Translations of President Moon Jae-in’s Speeches in Pyongyang: Mokrangwan Address in Reply, May Day Stadium Speech, and Mt. Baekdu

Translation by Hangyun Kim, HRNK Research Intern

Edited by Raymond Ha, HRNK Editorial Consultant


Mokrangwan State Guesthouse Address in Reply (September 18th)
- Delivered at the welcome dinner banquet
- VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWMK5OCA7l0 (No English subtitles)
- MAP: https://goo.gl/maps/y7Zf5bTWbv22

Full Text

Dear Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong-un, Madam Ri Sol-ju, and esteemed guests. We promised each other in the spring, which we greeted together after overcoming a long winter, to meet again when fall comes. I sincerely thank Chairman Kim Jong-un for keeping that promise and inviting me to Pyongyang with a warm welcome. I also wish to thank our compatriots in the North, who greeted me with an enthusiastic welcome along every street that I passed. I would like to convey to you all the best regards of the people in the South.

김정은국무위원장과리설주여사님, 그리고귀빈여러분, 긴겨울을이겨내고함께맞았던봄에‘가을이오면다시만나자’고우리는약속했습니다. 그약속그대로나를평양으로초대하고따뜻하게맞아주신김정은위원장에게진심으로감사드립니다. 오가는거리마다뜨거운환영을보내주신북녘동포들께도깊이감사드립니다. 모든분들께남녘동포들이전하는각별한안부인사를전합니다.

Upon arriving today, I am truly astonished by Pyongyang’s development. The high-rises that line the Taedong River and the vibrant atmosphere among the people of Pyongyang are particularly impressive. I came to understand Chairman Kim’s leadership and his accomplishments in seeking to improve the people’s lives through scientific and economic development. If the people in the South and North can come and go freely, cooperating with each other to seek progress and development, we can surprise the whole world. We opened a new era in the inter-Korean relationship last time at Panmunjom. It has only been five months since then, but we have already seen things we could only dream of. At the Asian Games in Indonesia, the unified women’s canoe team won their first gold medal. The unified women’s basketball team won a silver medal, but they showed that they could surpass the Great Wall.

오늘도착해보니평양의발전이참으로놀랍습니다. 대동강변을따라늘어선고층건물과, 평양시민들의활기찬모습이아주인상적입니다. 과학과경제를발전시켜주민들의삶을나아지게하려는김정은위원장의지도력과성취를알수있었습니다. 남북이서로자유롭게오가며서로돕고함께발전한다면온세상이깜짝놀라게될것입니다. 지난번판문점에서우리는남북관계에서새로운시대를열었습니다. 불과5개월밖에지나지않았지만꿈같은일이시작되었습니다. 인도네시아아시안게임에서카누여자단일대표팀이첫금메달의쾌거를거두었습니다. 여자단일농구대표팀도은메달이었지만, 만리장성을넘을수있다는것을보여주었습니다.

These achievements have given to the Korean people the joy and the hope that we can become the best in the world when the sweat and tears shed at the Taedong River and Han River become one.

The world’s first movable metal type is not only the pride of the Korean people, but also a precious heritage for the entire world. Both the South and the North each had one original metal type, but a third type was discovered at Manwoldaein Kaesong three years ago through a joint excavation between South and North. The newly discovered type reads jeon, meaning “endearing,” in the North and dan, meaning “beautiful,” in the South. This discovery felt like a blessing for all that we have achieved together. I am glad to say that the joint excavation at Manwoldaewill resume next week. This is a deeply meaningful development. The South and the North shall come together as one to revive our nation’s history.

(Please see the following article for details about the Manwoldae metal type: http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2015/12/01/2015120101417.html)

대동강과한강에서흘린땀과눈물이하나가될때우리는세계최고가될수있다는희망과기쁨을온겨레에안겨주었습니다. 세계최초의금속활자는우리민족의자랑이자세계적으로도소중한유산입니다. 금속활자실물이그동안남과북에각한글자씩있었는데3년전남북이공동발굴조사한개성만월대에서세번째실물이발굴되었습니다. 북에서는‘사랑스럽다’는‘전’, 남에서는'아름답다'는‘단’으로읽는글자였습니다. 우리가함께이룬성과를축복해주는듯했습니다. 다음주부터개성만월대공동발굴이재개됩니다. 아주뜻깊고반가운소식입니다. 남과북이하나가되어우리민족의역사를되살려낼것입니다.

This is only the beginning. Together, we can create a future that no one could imagine. Our collaboration will reach across the continent to Russia and Europe, and across the sea to ASEAN and India. For this, Chairman Kim Jong-un and I shall put our heads and hearts together. We will engage in earnest discussions to seek meaningful progress in all fields—including the military, economy, society, and culture—and to completely resolve military tension and fears of war between the South and the North.

이제시작입니다. 우리는누구도경험해보지못한미래를만들어갈수있습니다. 우리의협력은대륙을가르며러시아와유럽에이르고바다를건너아세안과인도에이를것입니다. 이를위해나는김정은위원장과머리를맞대고마음을모을것입니다. 군사, 경제, 사회, 문화모든분야에서내실있는발전을이루고, 남과북사이에군사적긴장과전쟁의공포를완전히해소하는방안을진지하게논의하겠습니다.

The complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the establishment of peace also are important issues. We shall take a momentous step to begin an era of permanent peace and cooperation. Since this is a path that has never been taken before, we may encounter various challenges and impasses. However, there is trust and friendship between Chairman Kim Jong-un and me. If we put ourselves in each other’s shoes and understand and respect each other, there will be no difficulties that we cannot overcome.

한반도의완전한비핵화와평화정착도중요한의제입니다. 항구적인평화와협력의시대를여는큰걸음을시작하겠습니다. 완전히새로운길인만큼여러가지도전과난관을만날수도있습니다. 그러나김정은위원장과나에게는신뢰와우정이있습니다. 역지사지의자세로서로를이해하고배려한다면넘어서지못할어려움은없을것입니다.

Dear esteemed guests, I am the third President of the Republic of Korea to visit Mokrangwan, following Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyeon. This is already my third meeting with Chairman Kim Jong-un, following the summits in April and May. Chairman Kim and I have crossed the Military Demarcation Line from one side to the other and back hand in hand, like two affectionate lovers. The image of our “footbridge dialogue” created a great sensation across the world. The fact that the leaders of the South and the North can casually meet anywhere at any time symbolically shows that a new era has dawned between the South and the North.

(Please see the following article for details on the April 27 “footbridge dialogue”:
http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2018/05/02/2018050201052.html)

귀빈여러분, 나는김대중, 노무현대통령에이어여기목란관을찾은세번째대한민국대통령입니다. 김정은위원장과는지난4월과5월에이어벌써세번째만남입니다. 김위원장과나는다정한연인처럼함께손잡고군사분계선을넘어가고넘어왔던사이입니다. 우리의도보다리대화는그모습만으로도전세계인들에게큰감동을주었습니다. 남북의정상이시간과장소에구애치않고언제든지편하게만날수있다는사실자체가남북간의새로운시대가도래했다는것을상징적으로보여줍니다.

Chuseok, the favorite holiday for all Koreans, is fast approaching. Like the proverb “wish not for less or more, just always be like Chuseok,” I sincerely hope that this meeting will bring peace and prosperity to the lives of all Koreans. I hope that this meeting will be the best Chuseokgift to the people of the North and the South.

마침우리민족이가장좋아하는명절인한가위추석이다가오고있습니다. ‘더도말고덜도말고한가위만같아라’는속담처럼온겨레의삶을더평화롭고풍요롭게하는만남이되기를진심으로바랍니다. 우리의만남이북과남의국민모두에게최고의한가위선물이되길기원합니다.

With that mind, I would like to propose a toast. Please respond with “We-ha-yeo[Cheers].”

그런마음으로건배를제의하겠습니다. 여러분들은“위하여”라고화답해주시면되겠습니다.

We-ha-yeo to Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong-un and First Lady’s health, and to the unity of all eighty million people of the South and the North from Baekdu to Halla!

김정은국무위원장내외분의건강과, 백두에서한라까지남과북8천만겨레모두의하나됨을위하여!


Rungrado May Day Stadium Speech (September 19th)

- Delivered in front of 150,000 North Korean audiences and performers after the mass games “Shining Fatherland”
- First-ever speech by a Korean president to the people of North Korea
- VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6N4-cArJeaY(No English subtitles)
- MAP: https://goo.gl/maps/KvzdHR5fmFw

Full Text

Dear citizens of Pyongyang and our brothers and sisters in the North,

평양시민여러분, 북녘의동포형제여러분,

I am truly glad to meet all of you at this occasion in Pyongyang.

평양에서이렇게여러분을만나게되어참으로반갑습니다.

As the President of the South, I cannot express with words how overwhelmed I am to greet you by the introduction of the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong-un. Everyone, in this way we are building a new era together.

남쪽대통령으로서김정은국무위원장의소개로여러분에게인사말을하게되니그감격을말로표현할수없습니다. 여러분, 우리는이렇게함께새로운시대를만들고있습니다.

Dear compatriots,

동포여러분,

Chairman Kim Jong-un and I met at Panmunjom on April 27 and shared a warm embrace. As two leaders, we solemnly proclaimed to eighty million Koreans and to the world that there will no longer be a war on the Korean peninsula, that a new era of peace has begun.

김정은위원장과나는지난4월27일판문점에서만나뜨겁게포옹했습니다. 우리두정상은한반도에서더이상전쟁은없을것이며새로운평화의시대가열렸음을8천만겨레와전세계에엄숙히천명했습니다.

We also affirmed the principle of national independence. We, the Korean people, shall decide our own fate.

또한우리민족의운명은우리스스로결정한다는민족자주의원칙을확인했습니다.

We made a solemn promise to achieve comprehensive and groundbreaking progress in inter-Korean relations, to fuse together the severed heart of the Korean people, to advance towards a future of common prosperity and unification through self-determination. We also agreed that President Moon Jae-in would visit Pyongyang in the fall.

남북관계를전면적이고획기적으로발전시켜끊어진민족의혈맥을잇고공동번영과자주통일의미래를앞당기자고굳게약속했습니다. 그리고올해가을문재인대통령은이렇게평양을방문하기로했습니다.

Dear citizens of Pyongyang and fellow compatriots,

평양시민여러분, 사랑하는동포여러분,

Today, Chairman Kim Jong-un and I have reached concrete agreements on measures to completely eliminate the danger of war and the risk of armed clashes on the Korean peninsula.

오늘김정은위원장과나는한반도에서전쟁의공포와무력충돌의위험을완전히제거하기위한조치들을구체적으로합의했습니다.

We have also committed to make our beautiful mountains and rivers from Mount Baekdu to Mount Halla a foundation of peace, permanently free from nuclear weapons and nuclear threats, and pass it down to future generations.

또한백두에서한라까지아름다운우리강산을영구히핵무기와핵위협이없는평화의터전으로만들어후손들에게물려주자고확약했습니다.

We have also agreed to take immediate and fundamental steps to alleviate the suffering of separated families before it is too late.

그리고더늦기전에이산가족의고통을근원적으로해소하기위한조치들을신속히취하기로했습니다.

I send wholehearted praise and applause to your leader Chairman Kim Jong-un, who has boldly embarked upon this daring journey and is walking resolutely with me towards a new future for the Korean people.

나는나와함께이담대한여정을결단하고민족의새로운미래를향해뚜벅뚜벅걷고있는여러분의지도자김정은국무위원장께아낌없는찬사와박수를보냅니다.

Dear citizens of Pyongyang and fellow countrymen,

평양시민여러분, 동포여러분,

During this visit, I have witnessed the astonishing development that is taking place in Pyongyang. I have seen, with great passion in my heart, what kind of country Chairman Kim Jong-un and the people of the North seek to build. I saw a great yearning for reconciliation and peace among the Korean people. I have seen indomitable courage, the courage of a people to protect its pride and stand on its own feet in trying times.

이번방문에서나는평양의놀라운발전상을보았습니다. 김정은위원장과북녘동포들이어떤나라를만들어나가고자하는지가슴뜨겁게보았습니다. 얼마나민족화해와평화를갈망하고있는지절실하게확인했습니다. 어려운시절에도민족의자존심을지키며끝끝내스스로일어서고자하는불굴의용기를보았습니다.

Dear citizens of Pyongyang and compatriots,

평양시민여러분, 동포여러분,

Our people are brilliant. Our people are tenacious. Our people love peace. And our people should live together.

우리민족은우수합니다. 우리민족은강인합니다. 우리민족은평화를사랑합니다. 그리고우리민족은함께살아야합니다.

We have lived together for five thousand years and apart for seventy years. Here today, I propose that we put these seventy years of hostility behind us and take a momentous step towards peace, to become one again.

우리는5천년을함께살고70년을헤어져살았습니다. 나는오늘이자리에서지난70년적대를완전히청산하고다시하나가되기위한평화의큰걸음을내딛자고제안합니다.

Chairman Kim Jong-un and I shall firmly hold the hands of eighty million Koreans and build a new country for us all. Let us advance towards the new future together.

김정은위원장과나는8천만겨레의손을굳게잡고새로운조국을만들어나갈것입니다. 우리함께새로운미래로나아갑시다.

Thank you again to the many citizens of Pyongyang, youths, students, and children for fervently welcoming our delegation with the mass games. We appreciate your efforts.

오늘많은평양시민, 청년, 학생, 어린이들이대집단체조로나와우리대표단을뜨겁게환영해주신것에대해서도다시한번감사드립니다. 수고하셨습니다.

Thank you.

감사합니다.


Mount Baekdu Dialogue (September 20th)
- Dialogue between the two heads at the summit of Mount Baekdu
- Was not livestreamed unlike other events of the Pyongyang talks, possibly due to connectivity issues
- Original full text: http://news.mk.co.kr/newsRead.php?sc=30000021&year=2018&no=595142
- MAP: https://goo.gl/maps/Urt9fbu2yd62

Full Text

▲Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong-un

The Chinese envy this place. They cannot go down to the Cheonjilake from their side, but we can.

중국사람들이부러워합니다. 중국쪽에서는천지를못내려갑니다. 우리는내려갈수있습니다.

▲President Moon Jae-in

Where is the border?

국경이어디입니까?

▲Chairman Kim

(Pointing finger from left to right) Mount Baekdu has four distinct seasons.

(왼쪽부터오른쪽까지손가락으로가리키며) 백두산에는사계절이다있습니다.

▲First Lady Ri Sol-ju

July and August are the best. The manbyeongchoflowers are in full bloom then.

7∼8월이제일좋습니다. 만병초가만발합니다.

▲President Moon

I have the manbyeongchoflower in my home’s yard too.

그만병초가우리집마당에도있습니다.

▲First Lady Ri

I see.

네.

▲Chairman Kim

The sunrise is more spectacular than the flowers.

꽃보다는해돋이가장관입니다.

▲President Moon

There is the Baekrokdamlake in Mount Halla as well, but the water does not stem from the bottom like Cheonji. It is filled with rainwater, so it is dry when there is a drought.

한라산에도백록담이있는데천지처럼물이밑에서솟지않고그냥내린비, 이렇게만돼있어서좀가물때는마릅니다.

▲Chairman Kim

(To minder next to him) How deep is the water in Cheonji?

(옆에있는보장성원에게) 천지수심깊이가얼마나되나?

▲First Lady Ri

It is 325m. There are many legends about Mount Baekdu. Some say that a dragon lived here before ascending to the sky, and some say that ninety-nine fairies from the sky came down to take a bath because the water is so clear. Now we have another legend, since you have come here together today.

325m입니다. 백두산에전설이많습니다. 용이살다가올라갔다는말도있고, 하늘의선녀가, 아흔아홉명의선녀가물이너무맑아서목욕하고올라갔다는전설도있는데, 오늘은또두분께서오셔서또다른전설이생겼습니다.

▲Chairman Kim

We should soak the images of our new history in Mount Baekdu’s Cheonji—immerse everything in this water of Cheonjiso that the water will never dry up—as we write a new history between the North and the South.

백두산천지에새역사의모습을담가서, 백두산천지의물이마르지않도록이천지물에다담가서앞으로북남간의새로운역사를또써나가야겠습니다.

▲President Moon

I have made some new history with this visit, delivering a speech to the citizens of Pyongyang.

이번에제가오면서새로운역사를좀썼지요. 평양시민들앞에서연설도다하고.

▲First Lady Ri

I was deeply moved by the speech.

연설정말감명깊게들었습니다.

▲President Moon

I told the Chairman at the April 27 summit that many South Koreans visited Mount Baekdu through the Chinese side. For a while, it was very popular to do so. While many people are still making visits, at that time I pledged to myself that “I will not go through the Chinese side. I shall climb up on our own soil no matter what.” I thought that day would come very soon, but it faded away. I thought that day may never come, but now my wish has come true.

제가위원장께지난4·27 회담때말씀드렸는데요. 한창백두산붐이있어서우리사람들이중국쪽으로백두산을많이갔습니다. 지금도많이가고있지만, 그때나는'중국으로가지않겠다, 반드시나는우리땅으로해서오르겠다' 그렇게다짐했었습니다. 그런세월이금방올것같더니멀어졌어요. 그래서영못오르나했었는데소원이이뤄졌습니다.

▲Chairman Kim

Only a few came here today, but South Koreans and fellow countrymen abroad should come and see Mount Baekdu from now on. For people in the South, it has become a mountain of longing—out of reach—since the division of Korea.

오늘은적은인원이왔지만, 앞으로는남측인원들, 해외동포들이와서백두산을봐야지요. 분단이후에는남쪽에서는그저바라만보는그리움의산이됐으니까

▲President Moon

Now that the first step has been taken, more people will come as these steps are repeated. I believe that the day will soon come when ordinary citizens of South Korea can travel to Mount Baekdu.

이제첫걸음이시작됐으니이걸음이되풀이되면더많은사람이오게되고, 남쪽일반국민들도백두산으로관광올수있는시대가곧올것으로믿습니다.

▲Chairman Kim

Would you like to go down to Cheonjitoday?

오늘천지에내려가시겠습니까?

▲President Moon

Yes. I would love to soak my hands if Cheonjiallows me to do so.

예. 천지가나무라지만않는다면손이라도담가보고싶습니다.

▲Chairman Kim

The view isn’t so good if we go all the way down. This spot is the best place to see Cheonji, so why don’t we take a picture together here?

내려가면잘안보여요. 여기가제일천지보기좋은곳인데다같이사진찍으면어떻습니까?

▲President Moon

(During photo shoots with Chairman Kim and First Lady Ri) I think I should raise my hand together with the Chairman here.

(김위원장내외와함께사진촬영을하면서) 여긴아무래도위원장과함께손을들어야겠습니다.

▲Chairman Kim

Will the rest of the delegation from the South take a picture with the President? Shall I take the picture?

대통령님모시고온남측대표단들도대통령모시고사진찍으시죠? 제가찍어드리면어떻습니까?

▲ROK Minister of Ocean and Fisheries Kim Young-choon

We shall invite you to Mount Halla when you make a return visit to Seoul.

이번에서울답방오시면한라산으로모셔야하겠습니다.

▲President Moon

Thinking of the hospitality I have received these past two days, I should make it up to you when you visit Seoul.

어제오늘받은환대를생각하면, 서울로오신다면답해야겠습니다.

▲ROK Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo

We will prepare a helipad at the summit of Mount Halla. I shall order one of our Marine regiments to build it.

(Weeks before the summit, President Moon nominated a new Defense Minister to replace Minister Song.

http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2018/08/31/2018083101036.html)

한라산정상에헬기패드를만들겠습니다. 우리해병대1개연대를시켜서만들도록하겠습니다.

▲First Lady Ri

There is an old saying in our country: we greet the sunrise at Mount Baekdu and greet unification at Mount Halla.

우리나라옛말에백두에서해맞이를하고, 한라에서통일을맞이한다는말이있습니다.

▲First Lady Kim Jung-sook

I brought water from Mount Halla. I shall pour half in Cheonjiand fill up the other half with water from Mount Baekdu.

한라산물을갖고왔어요. 천지에가서반은붓고반은백두산물을담아갈겁니다.

Reaching Underground Believers & Guiding Others in Flight: Silent Partners Assist North Koreans under Caesar’s Sword

By Tim A. Peters, Founder of Helping Hands Korea


Introduction

The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) has the dubious distinction of being classified in the Open Doors World Watch List as the worst state sponsor of Christian persecution for 16 consecutive years through 2018.[1] Only when one contemplates the ‘rivals’ for this designation, such as Somalia, Afghanistan, China, Sudan, Yemen, and Uzbekistan, among other world-class persecutors, does the full impact of Pyongyang’s systemic suppression of its Christian population begin to register. The roots of this toxic strain of religious intolerance can be found in the personality and political philosophy of North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il-sung, the current absolute leader’s grandfather. From the very formation of the DPRK 70 years ago in 1948 under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, people of faith were viewed with great distrust and suspicion. Kim’s repressive measures were not part of some hidden agenda of the state or its Workers’ Party. Absolute and relentless indoctrination to dissuade religious believers from their faith was the open and initial phase ordered by Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung in his speeches. Secondly, religious leaders who were found to be engaging in “counter-revolutionary or anti-state activities [had to] be punished in accordance to related laws;” an ominous category of “targets of dictatorship” was designated for those clergy who stiffened their backs against reform by the Workers Party.[2] Kim Il-sung lost no time in punishing clergy in labor and re-education camps, uprooting Christians from their residences, killing others, and forcing some into relocation to different regions of the country, especially North and South Hamgyong provinces, nicknamed North Korea's ‘Siberia.’[3] Such harsh measures continue to be used under Kim’s grandson in 2018 as a vital tool to instill fear and to eradicate any loyalties that veer away from exaltation of the Kim family regime. As the subsequent examples painfully illustrate, state-sponsored repression of Christianity and the brutal persecution of its adherents have not changed despite the passage of 56 years since Kim Il-sung’s blunt pronouncements as quoted above. A special 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in the DPRK found that “religious believers [in North Korea] who practice outside the small number of state-controlled religious institutions…. are considered to introduce politically or ideologically subversive influences are subject to crimes against humanity” by the DPRK government.[4] During these painful decades, the rock-hard reality of being ‘under the sword of Caesar’ has resulted in a number of responses by believers.

In large part, sincere Christians have sought survival by going underground and keeping their faith in secret. It should come as no surprise that the remnant of the North Korean historical church, which dates from ‘Great Revival’ of 1907, operates with almost world-class security protocols as a ‘catacombs underground.’ This network is so effective at keeping ‘off the radar’ that many trained outside observers, both secular and ecclesiastical, do not even believe that it exists. So severe, for example, have been the penalties of the North Korean state for the evangelization of children, that many North Korean Christian parents have made the agonizing decision to refrain from revealing their faith to their own children. They do so to prevent the catastrophic consequences of the entire family being sent to a labor camp if authorities learn that Bible stories have been read to children leading to conversion. Despite such extreme caution, at present, the North Korean gulags  are a cheerless abode to multitudes of entire extended families who have been banished for holding firm to their Christian faith. In the absence of authentic and healthy above-ground church institutions inside North Korea, external Christian activists have devised strategies to assist their North Korean brethren out of necessity. With the majority of believers living at a subsistence level, humanitarian aid to the church takes on vital importance.

Especially in the past 25 years, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have fled their homeland, some to escape hunger, many other to find freedom, including religious freedom, beyond their nation’s borders. This bravery has often been rewarded by unplanned contact with sympathetic Chinese, South Korean, and other non-Asian foreign Christians in China and other neighboring countries. Here, we find creative, nearly invisible partnerships that assist North Korean escapees in the uncharted territory of the vast land of China, the government of which systematically repatriates refugees to certain harsh punishment in North Korea. In much the same way that external organizations and individuals of conscience quietly find ways to assist the North Korean underground believers, so do others help those traveling on the so-called ‘underground railroad of East Asia.’ This loosely-knit band of volunteers is reminiscent of the network of abolitionists, largely Christian, who assisted African-American slaves from southern states to free ones in the North before and during the U.S. Civil War in the mid-19th Century. Since open Christian partnerships with non-Koreans within the DPRK are virtually impossible, this paper, set in an historical context, will explore the intensely challenging fieldwork of assisting North Korean Christians in crisis, both inside North Korea and beyond its borders

Underground Believers Endure Harsh Internal Conditions Yet are Strengthened by External Assistance

1) Brutal detention and prison treatment can be based on inmates’ Christian faith:

North Korea’s Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 at Jongo-ri is noteworthy in that it houses a relatively high number of inmates imprisoned directly due to their Christian faith. A handful of former inmates of Kyo-hwa-so No. 12  have managed to survive their ordeals and escape North Korea. One such former prisoner, ChaeYoung-sik, was specifically charged with the “crime” of being a Christian in North Korea. His testimony is as follows:

One day in August of 1998, about 40 prisoners of a farm work unit were on their way to the fields at 1dawn. It was still quite dark. The weary workers came across a strange bag lying in the middle of the road. Opening the large bag, they found a human corpse wearing a red shirt. The prisoners immediately identified the deceased as Kim Ju-won, the Christian prisoner, who had been given a red shirt by his sister during a family visit. The prisoners remembered that Kim had recently been called out at night some days previously, ostensibly for reassignment to another prison.

A number of executed prisoners’ bodies had been carried away at night for burial upon the more remote hilly area of the prison camp. One of the primitive body bags had apparently tumbled unseen from a truck or cart carrying victims of secret executions to the disposal area for prisoners’ corpses. The discovery of the strangled body of their fellow prisoner and persecuted Christian, Kim Ju-won, in the distinctive red shirt, was soon whispered from prisoner to prisoner, thereby quickly exposing the prison’s secret executions, making them common knowledge among a wide circle of inmates.[5]


A female former inmate of Kyo-hwa-so No. 1 at Kaecheon provided her testimony at a UN Commission of Inquiry hearing and explained that she was “sent to prison for expressing her Christian religion, [and] was punished 10 times with solitary confinement during her seven years of detention. She was also assigned to pull the cart used to remove excrement from the prison latrines. Several times the guards made her lick off the excrement that had spilled over (the cart’s edge) in order to humiliate and discipline her.”[6]

Intervention #1 by external partners with North Korean believers who have fled:

Strategic NGO logistical support, in cooperation with fellow Christian activists, has enabled a number of former prisoners of Jongo-ri and other prisons to make their way to freedom and share with the world and the UN the ordeals of Christian persecution before and during North Korean detention.

2) Food security minimized or denied Christians due to their perceived disloyalty: 

North Korean society has, since 1970, been divided by government assignment into 51 social classification categories or songbun of perceived loyalty to the supreme leader Kim’s family. However, these 51 classifications boil down to basically three designations of citizen reliability: loyal, wavering, or hostile. Protestants were given a status of #36 from the top and Catholics were designated as category #39, both Christian groups clearly falling into the rock-bottom tier of the citizenry, deemed as ‘hostile’ and untrustworthy by the ruling elite.[7] It must be emphasized that such a social class designation is not simply a badge one wears on the lapel of his or her jacket. Songbun determines, among other privileges, access to food and location of residence. Sue Lautze in her landmark surveys over 20 years ago had already made the following observation about distribution of food in North Korea when scarcities have arisen: 

"There are reports that the DPRK government has stopped providing food through the PDS(Public Distribution System) to marginalized regions…Those areas without economic resources or political capital [i.e. songbun status] seem to have been left to fend for themselves.” 

Lautze goes on to observe, "… the DPRK’s insistence on maintaining a full army and providing for the population of Pyongyang [the capital and home to only ‘high songbun’ citizens] and other important areas [is] at the expense of those who are suffering…” [8] 

This analysis is consistent with the testimonies of thousands of North Korean refugees who have left their homeland.

It should not be overlooked that the pre-existing bias of food security towards the higher songbun citizens becomes exacerbated when adverse weather conditions reduce North Korea's national harvest. A World Food Program (WFP) representative in Seoul on September 13, 2018 presented high-resolution satellite imagery of North Korea's agricultural regions, highlighting the severe damage done to crops by heat stress, droughts, and flash floods in the spring and summer months of the current year. The WFP official lamented the above-mentioned conditions that have markedly worsened the harvest forecast for 2018. The WFP’s current grim assessment is that 10.3 million citizens, a staggering 40% of North Korean population, are currently malnourished.[9]

Intervention #2 by external partners with North Korean believers: 

A number of Christian missions and NGOs have undertaken official and unofficial food aid to the vulnerable sectors of the North Korean population since the extreme famine of the mid-1990s. Some organizations have continued to experiment with a variety of food aid strategies over the past 25 years ranging from rice, rice crackers, rice cakes, corn, bread, and a wide variety of vegetable seeds. A number of organizations provide food aid exclusively to Christians. However, others take a wider view and assist any seriously vulnerable sector of the population to which they are able to gain access, Christian or not. Certainly, an authentic and reliable human network to transfer food aid directly to the secret church inside the North remains one important component of some external partners’ assistance efforts. Avoiding the transport of food aid through North Korean government channels and mechanisms prevents the regime’s distribution patterns favoring the privileged songbun classes. Instead, the use of couriers, a combination of foreign Christians outside North Korea’s borders and local believers within North Korea, has provided a more reliable and secure distribution of food assistance, guaranteeing that a higher percentage of aid actually goes to the truly needy.

3) Healthcare, like food, is strictly tied to a citizen’s songbun classification. Hence, Christians are often unable to access proper medical treatment. A consistent theme in multitudes of refugee testimonies is the ‘broken medical system’ in North Korea. Although guaranteed universal free healthcare in the regime’s founding principles and propaganda, the simple reality is that medical facilities are skewed heavily to the privileged based on their social classification. A common joke among fleeing North Korean refugees is that the North Korean clinics and hospitals can diagnose your problem, but treatment is forthcoming only if you have found a way to prepare a bribe to pay inflated ‘under the table’ healthcare prices. With health so closely tied to nutrition, it is little wonder that the immune systems of a great number of people in the lower songbun classes are greatly weakened and vulnerable to any number of illnesses and maladies.[10]

Intervention #3 by external partners with North Korean believers: 

North Korea has tended to be more tolerant of foreign Christian healthcare organizations being resident within its borders than other types of humanitarian aid based on religious motivations. However, due to recent increased tensions under Kim Jong-un related to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, some of these organizations have either been forced to leave or have left voluntarily. Consequently, medical assistance that is being provided by informal means has taken on greater significance in recent years. Medication to treat commonly-occurring illnesses such as dysentery, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, typhoid, paratyphoid, typhus fever, influenza, and other communicable diseases have provided the underground Christian community with urgent medical assistance. Antibiotics, treatment for the common cold, diarrhea, and age-related problems, such as arthritis and rheumatism, have been received with great appreciation by the hidden church, especially the elderly. In the past 20 years, many North Koreans have fled their country to China with grave medical emergencies for which they could not get treatment at home. Christian activists have helped to evacuate them to South Korea, where good medical treatment is plentiful under favorable government policies.

Christian refugees on the run and the ‘Russian roulette’ of China’s repatriation policy

In contrast to the believers who feel they have to go into hiding inside North Korea, a second and very vital component to the North Korean church could be colorfully described as the ‘refugee or émigré church.’ This expression recognizes those North Koreans who find some way to make human contact outside their own borders, especially with North Korea’s largest neighbor, China. Such contact has been frequent in large part because South Korean, Chinese-Korean, and other foreign Christians have made up the backbone of the aid community that reaches out to help North Koreans both inside and outside their borders.[11] Bible classes, leadership training programs, and food and medicine aid projects are conducted by believers along the Sino-DPRK border to provide both spiritual and humanitarian assistance. In most cases, unlike their brethren in the underground church inside North Korea, the refugees have had little or no contact with teachings of the Bible before they cross the river into China. Often still dripping wet from the river crossing, refugees are typically dismayed to discover that China is far less a ‘light at the end of a dark tunnel,’ but a ‘no-man’s land’ fraught with unexpected new risks and dangers: betrayal, capture, and the rampant human trafficking of women.

As a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is bound by its treaty obligations to protect populations fleeing from the fear of persecution. However, Beijing has continuously given a ‘one-size-fits-all’ label of ‘illegal economic migrants’ to the North Korean border crossers, and systematically returns them to North Korea.[12]

Dangers exist on every side: refugees dread interception by North Korea’s own secret police who roam China freely, tracking down refugees to either eliminate them “on the spot” or to drag them back to prisons in the North.

It is in these perilous and precarious circumstances that the refugees very often come in contact with people of Christian faith who offer them assistance. They see not a sermon but a living demonstration of unselfish concern in the lives of virtual strangers, sometimes for the first time in their lives. For many of them, the experience is powerful enough to lead to a rather dramatic conversion.

A simple illustration of this Christian strategy of helping North Korean refugees through action would be best described in a rescue mission of four refugees that is taking place at the very time of the writing of this paper. A distress call was received roughly two weeks earlier in which a grandmother in her 60s revealed that she was living in hiding in China with her 5-year-old granddaughter in northeast China. She reportedly agreed while in North Korea to take the job as a nanny in a Chinese household, which would allow them to stay out of the public eye. However, once in China, the Chinese family startled her by saying that she could not keep her granddaughter in the house with her. Suddenly, the grandmother and her granddaughter were out on the street, not knowing which way to turn, dreading detection by a Chinese policeman. Providentially, a foreign missionary in the region heard of their plight and gave them temporary protection, but said that a long-term stay could not be guaranteed due to constant surveillance by Chinese authorities in that city.[13]

Also in the group of four is a woman of 40 who used to be a coal miner in North Korea. She was weakened by chronic malnutrition while living in the ‘Siberia’ of northeastern North Korea and was diagnosed with a very early stage of tuberculosis. She was sold by human traffickers to a man in China who has polio and requires the use of crutches, and was expected to be a nurse for him. But the man became abusive and she could no longer tolerate his treatment. Once again, it was a missionary who came forward from a local Christian network to help this desperate woman.

Finally, the last member of the group of four is also a woman in her 50s. She had attempted to defect more than 10 years earlier, but was caught by Chinese police and forcibly repatriated to North Korea, where she was imprisoned in a labor camp. Undeterred by this dark episode in her life, she tried again to escape, only to be cheated by a Chinese employer and turned over to the Chinese police, who in turn sent her back to North Korea. On this occasion, she was imprisoned for three years in the Jongo-ri prison. Upon the completion of this prison sentence, she successfully crossed into China for the third time.

Although it is not always the case, the current group of four refugees were all assisted at a critical and dangerous juncture by a foreign Christian worker laboring undercover in China.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper has highlighted a number of distinct responses by North Korean believers to state-sponsored persecution under its government’s extreme form of militaristic and race-based nationalism guided by a brutal and atheistic hereditary leadership.[14] One course of action for believers has been to go underground for survival with full understanding that such an option could result in imprisonment for the entire family. An equally daunting choice for the believer has been to flee as a refugee from repressive North Korean policies that target believers. Implicit in this course of action is the calculated risk of possible detection by Chinese authorities followed by the dangers of repatriation, or the manipulation, especially of women refugees, by ruthless human traffickers in China. 

In a parallel manner, this paper has illustrated a number of concrete examples of assistance strategies devised by external Christian partners to assist both types of beleaguered North Korean believers described above. Providing help and support to North Koreans inside their nation has proven a most daunting challenge to traditional mission strategies. With very few notable clandestine exceptions,[15] setting up a residential mission within North Korea's borders is out of the question. Missionaries are officially vilified and foreign visitors are virtually suffocated with surveillance by “minders” whenever they set foot on North Korean soil.[16]

The logical alternative for many has been to set up a base in nearby China. This course of action is not without its complications either. Not only has its government shown itself consistently hostile to North Korean refugees found on its territory, China has also been anything but hospitable to the idea of being used as a staging area for foreign Christian activists who wish to focus on the desperate humanitarian and spiritual needs of 23 million North Korean citizens, including the church. With each passing year, the Chinese government has made a concerted effort to comb out from the Sino-DPRK border area these Christian helpers who have lent such meaningful assistance to North Koreans on the run.[17] Nevertheless, as with determined believers inside the North, brave, ordinary followers of the King of kings who labor quietly along the the Tumen and Yalu rivers find new and unexpected open doors and creative responses to deal with increasingly constrained conditions. Their actions are a fresh reminder that “…with God nothing shall be impossible.”[18]


Questions, comments, corrections, or constructive criticism can be addressed to the author at: tapkorea@gmail.com


[1]Open Doors, World Wide Watch List 2018 (Summary: Top Ten Country Profiles),1. https://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/countries/
[2]In-duk Kang, North Koreas Policy on Religion,” (East Asian Review, 7:1995), 94-95.
[3]Robert Collins, Marked for Life: Songbun, North Koreas Social Classification System(Washington D.C.: The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea: 2012), 79.
[4]COI,333.
[5]Sang Hun Kim, Eyewitness: A Litany of North Korean Crimes Against Humanity(Seoul:NKHR: The 3rd Way: 2012), 82.
[6]COI,253.
[7]Collins, 81.
[8]Sue Lautze, The Famine in North Korea:Humanitarian Responses in Communist Nations,Feinstein International Famine Center and School of Nutrition Science and Policy (Medford, MA:Tufts University, June 1997, 11.
[9]Praveen Agrawal, Changing Visions in DPRK <2018 Roundtable on DPRK Agriculture>(Seoul, Korea:The Office of Agricultural Affairs, U.S. Embassy Seoul, September 13, 2018),47-59. 
[10]Amnesty International, “The Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea,” (London: Amnesty International Publications,2010. 2. 
[11]Kirkpatrick, Escape from North Korea, 45-46.
[12]Butterworth and Sleeth, Seoul Train <transcript of PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman on the status of North Korean escapees>, from 27:00 to 28:42 minute.
[13]Private missionary correspondence from China requesting assistance from HHK Catacombs NGO, August, 2018
[14]B.R. Myers, The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves-And Why It Matters(Brooklyn: Melville House, 2010),40
[15]Security concerns on behalf of those living and working inside North Korea prevent the author from providing further details.
[16]John Sweeney, North Korea Undercover: Inside the Worlds Most Secret State(London: Bantam Press: 2013), 12.
[17]Private conversations and correspondence with the author from many missionaries, aid workers and Christian activists who have been personally expelled from China since 2000 for their work helping North Koreans on the border.
[18]Holy Bible (KJV), New Testament, Luke 1:37

The Dark Side of Korean Family Reunions

By Robert Collins


Divided families reunion. 
(Photograph Credit: Divided Families Foundation)

As we watched the first of three reunions of 89 families take place at Kumgang Mountain Resort in August, we could not help but feel sympathetic to each member of the families split apart for nearly seven decades by antithetical politics and a war that cost over two million Korean lives. Certainly, the happiness displayed by the family members at their reunion was as real as at the 20 other reunions that have taken place since 2000.

However, there is a very dark side to these reunions and that darkness emanates from the Kim regime’s use of blackmail and system of human rights denial. First, the limitations that North Korea puts on each reunion are exasperatingly restrictive, considering the fact that there are 57,000 South Korean family members, as of May, awaiting the opportunity to meet their long lost loved ones in the North. The vast majority of those 57,000 are over 70 years old. Allowing just 89 senior citizens to participate in a single reunion event is a far cry from the reunion scale needed to grant all of the separated Koreans even one visit with their family members from the other side of the DMZ prior to their passing. 

Crossing The Taedong River. Refugees fleeing from the Chinese Communist forces wade across the Taedong River near Pyongyang in North Korea, during the Korean War, 13th December 1950.
(Photograph Credit: Divided Families Foundation)

Second, the selection process on North Korea’s side is purely political and is focused on historical loyalty to the Kim regime’s Supreme Leader and the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). Anyone with a poor loyalty record would never be selected for such reunions. Although the Kim regime’s process for selecting reunion participants from the North is not publicized, it is undoubtedly consistent with other policy decisions and security practices employed by the KWP. First, the Party decides all policy and the government implements as directed. The KWP is run by the “Party within the Party”—the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD)—which facilitates the decision-making process for the Supreme Leader and then distributes guidance to the appropriate agencies and regional institutions. In this case the primary local agencies would be the Ministry of People’s Security (North Korea’s national police force) and the KWP committee at the city or county level. The county police hold the background investigation records of every county resident. This songbun file contains the history of each individual and their family members out to a minimum of three generations, and the file is updated regularly. Relatives in South Korea would be of particular note in this file with exact detail on who these relatives are, where they are located in the South, and whether there has been any contact in the past via letters or other means.

The county party committee would have records on the political performance of each county resident and problems related to political loyalty identified during saenghwal chonghwa—life self-critique—where one confesses political and personal shortcomings for that week. The two files would then be combined to provide a report by the county party committee back to the OGD through the county party committee’s “organizational secretary.” Those chosen from the North will have been culled from these evaluations.

Third, those deemed eligible based on their political and social history would then undergo one to two weeks of intense indoctrination by the county party committee’s “propaganda secretary,” who would use a standard format provided by the KWP’s Propaganda and Agitation Department at the KWP headquarters in Pyongyang. This indoctrination would focus on appropriate talking points of praise for the Kim regime, and ensuring that the relative from the North does not betray the Kim regime by complaining about the living conditions in the North or by criticizing the regime in any way while meeting with their relative from the South.

Fourth, as the family members meet at the reunion tables provided for each family, the Kim regime deploys Party “guidance officers,” who monitor the conversations closely in order to stop perceived politically problematic discussions, and to report back up through their chain of command on the political performance of the North Korean participants.

Fifth, as there is for any North Korean that comes in contact with South Koreans on an official basis, each North Korean who participates in the reunion will undergo extended self-criticism sessions in front of county party committee and police officials to ensure that there is no incident of political misspeak that violates the pre-indoctrination themes or that the participants are not prone to betraying the Kim regime in the future.

Sixth, information from all of the aforementioned processes will be recorded in the individual citizen’s songbun file.

Last, but not least, South Korean relatives regularly give generous gifts (within guidelines worked out by officials of the two sides) to their North Korean family members. These gifts are then targeted by North Korean officials to collect as bribes to the officials in order to be lenient on the North’s reunion participants. This is reportedly a common practice in all communication between North Koreans and their relatives in the South or elsewhere overseas.

For Kim Jong-un, the fact that the families were able to be reunited stands out as a tool of influence requiring little, if any, commitment to North-South reconciliation efforts initiated at the April 27, 2018 summit meeting between Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Re-enforcing the loyalty of the North’s oldest residents is the dark side of that tool.

Satellite Imagery Shows Captives Inside Camp No. 25 in North Korea

By Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Robert Collins, and Amanda Mortwedt Oh


This image, taken on November 6, 2017, shows a probable group of prisoners, with probable guards, engaged in harvesting activities inside the prison walls of Camp No. 25 in Chongjin, North Korea.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., in close cooperation with Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., CEO of KPA Associates, LLC, wishes to highlight the release of commercial satellite imagery showing North Korean victims likely engaged in forced labor inside North Korea’s Political Prison Camp No. 25 (Kwan-li-so No. 25). Camp No. 25 is located in Susong-dong, Chongjin-si, North Hamgyong Province, on the northeast coast of North Korea. Camp No. 25 is the northernmost political prison camp known to be in operation inside North Korea.[1] While open-source information on the camp continues to be scarce, the political prisoner population is estimated to be around 5,000 people.[2]

In February 2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (UN COI) found North Korea’s political prison camps to be places where the most egregious crimes against humanity are being committed. The UN COI called on North Korea to provide its citizens with basic human rights and acknowledge the existence of the political prison camps.[3]

HRNK published its most recent satellite imagery report on Camp No. 25 in November 2016, finding that the political prison camp’s perimeter “was dramatically expanded” during 2010. That expansion included “two previously separate agriculture fields in the northwest area of the camp” […] 17 additional guard positions were erected, predominately along the new perimeter line.”[4] Efforts to monitor Camp No. 25 as well as the other known kwan-li-so and kyo-hwa-so in North Korea remain ongoing, and recent research using Google Earth has revealed updated imagery of Camp No. 25 from November 6, 2017 showing probable prisoners and guards in the field of the camp.[5]

HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu stated:

HRNK continues to monitor Kim Jong-un’s political prison camps to document changes in the camps as well as call for accountability for the egregious crimes being committed inside these prison camps. Kim Jong-un is cracking down on North Koreans for any perceived political transgression, and the camps are, at times, an indicator of the extent of his oppression.

Overview of Camp No. 25 in Chongjin, North Korea. The earliest image available to HRNK shows the camp in operation in 1970, though reports indicate that the camp was established to detain prisoners of war during the Korean War.[6]

This commercial imagery shows presumed political prisoners in the field of CampNo. 25.Using pan-sharpened multispectral satellite imagery of Camp No. 25 and its immediate environs collected by DigitalGlobe on November 6, 2017, internationally recognized North Korea expert Joseph Bermudez said,“the image indicates the presence of people and several carts in the field of Camp 25, and shows the field being tended to on November 6, 2017.” 

In January 2017, ten months prior to the satellite image showing people inside CampNo. 25, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned individuals (via the Specially Designated Nationals List) with varying responsibility for human rights abuses inside North Korea’s political prison camps, including Kim Won-hong, the Former Minister of State Security.[7] Kim has since been fired and replaced by Jeong Gyeong-taek (also spelled as Chong Kyong-taek), according to Robert Collins. The U.S. Department of Treasury released a statement at this time, saying, “OFAC designated the MSS pursuant to E.O. 13722 for having engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights” in North Korea.[8]

Robert Collins notes, however, “The Ministry of State Security(MSS)is the implementer of the Organization and Guidance Department’s (OGD) directives, which ultimately come down from policies of the Suryong(Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un).” HRNK’s November 2017 report, From Cradle to Grave: The Path of North Korean Innocents, highlighted the following:

Ultimate responsibility for the existence and operation of the political prison camps lies with North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. There is a direct chain of political control that links the Supreme Leader to the unmarked graves in the political prison camps. That chain runs from the Supreme Leader to the chief of the OGD headquarters, Jo Yon-jun (First Vice-Director of the OGD) [now replaced by director Choi Ryong-hae], to the OGD 7th Section (formerly the OGD Administration Department), to the MSS Prison Bureau (Farm Guidance Bureau) and the Ministry of People’s Security Correctional Management Bureau (Prisons Bureau), and then to the individual camps and their administrative leadership. The operation of political prison camps must be understood through the prism of regime security, which is overseen by the KWP (Korean Workers’ Party) OGD. The OGD ensures that the internal security services accomplish the mission of regime security through rigorous political monitoring and evaluation.[9]

The ensuing graphic is an updated chart as of April 9, 2018, showing the “Control of the Kim Regime’s Political Prison Camps,” by Robert Collins and Amanda Mortwedt Oh, and designed by Rosa Park for HRNK’s From Cradle to Grave:[10]


© Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), 2018. All rights reserved.

As the chart above shows, the political prisoners inside Camp No. 25 are ultimately controlled by Kim Jong-un and his leadership under the KWP, OGD, the MSS Prison Bureau, and those in charge of administering Camp No. 25, including the party committee.

At the camp level, there are sound legal arguments that the prisoners seen in the satellite imagery from November 6, 2017 are either forced laborers, victims of human trafficking (which may be an umbrella term for forced labor), or “modern-day” slaves. The International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) Forced Labour Convention defines forced labor as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”[11] The U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office’s 2018 TIP Report on North Korea states, in part, that “the government continued state-sponsored human trafficking through its use of forced labor in prison camps, as part of an established system of political repression, and in labor training centers, facilitation of forced labor of students, and its exportation of forced labor to foreign companies.”[12] The report further concludes:

As reported over the past five years, the DPRK is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Within North Korea, forced labor is part of an established system of political repression and a pillar of the economic system. The government subjects its nationals to forced labor through mass mobilizations, assigned work based on social class, and in North Korean prison camps. The DPRK holds an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners in political prison camps and an unknown number of persons in other forms of detention facilities, including re-education through labor camps. In many cases, these prisoners have not been charged with a crime or prosecuted, convicted, or sentenced in a fair judicial hearing. In prison camps, all prisoners, including children, are subject to forced labor, including logging, mining, or farming for long hours under harsh conditions. Political prisoners are subjected to unhygienic living conditions, beatings, torture, rape, a lack of medical care, and insufficient food. Many prisoners do not survive.[13]

While North Korea is not a member of the ILO or a state party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women and Children,[14] in 1981, it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that states in Art. 8(3)(a), “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.” However, that article does not preclude hard labor as a punishment for a crime. Therein lies the problem, though, as prisoners in Camp No. 25 are imprisoned for alleged “crimes” against the Kim regime and are subject to unlawful and arbitrary detentions under international law and customs. “Regardless of how careful one is to demonstrate loyalty to the regime, many end up in political prison camps only because they are related to someone who violated the Kim regime’s rule of political behavior,” Robert Collins stated.

In 2010, the adjacent agricultural fields, shown above, were incorporated into Camp. No. 25 in Chongjin, North Korea. The yellow box shows the area where people can be seen working in the field on November 6, 2017. 

Furthermore, there are compelling reasons to view North Korean political prisoners as “modern-day” slaves. The ICCPR states at Art. 8(1), “No one shall be held in slavery; slavery and the slavery-trade in all their forms shall be prohibited.”[15] The United Nations Slavery Convention at Art. 1(1) defines “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.”[16] In July, the Walk Free Foundation, in collaboration with the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) and the Leiden Asia Centre, released a 2018 Global Slavery Index finding that North Korea has an estimated 2,640,000 million people living in modern slavery.[17] As Adam Taylor notes for TheWashington Post, “North Korea has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world, with 1 out of every 10 citizens considered victims.” The report defines modern-day slavery to include more than forced labor; it also includes human trafficking, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children as well as slavery itself.[18] Given the Kim regime’s uniquely oppressive and controlling rule, the argument that political prisoners are slaves is compelling.

Even if the regime’s imprisonment and hard labor sentences of these innocents were to be condoned, its treatment of the prisoners, based on former prisoner testimony, is undoubtedly illegal, immoral, and likely constitutes crimes against humanity.

In many cases, these prisoners have not been charged with a crime or prosecuted, convicted, or sentenced in a fair judicial hearing. In prison camps, all prisoners, including children, are subject to forced labor, including logging, mining, or farming for long hours under harsh conditions. Political prisoners are subjected to unhygienic living conditions, beatings, torture, rape, a lack of medical care, and insufficient food. Many prisoners do not survive. Furnaces and mass graves are used to dispose the bodies of those who die in these prison camps.[19]

Those responsible in North Korea violate Article 7 of the ICCPR when its political prisoners are subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.[20] There is also a legal argument that this constitutes acrime against humanity (based on Art. 7(1)(f) of the Rome Statute).[21]

While commercially available satellite imagery resolution (50 centimeters per pixel in this image) allows the public to see people in the political prison camp, the full extent of Kim Jong-un’s atrocities in the camps remains uncovered. Nevertheless, this image is one step closer to shedding light on the abuses endured by North Korea’s most vulnerable—its political prisoners who are mercilessly oppressed through unlawful arrest, detention, torture, inhospitable prison conditions, sexual violence, and public and private executions.

In addition to acknowledging the existence of its political prison camps as the first step towards their dismantlement, HRNK calls on the Kim regime to immediately improve the nutritional status of prisoners, many of whom suffer from severe malnutrition; improve health and safety standards at worksites where prison labor is present; allow the ICRC immediate, full, and genuine access to this and all other detention facilities in North Korea; and comply with the Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners.

North Korea’s human rights practices will be reviewed for the third time in May 2019 in a process called the Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council. The Kim regime's practice of state-sponsored forced labor and egregious human rights violations, constituting crimes against humanity in both the kwan-li-so and kyo-hwa-so, must be highlighted by UN member states when issuing recommendations to North Korea.


Media Inquiries

Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu at executive.director@hrnk.org or +1 202-499-7973.

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[1]According to David Hawk, Joshua Stanton of the One Free Koreablog, first located Camp No. 25’s geographic coordinates. See David Hawk, “The Hidden Gulag Second Edition: The Lives and Voices of ‘Those Who are Sent to the Mountains,’” (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2012), 80, 223-24, https://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/HRNK_HiddenGulag2_Web_5-18.pdf.
[2] David Hawk notes that this estimate is based on a 2009 National Human Rights Commission Survey Report. “Parallel Gulag Second Edition,” 79.
[3] UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry,” para. 1220(b).
[4] Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Andy Dinville, and Mike Eley, “North Korea Camp No. 25 Update 2,” (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2016), 3-4, https://www.hrnk.org/publications/hrnk-publications.php.
[5]HRNK’s reports, including a November 2016 report on CampNo. 25, are available at hhttps://www.hrnk.org/publications/hrnk-publications.php.
[6]Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Andy Dinville, and Mike Eley, “North Korea Camp No. 25 Update 2,” (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2016), 3-4, https://www.hrnk.org/publications/hrnk-publications.php.
[7]“KIM, Won Hong (a.k.a. KIM, Wo'n-hong), Korea, North; DOB 17 Jul 1945; Gender Male; Minister of State Security (individual) [DPRK2].” Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Specially Designated Nationals List Update, “Treasury Sanctions Additional North Korean Officials and Entities In Response To The North Korean Regime’s Serious Human Rights Abuses and Censorship Activities,” January 11, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20170111.aspx.
[8]U.S. Department of the Treasury Press Center, “Treasury Sanctions Additional North Korean Officials and Entities In Response To The North Korean Regime’s Serious Human Rights Abuses and Censorship Activities,” January 11, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0699.aspx.
[9]Robert Collins and Amanda Mortwedt Oh, “Pyongyang Republic: North Korea’s Capital of Human Rights Denial,” (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2017), 41, https://www.hrnk.org/publications/hrnk-publications.php.
[10]Ibid., 42.
[11]International Labour Organization,Forced Labour Convention,Art. 2(1), June 28, 1930, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312174:NO.
[12]U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office), “2018 Trafficking in Persons Report,” 255, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/282802.pdf.
[13]Ibid. at 235.
[14]TIP Office, “Countries That Are Not States Parties to the Protocol,” https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2017/271109.htm.
[15]ICCPR, supra note 9.
[16]United Nations Slavery Convention, Art. 1(1), Sep. 25, 1926, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/SlaveryConvention.aspx.
[17]The Global Slavery Index, “Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of,” Walk Free Foundation, 2018, https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/data/country-data/north-korea/.
[18]Adam Taylor,“North Korea has 2.6 million ‘modern slaves,’ new report estimates,” Washington Post, July 19, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/07/19/north-korea-has-2-6-million-modern-slaves-new-report-estimates/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c8efc58e0a9d.
[19]TIP Report, supranote 12.
[20]International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), New York, December 16, 1966, Art. 7, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx.
[21]Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, July 17, 1998, https://www.icc-cpi.int/nr/rdonlyres/ea9aeff7-5752-4f84-be94-0a655eb30e16/0/rome_statute_english.pdf.