequent visitor to Pyongyang leading delegations of “Koreans in the U.S.”** The most recent such report is dated last Friday.

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In the KCNA photo below, Yoon is on the left, and Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, is on the right. Pyongyang doesn’t usually give this kind of photo op to ordinary tourists or community activists.

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[Peace activism!]

Also, here’s Yoon (second from right) at the Liberation Day rally in Pyongyang.

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Here’s video grab of Yoon at a big North Korean rally at the DMZ (see this link for the Boston Globe‘s report on that rally).

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Unless my eyes deceive me, that’s also him in the center of the image below, wearing sunglasses and a black windbreaker, at a propaganda rally at Mt. Paektu, Kim Jong-Il’s mythical birthplace.


[Let’s carry out Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il’s reunification philosophy!]

This KCNA report from January quotes Yoon praising His Porcine Majesty:

Kim Jong Un’s Personality Praised by Overseas Koreans Pyongyang, January 16 (KCNA) — Overseas Koreans are praising the personality of the dear respected Kim Jong Un as a great man. [….]

Overseas Koreans said in general that they felt “kind-heartedness” and “high-spiritedness” from Vice-Chairman Kim Jong Un when they were received by him after paying their respects to the bier of Kim Jong Il, chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission, displayed at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, the article noted, saying:

Yun Kil Sang, chairman of the Federation of Koreans in the U.S., said: His image gave other persons something comfortable. It gave a dignified yet gentle impression. When I looked at his face, I could feel that his hand shaking was based on warm sincerity, not casual manner.

KANCC’s officers were also behind this “open letter” to President Obama, calling on him to lift sanctions against North Korea, normalize relations with it, and (sit down for this) sign a peace treaty with it. The letter is dated December 2014, the same month President Obama accused North Korea of being behind the Sony hack and terrorist threat. The letter is signed by Moon J. Pak, as “Senior Vice President” of KANCC, and was posted on KANCC’s web site. It was also published by the rabidly pro-North Korean blog Minjok Tongshin, whose publisher, Roh Kil-Nam, is the recipient of the coveted (by some) Kim Il-Sung Prize, has a degree from Kim Il Sung University, and had visited the Workers’ Paradise a whopping 62 times as of last October.

According to this site, Pak’s open letter was also published as a full-page color ad in the New York Times last March. An ad like that could easily have cost $200,000. That’s about triple what KANCC reported to the IRS in total revenue in 2013 ($71,650, including $15,050 in “program service revenue, including government fees and contracts”) and $70,178 in expenses, leaving about $1,500 net. KANCC’s balance sheets and past tax returns report between $50,000 and $80,000 in gross income and almost no net. A group calling itself “Korean-Americans for Peace for the U.S.A. & North Korea & South Korea” lists 66 individual donors who supported the ad. The first three names are KANCC officers Yoon, Moon J. Pak (the author), and Michael Hahm. The letter also references a Korean-Americans for Change PAC, which reported total receipts of $7,650 to the Federal Election Committee in 2008. Did these individual donors really scrape together 200 grand for this ad? Hey, anything’s possible. KANCC reported no foreign donations on its 2013 return, and I have no evidence to the contrary, but I’ll never underestimate its influence again.

The point of this post isn’t to argue that KANCC violated its tax-exempt status or any other law. If there’s any substance behind UPI’s report, the legal process will decide that. Furthermore, most Americans would agree that the IRS shouldn’t target nonprofits for tax enforcement because it disapproves of their political views, although any law that grants tax exemption to the likes of KANCC is overdue for an amendment. My point is simply to document what KANCC stands for, and to illustrate why one should be wary of accepting self-serving claims of innocent peace activism at face value. The First Amendment protects your right to lick the feet of murderous totalitarians all you like, but it isn’t an exemption from the scrutiny and criticism of your fellow citizens for the repellent and — to use an archaic term I inexplicably cling to — unpatriotic views you express while doing so.

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* The tax return is filed under the name “Korean American National Council Inc.,” but lists the same employer ID, and exactly the same income and expenses, as this balance sheet for the Korean American National Coordinating Council. Both list Kil Sang Yoon as President or “in care of name.” The tax return for the Korean National Council, Inc., gives an address of “475 Riverside Drive, Room/Suite 1369,” New York. The balance sheet gives an address of “475 Riverside Dr Ste 1368,” New York.

** There is an actual organization called the “Federation of Korean Associations, U.S.A.” It most certainly is not pro-North Korean.

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North Korean Men Cross DMZ (and plant land mines)

By now, you’ve read that South Korea’s government has accused the North Korean military of sending soldiers across the DMZ to plant mines near South Korean guard posts, an act that blew the legs off two South Korean soldiers last week.

The two South Koreans, both staff sergeants, triggered the mines last Tuesday just outside their post, within the South Korean half of the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, a buffer separating the two Korean armies.

One lost both legs in the first blast, involving two mines. The other soldier lost one leg in a second explosion as he tried to help his wounded colleague to safety, the ministry said. [N.Y. Times]

The mines in question were box mines like this one, a copy of a Russian TMD antipersonnel mine.

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[via AFP]

South Korea says it has ruled out “the possibility they were old mines displaced over the border by shifting soil patterns,” but I admit that when I first read the report, I wondered about this. After all, in June, Yonhap reported that North Korea was planting more mines along the DMZ, not to maim or kill South Korean troops, but to maim or kill its own troops, who might want to imitate the embarrassing cross-border defection of a young North Korean soldier in June, the latest in a string of incidents suggesting that morale in the North Korean Peoples’ Army is flagging. This is also the rainy season in Korea — albeit an exceptionally dry one. Still, if the mines were triggered in low-lying areas, it might be possible that summer rains washed them downhill to where the ROK soldiers triggered them.

On further examination, however, an accidental explanation seems unlikely. South Korea claims that the mines were placed on “a known South Korean border patrol path,” and “just outside the South Korean guard post, which is 1,440 feet south of the military demarcation line.” That’s a long way for three mines to travel together, completely by accident, to a place right along a trail and next to a ROKA border post. Worse, the mines “exploded as the soldiers opened the gate of a barbed-wire fence to begin a routine morning patrol,” and were planted “on both sides of a barbed-wire fence protecting the post.” Most of the DMZ is double fenced, and a large mine wouldn’t wash through a fence line.



Finally, the incident happened near Paju. Along most of the DMZ in that area, the South Korean side is uphill from the North Korean side. Water doesn’t usually wash mines uphill. Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 6.43.36 PM

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[Google Earth]

These facts strongly suggest that the placement was deliberate. The U.N. Command seems to agree, and “condemns these violations” of the 1953 Armistice. It’s only the latest illustration of the folly of any call for peace talks with a government that won’t abide by an Armistice, or for that matter, any other agreement. There is, of course, a calculated strategic objective behind North Korea’s support for advocates of a peace treaty. Both Pyongyang and its apologists want sanctions lifted before North Korea disarms, and probably whether it disarms or not. (Pyongyang demands that we lift sanctions immediately because sanctions don’t work, of course.) By preemptively giving up their leverage before Kim Jong-Un disarms, the U.S., the U.N., and South Korea would effectively recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear-armed state.

But if calls for a peace treaty are mostly confined to the likes of Code Pink and a few extremists, undermining the effect of sanctions with financial aid for Pyongyang remains politically popular in South Korea, and amounts to almost the same thing for North Korea’s nuclear program. Just as North Korean troops were planting the mines that maimed the ROK soldiers, a coalition of far-left types and business profiteers called on the South Korean government to lift bilateral sanctions against North Korea, known as the “May 24th Measures.” South Korea imposed those measures in 2010 after Pyongyang, with premeditation and malice aforethought, torpedoed and sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 of its sailors. Of course, the May 24th measures still exempted the largest South-to-North money pipe, the Kaesong Industrial Park, which blunted the sanctions’ deterrent effect. If North Korea had complied with South Korea’s demand for an apology, we’d have known that the deterrent was sufficient, and some limited, financially transparent, and ethical re-engagement might have been appropriate. 

It gets worse. Yonhap is now speculating that the man behind this latest incident is none other than Kim Yong-Chol, head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau. In that capacity, General Kim was featured prominently in “Arsenal of Terror” for directing a campaign of assassinations (most of them unsuccessful) of refugee-dissidents in South Korea and human rights activists in China, and for being behind the Sony cyberattacks and threats. Yonhap also says that Gen. Kim was behind the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong-do attacks of 2010, although I’ve also heard Kim Kyok-Shik’s name mentioned. President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

Clearly, then, there is still a need to deter Kim Jong-Un and his minions, to show them that they will pay a price for their acts of war. August 15th will be the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation, and there has been much speculation, not discouraged by Pyongyang, that Pyongyang will celebrate it with some major provocation. At this point, the least-informed reporters covering Korea will seek comment from the least-informed North Korea “experts,” who will say there’s nothing we can do about this, short of (the false choice of) war. By now, of course, all of them should know that this is just plain wrong

Today, South Korea’s military is speaking through clenched teeth, using words that sound like threats of war. Major General Koo Hong-mo, head of operations for the Joint Chiefs, says, “As previously warned on many occasions, our military will make North Korea pay the equally pitiless penalty for their provocations.” The Joint Chiefs themselves have said the North will “pay a harsh price proportionate for the provocation it made.” (Can a price or penalty be both proportionate and pitiless? But I digress.) A spokesman for the South Korean military said, “We swear a severe retaliation.” Tensions are already high in the Yellow Sea, the site of North Korea’s deadly attacks of 2010.

Asked what kinds of retaliation will be taken, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok declined to elaborate, only saying that “The substance cannot be disclosed now, but we will wait and see.” Kim highlighted that the military will ensure the punitive action is taken against North Korea because the country’s responsibility for the mine detonation has been clearly proven. [Yonhap]

I certainly hope South Korea doesn’t launch a military response when the U.S. government is such an unsteady guarantor, and when the deaths of a few dozen (or a few hundred) conscripts and civilians on both sides will hardly give Kim Jong-Un any pause and do little to deter him (but much more about that later this week). In fact, I suspect this is more empty talk. I would like to think, however, that South Korea has a more serious response than this in mind:


[South China Morning Post]

South Korea Monday resumed a propaganda loudspeaker campaign along the tensely guarded border in retaliation for the detonation of a North Korean mine in the demilitarized zone last week, the Defense Ministry said.

The loudspeaker broadcasting, a kind of psychological warfare against the communist North, started during the evening on that day and continued on and off down the road in two spots along the border, the ministry said.

“As part of retaliation for North Korea’s illegal provocation, our military will partly carry out loudspeaker broadcasting along the military demarcation line as the first step,” according to the ministry. [Yonhap]

As a defense doctrine, the notion of shouting to a few hundred conscripts within earshot is very nearly the opposite of “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” As a deterrent, it’s ludicrous. And as an American taxpayer, I can only ask myself: if South Korea isn’t serious about its own defense, why should we be serious about its defense?

Any fool can see that the profiteers and appeasers who’ve dictated the terms of South Korea’s security policy and relations with North Korea have not only made their country less safe, but brought it to the brink of war. A military response would be ill-advised and disproportionate, and would only kill a lot of people who are utterly expendable to those responsible for this attack. If the South Korean government is serious about deterring the next provocation, it should not limit its voice to a few unfortunate conscripts along the border; it should open the medium-wave spectrum to subversive broadcasts to all of the North Korean people, and fund services like Radio Free North Korea and Open News that produce those broadcasts. And yes, it should suspend operations at Kaesong for a few months — or better yet, permanently — to impose a financial price on those responsible for this attack.

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Here comes the crazy train!

Jason Unruhe, who looks like an overripe ripe kiwi fruit decorated with a Mister Potato Head set, goes by the Twitter handle “Maoist Rebel News” and calls himself the “No. 1 Marxist on YouTube,” and yes, that is like being the “No. 1” sommelier under the 395 overpass. It’s my privilege to report that Mr. Unruhe is upset with me, after he provoked a Twitter fracas by raging against “imperialist” sanctions against North Korea. At this point, I explained to Mr. Unruhe that he had no idea what the sanctions actually say, so he turned on his satan-worshipper under-lighting, put on his limo driver uniform, and made this 18-minute YouTube video about me.

Feel free to comment, should you choose to do so.

I learned three things from this video: first, that Jason Unruhe doesn’t know much about North Korea; second, that his reading comprehension skills aren’t much good, either; and third, that some people will believe just about anything if they want to badly enough. Unruhe calls me a proponent of “keeping” North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terrorism (it was taken off the list by George W. Bush on October 11, 2008). He claims that I cited the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan (which he mispronounces chee-yo-nan) as an example of North Korea’s international terrorism; I actually concluded that this act, as outrageous as it was, probably didn’t meet the standard. Unruhe appears to have skimmed the table of contents without reading the report itself.

Unruhe also credits conspiracy theories that a U.S. navy ship actually sank the Cheonan, and denies that North Korea was behind the Sony hack. Why blame North Korea? Beats me. Maybe President Obama needed a better excuse to not sanction North Korea. Unruhe also refers to North Korea’s “so-called” prison camps, whose existence he doubts, and which puts him in Holocaust denier territory. In other words, you can either take Unruhe’s word, or that of a U.N. Commission of Inquiry, the President of the United States, the heads of the FBI and the NSA, and an international investigation team.

What always puzzles me about Marxists who support North Korea is how unequal and un-Marxist North Korean society really is. I suppose we should add this to the long list of things Jason Unruhe doesn’t know about North Korea.

Nothing Mr. Unruhe says is quite as laughable, however, as his claim that combustible know-nothing Mike Bassett has a reputation among both pro- and anti-North Korea factions for being “neutral.” (Unruhe would have improved the comedy value of his video immensely if he’d used the word “balanced” instead.) Can anyone name a Korea watcher of any standing who believes this? Mike Bassett mainly has a reputation for his crimes against Godwin’s Law.

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Mr. Bassett will not be taking part in today’s discussion, by the way, because he violated the comment policy, and because every day is too short to respond to “scholarship” of this caliber:

Bassett comment 3 Apr 2015

Remember, I’m not a mental health professional, and neither are you.

As for Bassett’s “neutrality,” his writing is cited by the Korean Central News Agency, an internet Marxist, and just about no one else. Also, his masthead looks like some sort of niche Kim Jong Un erotic fanfic site.

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[Not that there’s anything wrong with that.]

Unruhe seems to have taken most of his talking points from Bassett, and that’s a problem, because looking for truth from Mike Bassett is like looking for love in the restroom stall of a bus station. For example, to support his Vishinskyist argument that I’m a McCarthyist, Bassett accuses me of calling for the prosecution of Christine Ahn under the Logan Act (in fact, I called for the repeal of the Logan Act as unconstitutional). I’d say Bassett was lying, but the more likely explanation is that he’s merely subliterate.

Similarly, I’m reliably informed that Mr. Bassett’s Swiss tweedledum, Felix Abt, is crediting the “FEMA camps” internet hoax, which actually uses images of North Korean prison camps that you can find for yourself on Google Earth, relabeled by a prankster with clever anagrams of phrases like “left wing suckers.” How prophetic of him, whoever he was, although the right-wing crazies have also picked up on this conspiracy theory.

None of this matches the honor of being denounced by North Korea itself, but it does mean that I must be doing something right. And that I must do much more of it. So now, let’s turn to something more substantial: a four five-part post on “guerrilla engagement” with the North Korean people.

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Gloria Steinem was right about isolation (of South Africa)

Gloria Steinem can look back on a life of activism that has built deep reserves of good will among many people. Steinem must have spent heavily from those reserves last week, when Women Cross DMZ attracted largely critical media coverage (and I suspect, an even more critical public reaction). As NK News informs us, its events were stamped from the same propaganda assembly line as those put on for the clown-shod Quisling Alejandro Cao de Benos.

To what end would Steinem jeopardize that good will by entangling herself with a regime that treats women the way Pyongyang does, and whose state media ejaculate this level of misogyny? Steinem’s answer is interesting and telling: “The example of the isolation of the Soviet Union or other examples of isolation haven’t worked very well in my experience.” A prepared (but not as well edited) statement by Women Cross DMZ was on-message: “If history has taught us anything, it is that isolating people only alienates them.”

But Gloria Steinem clearly didn’t believe this on December 19, 1984, when she was arrested outside the South African Embassy while protesting against Ronald Reagan’s “policy of seeking change in South Africa through quiet diplomacy.” The demonstrations were coordinated by the lobby TransAfrica, which led America’s (and ultimately, the world’s) movement to isolate South Africa, and to force it to repeal its apartheid laws.

I first learned this bit of trivia from an article in the agitprop site Foreign Policy in Focus, to which Women Cross DMZ organizer Christine Ahn is a frequent contributor. An article there by Francis Njubi Nesbitt, “The Peoples’ Sanctions,” reminds us that Steinem once joined a movement that targeted “South African consulates, federal buildings, coin shops that dealt in gold Krugerrand coins, and businesses with South African interests . . . to cut apartheid South Africa off from the rest of the world.”

By the 1980s, most of the world’s countries had imposed political, economic, and military sanctions on the South African regime. The exceptions were South Africa’s major trading partners: the United States and Britain. These countries disingenuously argued that sanctions would hurt black Africans most.

In the United States, however, a vigorous grassroots movement demanded that cities, states, pension funds, banks, and universities divest their resources from companies doing business in South Africa, making it a liability for anyone to do business in the racially segregated state. Eventually, international corporations pulled out in a massive exodus that helped to bring down the apartheid system. [FPIF]

So deep was the connection Steinem built to the anti-Apartheid movement that she later married David Bale, a South African-born anti-Apartheid activist, and the father of actor Christian Bale.

Anyone who lived through the 1980s knew that enforcement of the People’s Sanctions was as much a function of social pressure as it was of law. Then, breaking the boycott of South Africa would have been career suicide for any celebrity, and would have risked a shareholder revolt in any corporation. Yet although Apartheid-era South Africa was banned from most sporting events, North Korea was welcome at the 2010 World Cup … in Johannesburg. “Constructive engagement” with North Korea falls within the acceptable norms of hipster chic, and attracts press coverage that, if not wholly sympathetic, certainly isn’t unsympathetic. The author Mark Bowden wrote a lengthy article that was largely devoted to the charms of Kim Jong Un’s hospitality, as if this trait were more revealing of Kim’s misunderstood nature than his tendencies to starve his citizens and slaughter his minions.

By any objective standard, North Korea’s human rights abuses vastly exceed those of South Africa, yet as our friends in Europe are coming to realize, North Korea shows no glimmer of “engagement” aimed at moderating, much less ending, those abuses. Reading Nesbitt’s article, one can’t help observing (again!) how much the political polarities in the contest over South Africa policy have reversed on the question of North Korea.

What explains this disparity? Was it racism that made Apartheid uniquely evil? North Korea is almost certainly more racist than South Africa ever was. For all the petty racism one could see during Apartheid’s death-rattle, its state media would not have called a foreign leader “a monkey in a tropical forest,” “a crossbreed of unclear blood,” or “an ugly subhuman.” Whatever you think about the recent clamor to isolate Indiana, no public official this side of Kampala could survive calling a respected jurist “a disgusting old lecher with 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality.”

Today (as then) most of us accept that the liberals were right about South Africa policy. Nesbitt goes on to narrate the history of how economic isolation brought down Apartheid. He hails decisions by Citibank and Chase Manhattan to refuse the South African government short-term credit, which had “a devastating effect on South Africa’s economy.” He is rightfully triumphal about the passage of the Comprehensive Anti-apartheid Act in 1986, when half the Republicans in Congress joined Ted Kennedy to override President Reagan’s veto. He writes that Congress later “strengthened sanctions against South Africa, banning all trade, investment, and bank loans.” He tells how U.S. leadership inspired Europe to impose its own sanctions, which “meant total isolation for the apartheid regime” and brought South Africa’s economy to “the verge of collapse” within months. All of this was very much to the good, and Steinem is rightfully praised for her role in this movement, even today.

To Nesbitt, it was isolation that eventually forced F.W. DeKlerk to negotiate the end of apartheid. This rings mostly true, though not entirely. I arrived in South Africa in May of 1990 for a summer job in the mines, three months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I did not see an economy on “the verge of collapse,” but an economy that was steady, yet punch drunk and bleeding, and a population (regardless of race) that was tired of being ostracized from global sporting events and culture. South Africa sits on vast deposits of gold, platinum, and other minerals, so it might have resisted sanctions for another decade or more, but sanctions had broken the will of most of the white minority to resist, and encouraged the black majority to defy Apartheid. North Korea, by comparison, has a greater will to resist, but fewer means to do so for long. When the U.S. imposed financial sanctions on North Korea in 2005, Kim Jong Il defied demands to disarm for a little more than a year before agreeing to them.

One final point on the subject of hypocrisy: the organizer of Women Cross DMZ, Christine Ahn, supports a movement to divest from Israel. Never let it be said, then, that Ahn and Steinem are philosophically opposed to isolating regimes they despise. Having exhausted all principled distinctions, we can only wonder if there might be less principled ones.

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Women Cross DMZ: A Q&A, and closing thoughts (updated)

In the end, nothing illustrated the absurdity of Women Cross DMZ, the march to end the Korean War, better than the fact that it began with homages to Kim Il-Sung, the man who started the Korean War. Its emotional apex was reduced to a bus ride and a wait in an immigration line. It ended with organizer Christine Ahn ducking reporters to avoid questions about her reported comments praising Kim Il Sung (here’s the original Korean article from Pyongyang’s Rodong Sinmun). It was left to Gloria Steinem and unnamed march organizers to deny the statements and protest against the Rodong Sinmun‘s reporting on Ahn’s behalf, pitting Ahn and Women Cross DMZ against Pyongyang’s propagandists. I’ve yet to see Ahn herself deny the various statements attributed to her. We’re left wondering which of two sources is less credible — Ahn or the Rodong Sinmun.*

What a pity that both sides can’t lose.

Judging by how Pyongyang orchestrated and covered Women Cross DMZ (skip to 28:00), my suspicions about how Pyongyang would exploit it were validated. Judging by how The L.A. Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and even The Independent covered it, many reporters agree. The Washington Post wrote that in the end, the march had “many more detractors” than supporters. CNN focused on Women Cross DMZ’s failure to address North Korea’s human rights abuses, including forced abortions and infanticides, and described Women Cross DMZ’s venues in North Korea as “very staged events.” News media also carried North Korean defectorsdenunciations of the march. In the end, not even The New York Times could ignore the criticism. As a P.R. stunt, Women Cross DMZ was a fiasco.

A few days ago, before the Women Cross DMZ delegation arrived in Pyongyang, James Pearson, a Reuters correspondent who covers Korea, and the author of the new book, “North Korea Confidential,” contacted me to probe the basis for my skepticism. Due to space limits, most of my responses (but not all) ended up on the cutting room floor, but Mr. Pearson agreed to let me post his questions and my responses in full. Here they are, just as I provided them to Mr. Pearson, except that I added the hyperlinks.

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N. Korea calls S. Korea’s president a skirt-lifting, crotch-licking whore, just as Gloria Steinem arrives in Pyongyang

Gloria Steinem must have had her first reservations about “Women Cross DMZ” when the march’s organizer was outed as a North Korean apologist, and reporters began to ask her uncomfortable questions about North Korea’s war on women. Since then, Steinem has had to duck questions about the regime’s rape and murder of female prisoners, the endemic and unpunished rapes of North Korean women by its soldiers, and the infanticides and forced abortions this regime inflicts on North Korean refugee women and their babies. Steinem dismissed calls to speak up for North Korea’s millions of vulnerable women as “a bananas question.”

Of course, things could always get worse, and so they did. After this inauspicious start, the “peace” march has been overshadowed by North Korean missile tests and a gruesome purge. Now, a lengthy sexist screed about South Korean President Park Geun Hye, published by North Korea’s official “news” service, has given Steinem a whole new set of questions to duck.

What’s interesting about this particular screed is its selective translation. I’ll give you the English version first. It’s probably one-third as long as the original, and it’s pretty standard fare for North Korea’s inimitable Korean Central News Agency:

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The North Korean army’s rape problem, “Kangan” Province, and Gloria Steinem

It has been four whole days since I said I was done talking about Women Cross DMZ for a year. How foolish it was of me to write that. For one thing, I did not anticipate having this detailed history of Christine Ahn’s pro-North Korean views, which outdoes my own, to graf for you:

In late April, WomenCrossDMZ held a press conference in New York City. Ahn was not in attendance to respond to our question of why the group omits discussion of human rights. But Steinem was: she responded that this was a “bananas question … there are many sins on every side.” Ahn and Steinem’s co-organizer, theology professor Hyun-Kyung Chung, added that “when you go out on a first date, you don’t talk about all the bad things you did last summer.” Fair enough. Even Charles Manson has suitors. [Thor Halvorssen & Alex Gladstein, Foreign Policy]

For another, a horrible new report from New Focus International describes the “rape culture” that has developed among North Korean soldiers in Kangwon Province, or Kangwon-do, where soldiers rape civilian women so frequently that residents have taken to grimly calling it kangan-do. In Korean, kangan means rape:

The source explains, “Wherever you go in Kangwon Province, there are more soldiers than civilians. Because almost everyone you bump into is a soldier, you notice that as a major group they commit a lot of crimes. Mostly, the crimes are rape and sexual assault. In Kangwon Province, the soldiers move in large groups, and attacks have become so frequent that it isn’t even surprising to us anymore.

Even the police try to avoid them. This is because they try to contain the soldiers, but usually end up being humiliated. The soldiers in Kangwon Province are uncontrollable and virtually lawless. So the civilians of Kangwon Province have resorted to calling their hometown ‘Robbery Province’ or ‘Rape Province’.” [New Focus, Apr. 29, 2015]

The problem is impunity: the command and the security forces have made a decision not to prosecute rapes. This is same the impunity the U.N. Commission of Inquiry found, and which I quoted in my recent piece for The Weekly Standard. According to the report, witnesses reported that North Korean authorities don’t treat the rape of an adult woman as a crime at all.

Song Geum-bok, who escaped North Korea in March 2014, testifies: “There are army units everywhere in Kangwon Province. Eight of the ten people that pass you in the streets of Kangwon Province are soldiers. Put simply, there are more soldiers in this province than rocks. So naturally, when bad news circulates among the neighbourhood people, we presume that a soldier is involved in some way.

“The greatest victims of the soldiers are women. These youthful soldiers, who are in their prime both physically and sexually, are forced to serve in the army, and as time passes they become like uncontrollable wolves. When women become the target of a soldier, there is no stopping them. Soldiers usually loiter around dark places at night and jump on women passing by. Some women don’t even fight it – they just obediently adhere to the soldiers’ desires.

“Why? It’s because there is no use in fighting back. The women believe that by being compliant, they will at least be able to avoid suffering too many injuries.  [New Focus, Apr. 29, 2015]

If there are no prosecutions, there is no point in reporting rapes. North Korean women know how little their government values their safety, their health, their bodies. Imagine the circumstances of a low-songbun North Korean woman who becomes pregnant, or who is injured or infected with an STD, after she’s raped.

We came across an interesting anecdote dealing with the consequences of rapes committed by North Korean soldiers. North Korean exile Kim Yoon-seok tells us, “There was an incident where a soldier raped a woman at gunpoint. Obviously, he was never caught. As the father’s identity was unknown, the child that was born nine months later did not have a surname. The woman named the child Cho In-gun (the first letters of Chosun inmin-gun or ‘Korean People’s Army’. It is as if the baby was named ‘KPA’). The story spread like wildfire. That name, Cho In-gun, it is now used to mock the bastard children of the North Korean army.” [New Focus, 2013]

According to that same report, STDs are common in the North Korean military. For North Korea’s lower classes, there’s little or no medical care to be found. In North Korea, a poor woman has no one but herself. That’s why some women are learning to fight back:

A homegrown version of pepper spray has become the latest item carried by female merchants in North Korea, namely to combat sexual harassment and theft. For others, however, it plays an increasingly integral part in the perpetual struggle they face in trying to get by on a daily basis.

In most of the world, pepper spray, also known as oleoresin capsicum or OC, is derived from the same chemical that gives chili peppers their heat–but at much higher concentrations. North Korea’s version of pepper spray forgoes any complex chemical processes; in fact, instead of a spray, North Korea’s deterrent consists of pulverized chili peppers tucked into an easily accessible sack, which residents have coined the “chili powder bomb.”

“Women in Chongjin, Hamheung, Pyeongseong, and other cities are carrying around ‘chili powder bombs’ for protection,” a source from Hamkyung North Province told Daily NK on the 28th. “Women merchants as well as travelers are using bags of ground chili pepper as a means of self-protection.” [Daily NK]

North Korean soldiers often have long enlistments, and are not allowed to marry. Those who might already be married or have girlfriends seldom get leave. This doesn’t excuse anything, but it must be seen as another factor contributing to the problem that these young men are denied the option of love, marriage, and family until some of their best years are behind them.

In every station, prostitutes can be seen waiting for military customers. Working alongside security guards, private homes loaned out by their occupants are used as temporary brothels.

According to exile Kim Yoon-seok, “Women have to make a living too, and the best they have to offer is their bodies. Their primary source of income is the soldiers. As their sexual desires must be suppressed during military service, the young men are very bold and open about using prostitutes. The women receive food or cash for sleeping with them.”

To afford prostitutes, soldiers are said to raid civilian homes, from which they steal with impunity. Without even making an effort to hide themselves, they then make their way to stations or other red-light districts. [New Focus, 2013]

For years, guerrilla news services have reported that North Korean soldiers maraud nearby farms and homes to steal food and valuables. Sometimes, that violence even spills over the border, into China. Last year, Chinese media began to report that North Korean army deserters were robbing and murdering Chinese civilians. According to a new Chinese press report, three more deserters crossed into China and killed three more civilians, “a 55-year-old surnamed Chao, his 26-year-old daughter and a 67-year-old Sun.” When the victims of these attacks are Chinese, there is some chance that the crimes will be reported; there may even be a measure of accountability for the commanders. When the victims are North Korean, the state’s culture of secrecy and impunity almost assures that that won’t happen.

Would it be too much for Gloria Steinem to ask North Korea to investigate and prosecute the rapists in its ranks? After all, Steinem’s Feminist Majority has been outspoken on the subject of sexual assault in the U.S. armed forces. The organizer of Women Cross DMZ, Christine Ahn, has denounced “sexual violence by U.S. servicemen” in South Korea, even suggesting that it’s a greater threat to South Korea’s civilian population than North Korea’s nuclear weapons. (This is a hyperbolic falsehood, as I can testify from my four years as an Army prosecutor and defense counsel in Korea. If anything, the U.S. Army’s extreme sensitivity to bad publicity and political pressure causes it to overcharge alleged sexual assaults. Alleged assaults were overwhelmingly soldier-on-soldier; relatively few involved Korean victims.)

For purely demographic reasons, all militaries need to be concerned about sexual assaults, whether among soldiers, or against the civilian population. Every government’s command deserves to be judged by how it balances its responsibility to protect victims with how it protects the rights of the accused to a fair trial. Clearly, Pyongyang has made the decision that women’s bodies are not worth protecting from rapists. That’s a problem that any self-respecting feminist has a duty to speak out about. And if Steinem has the courage to call the North Koreans out on their own soil, she would earn our sincere respect for that. On her way from Pyongyang to the DMZ, Gloria Steinem should not bypass “Kangan” Province.

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In The Weekly Standard: North Korea’s war on women

I believe, having written this, that I’ve gotten out of my system everything I’ve ever wanted to write about Christine Ahn and Women Cross DMZ.

For this year.

I just hope Gloria Steinem doesn’t leave her feminism at home when she goes to Pyongyang. Millions of North Korean women need her support, more desperately than she’s willing to see.

On the same topic, see also this op-ed, in The Washington Post, by Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Greg Scarlatoiu.

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Help! Help! I’m being repressed! (Part 2)

Christine Ahn’s pursuit of global fame is having unintended consequences, mostly for Gloria Steinem. At Hot Air, Noah Rothman writes, “If women’s rights are also human rights, then North Korea is no friend to either.” He accuses Ahn and Steinem (and other “progressives”) of turning “a blind eye toward real abuses in order to support the cause of totalitarian statism.”

In The Daily Beast, Lizzie Crocker writes that Ahn “has long been uncritical of North Korea, a country that has some committed some of the worst human rights abuses on record,” and wonders how it could be that “this group of women has so far been mum on the violence occurring at the hands of the Kim regime in North Korea: executions, rape, forced starvation, and enslavement, according to a 2014 United Nations report on North Korea’s human rights abuses.” Crocker also prints this poignant quote from a North Korean refugee:

“It’s tragic that Pyongyang will allow a group of foreign women to cross the DMZ, but will not allow its own people to do the same,” says 32-year-old Hyeonseo Lee, who fled North Korea when she was 15 and currently lives in Seoul.

“All of us defectors are heartbroken that we cannot visit our hometown or meet our loved ones. So I hope these 30 brave women will ask the North Korean leadership to allow North Koreans to cross the DMZ as well.”

It’s not clear if Ms. Lee, who is brave, used the word “brave” ironically while referring to Ahn and Steinem, who lack the courage (or the inclination) to ask the North Koreans uncomfortable questions about women’s rights. Crocker also relates the weirdness of Ahn’s media strategy when asked difficult questions:

After agreeing to an interview by email on Tuesday, Ahn declined to answer a series of questions posed by the Daily Beast, referring a reporter to a Buzzfeed story before signing off cryptically, “Be on the right side of history!”

Steinem also declined to comment for Crocker’s article.

This unwanted scrutiny must be quite a come-down after the (metaphorical) tongue bath Ahn’s project received from this New York Times op-ed, which is labeled as a news story. The reporter, Rick Gladstone, does not betray the slightest hint of objectivity, or of having researched Ahn’s background or motives. He never mentions any of the findings of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry that inform relevant-seeming questions about how the North Korean regime treats women, or what Ahn and Steinem plan to say or do about that. Just to give you an idea of what Gladstone didn’t consider fit to print, or even to inquire about, here’s a quote from the COI’s report:

318. Witnesses have testified that violence against women is not limited to the home, and that it is common to see women being beaten and sexually assaulted in public.  Officials are not only increasingly engaging in corruption in order to support their low or non-existent salaries, they are also exacting penalties and punishment in the form of sexual abuse and violence as there is no fear of punishment.  As more women assume the responsibility for feeding their families due to the dire economic and food situation, more women are traversing through and lingering in public spaces, selling and transporting their goods. The male dominated state, agents who police the marketplace, inspectors on trains and soldiers are increasingly committing acts of sexual assault on women in public spaces. The Commission received testimony that while rape of minors is severely punished in the DPRK, the rape of adults is not really considered a crime. 

Gladstone quotes a number of Ahn’s supporters, but not one skeptic or critic. Nor does he ask the most obvious question about Ahn’s objective — what’s the point of a peace treaty with a regime that can’t abide by an Armistice, five U.N. Security Council Resolutions, two agreed frameworks, a Leap Day deal, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

It is, on balance, some of the most biased, shallowest, and least objective reporting I’ve seen in the Times or anywhere else. Maybe I’ll write to the Times‘s Public Editor. Or maybe you will.

Ahn decries CNN’s “shamefulreport, but takes some comfort in the sympathetic writing of one Kathleen Richards, writing at “The Stranger.” “The Stranger” turns out to be a blog I’ve never heard of, although it sounds much more like the name a truck stop serial killer would sign on the notes he leaves for the police on the bodies of his victims. Flippantly, Richards writes, “For some reason, human rights violations are considered unique to North Korea.”

Trigger warning, Kathleen: if you read this and have a soul, you may realize that you’re on the wrong side of history.

* Ms Kim Hye-sook described how the women who worked in the mines of Political Prison Camp No. 18 feared assignment to the nightshift, because guards and prisoners preyed on them on their way to and from work and rape them. None of the victims talked about their experience openly for fear of being punished. However, a number of female prisoners recounted their traumatic experiences to her in confidence.   Another witness reported that the guards of Camp No. 18 were especially targeting teenage girls. 

* A former guard in Camp No. 11 described how the camp authorities made female inmates available for sexual abuse to a very senior official who regularly visited the camp. After the official raped the women, the victims were killed.

As far as I know, human rights violations of this nature and scale, committed by government authorities against female political prisoners with impunity, really are unique to North Korea.

Bang Mi Sun

[North Korean defector Bang Mi-Sun shows scars she received in a North Korean prison camp. Via.]

Richards’ name didn’t ring a bell until an astute reader pointed out that she was also the author of this 2009 article in the Oakland East Bay Express. Yes, that Oakland East Bay Express, that alt-lefty rag with a room-temperature circulation that took up Ahn’s cause by writing, not about the substance of the criticism of Ahn I wrote on my blog, but about what I did for a living when I wasn’t blogging. Richards’s name didn’t ring a bell because at the time, she went by the name of Kathleen Wentz. Wentz/Richards distinguished herself by coming closer than anyone has ever come to being sued by me for libel when she implied — falsely — that I’d used the resources of my place of employment to investigate Ahn. (But no one reads the Oakland East Bay Express. What damages could I prove?) It was a rather ridiculous lie for Richards to tell, given that every quote by Ahn I’ve ever cited has been a matter of public record. It may explain why, six years later, Richards writes for something called “The Stranger.” Award one point to “there is a God.”

Anyway, just in case you believed Ahn when she described Richards as “[a] sane voice in the media,” without mentioning that Richards is actually Ahn’s longstanding associate and hack mouthpiece.

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[But of course, all defectors lie. All 25,000 of them.]

The same astute reader also saw Ahn’s latest piece-o’work in the Puffington Host,* promoting her “peace” march, and caught that Ahn may have betrayed some T.M.I.: “After I returned from Pyongyang, I received the following confirmation from the DPRK mission to the United Nations.” Ahn then quotes the North Korean reply, expressing Pyongyang’s “full support” — surprise!

The North Korean reply lists a number of Pyongyang’s external propaganda front groups — “Korean Committee for Solidarity With World Peoples, the Democratic Women’s Union of Korea, the Committee for Overseas Compatriots of Korea and other related organizations” — that will watch their every move, “render all necessary assistances to the event for its success” to commemorate the “70th anniversary of liberation and simultaneous division of our beloved country and nation.” Ahn’s handler expresses the hope that the march “will be a specially significant contribution to terminating the current status of war, replacing armistice with peace agreement, and thereby achieving permanent peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula.”

That is to say, by her own admission, Ahn been in direct “correspondence or intercourse with” a “foreign government or any officer or agent thereof,” with the undisguised intent to serve as its agent of influence. If you’ve kept up with the Iran debate, you know by now that I’ve just quoted the Logan Act, an antiquated and constitutionally questionable law that a number of pundits and signers of a White House petition recently accused Tom Cotton and 46 Republican Senators of violating. I’ve already expressed the view that the senators should not have sent the letter in question out of deference to the President’s authority, despite my sympathy with the view that Iran is irredeemably mendacious, that the deal is vague and unfinished, and (to any person of average judgment) a license to nuke up. But hey, who’s up for prosecuting Christine Ahn for violating the Logan Act, too?

Not me. Reading further, the Logan Act also requires that the correspondent have the “intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” I’m willing to speculate that Ahn is chock-a-block with the intent to defeat the measures of the United States, but the idea of prosecuting any American for non-violent expression, however gargantuan an imbecile or a hypocrite she may be, offends the First Amendment. As for whether Ahn intended to influence the conduct of the North Korean government, I suspect that the opposite is more likely, assuming any influence was even necessary.

One point of raising this issue is to show that the calls to prosecute Senator Cotton were silly, politically motivated, and (if acted upon) unconstitutional. But if proponents of prosecuting Cotton would like to upgrade their position to merely silly and unconstitutional, let them call for Ahn’s prosecution, too. What I would be up for is repealing the Logan Act.

My other point is how remarkably open Ahn is about the directness of her relationship, coordination, and political cooperation with the government of North Korea. A case could even be made that Ahn should register under the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act. Whether that would advance any worthwhile goal that can’t be advanced by public debate is another matter.

When Ahn’s critics point out the illogic, hypocrisy, and repugnance of the views she expresses publicly, her defense is to cry, “McCarthyism!” If one defines McCarthyism as responding to the public harangues of anyone to the political left of David Gergen, we’re all Roy Cohn. But to the rest of us, what distinguishes McCarthyism from political debate is that the former is “unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence,” “mak[es] unfair allegations or us[es] unfair investigative techniques,” and usually is done with the intent to “restrict dissent or political criticism.” That’s a far cry from quoting a person’s own public statements, with hyperlinks to allow the reader to see each of them in context.

I oppose censoring Christine Ahn, and I certainly hope Seoul won’t be stupid enough to deny her permission to march. Rather, I’d like to see Ahn march to Seoul along a route flanked by some of the 25,000 North Korean refugees who’ve made it to South Korea, and who might want to express some views of their own. But peacefully, please.

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* with apologies to James Taranto

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Would Christine Ahn please ask Pyongyang to stop deporting the nice aid workers? For the children?

North Korea has deported U.S. citizen Sandra Suh, a humanitarian aid worker and founder of the L.A.-based NGO Wheat Mission Ministries, who had been working in North Korea since 1998. Pyongyang accused Suh of “plot-breeding and propaganda” — specifically, by showing “propaganda abroad with photos and videos” that she “secretly produced and directed, out of inveterate repugnancy” toward the North, “under the pretense of ‘humanitarianism.'”

The North Korean news agency said Suh had “admitted her acts … seriously insulted the absolute trust” North Koreans place in their leader, Kim Jong Un, and constituted “indelible crimes that infringed on its sovereignty in violation of its law.” It added that she had “apologized for her crimes and earnestly begged for pardon” and that authorities decided to expel her “taking into full consideration her old age.” [L.A. Times]

Judging by its nicely designed web site, Wheat Mission Ministries appears to be run by Korean-Americans, and to work exclusively in North Korea. It has a page on monitoring, where it acknowledges “that 100% accountability is a difficult thing to achieve in DPRK.” Interestingly enough, WMM’s web page also has a page for “photos and videos,” which now says this:

WM is going through a revision process to include pictures and videos. Because of the sensitive nature of providing videos, WM is careful to post videos that are neutral in their content. This will be available soon.

And so it goes. I’m sure WMM’s staff are lovely people with compassionate intentions, but who changed who again? Once again, the price of “engagement” with Pyongyang is not only to compromise the very principle that brought you there, but to submit to the extraterritoriality of its censorship forever. In the end, Suh’s family is just thankful that she didn’t end up a hostage like Kenneth Bae.

Suh is the second humanitarian aid worker deported by Pyongyang in a month, perhaps because Pyongyang is now making enough money commercially that aid inputs threaten to create a destabilizing condition: an adequate supply of food for its “wavering” and “hostile” classes. Thankfully for Pyongyang, that condition has not yet been achieved:

The United Nations has launched an appeal for $111 million to help a vast portion of North Korea’s population now facing a food crisis.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for North Korea Ghulam Isaczai told VOA the funding will help five U.N. aid agencies working on the ground to continue providing North Koreans with food, clean water and other basics in 2015.

“We are appealing for more aid and support to keep the U.N. operation going. And if we don’t provide the support, the gains we have made over the years will be reversed,” Isaczai said Wednesday.

The United Nations says 70 percent of the population, or 18 million North Koreans, are food insecure and lack nutritional diversity.

But Isaczai said of those, nearly 2 million, mostly children, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly, are in dire need of food assistance, and another 350,000 women and children need vaccines and health supplies.

Malnutrition rates are high, with 27.9 percent of children under five suffering from chronic malnutrition, according to a 2012 national nutrition survey quoted by the U.N. [VOA]

Yes, curse those damn sanctions for starving North Korean babies.

The lifestyle of roughly 200,000 to 300,000 elites, Park said, rivals those of well-heeled residents of Manhattan or the residents of Little Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Their average net worth is $50,000 and they typically own Samsung televisions and household pets imported from China.

Elites also have access to lavish dining options in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The restaurants in question charge $70 for Korean barbecue, $8 for Korean bibimbap, or rice mixed with meat and vegetables, though prices cited were for foreign tourists and not locals, reported South Korea’s Kyunghyang Sinmun.

Luxury vehicles are highly coveted within this population, according to Park.

He estimates there are currently 5,000 BMWs, 1,500 used Nissans parked around the areas where the elites lead their enviable lifestyles.

Park and other experts have said the resulting economic and social inequality is beyond comparison to pre-unification East Germany or even to contemporary China. Jung Eun-yi, a researcher at Kyungsang National University in South Korea said luxury apartments valued at $200,000 have begun to emerge in Pyongyang, according to South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh. [UPI, Elizabeth Shim]

The Associated Press, which has a bureau in Pyongyang, by the way, wasn’t able to provide any further information about the reason for the deportations, other than to quote a KCNA statement. But it did report the fascinating fact that “[a]uthorities in Pyongyang have also in the past staged news conferences, during which foreign detainees appeared before the media and made statements that they then recanted after their releases.” Really? Pyongyang stages news conferences that feature people who are under duress? And this is news to the AP?

Suh’s deportation comes just as CNN and others are wondering how Christine Ahn could possibly believe that Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Il are blameless (or nearly so) for all the hunger, famine, and suffering that the people of North Korea have endured for the last two decades of dynastic misrule.

What a perfect opportunity for Ahn to preempt a growing consensus that she “has long been uncritical of North Korea, a country that has some committed some of the worst human rights abuses on record,” and for Gloria Steinem to answer critics who accuse her of being “mum” about crimes like “executions, rape, forced starvation, and enslavement.” Perhaps these women are willing to speak truth to power after all, and to call on Pyongyang to let Suh and Feindt return, get on with their work, and resume regular monitoring visits.

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C’mon, Christine. Do it for the children. Show us how much you really care about them.

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Why people call Christine Ahn “pro-North Korean”

Last night, CNN became the first news organization to do its due diligence on Christine Ahn, the organizer of the “Women Cross DMZ” march, and to call Gloria Steinem on this questionable association (Steinem stands by Ahn). CNN aired interviews with Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and Korea scholar and former CIA Analyst Sue Terry.

CNN’s report is a case study on how quickly a little scrutiny turns fame into infamy. CNN deserves praise for conducting that scrutiny; unfortunately, and probably due to time constraints, it didn’t offer (or give Scarlatoiu or Terry a chance to offer) much evidence to substantiate the charge that Ahn is “pro-North Korean.” It’s possible to believe that the charge is accurate, and also to believe that CNN’s failure to substantiate it was unfair. When you call a person something as odious as a “North Korean sympathizer,” that’s the duty you incur. Here, I feel compelled to prove the charge, using Ahn’s own words to prove it.

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Ahn has long led a group called the “Korea Solidarity Committee,” or KSC, which describes itself as “a group of progressive Korean American activists, students and artists” in the San Francisco Bay Area, who were inspired by “a desire to debunk the racist portrayals of North Korea, and present a more critical perspective on the continuing North Korean nuclear crisis.” I don’t know if Ahn calls herself a Communist or not, but she is on sisterly terms with Judith LeBlanc, a former Vice-Chair of the Communist Party, USA, a legacy Stalinist rump faction led for years by Gus Hall.

Ahn opposed human rights legislation for North Korea that funded broadcasting to North Korea, and that provided for aid and asylum for North Korean refugees, calling it an effort “by hawkish conservatives and Christian fundamentalists with the intention of bringing regime change in North Korea.” (As if that would be a bad thing.) To Ahn, “In order to debate about North Korean human rights . . . [w]e must go beyond political freedom to include economic and social rights; we must discuss human rights based on history and facts; and we must prepare not war or sanctions, but a peaceful and inclusive base to improve human rights.”

Ahn claims to be merely “pro-peace,” except that you’ll never catch her criticizing North Korea for breaking it. For example, to Ahn, the “root cause” of North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, an attack that killed two ROK Marines and two civilians, was the illegitimacy of South Korea’s claim to the waters around it, the failure of South Korea to turn those waters into a neutral “peace zone,” and the failure of the United States to redraw the boundary unilaterally in the North’s favor, regardless of South Korea’s views on the matter.

On at least two separate occasions, Ahn has referred to North Korea’s “alleged” sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, an attack that killed 44 South Korean sailors, despite the findings of an international investigation team that a North Korean submarine torpedoed the ship. This was almost certainly a nod to a conspiracy industry that grew up in left-wing South Korean circles that were in denial after the attack. If Ahn has ever acknowledged North Korea’s responsibility for the attack, I can’t find where she ever has. (Update: In this tweet, Ahn expressed support for conspiracy theories denying North Korea’s responsibility for the attack.)

It hardly gives one confidence in Ahn’s advocacy of a peace treaty with North Korea that Pyongyang can’t abide by an Armistice, or that Ahn won’t hold it accountable for the most flagrant violations of it.

Despite evidence that North Korea wasted resources that would have been enough — many times over — to feed the victims of North Korea’s Great Famine, Ahn doesn’t acknowledge Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for this completely preventable tragedy. Ahn has praised North Koreans for “rebuild[ing] their devastated nation according to the juche philosophy that promoted self-reliance and national independence,” which she credits for developing the North into “well organized and highly industrialized socialist economy, largely self-sufficient, with a disciplined and productive work force” — emphasis on disciplined! — until it could no longer withstand “the stranglehold of the United States.”

(I doubt that Christine Ahn has ever read a sanctions resolution, statute, regulation, or executive order, but if you want to understand how little those sanctions really do, here’s my detailed legal analysis of them.)

Ahn decries “the assumption that the famine in North Korea was a result of Chief of State Kim Jong Il’s mismanagement of the country,” and assails “attributing the cause of North Korea’s famine to an ‘evil dictator.’” Ahn blames the famine on a combination of the collapse of the U.S.S.R., “droughts and floods that . . . destroyed much of the harvest,” and “economic sanctions led by the U.S. and its refusal to end the 50-year Korean War.” Ahn never acknowledges that throughout much of the famine, the U.S. was the largest donor to food aid programs in North Korea, or that North Korean authorities diverted much of the aid and manipulated aid workers into distributing it on the basis of political caste, rather than humanitarian need. As for the droughts and floods, those have struck North Korea for 25 consecutive years now, hardly ever crossing the DMZ and never causing a famine in South Korea. For some reason.

Whether there is still famine in North Korea on a smaller scale or not, many people there are still malnourished, and the World Food Program is still appealing for aid. In a 2010 op-ed, Ahn again blamed American sanctions, which at the time were narrowly targeted at North Korean entities linked to proliferation, for restricting Pyongyang’s “ability to purchase the materials it needs to meet the basic food, healthcare, sanitation and educational needs of its people.” Yet according to the economist Marcus Noland, North Korea’s food gap “could be closed for something on the order of $8 million to $19 million — less than two-tenths of one percent of national income or one percent of the military budget.”

Meanwhile, under Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s (known) annual spending on luxury goods has skyrocketed to over $600 million a year. Ahn calls the Obama administration’s enforcement of U.N. sanctions against North Korea’s weapons and luxury goods imports “problematic,” claiming that some of North Korea’s ships were either falsely accused of smuggling, or were carrying dual-use cargo (ahem).

To Christine Ahn, “North Korea’s nuclear weapons are the symptom, not the root cause of the conflict” between it and the U.S., South Korea, and the U.N. Security Council. She criticizes the view “that denuclearization must be managed before security guarantees can be addressed.” In a 2013 article for Foreign Policy in Focus, Ahn saw just two reasons for tensions with North Korea — not North Korea’s nuclear test a month before, or the missile test that preceded it, but President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, and the joint exercises that U.S. and South Korean forces have carried out for years. On one hand, Ahn defends North Korea’s military buildup; on the other hand, she wants to “starve the empire” by defunding the Pentagon.

Read, follow the links, and decide for yourself, but you can’t be a selective pacifist. There is a difference between being pro-peace and simply being on the other side. It’s not McCarthyism if you back your charge with evidence, and no one is suggesting that Ahn’s speech should be censored or that her march should be stopped. Its motives should simply be understood for what they are.

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Update: I’ve published a more detailed case that Ahn is a North Korean apologist here, at The Weekly Standard.

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An open letter to Mike Bassett

Dear Michael, Thank you for your letter. As anyone who has read One Free Korea knows, I enjoy a good debate, but I respectfully decline to “debate” ideas like these:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 7.00.23 AMBassett 3

That’s not a debate, those are delusions. Incidentally, I’ve noticed how at some moments, you try to seem calm and rational. At the next moment, your moods swing wildly to some fit of rage. You seem unstable (as in, “Warning: contents under pressure”). You’re not an adversary; you’re a stalker and a conspiracy theorist. I feel great sympathy for your personal circumstances, and I think you need help. That’s why, up to this point, I’ve mostly ignored you. More fundamentally, I really don’t think you have anything interesting to say.

Although I find your tone obsessive and creepy, I’ll choose not to interpret your “ultimatum” as a physical threat. Say what you like on your blog. I really don’t care one way or another, with two caveats: (1) if you libel me, I’ll sue, and (2) if you ever approach me in person, I’ll contact the police and file for a restraining order.

Have a wonderful day.

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Update: It now occurs to me that that first screenshot entitles me to invoke Godwin’s Law. Also, to be clear, I’m a lawyer, not a doctor. My inferences about Bassett’s emotional stability are just that — my own inferences. I base them on what he writes, how he writes it, and what he has said publicly about his personal history. A healthy mind does not veer Hitler-and-yon the way Mr. Bassett’s does. I wish him a speedy recovery. I also wish he’ll do it at least 500 feet away from me.

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So, what “appropriate measures” *did* the feds take against Dennis Rodman for violating N. Korea sanctions?

The newest U.N. Panel of Experts report* on North Korea sanctions enforcement contains this buried treasure:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.21.09 AM

The first question this raises is what those appropriate measures were. The use of passive voice conceals whether the feds took any measures at all.

The second question is why there should be a “lack of information” from Rodman, when the Commerce and Treasury Departments have subpoena powers and an obligation to cooperate with U.N. authorities enforcing North Korea sanctions. The law applies to superpowers and celebrities, too.

There is video evidence of Rodman personally giving Kim Jong Un banned luxury gifts in violation of Commerce Department regulations and Executive Order 13551. I previously explained here why that’s a felony, and there’s no question that at least some of the goods presented are listed on Supplement 1 and were luxury goods.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are bigger fish in this sea than Dennis Rodman. I don’t believe this is the sort of thing that justifies prison time, but it does compel making an example of Rodman and his assortment of camp followers and opportunistic sociopaths, even if only through a modest civil penalty and a (publicly posted) cautionary letter. Ignorance (or willful ignorance) of the law may mitigate punishment, but it’s not a defense.

Having said that, this sort of thing does matter. Cutting off Kim Jong Un’s luxury goods is ultimately about North Korea’s chronic food crisis and the completely needless suffering of its people. The purpose of the ban is to force him to prioritize feeding the 80% of North Koreans who are barely getting through the lean season each year. Conduct like Rodman’s sends a message that the world doesn’t care about their suffering, and that it’s willing to give Kim Jong Un access to the fruits of the world’s fleshpots anyway.

Overall, the POE report paints a picture of a sanctions framework that is being ignored by most U.N. member states. There’s a display of concern when North Korea does something hideous that actually makes headlines, and then everyone goes right back to ignoring them. How are North Korea’s arms clients in Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia supposed to react if the U.S. doesn’t appear to be serious about enforcing them, either?

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* This is from a draft leaked to me; the final still isn’t published.

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Ten questions Gloria Steinem should ask the N. Koreans about women’s rights (but probably won’t dare to)

This week, I read that North Korea has granted permission for a group of women, including Gloria Steinem, and led by outspoken North Korean regime sympathizer Christine Ahn, to do a “peace march” across the DMZ. The group also intends to “hold international peace symposiums in Pyongyang and Seoul,” where Ahn will probably repeat one of her favorite falsehoods, that “crippling sanctions against the government make it difficult for ordinary people to access the basics needed for survival.” It’s a statement that could only have been written by a legal illiterate who has never read the actual sanctions, or by a hack who has spent at least a decade overlooking the real causes of hardship and starvation in North Korea.

Steinem, on the other hand, is known for her accomplishments fighting for the rights of women, so rather than rehash old arguments with Ahn, I’d prefer to focus on a point of potential agreement with Steinem — that the women of North Korea could really use the support of a fearless feminist. In that spirit, I decided to suggest a few questions that Steinem should ask her hosts in Pyongyang if she’s truly concerned about the status of women in North Korea:

1. Why do you impose idiotic, despotic, and harmful rules on women, like not allowing them to ride bicycles, or wear pants?

An acquaintance of mine, a North Korean refugee currently living in South Korea, told me how, in the early 2000s, she broke a bone. The incident happened one afternoon when she was on the way home. A few streets away from her house she encountered a patrol of regular police and militia, and she instantly knew she was in trouble because she had done something seriously improper. She had no choice but to run, and while trying to get away from her pursuers she broke a bone in her feet. But she still escaped the hand of law.

What was the crime she had committed? She was wearing trousers while walking the streets of a major North Korean city.

2. Was it really necessary for you to call the female President of South Korea a “whore,” a “political prostitute,” a “crazy bitch,” and a “comfort woman?

What Park did before Obama this time reminds one of an indiscreet girl who earnestly begs a gangster to beat someone or a capricious whore who asks her fancy man to do harm to other person while providing sex to him. [….]

She fully met the demands of her master for aggression, keeping mum about the nukes of the U.S. and desperately finding fault with fellow countrymen in the north over their nukes. She thus laid bare her despicable true colors as a wicked sycophant and traitor, a dirty comfort woman for the U.S. and despicable prostitute selling off the nation. [KCNA]

3. Is your government forcing women to work as prostitutes in China?

A group of female North Korean workers has been forcefully repatriated from China after it was learned that they had been asked to work as prostitutes on the sly by their overseer while officially hired at a food factory, according to a local source.

The women, believed to number about half a dozen, were among North Korean workers sent across the border to gain precious foreign exchange revenue and had been placed under strict living conditions, including being barred from traveling outside their lodging alone, a source from China’s Liaoning province bordering North Korea told RFA’s Korean Service.

However, the women, who worked at a food production factory in Liaoning’s Donggang city, had been leaving their compound at night to engage in illegal activities—including prostitution—at the behest of their handler, infuriating the local community, the source said. [….]

“As a result, some of the workers and their North Korean handler were deported by the Chinese public security personnel.”

4. Why are so many North Korean women trafficked in China, and what kind of society is so insufferable that it forces women to risk that fate?

My parents died of starvation and my two younger brothers were killed by robbers in North Korea. After I lost all my family members, I was left wandering in the countryside, all by myself. One day, I met a North Korean couple who looked little bit younger than me. In November 1999, they suggested I go to China with them. As soon as we arrived in Helong and went into the house where they took me, I was taken to Longjing and then to Yanji by the ethnic Koreans. From Yanji I was taken to Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang Province by train. When we arrived in Mudanjiang, the brother of my current father-in-law was waiting for us. I was then taken to Jidong in Heilongjiang where I live with an ethnic Korean man. I have been told that my current husband paid 10,000 yuan for me.

5. Why have so many North Korean women turned to prostitution to survive?

Current estimates by South Korean and U.S. analysts place the number of fulltime prostitutes throughout North Korea at around 25,000 in the state of 24.5 million people – a figure that Young agreed with. That would mean one full-time prostitute was working per 1,000 people.

The high estimate does not include the far larger number of women who supplement their meager income by occasional freelance participation in prostitution activities. [….]

The age range of women involved in prostitution in North Korea is broad, stretching from 17 to 45, according to Young. The large percentage of women engaging in the practice again reflects the widespread and growing destitution and hunger pervading North Korean society.

A North Korean defector said there are about 500 prostitutes in a city which has a population of 400,000, Young noted. “If [we] depend on the simple arithmetic calculation and put North Korean population as 20 million, we can assume that there should be about 25,000 prostitutes in North Korea.”

A few years ago, that estimate would have been widely rejected as too high. The history of poor harvests, food shortages and the desperate demand for short-term extra income has made its mark. The hard drug pandemic may well have put those numbers too low.

In any case, the boast North Korean spokesmen made until recent years that there was no prostitution in their country rings hollow.

6. If women have to prostitute themselves, can’t you at least give them access to decent birth control and health care? (see also)

“[T]he women have their own ways to deal with STDs,” she adds. “Opium is supposed to prevent STDs.”

“Opium is not considered illegal in North Korea,” she explains. “It is cheap and typically goes for 5,000 won per gram. There is also contraceptive medicine available, but because they are much more expensive than opium, prostitutes don’t consider using them.”

“Contraceptives may prevent pregnancy, but women believe opium prevents and even treats almost all forms of disease. People think of it as a cure-all drug.”

She describes how North Korean prostitutes regularly use opium to protect their bodies: “Lightly mix some water with the opium, and dab a cotton ball in the mixture. Before placing the cotton ball in the vagina, wrap string around it in a cross shape (+) so it can be pulled out more easily.”

7. Speaking of which, I have some questions about North Korea’s “free,” “universal” health care system ….

North Korea says it provides free medical care to all its citizens. But Amnesty said most interviewees said they or a family member had given doctors cigarettes, alcohol or money to receive medical care. Doctors often work without pay, have little or no medicine to dispense and reuse scant medical supplies, the report said. “People in North Korea don’t bother going to the hospital if they don’t have money because everyone knows that you have to pay for service and treatment,” a 20-year-old North Korean defector named Rhee was quoted as saying. “If you don’t have money, you die.”

8. Same question about North Korea’s “free,” “universal” education system.

[D]efectors testify with one voice to the fact that in modern North Korea, free education is an oxymoron. Instead, they say that even elementary school students must pay money for firewood, the repairing of school facilities and to make donations to the People’s Army or construction units.

The bribes needed to enter university are substantial, too. To gain entrance to a university in Pyongyang can cost up to $1,000, and for a provincial university between $300 and $500.

Kim Yong Cheol, a 22-year old who joined Hyesan College of Education in 2007 but defected to Seoul in 2009, explained to The Daily NK, “If they offer some money to the relevant university and the Education Department then they can possibly get into the university; students who do not have a good school record want to enter that university even though it requires bribery.”

Cho Hyun Mee, a 26-year old studying at Seoul National University said, “When I joined a university in Chongjin, the city Education Department demanded a computer, so I sold a television set to collect money and bought them a laptop.” Thanks to the laptop, Cho was shown the type and range of the entrance examination.

9. Would it kill you to let North Korean women wear their hair the way they choose?

Sure, you say, a list of 18 state-approved hairstyles certainly seems generous and libertine, but on closer examination, it’s actually more like 18 pictures of three hairstyles — three hideous, man-shriveling hairstyles — one of which (6, 10) is a mullet, and the rest of which appear to have been inspired by the 80s metal band Queensrÿche.

10. Why wouldn’t you let Ban Yon-Mee be a doctor?

“The only way I’m going back to Korea is in a coffin,” she said, a look of defiance flashing across her face. “F*** you, comrade Kim Jong-il.”

Sure, feel free to tone the questions down if you must, as long as you ask them. Being asked hard questions might convince the little gray men in Pyongyang that these things matter to us, and that they should matter to the regime, too. By not asking them, you might lead them — and us — to believe that you’re willing to overlook the rights of North Korean women and be Pyongyang’s tool, for no better reason than to attract media attention to yourself.

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Update: I can’t believe I forgot to mention those racist forced abortions and infanticides, which must be the most extreme anti-choice position of all:

When they are captured, according to testimonies collected by the Washington-based advocacy group U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, those who are visibly pregnant are ridiculed, separated out, and administered painful forced abortions while detained.

Because, it seems, officials assume that the fathers are Chinese, and thus view the soon-to-be-mothers as women who “brought this on themselves” (see “Witness,” below), the women are tortured in sexualized ways and barred from entering the concentration camp system until any detected fetuses are destroyed. According to interviews conducted by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, methods to abort include targeted beatings, forced abortion, and induced labor followed by infanticide: anything to prevent part-Chinese offspring from becoming part of the population.

The U.N. defines ethnic cleansing as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.” We are using the term here because ethnic cleansing not only makes women subject to outright murder, but also controls the threat of their bodies as the means of reproduction. For instance, women have been raped in order to occupy “inferior” wombs with “superior” sperm, or forced to have abortions or sterilizations (as have men of “inferior” groups) in order to end future reproduction. In some conflicts, women are also subject to the sex-specific political torture of forcing them to bear the child of their torturer in order to break their will.

So I guess that’s eleven….


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Dear journos: If you’re going to cover Christine Ahn’s “peace” march, do some due diligence

A few outlets have picked up on the event itself, but only one has taken note of Ahn’s role in organizing the event, and not one so far has written anything about Ahn’s extensive history as a vocal North Korean sympathizer. In fact, Ahn is a die-hard opponent of North Korea human rights legislation whose writings make frequent use of words like “imperialism,” “struggle,” and “solidarity;” who actually believes that North Korea’s famine was caused by a combination of U.S. sanctions and 21 consecutive years of droughts and floods that miraculously never crossed the DMZ; and who praises the North Korean health care system that later left her weeping in an unlit Pyongyang hospital room over the child she recklessly endangered (fourth item).

So if you’re going to remark on the fact that North Korea is allowing this event to proceed at all, consider the possibility that Ahn and the little gray men in Pyongyang share some common purposes.

Personally, I suspect that Ahn’s real purpose is to get herself arrested and deported like Shin Eun-Mi was. If you’re reading this in the Blue House, just don’t. That’s what she wants.

Not that the Blue House is taking any advice from me, but if it was, that advice would be to let Christine Ahn and her fellow travelers have their day, and pay as little attention to them as possible. But if you must, tell the whole story about what they represent, and ask them where they stand on holding Kim Jong Un accountable before the world for his crimes against humanity.

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Christine Hong has been curiously silent about North Korea’s racism

By now, most of you have probably read that North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, referring to President Obama’s failure to censor “The Interview,” said that “Obama Reckless always in words and Deeds Goes like a Monkey in a Tropical Forest.” ( is unlinkable, but I’ve pasted the full article below the fold. The article in question is dated December 27, 2014.)

This is the third racist attack on President Obama KCNA has printed, and the second it has printed under its own name. The language in this latest attack is similar to that in this venomously racist screed, first unearthed by Professor Lee and first printed at this site in May of this year, quoting a (perhaps fictional) North Korean worker. North Korea clearly did not expect the Anglosphere to notice this, or else failed to anticipate the global opprobrium it would draw. Clearly taken aback by the reaction, KCNA attributed the racist language to “individuals of the DPRK,” but also called it “a proper reaction.” Of course, by then, KCNA had itself just called the President “a wicked black monkey.” By now, KCNA has released its grip on both deniability and apology. (For its part, the White House declined to comment on it.)

Of course, racism isn’t new to North Korea’s ideology, but flagrant racism, sexism, and homophobia are recent additions to its external propaganda. Its public embrace of these elements, along with the growing class divide in the North, marks another step in its progression away from any pretense of Marxism, and toward fascism with Korean characteristics.

It also bears repeating that in North Korea, racism isn’t just talk; according to multiple witnesses, it is a justification for infanticide and forced abortion of children of suspect racial purity.

Most of us in America associate “left” with “liberal,” but if the meaning of the word “liberal” still incorporates such notions as equality, freedom, and tolerance, there is nothing liberal about North Korea. Indeed, the arguments of Kim Jong Un’s remaining defenders on the extreme left have converged almost beyond distinction with the swelling ranks of his defenders on the extreme, paleoconservative right.

Which brings me to Christine Hong, an Assistant Professor at U.C. Santa Cruz, Kim Jong Un’s most vocal academic apologist now that even Bruce Cumings has largely abandoned him in disgust, and (as I’ve described her previously) the Florence Foster Jenkins of North Korea scholarship. Hong doesn’t seem nearly as concerned about flagrant, undeniable racism as the contrived kind:

Representations of North Korea as a buffoon, a menace, or both on the American big screen are at least as old and arguably as tired as the George W. Bush-era phrase, “the axis of evil.” Along with the figure of the Muslim “terrorist,” hackneyed Hollywood constructions of the “ronery” or diabolical Dr. Evil-like North Korean leader bent on world domination, the sinister race-bending North Korean spy, the robotic North Korean commando, and other post-Cold War Red/Yellow Peril bogeymen have functioned as go-to enemies for the commercial film industry’s geopolitical and racist fantasies. [Christine Hong, Asia-Pacific Journal, Dec. 29, 2014]

I don’t know if Hong has seen “The Interview,” but there is a small grain of truth in her argument. Whatever the other merits of each film, some of Seth Rogen’s lines in “The Interview” and Kim Jong Il’s dialogue in “Team America” included an offensive pidginization that fair observers could describe as racist. In Rogen’s case, it’s mostly done to parody his own character’s ignorance, but still, creative minds should and can find better vehicles than this to parody the likes of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un. Hong’s error is to seize on these offenses as polemical conveniences, lenses through which to view and distort the universe of society (but only ours) and foreign policy (but only ours).

To cite other examples of this, elsewhere, Hong approvingly cited a description of the Korean War — that is, the invasion of one Korean state with external backing by another — as “racist and imperialist violence” rooted in “the racist logic of American capitalism.” She has even attributed racist motives and white privilege to those advocating human rights for North Koreans. (Hong never quite explains how she extends this attribution to the many such advocates who are ethnic Koreans, or North Korean.)

Most of North Korea’s other apologists have also been silent about its racist slurs against President Obama, but Hong’s frequent, often strained, imputations that racism motivates North Korea’s foes and critics particularly invite the charge of hypocrisy.

If any sin is so mortal as to be grounds for immediate excommunication from the temples of liberalism and socialism — indeed, from nearly every branch of post-enlightenment thought, including mainstream conservatism — it is racism. Christopher Hitchens made the prohibition of it the first of his revised set of commandments. No racism is so dangerous, pernicious, or radioactive as official racism, and no official racism is a greater evil than that which purports to decide that the impure must not be permitted to live.

North Korea owns its racism now. So, I would argue, do those who defend it under the pretense of opposing racism. What other inference should we draw about the calibration of an instrument that detects unsafe levels of racism in every basement, yet which fails to detect it (much less oppose it) in its most highly enriched and lethal forms?

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