Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Training North Korea’s Supreme Leader

By Robert Collins 

How does one train a “supreme leader”—especially a young and inexperienced one—on how to handle crisis when any mention of his mistakes may lead to the notorious termination of the trainer by anti-aircraft gun? Difficult question, to be sure, but an even more difficult process. After all, North Korea had never gone to any external crisis of this depth under the short reign of Kim Jong-un, the North’s hereditary First Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, Chairman of the National Defense Commission, and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army. Now it has.

During the past two weeks, the two Koreas have once again put on shows of military force in responses and counter-responses to the North’s planting of landmines in the Demilitarized Zone that maimed two young South Korean soldiers. The South’s response was to resume loudspeaker broadcasts across the DMZ, designed to attack and undermine the legitimacy of the regime. Essentially, these types of South Korean propaganda targeting the North’s leadership drive that same leadership up the proverbial wall. A series of kinetic responses and counter-responses elevated a provocation into a crisis requiring raises in military alerts, shows of great force on both sides and, finally, face-to-face negotiations at Panmunjom in the DMZ.

So how much “training the trainer” went into planning for these actions? Driven by fear for their lives, North Korea’s generals and admirals must couch their recommendations on courses of action within the cocoon of absolute and bellicose loyalty to the supreme leader. Most likely, they must parse their requests and answers in strategy deliberations in such a manner that makes any suggestion by Kim Jong-un appear to be sheer tactical brilliance reminiscent of Sun Tzu, Napoleon, or, even better for North Koreans, of the much celebrated greatness of the supreme leader’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung.

This loyalty demanded by the North’s incessantly inculcated ideology has definitively negative by-products that have the world’s attention—impetuous purges and executions of senior leaders, human rights denial, political prison camps; imprisoning up to 120,000 inmates; and resource de-prioritization for any individual North Korean perceived by the regime as not faithfully serving the interests of the supreme leader.  

When North Korea and South Korea held talks at Panmunjom beginning on August 22 to defuse this most recent crisis, it was a meeting of two sides whose characteristics are dramatically different. Not only are the two political systems antithetical, but their social and ideological values are antithetical as well. The backgrounds of the four South and North Korean participating delegates are polar opposites, both politically and militarily. Their backgrounds clearly indicate that the South is at the negotiating table because it values the safety of its citizens and the North is at the talks because it values the “face,” i.e. the reputation of its supreme leader over everything else.

How so? The intent and values of the South are self-evident. Democratic societies look to preservation and safety of their nation-state above all else, as essential in safeguarding the human security of their citizens. The presence of President Park’s National Security Adviser, Kim Kwan-jin, and her Minister of Unification, Hong Yong-pyo, demonstrates that resolving this crisis focused on the security of the South. Kim Kwan-jin is a lifelong military man who has commanded army units from the company-level up through field army and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed by a stint as the Minister of National Defense. Hong Yong-pyo serves as the leader of the government agency dedicated to finding peaceful means of unification. However, on the North’s side, there are polar opposites. The one man in the group who wore a military uniform with a military rank of vice-marshal (5-star) was the North’s Hwang Byong-so. Oddly enough, he is not truly a military man. He is a lifelong political commissar who has worked for the Korean Workers’ Party his whole life. He has never commanded a battalion, a regiment, a division, a corps, or a field army… ever. His job has always been to monitor North Korea’s military officers to ensure their loyalty to the supreme leader and the party as well as their compliance with all aspects of North Korean ideology. Hwang’s function has always been to ensure that those officers that supposedly fail to meet that standard are purged from the military ranks. In the first three and a half years of his rule, Kim Jong-un has gone through four Chiefs of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army and six Ministers of People’s Armed Forces. The other North Korean negotiator, Kim Yang-gon, heads the party’s United Front Department, tasked to foment South Korean social and political instability by employing a “toolkit,” including espionage, sabotage, propaganda and even inter-Korean dialogue.  

The final agreement by the four to end the crisis was a statement of regret (the same language Kim Il-sung used after the DMZ axe murders in 1976) from the North concerning the landmine incident and the end of the South’s propaganda broadcasts across the DMZ. As the profiles of the four negotiators indicate, while South Korea’s concern was the security of its soldiers, North Korea’s concern was the security and reputation of its supreme leader.  

In the long run, training the supreme leader may have created a larger mutated political logic in the mind of the Supreme Commander of 1.2 million soldiers armed with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Future trainers—at least those who survive the purges—will deal with a supreme leader who thinks he now knows it all. Decision-making within the North’s national security structure will likely lose some operational and strategic agility due to his hubris. To emphasize this, Kim Jong-un will likely demonstrate his leadership through internal propaganda claims of having made the Republic of Korea-United States alliance “stand down.”  

One of the outcomes of this crisis is that it will work toward consolidating Kim Jong-un’s power, at least in the young leader’s mind. Surely, it is still possible for an individual or a group of senior officials to fall on their sword after using it on the young, impetuous leader. But for the time being, the outcome of the crisis also enables the continued suppression of the North Korean people, including denial of the most basic of human rights and political prison camp internment of those perceived as disloyal. Another outcome of the crisis is the continued threat to the security of 51 million South Korean citizens, not to mention the threat of nuclear war.

The North’s military trainers may have made themselves look good in the eyes of the supreme leader for now, but the next time he may be the one “training the trainers” on further threats to the people of both North and South Korea.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Lenin’s Theory of Utility

By Robert Collins

The concept of manipulating others to promote one’s own cause is no doubt millennia old.  It is not an original thought by Lenin.  Those that employed this concept likely existed in the ancient Egyptian dynasties, the Roman Empire and most other political realms, as well as Lenin’s establishment of the communist domain.  Utility is a fascinating concept that somewhat defies logical description – support for an external cause through belief that one’s vision of right will prevail though it contradicts political reality.

Lenin’s theory of utility is based in those that find benefit and comfort from others who are willing to deceive themselves about another’s intent in order to comfort themselves in their view of the world.   To feel good about one’s contribution to a false premise is indeed comforting if one chooses to either ignore reality or choose not to accept political discomfort.  In one recent case, choosing to support the values of human rights denial versus support for the defense of democracy and human rights based upon one’s observation that “I talked to them and they seemed real and sincere” is to ignore human dignity and succumb to the propaganda of deception.

When Code Pink and WomenCrossDMZ visited North Korea they did so without having an appreciation for Lenin’s theory.  The fact that these women met and conversed with North Korean women was apparently, in their minds, a major victory for human rights if one believes their testimony once they crossed the DMZ.  Women of note from among those that crossed praised their opportunity to speak to North Korean leaders and agree that the term “human rights” was included in their statement.  Was there utility for the North Koreans to agree to do so?

Within the context of North Korea’s propaganda-dominated diplomacy, the answer would most certainly be yes.  To be sure, Lenin would have been proud to include it in a statement that had no impact on the reality of his rule.  The same goes for the Kim Family Regime. The North Korean woman who talked to a representative of Code Pink or WomenCrossDMZ was surely not so fortunate to be so self-deceived.  The North Korean woman, or group of women, whom the DMZ crossers so eloquently praised was prepped to say what the party-state wanted them to say – to the last syllable.  That woman has been indoctrinated since she was in pre-school on how to think, what to say, and how to obey the party.  She met her first official propagandist at the age of seven and listened to that person present how the United States was evil to the core and South Korea was merely puppets in the hands of Washington, DC.  Her parents were compelled to listen to the propaganda put out by the education director at every level, the neighborhood unit chief in every local community, and the individual work-line propagandist who gave verbal feedback to everything they admitted during daily and/or weekly self-critique sessions. She has been compelled throughout her lifetime to do the same as her parents. She studied how North Korea’s supreme leader was always right and all had to worship him and do his bidding by serving the wishes of the Korean Workers’ Party.  And yes, that they had to comply with the collective and do so through self-reliance.  But self-reliance in North Korea is more akin to survival in an environment of unparalleled political terror, rather than self-motivation. Even if she had learned that what she heard was absurd – and it is – the secret police prepped her for every meeting and debriefed her on every word that was said.  Every meeting that the Code Pink/WomenCrossDMZ had with individual North Koreans was planned, rehearsed and vetted before it took place. Every North Korean engager of the Code Pink/WomenCrossDMZ was required to report what they heard from every North Korean in their small team, not to mention that based on the secret police’s well-known tactics, there were several undercover secret police female officers within the group as well.

What benefit is there for the Kim Regime in doing this?  The party and the police state control “the happening” and learn how to do a better job with those that serve Lenin’s Theory of Utility by developing such sub-theorems as Kim Jong-un’s Theorem on Manipulating Western Naiveté, or secret police commander General Kim Won-hung’s Theorem on Personal Deception.  

How do we know of this propaganda, deception and the employment of the utility theory?  Every one of the 27,000 North Korean defectors to South Korea has told us as much – in great detail.  Their testimony of human rights denial, political terror, and mental and physical brutality are legion.  Every one of them understands Lenin’s Theory of Utility.  Apparently, such theories are beyond the understanding or at least the appreciation of Code Pink/WomenCrossDMZ.  Useful? You bet…just ask the 27,000.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

KCNA Bashes HRNK Report: We MUST be doing something right!

KCNA releases commentary bashing HRNK's recent report, Arsenal of Terror: North Korea, State Sponsor of Terrorism by Joshua Stanton. We must be doing something right to receive such a response from North Korea! The following is the commentary in full.

calendar>>May 1. 2015 Juche 104

KCNA Commentary Accuses U.S. of Working Hard to Re-list DPRK as "Sponsor of Terrorism"

Pyongyang, May 1 (KCNA) -- The "Commission for Human Rights in North Korea", a non-governmental human rights body of the U.S., released a report on April 27.
The report claimed that the DPRK is backing and dealing with the terrorist organizations and "states sponsoring terrorism" in Mideast and is involved in direct terrorism such as cyber attack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment of the U.S. It urged the U.S. administration and Congress to re-list the DPRK as a "sponsor of terrorism."

The report is no more than a conspiratorial document that does not deserve even a passing note as it was cooked up by a U.S. individual organization which is unknown to the international community in a bid to gain its political clout. But the DPRK cannot but take a serious note of the U.S. moves in the light of the fact that the commission echoed the assertion of the U.S. hard-line conservative forces calling for ratcheting up pressure upon the DPRK now that the relations between it and the U.S. are at rock bottom.

Lurking behind the moves of the "Commission for Human Rights in North Korea" to make public the report and build up public opinion on it is its sinister purpose to tarnish the image of the DPRK by branding it as a "sponsor of terrorism" now that the U.S. has failed to "demonize" it over the "nuclear and human rights issue".

Whenever the DPRK-U.S. relations and the situation got strained, the Republican Party and other conservative forces in the U.S. desperately called for re-listing the DPRK as a "sponsor of terrorism" since its removal from the list of "sponsors of terrorism" in 2008.

Notably, the present chief executive of the U.S. issued a "presidential executive order" to slap "additional sanctions" against the DPRK in the wake of the case of cyber attack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment. Pursuant to the order, heavyweights of the political camp and the military of the U.S. vied with each other to cry out for re-listing the DPRK as a "sponsor of terrorism" and imposing "toughest additional sanctions" upon it, revealing the sinister design to isolate and stifle it.

It should not be overlooked that against this backdrop, the "Commission for Human Rights in North Korea" opened to public a document peppered with lies and deception.

The "Commission" made up of scholars, former officials of the U.S. government and others who claim to be "experts on Korean affairs" has been keen on smear campaign against the DPRK. By doing so, it seeks to please the U.S. ruling forces and gain its political clout in a bid to prolong its remaining days.

Since its appearance, it has insisted on linking the food shortage in the DPRK with "lack of elementary human rights" and compiled all nonsensical talks about its social system to meet the political interests of the U.S. conservative forces before floating wild rumors.

Such a plot-breeding body produced a conspiratorial document as part of its desperate campaign to label the DPRK a "sponsor of terrorism." This is no more than the last-ditch effort of those hell-bent on the smear campaign against the DPRK.

Explicitly speaking, the above-said story about "the DPRK's sponsoring of terrorism" is another unpardonable politically-motivated provocation against the DPRK.

The DPRK government has made clear its principled stand to oppose all forms of terrorism and any support to it before the international community and consistently maintained it.

It held negotiations with the U.S. over the issue of terrorism several times in the past and released a joint statement clarifying its stand toward terrorism.

This being a hard reality, the dishonest forces of the U.S. let a plot-breeding body noisily trumpet about someone's "sponsoring of terrorism," which can never work on anyone as it is totally baseless.

The U.S. is the kingpin of international terrorism and a typical "sponsor of terrorism."

The U.S. history is just the history of hideous terrorism.

When looking back upon the history of the founding of the U.S. and its history of bloody "independence war" and its course of battles fought to expand colonies overseas, the U.S. is precisely a terrorism sponsor regarding massacre, destruction and plunder as its only mode of existence.

It is none other than the U.S. which is now fanning up the whirlwind of terrorism in various parts of the world.

It has openly perpetrated terrorism to bring down the governments of the countries incurring its displeasure by force of arms and politically-motivated state-sponsored terrorism against them by employing conspiratorial methods.

It has pursued undisguised terrorism aimed at murder, aggression, war and horror in the international arena. It is also a "sponsor of terrorism" that has wantonly violated the UNSC resolution No. 137 that was adopted on Sept. 28, 2001.

It has provided terrorists with shelter after painting them as "political exiles" and "dissidents" in return for serving its purpose of "spreading U.S.-style freedom and democracy".

The U.S. is kicking up such smear campaign by setting in motion the plot-breeding body made up of servants of the U.S. dishonest forces. This will only touch off criticism and derision of the international community.

It is, indeed, absurd and ridiculous for those forces to label the DPRK a "sponsor of terrorism."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Unusual Activity at the Kanggon Military Training Area in North Korea: Evidence of Execution by Anti-aircraft Machine Guns?

Greg Scarlatoiu (Committee for Human Rights in North Korea)
Joseph Bermudez Jr. (AllSource Analysis, Inc.)

While examining satellite imagery of an area near the North Korean capital city, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and AllSource Analysis, Inc. (ASA) may have come across evidence of a ghastly sight: the public execution of several individuals by anti-aircraft machine gun fire.

A military training area generally known as the Kanggon Military Training Area is located approximately 22 km north of the capital city Pyongyang (Pyongyang-si). Given the size, composition, and location of the training facility, it is likely used by both the students and staff of the elite Kanggon Military Academy (6 km to the southwest) and units from either the Pyongyang Defense Command or the Ministry of State Security. Encompassing approximately 12km2, the training area is composed of a number of dispersed small facilities. One of those facilities, located 1.5 km northeast of the small village of Sŏngi-ri, is a small arms firing range (39. 13 48.64° N, 125. 45 29.03° E). This firing range is approximately 100 meters long by 60 meters wide and consists of 11 firing lanes. A range control/viewing gallery and parking area are located immediately south of the firing range. A small drainage ditch horizontally bisects the firing range. This firing range is typical of many ranges throughout North Korea and is designed for small arms training and maintaining proficiency for weapons ranging from pistols to light machine guns, and chambered for 7.62mm (the standard AK-47 rifle round) or less.

Sometime on or about October 7th, 2014, some very unusual activity was noted on satellite imagery of the Kanggon small arms firing range. Instead of troops occupying the firing positions on the range there was a battery of six ZPU-4 anti-aircraft guns lined up between the firing positions and the range control/viewing gallery. The ZPU-4 is an anti-aircraft gun system consisting of four 14.5mm heavy machine guns (similar to a U.S. .50 caliber heavy machine gun) mounted on a towed wheeled chassis. It is neither safe nor practical to use such weapons on a small arms range, as the combined weight of fire from the six ZPU-4 (a total of 24 heavy machine guns) would quickly destroy the downrange backstop and necessitate reconstruction. A few meters behind the ZPU-4s there appears to be either a line of troops or equipment, while farther back are five trucks (of various sizes), one large trailer, and one bus. This suggests that senior officers or VIPs may have come to observe whatever activity was taking place. Most unusual in the image, perhaps, is what appears to be some sort of targets located only 30 meters downrange of the ZPU-4s.

The satellite image appears to have been taken moments before an execution by ZPU-4 anti-aircraft machine guns. Busing in senior officers or VIPs to observe a ZPU-4 dry-fire training exercise at a small arms range amidst North Korea’s fuel shortages would make no sense. If the ZPU-4s were brought to the range solely to be sighted in, conducting this exercise at a 100 meter small arms firing range would be impractical. A live-fire exercise would be even more nonsensical. Rounds fired by a ZPU-4 have a range of 8,000 m and can reach a maximum altitude of 5,000 m. Positioning a battery of six ZPU-4s to fire horizontally at targets situated only 30 m downrange could have no conceivable utility from a military viewpoint. The most plausible explanation of the scene captured in the October 7th satellite image is a gruesome public execution. Anyone who has witnessed the damage one single U.S. .50 caliber round does to the human body will shudder just trying to imagine a battery of 24 heavy machine guns being fired at human beings. Bodies would be nearly pulverized. The gut-wrenching viciousness of such an act would make “cruel and unusual punishment” sound like a gross understatement.

Given reports of past executions this is tragic, but unfortunately plausible in the twisted world of Kim Jong-un’s North Korea. In December 2013, following the execution of the leader’s uncle Jang Song-thaek, Choe Sang-Hun and David Sanger reported for The New York Times that Jang Song-thaek’s top two lieutenants had been executed using anti-aircraft machine guns.[1] In the summer of 2013, South Korean intelligence officials and news media reported that purged North Korean artists had been executed using the same gruesome method.

The purge that began in early 2009, as the regime began preparing for the second hereditary transmission of power, continues. On April 29th, 2015, Associated Press reported that, according to South Korean intelligence sources quoted by ROK National Assemblyman Shin Kyoung-min, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of 15 senior officials this year. According to Assemblyman Shin, the officials were accused of challenging the supreme leader’s authority. One of them, a vice Cabinet minister, “was executed in January for questioning Kim’s policies on forestation.” [2]

On April 13th, 2015, Dr. Stephan Haggard and HRNK board member Marcus Noland (Executive Vice President and Director of Studies, Peterson Institute for International Economics) drew attention to a quotation from New Focus International in a North Korea: Witness to Transformation article.[3] New Focus indicated that, following instructions received from the top leadership, North Korea’s State Security Department (SSD) and Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) launched the so-called “9.8 measures” in the fall of 2014. The measures involved the further “militarization of State Security and People’s Security,” so that surveillance, control, coercion, and punishment could be carried out more effectively.  

Some of the directives in this new, broad initiative included the following:

“’[M]ost criminals who are forgiven are likely to commit another crime’…‘the time has come when words are not enough. The sound of gunshot must accompany the destruction of impure and hostile elements, and when necessary, public executions are to be used so that the masses come to their senses.’” According to New Focus, the directives allegedly ratified the following clause, seemingly instigating extra-judicial killings: “If an anti-regime act is uncovered, State Security soldiers are to judge and execute by gunfire of their own accord, and afterwards file a report on the person and crime to Pyongyang.”[4]

If true, the “9.8 measures” instructing agents of the state to shoot to kill fellow North Koreans constitute a flagrant violation of Article 6, Paragraph 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which stipulates that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.[5] Furthermore, public execution by way of heavy machine gun fire is arguably a violation of ICCPR Article 7, which states, in part, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”[6] North Korea acceded to the ICCPR in 1981.[7] In its 2014 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) notes that public executions have been reportedly more frequent in North Korea since the late 2009 confiscatory currency reform.[8] KINU further anticipates that this trend is not likely to subside in the near future, due to “the tightening of internal control under Kim Jong-un’s regime.”[9]

The report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (UN COI) established that, “as a matter of State policy, the authorities carry out executions, with or without trial, publicly or secretly, in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious crimes.”[10] The UN COI report further determined that the policy of regularly carrying out public executions serves to instill fear in the general population.”[11] The report, released in February 2014, noted that, as of late 2013, “there appeared to be a spike in the number of politically motivated public executions.”[12] Public executions are one of the dreadful tools employed in the implementation of the Kim Jong-un regime’s “fearpolitik.”[13]

Kanggon Small Arms Firing Range, October 16th, 2014, ZPU-4 systems or targets not present.
(© DigitalGlobe 2015)

ZPU-4 Anti-aircraft Machine Gun System (Photo credit: U.S. Army)

[1] Choe Sang-Hun and David Sanger, Korea Execution Is Tied to Clash Over Business, The New York Times, Dec. 23, 2013,
[2] Associated Press. S. Korea Says Kim Jong Un Executed 15 Officials This Year. Story relayed in , The New York Times, Apr. 29, 2015,
[3] New Focus International, North Korea’s State Security and People’s Security Ministries Implement ‘9.8 Measures,’ New Focus International, Apr. 12, 2015,
[4] Stephan Haggard, Slave to the Blog: Trojan Horse Edition, Witness to Transformation (blog), Apr. 13, 2015,
[5] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 6,
[6] Id. at Article 7.
[7] OHCHR, Status of Ratification: Interactive Dashboard,
[8] Han Dong-ho et al., 2014 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, Korea Institute of National Unification (KINU), 115,
[9] Id. at 26.
[10] Report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, UN Human Rights Council, 25th sess., Agenda Item 4, UN Doc. A/HRC/25/63, p. 12, para. 63 (7 February 2014), available at (hereinafter “COI Report”).
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Voice of America (VOA), North Korea Human Rights Outlook for 2014…‘Concerning of Political Camps Expansion and Reign of Terror, HRNK Insider, Jan. 3, 2014,

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Happy April 1st from HRNK's Raymond Ha

Kim Shifts Course In Surprise Announcement

SEOUL, April 1 -- In an unexpected turn of events, Kim Jong-un, the First Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, announced at an Enlarged Meeting of the Politburo that Pyongyang would embark on a major policy shift, seeking to engage with the international community in good faith.

“For too long, the people of North Korea have been deprived of the benefits of the 21st century,” Kim said in the hour-long address, which was also broadcast live by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “We cannot wait any longer.”

Kim said that Pyongyang would return to the stalled Six-Party Talks “without precondition,” resume bilateral dialogue with Seoul on “all relevant issues,” including reunions for separated families and the fate of South Korean prisoners of war, and “seek a full accounting” of all foreign abductees held in North Korea. In the address, Kim also acknowledged full responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean Navy corvette, in March 2010.

He also acknowledged receipt of the letter sent by the UN Commission of Inquiry in 2014 and invited the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights, Marzuki Darusman, to visit North Korea, promising complete access to all sites, including the country’s political prison camps.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva confirmed that it had received a request from Pyongyang to begin high-level talks on technical assistance.

By issuing an invitation to the Special Rapporteur, Kim admitted to the existence of these political prison camps, which the regime had firmly denied until today. These camps had been the focus of the international community's criticism of the North Korean regime's human rights record. Kim added that all UN agencies would be granted humanitarian access to these prison camps, effective immediately.

The announcement also included domestic reforms, including a significant cut to military spending, the abolishment of its discriminatory class system, the lifting of domestic and international travel restrictions, and a series of economic measures aimed at restructuring the North Korean economy and promoting transparency to attract international aid and investment.

International reactions to this address were largely positive.

Immediately after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, a high-level South Korean official welcomed Kim’s statement, noting that this was “a long overdue first step towards rebuilding trust on the Korean peninsula,” and a “crucial step on the path to reunification.”

White House officials also heralded the move as a “historic decision,” stating that “we will continue to work very closely with our partners in Seoul in the coming weeks and months to respond to this unprecedented development.” They added that no unusual military activity has been detected inside North Korea since Kim's announcement, although the U.S. and South Korean military will maintain a heightened state of readiness for the foreseeable future.

An unnamed official at the State Department said that Kim’s policy shift was “an unambiguous victory” for the proponents of “strategic patience,” the administration’s policy towards North Korea that had come under intense criticism in recent years.

Tokyo also issued a positive statement, saying that it “looks forward to talks with Pyongyang to seek a full accounting of our abducted citizens,” and that it would “review the lifting of bilateral sanctions” that had only recently been imposed.

A spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry only gave brief remarks, calling for all parties to “exercise restraint and maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.” There have been reports of internal security forces being placed on high alert across China, possibly in preparation for an influx of refugees into the country’s three northeastern provinces.

When asked about the possibility of North Korea being admitted to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in light of today’s speech, he said that “all interested parties are welcome to join. We are not aware of this ever being an issue.”

Moscow, which has invited Kim to attend its victory parade in early May, has yet to issue an official statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed Kim’s announcement, stating that all UN agencies would "do their utmost" to provide necessary assistance to the North Korean people.

While assessing Kim's speech positively, Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman said "the international community must uphold the 'two-track approach' of continuing to seek full accountability for crimes against humanity even as it engages with North Korea." He added that his office will be arranging a visit to North Korea as soon as possible by coordinating with all interested parties and organizations.

Reactions were mixed among the expert community.

Professor Victor Cha of Georgetown University expressed surprise, stating that the “international community will have to watch very closely to see whether the regime follows through on its promises,” recalling Pyongyang’s past record of reneging on its international commitments. Nevertheless, he said, “it is very encouraging that North Korea is returning to negotiations.”

Others assessed that Kim’s speech reflects the influence of his education in Switzerland. They claimed that Kim had spent the past three years consolidating power in preparation for this shift, and the complete absence of unusual military activity after the speech was particularly notable.

Greg Scarlatoiu, the Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), an organization that focuses on researching the human rights situation in the reclusive state, urged caution even as he welcomed Kim’s speech.

“We need complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of not only Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, but also its internal security apparatus and the political prison camps,” Scarlatoiu said, adding that “the international community must not be fooled by Kim’s rhetoric, no matter how unprecedented it may be. We cannot believe anything until we see tangible changes on the ground.”

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why I Salute Shin Dong-hyuk’s Frustration

Greg Scarlatoiu
Executive Director
Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK)

On July 30, the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies International Summer School (HUFS ISS) and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) co-hosted a conference entitled “The North Korean Human Rights Conundrum: Is There a Way Forward?” The conference panelists included: ROK Human Rights Ambassador Lee Jung-hoon; choreographer and human rights activist Kim Young-soon; “Escape from Camp 14” hero Shin Dong-hyuk; senior analyst and North Korean escapee Kim Kwang-jin; and Tim Peters, activist, humanitarian, and “guardian angel” of North Korean refugees.

Media in attendance accurately reported that Shin Dong-hyuk, symbol of the campaign to dismantle North Korea’s political prison camps, appeared disappointed and frustrated, even going as far as calling seminars on North Korean human rights “a waste of time.” However, while Shin’s anger doesn’t make the organizers’ life any easier, it is an encouraging sign. Demetra Choi, former managing director of HUFS ISS, noted: “When Shin spoke a year ago, he somberly told us he had no feelings. One year later, he appears angry and frustrated. A much needed healing process is under way…” As others observed, Shin’s emotions seem to mirror the pattern experienced by Holocaust survivors. For more than two years, as he spoke at events around the world, he’s had to relive the 23 years he spent at Camp 14. Always expected to revisit excruciating memories day in and day out, to speak of induced starvation, slave labor, torture, of having witnessed the killing of close relatives and children, he has never truly “escaped” from Camp 14… I salute his frustration. It is part of the process of moving beyond being just a symbol, and becoming a leader of the movement that will one day dismantle North Korea’s vast system of unlawful imprisonment.

Through the enthusiastic work of HUFS management, staff, and interns, the conference on North Korean human rights has become an annual fixture. Initially designed to be just a lecture given to foreign and Korean students participating in the university’s International Summer Program, the event is now attended by foreign diplomats, human rights activists, and NGO workers, and gets extensive press coverage. The number of participants increased from 200 in 2013 to about 250 in 2014. The inspiring 2014 keynote address by ROK Human Rights Ambassador Lee Jung-hoon added further depth and legitimacy to this initiative. Students unfamiliar with “Escape from Camp 14” burned the midnight oil to read it, in anticipation of meeting Shin. Nobody was offended, but all were inspired by his visible frustration. Students from all continents thought that having their photo taken with Shin was the highlight of their summer program. Some of them have decided to set up student organizations addressing North Korean human rights. Some of them have asked for advice on becoming human rights activists or humanitarian workers involved in North Korea.

Perhaps Ms. Kim Young-soon’s remarks resonated deepest with the audience. A former choreographer and close friend of North Korea’s elites, she was imprisoned for nine years at Yoduk political prison camp. Her “crime?” Knowing too much about Kim Jong-il’s personal life. At Yoduk, she lost three sons, a daughter, and both parents. She rolled up their bodies in straw mats, and buried them with her own hands. In her mid-70s now, she told the audience: “The people of the world can live long and happy lives, go to sleep every night and wake up every morning without even once thinking of North Korea. It is this type of event that reminds the world of the atrocities happening in that country. Thank you for being here to listen to us tonight.”

Ms. Kim said: “No dictatorship lasts forever, and neither will this one. I may not be getting any younger, but I promise you, for as long as I can continue, I will never give up the fight for North Korean human rights… ” Thank you, Ms. Kim Young-soon. Neither will I, or any of my colleagues. If Kim Jong-un is not yet sharing a cell with Ratko Mladic just six months after the release of the UN COI report, it doesn’t mean that all is lost. The higher ground is ours to keep. Shin Dong-hyuk has been a symbol. He will soon be ready to be a leader.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


“Commissions of inquiry are strong and flexible mechanisms that can yield ample benefits for governments, victim communities and the wider public, but they do not relieve States of their legal obligations to investigate and prosecute torture, and to provide effective remedies to victims of past violations, including reparation for the harm suffered and to prevent its reoccurrence.”[1]


On March 21, 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously  decided to establish a “Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (hereinafter “COI”). Resolution A/HRC/RES/22/53 established and mandated the COI for one year “to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in North Korea, “with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular for violations which may amount to crimes against humanity.”[2] Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, identified “nine key inter-linked issues or patterns of violations of human rights that the United Nations has focused on” concerning North Korea:

1.     Violation of the right to food;
2.     Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;
3.     Arbitrary detention;
4.     Violations associated with prison camps;
5.     Discrimination;
6.     Violation of freedom of expression;
7.     Violation of the right to life;
8.     Violation of freedom of movement; and
9.     Enforced disappearances.[3]

The resolution also extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea for one year.[4]

On May 7, 2013, three commissioners were selected to serve on the COI: Mr. Michael Kirby, Ms. Sonja Biserko, and Mr. Marzuki Darusman (also the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea). Chief Commissioner Kirby stated, “The fact that the resolution establishing this commission was adopted in Geneva with unanimity is an indication that the international community now agrees that something must be done.”[5]
Under its mandate, the COI has had to provide an oral update to the Council at its twenty-fourth session and to the General Assembly at its sixty-eight session.” On March 17, 2014, the COI will submit a written report to the Council at its twenty-fifth session in Geneva.

Dr. Roberta Cohen, HRNK’s Co-Chair and Non-Resident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, explained:

The establishment of the commission reflects long overdue recognition that a human rights ‘emergency’ exists in North Korea. Commissions of inquiry at the United Nations have mainly been directed at situations like Syria, Darfur or Libya where conflicts, atrocities and destruction are clearly visible and in the headlines. Adding North Korea to the list suggests a new look at what a human rights crisis might be. In contrast to other situations, North Korea has always managed to hide its crimes.[6]

Predictably, however, the North Korean regime has been hostile to the mandate of the COI. In fact, “North Korean Ambassador So Se Pyong rejected the resolution as ‘an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces in their attempt to discredit the image of the DPRK,’ and said, “‘[a]s we stated time and again, those human rights abuses mentioned in the resolution do not exist in our country.’”[7]


2000: Kang Chol-hwan and Pierre Rigoulot release The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag (The Perseus Press) in French. The book is Kang Chol-hwan’s memoir of growing up in a North Korean prison camp for ten years, beginning at the age of nine years old.
2001: The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) is formed to promote human rights in North Korea. It seeks to raise awareness and to publish well-documented research that focuses international attention on North Korean human rights, conditions, which have been so closed off from the rest of the world.
2003: HRNK publishes The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps by David Hawk. This is the first comprehensive study of the camps.
2004: The UN Commission on Human Rights (predecessor to the UN Human Rights Council) appointed the Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The first SR was Professor Vittit Muntarbhorn, an international lawyer, who subsequently became a member of HRNK’s International Advisory Council.
2006: HRNK publishes Failure to Protect: A Call for UN Security Council to Act in North Korea by Vaclav Havel, Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Elie Wiesel and prepared with DLA Piper LLP. The report highlights the failure of the North Korean government to exercise its responsibility to protect its own people from crimes against humanity and urges the UN Security Council to take up the situation of North Korea.
2008: HRNK publishes Failure to Protect: The Ongoing Challenge of North Korea with DLA Piper. The report recommends that the UN General Assembly:
Include in the operative paragraphs of the resolution, a recommendation to the Secretary- General to appoint a group of experts to report to the General Assembly about whether North Korea has committed violations of international human rights law and, if so, whether these violations constitute a failure to protect it citizens from crimes against humanity.[8]
2009: The UN Universal Periodic Review issues a report on North Korea identifying serious human rights concerns occurring in that country. Although North Korea participates in the review, it is the first State to not accept any recommendation out of the 167 received.
2010:  SR Vitit Muntarbhorn recommends Security Council action because of the nature of human rights violations in North Korea.
2011: The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) is formed to promote the establishment of a COI. HRNK joins this coalition along with over 40 other organizations.
MAR 2012: Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden is released, detailing the life and escape of former North Korean political prison camp prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk. Shin is the only known person to have been born in and escaped from a North Korean political prison camp (after 23 years).
APR 2012:  In a statement prepared for a conference organized by HRNK in Washington, D.C., SR Marzuki Darusman for the first time called for a mechanism of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in North Korea. HRNK publishes Hidden Gulag Second Edition by David Hawk.
JUN 2012:  HRNK publishes Marked for Life: Songbun, North Korea’s Social Classification System, by Robert Collins.
NOV 2012: In his statement to the Third Committee of the General Assembly in November 2012, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea called on Member States to undertake a comprehensive review of the many UN reports on the human rights situation in North Korea to assess the underlying patterns and trends, and consider setting up a more detailed mechanism of inquiry.[9]
JAN 2013: Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights brings Shin Dong-hyuk and Kim Hee-suk to meet UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who then calls for a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes taking place in North Korea.
FEB 2013: Special Rapporteur Darusman provides a report to the Human Rights Council detailing the range of UN documentation and reports on human rights in North Korea. He states that since 2004, the UN has issued 22 reports by the Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur and the General Assembly and its subsidiary organs have adopted 16 resolutions. The Special Rapporteur also identifies nine patterns of human rights abuses by North Korea from these reports that could constitute crimes against humanity.[10]
MAR 2013: On March 21st, the Human Rights Council establishes the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with a 47-member consensus in its 22nd Session.

·      In 2006 and 2008, HRNK published the first reports that called attention to crimes against humanity in North Korea and for UN Security Council action.
·      Since September 2011, HRNK has been a member of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), which involves over 40 organizations from around the world and was formed to promote the establishment of a COI to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea.
·      As a member organization of the ICNK, HRNK has actively provided information needed to establish a COI.
·      Since the establishment of the COI, HRNK has actively supported the commissioners and staff members of the COI.
o   On October 30, 2013, HRNK hosted a private meeting with COI commissioners Michael Kirby and Sonja Biserko.
o   Responding to the COI’s call for submissions, HRNK provided the COI with a 100-page report on information and documentation on the situation of egregious, widespread, and systematic human rights abuses in North Korea.
o   At the COI hearings in Washington, DC on October 30-31, 2013, all but one of the expert witnesses invited to testify were HRNK Board and Advisory Council members or authors of HRNK reports.
§  On Access to Food:
·      Marcus Noland, Senior Fellow and Director of Studies at the Institute for International Economics (IIE), HRNK Board Member and co-author of HRNK reports Hunger and Human Rights: The Politics of Famine in North Korea (2005) and The North Korean Refugee Crisis: Human Rights and International Response (2006)
·      Andrew Natsios, Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, HRNK Co-Chair
§  On Prison Camps, Satellite Imagery, and the Gender Dimension
·      David Hawk, Visiting Scholar and the Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights, HRNK report author of: 1) The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps (2003); Hidden Gulag 2: The Lives and Voices of Those Who Are Sent to the Mountains (2012); and 3) North Korea’s Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps (2013)
·      Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., Senior Imagery Analyst and Publisher and Editor of KPA Journal, HRNK co-author of 1) North Korea’s Camp No. 22 (2012); 2) North Korea’s Camp No. 22 – Update (2012); and 3) North Korea’s Camp No. 25 (2013)
·      Roberta Cohen, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, HRNK Co-Chair
§  On Responsibility to Protect
·      Jared Genser, Managing Director of Perseus Strategies, LLC, HRNK International Advisory Council Member


MAY 2013: Commissioners Michael Kirby, Sonja Biserko, and Marzuki Darusman are appointed on May 7th. North Korea rejects the COI.
JUN 2013: The COI sends a letter to North Korea on June 18th and receives no response.
JUL 2013: The COI sends two letters – on July 5th and 16th – requesting meetings with North Korea. North Korea does not meet with the COI or allow access inside its borders.
AUG 2013: COI holds hearings in Seoul, Republic of Korea from August 20th-24th. Over 40 witnesses, including Shin Dong-hyuk, testify in public hearings. COI holds hearings in Tokyo, Japan from August 29th-30th. Chief Commissioner Kirby states:
“What we have seen and heard over the past days in Seoul, the specificity, detail and shocking character of much of the testimony, appears to call for a response from the international community. In the contemporary world, it is not good enough to produce just another UN report. Today, leaders and governments are accountable and the commission of inquiry has been created with that objective in mind. But equally, it is not good enough to respond with denunciation.”[11]

SEP 2013: The COI provides an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its 24th Session on September 17th.

OCT 2013: The COI holds hearings in London, England on October 23rd. The COI provides an oral update to the General Assembly at its 68th Session on October 29th. On October 30th, the Commissioners Kirby and Biserko meet with HRNK in Washington, DC, and then hold hearings in DC from October 30th-31st. HRNK experts testify.

FEB 2014: The COI will release its findings to the public via the Internet on February 17th.

MAR 2014: The COI will submit its final written report to the Human Rights Council’s 25th Session in Geneva on March 17th.


The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea’s (HRNK) position is that North Korea has committed systematic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights with respect to the violation of the right to food, violations associated with its prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, violations of freedom of expression, violations of the right to life, violations of freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances. With the exception of the crime of apartheid, all of the criminal acts included within the duration and scope of crimes against humanity in modern international law have been committed in North Korea. The leadership of North Korea, including National Defense Chairman Kim Jong-un should be held accountable for these actions.[12]


  • HRNK strongly recommends that the Commission find that systematic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights have occurred in North Korea in regards to the nine identified patterns of abuse for investigation requested by the Commission.
  • HRNK strongly recommends that the Commission urge the North Korean government to account for the fate and whereabouts of all of North Korea's political prisoners, including those missing and those who have died in detention.
  • HRNK strongly recommends that the Commission ensures full accountability by stating in its report that crimes against humanity have likely occurred in North Korea and been committed by the Kim leadership, publically identifying alleged individual perpetrators.
  • HRNK strongly recommends that the Commission immediately refers the situation of North Korea to the Security Council and requests the Security Council’s referral to the International Criminal Court, pursuant to article 13(b) of the Rome Statute, as the North Korean justice system is unable and unwilling to address the human rights situation in North Korea.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission devise a strategic plan that addresses accountability and recommends creative transitional justice mechanisms to help victims heal.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission call on the Human Rights Council member states to translate and publish the Commission’s findings and hold seminars on those findings.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission call on China to obey its obligations under the Refugee Convention and recognize North Korean defectors as refugees.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission identify concrete, tangible ways for the international community to respond to continued violations of human rights by North Korea.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission present measures for North Korea to take to improve its human rights situation, including closing its political prison camps.
  • HRNK recommends that the Commission request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to issue public, periodic statements on the human rights situation in North Korea.

[1] The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, stated this in a report to the UN Human Rights Council. UN News Centre, Commissions of inquiry alone cannot fight impunity against torture – UN expert, March 5, 2012,
[2] Human Rights Council, A/HRC/RES/22/53, Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Apr. 9, 2013,
[3] ICNK welcomes the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry, March 22, 2013,
[4] OHCHR, Council establishes Commission of Inquiry to investigate Human Rights Violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, OHCHR, March 21, 2013,
[5] OHCHR, UN commission on DPRK human rights situation completing work in Seoul, Aug. 26, 2013,
[6] Roberta Cohen, North Korea Faces Heightened Human Rights Scrutiny, The Brookings Institution, Mar. 21, 2013,
[7] Stephanie Nebehay, U.N. starts inquiry into torture, labor camps in North Korea, March 21, 2013,
[8] Vaclav Havel, Kjell Magne Bondevik, & Elie Wiesel, Failure to Protect: The Ongoing Challenge of North Korea, 27 (HRNK & DLA Piper LLP, 2008),
[9] HRC, A/HRC/22/57, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Marzuki Darusman, Feb. 1, 2013.
[10] Id.
[11] OHCHR, UN commission on DPRK human rights situation completing work in Seoul, Aug. 26, 2013,
[12] See David Hawk, The Hidden Gulag Second Edition, 162-164 (HRNK, 2012), available at