Press release: UN experts call for an international inquiry into North Korea human rights abuses

GENEVA (28 February 2013) – A group of United Nations independent human rights experts* today voiced support for the implementation of an international inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea, which would shed light on the country’s extensive political prison camp system, where hundreds of thousands of prisoners and their families are believed to suffer.

“I call on the UN Member States to set up an inquiry into grave, systematic and widespread violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and to recommend ways to ensure accountability for possible crimes against humanity,” said the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, who will present a detailed report on the human rights situation in the country to the UN Human Rights Council, on 11 March 2013.

The rights experts stressed that reports coming from North Korea are extremely serious and disturbing and that the time has come to shine a light of truth on these allegations by appointing a robust independent international inquiry into the situation. They also recalled that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, recently took a stand in favour of the creation of a full-fledged international inquiry.

In October 2012, the group sent a joint allegation letter to the North Korean Government expressing concern and seeking answers to the apparent use of labour camps for political prisoners, also known as kwan-li-so, referred to by some as Gulags. To date, there has been no response from the Government.

The experts said the prison camp system, reportedly in operation since the 1950s, is believed to comprise of at least six camps, each one covering 400 square miles or more: (1) Kaechon, South Pyongan Province (Camp 14); (2) Yodok, South Hamgyong Province (Camp 15); (3) Hwasong, North Hamgyong Province (Camp 16); (4) Bukchang, South Pyongan Province (Camp 18); (5) Hoeryong, North Kamgyong Province (Camp 22); and (6) Congjin, North Hamgyong Province (Camp 25). It is estimated that these camps currently hold at least 150,000 prisoners.

“Many prisoners have been declared guilty of political crimes such as expressing anti­socialist sentiments, having unsound ideology, or criticizing the Government,” said human rights expert El-Hadji Malick Sow, who currently chairs the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. “But all it takes to be sent to the camps is reading a foreign newspaper, expressing exasperation with the living conditions in the country, or engaging in religious practices inconsistent with the State-authorized juche ideology.”

According to experts, up to three generations of family members of detainees are sent to the camps in North Korea, on the basis of guilt by association or collective responsibility or yeonjwa je.

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, noted that detainees are often not told the reasons for their detention or whether they will ever be released. No information regarding their whereabouts is provided to friends, neighbours, co-workers or more distant relatives who inquire about them.

“Escape attempts are allegedly punished by executions, mostly by firing squad or by hanging, which prisoners are frequently made to watch at close range,” added the Special Rapporteur on summary, arbitrary and extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns.

The experts highlighted that prisoners are reportedly given no access to healthcare and very limited food rations, about 20 grains of corn per day per inmate, resulting in near starvation. Prisoners are allegedly commonly forced to work seven days a week in mining, logging, farming or manufacturing, with only one day of rest a month and on the three national holidays, and sometimes in dangerous conditions, causing some prisoners to lose toes, fingers, limbs or develop physical deformities.

“Torture is purportedly inflicted on prisoners for breaking camp rules such as eating unauthorized food, failing to meet production quotas, losing or damaging equipment, or even complaining about camp life,” said the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez. “Female prisoners are reportedly subjected to rape or sexual exploitation by prison guards in return for food or less dangerous work assignments, and resultant pregnancies are met with forced abortion or killing.”

While the experts are still waiting for a response to their joint allegation letter, they urge the Government of North Korea to cooperate fully with the international human rights mechanisms, including any inquiry mechanism appointed by the Human Rights Council.

(*) The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Marzuki Darusman; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez; the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El-Hadji Malick Sow; and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

UN Human Rights, country page – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK):

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

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Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances:

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The Price of Nuclear Weapons in North Korea

By Hyun In-ae

Hyun In-ae is Resident Fellow, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). Ms. Hyun graduated from Kim Il-sung University with a degree in philosophy. A former professor of philosophy in North Korea, she is currently Assistant Representative of the Seoul-based NK Intellectual Solidarity (NKIS).

The international community is concerned about the North Korean missile and nuclear tests and the threat of an additional nuclear test. Why does North Korea continue to provoke the international community? One of the reasons is the country’s domestic situation, in particular the economic problems it is facing.

North Korea is in financial trouble. Since North Korea doesn’t release its statistical data, one cannot directly assess its current economic situation. But market prices, especially the price of rice, could always be a good indicator of its economic situation. After 2000, the price of rice in North Korea increased steadily. Especially in 2005, 2008, and 2011, the price of rice soared, compared to the previous year.

The North Korean government set the official salary in July 2002, when a new economic policy was established, and the same wage scale is maintained now. In 2002, the minimum monthly wage was 1000 won, and the price of rice was 50~60 won per kilogram. A North Korean could buy 20kg of rice with their monthly wage at that time. However, North Koreans now can buy only 150g of rice with the current actual minimum monthly wage. Of course, the situation of those who receive rations is better, but the number of people who receive rations continues to decrease. Although North Koreans don’t live solely on their government salaries, a decrease in their actual purchasing power means that the North Korean government’s control of the people is diminished. The socialist system can control people when the government is solely in charge of their livelihoods. The less the government guarantees the living standards of its people, the weaker its control is. To make up for this, North Korean authorities have attempted to re-emphasize the visibility and importance of the government by celebrating the contributions of nuclear scientists and other technical experts after the missile and nuclear tests, through public events in open squares or lectures. At the same time, they have tightened border and information controls.

The North Korean authorities claim the economic depression is the result of sanctions imposed by the United States. This further narrows and impairs their thinking. Consequently, they tend to place more emphasis on outside factors (such as the sanctions), thus failing to grasp the critical impact of domestic factors. During the past three years, the North Korean government has tried hard, but failed to attract significant foreign investment. One can only hope that, because of such failures, the government can now better understand the determining factors of its current conundrum.
North Korea provokes South Korea or surrounding countries when its economic situation gets worse. All provocations, including North Korea’s proclaiming itself a nuclear state in 2005, missile and nuclear tests in 2009, the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, the 2012 missile test, and the recent missile and nuclear tests occurred when the North Korean economic situation was bad. Recent provocations are somewhat due to the personality of young leader Kim Jong-un, but North Korea’s economic depression continues to be one of the fundamental causes of such provocations.

It seems odd, but North Korean provocations conducted against South Korea may signal that it wants to receive economic support, and the missile and nuclear tests may be North Korea’s way of indicating that it wants the United States to lift economic sanctions. North Korea has realized that it can receive economic support and gain diplomatic concessions only through brazen provocations, such as nuclear tests. The North Korean regime will continue to see its nuclear capabilities as its ultimate means of survival, and will thus be unwilling to give up its nukes.

The international community argues that there is no way to solve the nuclear issue in North Korea. However, either a military or a peaceful way does exist. The only problem is that the cost is high, and nobody is willing to shoulder that cost. Therefore, the international community has always delayed the problem-solving process whenever it was faced with North Korean provocations; instead, it has relied on temporary solutions. Meanwhile, missile and nuclear capabilities in North Korea have grown, and the cost of these provocations has increased as well. One wonders, what is the actual cost of North Korea’s nuclear weapon development program?


HRNK and DigitalGlobe Publish New Report on North Korean Political Prison Camp No. 25: Camp Expansion Confirmed

Featured publication: North Korea's Camp No. 25
HRNK & DigitalGlobe, Inc. 
Feb 25, 2013

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with DigitalGlobe (NYSE: DGI), a leading global provider of commercial high-resolution earth imagery products and advanced geospatial solutions, have launched a report entitled North Korea’s Camp No. 25. Political Prison Camp No. 25 (a.k.a. Kwan-li-so No. 25) is located in Susong-dong, Chongjin-si, North Hamgyong Province, on the northeast coast of North Korea. While open-source information on the camp continues to be scarce, the Camp 25 political prisoner population is estimated to be around 5,000.

The report is the third product in a collaborative endeavor by HRNK and DigitalGlobe to create a clear picture of the evolution and current state of North Korea’s political prison camps. The previous two reports examined Camp No. 22, situated in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province.

Under the arrangement, DigitalGlobe provides comprehensive analysis of new imagery that it acquires for this project, as well as analysis of older imagery saved in its archives. HRNK combines its own findings and those of DigitalGlobe in the final published reports. HRNK for its part is known for having put North Korea’s penal labor colonies on the map by publishing Hidden Gulag by David Hawk in 2003 and Hidden Gulag Second Edition in 2012.

The research and imagery analysis confirmed that agricultural development, maintenance and construction activities have continued at Camp 25. Between 2009 and 2010, the camp perimeter increased from approximately 3,653 meters to about 5,046 meters, a 37 percent expansion. During the same period, the camp size increased from approximately 565,424 square meters to about 972,270 square meters, a 72 percent increase. While many of the original 20 guard posts detected in 2003 remain standing and operational until the present day, two were added in 2007, four in 2009, and 17 in 2010. In 2010, a new main gate was erected, and two previously separate agriculture fields in the northwest area of the camp were combined and the road between them blocked off, thus enhancing access control and ensuring that ordinary citizens have little or no opportunity to interact with the prison population or use the road adjacent to the camp.

The reasons for the expansion could include: 1. An intensified crackdown on attempted defections, and higher than previously internment of defectors forcibly repatriated from China. 2. The purge begun in early 2009 in conjunction with North Korea’s second hereditary transmission of power, resulting in the imprisonment of those displaced from power, their families and their bureaucratic support groups. 3. The consolidation of North Korea’s political prison camp system, possibly involving the downsizing of some detention facilities such as Camp 22, and the expansion of others, including Camp 25.

“It appears that North Korea’s vast system of unlawful imprisonment may be undergoing an alteration involving the consolidation of some of its political prison camps, and the expansion of others”, said Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee. Scarlatoiu added, “If a dismantling of some of North Korea’s political prisoner camps and prisoner transfers to expanded facilities are in progress, it is essential to ensure that the North Korean regime does not attempt to erase evidence of atrocities committed at the camps, including the surviving prisoners. HRNK and DigitalGlobe will continue to closely monitor developments at Camp 25 and throughout North Korea’s political prison camp system.”

HRNK’s 2012 report Hidden Gulag Second Edition contains information about North Korea’s political prison camp system, where between 150,000 and 200,000 political prisoners, often three generations of the same family, are being held. It concludes with a “a blue-print” for disabling and dismantling the prison labor camp system. It recommends immediate access to the prison camps by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Program. It recommends the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate North Korea’s breaches of international human rights law and international criminal law, concluding that massive crimes against humanity are being perpetrated in North Korea. It calls on China to allow access by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to all North Koreans seeking refuge in China, and calls on the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan to integrate human rights concerns into any future normalization of political and economic relations with North Korea.
HRNK, established in 2001 by a distinguished group of foreign policy and human rights specialists, seeks to draw attention to human rights conditions in North Korea by publishing well-documented reports and papers, convening conferences, testifying at national and international fora, and seeking creative ways to end the isolation of the North Korean people.

The report North Korea’s Camp No. 25 is available on HRNK’s website:

Contact: Greg Scarlatoiu,; 202-499-7973

HRNK wishes to credit the role that DigitalGlobe experts are playing in this project, in particular Senior Analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Research Analyst Micah Farfour, and Publishing Editor Katelyn Amen. HRNK also wishes to thank Curtis Melvin for the advice he provided to HRNK staff and interns, and acknowledges the contributions of David Zeglen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology—NUST) and HRNK Editorial Consultant Rosa Park.

Download a PDF version of the report here.


LiNK "Danny from North Korea" screenings

Two Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) chapters will screen the organization's new documentary entitled "Danny from North Korea" in the Washington, D.C. area in the next month.
  • LiNK at the University of Maryland, College Park will screen "Danny from North Korea" on Thursday, February 28, at 7:15PM in the Margaret Brent A Room of UMD's Stamp Student Union. To RSVP for this event on Facebook, click here
  • BloomScreen and LiNK DMV present a screening of "Danny from North Korea" as part of its weekly series "Indie Film Night",  followed by a Q&A discussion about the film and about human rights in North Korea. To RSVP for this event on Facebook, click here. More information about this event is also available on Bloombars's website.
LiNK Nomads Greg Meyer, Eunice Kwon, and Meera Kaushik will be present at both screenings to answer questions about LiNK's campaign to raises awareness about the human rights and humanitarian crisis in North Korea. 

View the trailer below:

About the film:
Every year, thousands of North Koreans make the dangerous journey across the border to escape oppression and poverty. 
In March of 2005, Danny was one of them.
He escaped a life of indoctrination, routine public executions, and starvation. 
This is a documentary about Danny's story-- from his challenging life in North Korea, to his brave escape to China, and his resettlement journey in the United States. 
Meet Danny, he's from North Korea.

Press briefing: US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland

Delivered on Feb. 14, 2013
The United States remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in the DPRK.  We do support the establishment of enhanced mechanisms of inquiry into the DPRK’s human rights violations at the UN Human Rights Council’s upcoming session. 
 We continue to work actively with our partners and to work closely with international organizations, including by co-sponsoring resolutions in the Human Rights Council and the GA, to raise attention to and to seek redress with regard to the deplorable human rights conditions in the DPRK.  And we also support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, whom the DPRK authorities have continued to deny access into the country.

RFA: Kim Sends 'Strong' Nuke Message

Watch Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu's video interview with Radio Free Asia concerning the proliferation of nuclear weapons in North Korea.


AP Sources: US to Back N. Korea Human Rights Probe

By Matthew Pennington, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. will support an international push at next month's U.N. Human Rights Council to initiate an inquiry into conditions in North Korea, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The world body's top human rights official, Navi Pillay, called last month for the creation of an international inquiry into "serious crimes" in North Korea that would be authorized by the U.N. but performed by independent experts. She called it one of the worst but least reported human rights situations in the world.
Japan has signaled support for some kind of inquiry for consideration by the Geneva-based council, and EU diplomats have been discussing such a move.
(Read more)

Why North Korea Is Testing Nuclear Weapons Now

By Andrew Natsios in The World Report

Andrew Natsios is an executive professor at the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and the author of Sudan, South Sudan and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know. Natsios served as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and as President George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan.

The first test of the Obama administration's second term foreign policy team is shaping up to be North Korea's upcoming nuclear explosion. Korean President Kim Jong Un last week declared martial law in anticipation of the country's third nuclear test that Un has reportedly ordered be conducted before the middle of February, which will coincidentally occur on his late father's (and former leader of North Korea) birthday. This week a bellicose and belligerent North Korean government put on its official website a bizarre and provocative video of the bombing of what appears to be New York City with the caption: "Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing... It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself." The video includes the launch of a North Korean missile, implying that if the United States puts too much pressure on them the consequence will be a nuclear response. The Chinese foreign minister on Wednesday issued a stern public warning to North Korea against the test, and the Chinese Communist Party official party newspaper published an unprecedented editorial saying, "If North Korea insists on a third nuclear test despite attempts to dissuade it, it must pay a heavy price." North Korea is in no position to anger its only remaining patron and ally, and yet it may go ahead with the nuclear test anyway.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that he regards the North Korean nuclear threat to be greater than that of Iran, which has yet to test its first nuclear bomb. Kerry's statement may reflect the growing concern of U.S. intelligence officials and members of Congress that North Korea now has both nuclear weapons and the means—intercontinental ballistic missiles—to deliver them.

The nuclear test will come at a politically sensitive moment. The Obama administration's new foreign policy team is not fully in place. Three new heads of government in the countries most affected by North Korea's threats have recently taken office: Chinese President Xi Jinping who took office late last year as did Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye who will be sworn in shortly. President Park is the daughter of former South Korean President Park Chung-hee, who the North Koreans bungled an attempt to assassinate in 1974, but ended up killing his wife, and mother of the new president, instead. All three leaders have one thing in common, they all face domestic problems requiring their attention and do not want to be distracted by a foreign policy crisis their first few months in office orchestrated by the ever-troublesome North Korea. All three new leaders face diplomatic challenges with each other. China and Japan are quarreling over control of a small, uninhabited island in the China Sea. Debates in Japan about the need to rearm in the face of rising Chinese military power have unnerved South Korea which suffered under Japanese abuses in the first half of the last century when Korea was a Japanese colony.

Why North Korea Launched the Missile

By Andrew Natsios via US News.

Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo

Andrew S. Natsios is an executive professor at the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and the author of Sudan, South Sudan and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know. Natsios served as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and as President George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan.

North Korea's launch last week of a long range ballistic missile caught the United States and its allies by surprise, given that Pyongyang had announced a week earlier it was having technical difficulties and would postpone the event. For understandable reasons U.S., Japanese, and South Korean officials and policymakers focus their analysis of North Korean missile launches and nuclear weapons tests on how these events affect their own national security interests. All three countries fear a North Korea with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles will use them to change the balance of military power and destabilize even further an already unstable region. But the missile launch has as much to do with internal political dynamics in an increasingly unstable North Korea as it does with its external agenda of the nuclear blackmailing of its neighbors. The ongoing missile and nuclear programs send the message to the North Korea people, party elite, and the military itself that the Kim dynasty remains firmly in control—and that Pyongyang remains strong and powerful. The only reason Japan, United States, and South Korea pay attention to North Korea at all is the missile and nuclear weapons programs; otherwise it would be treated as the mendicant it is. Like Soviet Russia during the Cold War, North Korea is no more than a failing, poor, third world country with the bomb. The missile launch allows North Korean leaders to redirect attention away from its people's empty stomachs to an illusory external threat it has created to justify its continued exercise of power.

The North Korean leadership measures most of its decisions against one single overriding standard:  the effect on regime survival. The elites fear if they lose control, the North Korean state will collapse and if that happens, "the South Koreans and Americans will hang us, and if they don't our own people will," Kim Jong Il reportedly told Communist Party leaders in a secret speech in late 1996 at the peak of the Great North Korean Famine (according to an interview I did with a senior defector in 1998). The risk of the current regime's losing control is greater now than at any time since Kim Il Sung established the North Korean state in the late 1940s. The regime maintains control by terrorizing its own population into submission, but that terror is based on the absolute loyalty of the military and security apparatus, a loyalty which is now in question. A power struggle is underway in the North Korean leadership as Kim Jong Un--who took office  as the new leader of North Korea his father, Kim Jong Il, died a year ago--attempts to take control of the party apparatus and military, with the advice and help of his uncle and regent, Jang Song Taek. The power transition from father to son was not smooth.

A month ago Kim Jong Un purged the vice marshall of the North Korean military, one of the most powerful figures in the army. He did not go quietly: In one report when soldiers were sent to remove him from office, a fire fight broke out with his personal security detail and 30 soldiers died. Last week Kim and his uncle purged the new defense minister, who had only held office for seven months. In July Kim reportedly increased his own personal security to protect himself from any potential assassination plots. Recent graffiti in some parts of the country are openly criticizing Kim's leadership, an exceedingly rare act of dissent usually punishable, for those caught, by a slow death in the political prison camps.

Kim is 28 years old, erratic, untested, and some say immature. His uncle and regent, Jang Song Taek, has been pressing for modest economic reforms, but his authority derives from his wife, who is the blood aunt of Kim Jong Un. She is a severe alcoholic and drug addict whose health is deteriorating; if she dies in the near term—which is likely—her husband's hold on power may die with her. Jang Song Taek's attempts at modest reform are faltering regardless of his source of power. Food security in North Korea, always precarious, deteriorated further this year because of a severe drought and then extensive flooding this summer, frightening the hesitant reformers in the ruling elite into postponing their modest reforms because they feared they could backfire at a time of heightened nutritional crisis. Any serious reforms, however, depend on transferring control over the economy from the military to the civilian technocrats, and that transfer is where the problem lies.

To ensure the loyalty of the massive North Korean military machine, Kim Jong Un's father and grandfather long gave the generals control over much of the economy. The Kim dynasty called this the "military first policy." Elements of the officer corps control commodity trading and many senior generals are getting rich on the backs of their starving people. We have widespread reports that lower level soldiers and officers are hungry and are looting farmers' food stocks in rural areas. The problem has grown so severe that leaders in Pyongyang have spoken out about the breakdown of military discipline. Kim Jong Un recently approved vouchers for lower ranking military officers to get access to more consumer goods to calm fears that they as a class face declining living standards as their power over the economy dissipates. Any economic reform will require the Communist Party civilians to seize control of the economy—if they are to reverse the country's continuing death spiral—from the military command structure which resists any change that threatens its economic sinecures. The challenge will be for Kim Jong Un and his uncle to seize this control while still ensuring the loyalty of the officer corps, which now appears to be turning against the new leaders.

The Soviet Union built up its military machine as its economy, political system, and social structure were rotting beneath it. But even as the Soviet system decayed in the 1970s and 1980s, the common people were at least fed; there was no evidence of starvation deaths or rising acute malnutrition even as the old order collapsed in Russia. The North Korean public distribution system for food controlled by the central government collapsed long ago, and does not provide sufficient food to keep the mass of the people properly fed. Many people now rely on private farmers markets to survive. But people have access to the farmer's markets only if they have sufficient income to buy food, and many don't, which is why there are such high rates of severe acute malnutrition. Any government which cannot ensure, by whatever means, that its people eat, will be short lived, unless its police and military remain loyal and ruthlessly suppress popular unrest or uprisings. If food prices in North Korea spike rapidly enough in the first half of 2013 as the 2012 harvest runs out, public anger could lead to uprisings.

Dissent appears to be growing.

State media reported that at a national meeting of police chiefs on November 23, at a conference of judges and prosecutors on November 26, and at a meeting of other judicial officials on December 5, Kim Jong Un sent messages ordering the mobilization of the internal security apparatus for a national crackdown on what he called "impure elements" and the arrest of those guilty of "nonsocialist phenomenon and sternly punish those engaged in such acts". The term "nonsocialist phenomenon" is North Korean doublespeak for any criticism of Kim Jong Un and his inner circle. The very existence of the crackdown suggests unrest may be growing; it is one way of purging dissenters before they reach enough mass to threaten the survival of the regime. With the loyalty of the officer corps in question and public dissent rising, the regime's hold on power could quickly evaporate. This time no missile launch or nuclear bomb test will save the regime from implosion.

The North Korean ICBM Test-Launch of December, 2012

By Bruce E. Bechtol Jr. Ph.D. at Angelo State University.

Dr. Bruce E. Bechtol Jr. is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Angelo State University and the current President of the International Council on Korean Studies.  His latest book, The Last Days of Kim Jong-il: The North Korean Threat in a Changing Era (Washington DC: Potomac Books) is scheduled for publication in April, 2013.

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Angelo State University or HRNK.

The North Korean ICBM Test-Launch of December, 20121

North Korea has successfully manufactured, tested, deployed, and proliferated SRBM's (Scud B through D and the "Extended Range" Scud), MRBM's (No Dong), and IRBM's (Musudan - which was sold to Iran in 2005 - 18 systems - and reportedly tested in 2006).2   But despite tests of the Taepo Dong 1 in 1998, and Taepo Dong 2 in 2006, 2009, and April of 2012, until very recently, North Korea was unsuccessful in achieving the technology for a three-stage ballistic missile capable of hitting Alaska, Hawaii, or perhaps even the continental United States.  This all changed in December of 2012 - and those with an interest in the region should take note of this important advance in Pyongyang's ballistic missile program.   

By late November, 2012, the North Koreans were again showing signs that they intended to conduct a long-range missile test of the Taepo Dong system from their site at Tongchang-ni.  The first two stages of the missile were imaged sitting near the launch site.  In addition, several vehicles and fuel tanks were noted involved in activity that was assessed (correctly) as preparations for a test-launch.  The Pentagon immediately began activating global missile defenses in close collaboration with South Korea and Japan.3   In early December, North Korean officials announced that a "satellite" launch would occur mid-month, and that issues with the April launch had been analyzed and fixed.  The North Koreans announced later that the launch would occur between 10 and 22 December, and parts from the rocket would not be a danger to countries in the region or elsewhere.4   According to South Korean officials who were quoted in the press, the North Koreans may have used foreign scientists to help resolve some of the problems of previous long-range missile test launches - problems such as weak engine thrust.  North Korea may have used smuggled technology and/or rogue scientists from the Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, to fix problems that had plagued previous test launches of their long-range ballistic missiles.5   

By December 3, 2012, North Korean technicians had placed the first of three stages of the Taepo Dong missile on the rocket pad.  According to data released by North Korean officials, the missile's first stage would fall into the Yellow Sea (West Sea), close to where the first stage was scheduled to fall from the missile during the April, 2012 launch.  It was announced that the second stage of the missile would come down in the ocean about 190 kilometers east of the Philippines.  U.S. and South Korean forces immediately increased their airborne and seaborne surveillance, including Aegis equipped ships and reconnaissance aircraft missions.6  By December 4, 2012, the second of three stages had been placed on the launch pad, and by December 5, all three stages had been placed on the pad.  By December 6, the United States had deployed a floating, sea-based, "X-Band Radar" from Hawaii to the area, in order to track the North Korean test-launch.  The large, sophisticated radar is one of the key components of the U.S. BMD system.7  By December 9, North Korea appeared to be experiencing "difficulties" with preparations for the launch.  The North Koreans may have swapped out components of the missile that were on the launch pad during this time frame - and even announced that the launch might be delayed (which it apparently was not).8

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, by Marzuki Darusm

UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman

UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman has recently submitted his report to the 2013 Human Rights Council, which will be meeting in late February and early March. At the Council session, a resolution might be adopted to establish a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity in North Korea. The report makes the case for the commission and actually cites HRNK as an originator of the idea (footnote no. 11 on page 7).

HRNK's 2006 report entitled "Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea" recommended the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime, some of them possibly amounting to crimes against humanity.

Read UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman's report here.

We Can't Ignore North Korea's Human Rights Record

By Andrew Natsios at U.S. News

Andrew S. Natsios is an executive professor at the George H.W. Bush School of Government
and Public Service at Texas A&M University, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and
the author of Sudan, South Sudan and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know. Natsios served
as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and as
President George W. Bush's Special Envoy to Sudan.

For 65 years the North Korean people have suffered under perhaps the most regimented and repressive political system of the last century. The Kim dynasty, which has ruled North Korea since the end of World War II, has perfected a system of control even the great totalitarian states of the 20th century—Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq—would envy.  What is more, the Kims created it and ran it without much notice by the outside world. Human rights organizations and the western media were for many years reluctant to expose the crimes of the North Korean state against its own people. Much of this reluctance was a function of how closed and isolated the North is from the outside world and the difficulty of getting any authoritative information on conditions inside the country, while others believed North Korea had created an egalitarian society which cared for its people, even if at a cost of individual freedom.

The scarcity of information on human rights in North Korea began to change over the past decade as more than 20,000 defectors made their way to South Korea and because a bipartisan group formed of diplomats, Korea experts, and human rights specialists founded the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea to conduct meticulous research and produce dispassionate reports on the North Korean system (full disclosure: I serve as co-chair of the committee). Earlier in 2012 the committee released its 13th report—this one on the prison system of North Korea which houses between 150,000-200,000 people who belong to the disloyal class suspected of political crimes. Three generations of each suspected family may live out their lives in these camps because one of their ancestors fought for South Korea during the Korean War 60 years ago, had an ancestor who was a businessman or large landowner before the Communist state was created in the 1940s, or who committed a political crime such as not treating a photograph of a member of the Kim dynasty with sufficient awe. As many as 100,000 people have died in the camps from summary executions because of an infraction of camp rules, from starvation deaths because food rations are below survival levels, or from the frequent beatings or torture.

At the same time this report on the camps was released, a book came out—Escape from Camp 14—written by Blaine Harden, a former Asia Bureau chief for the Washington Post. It is the extraordinary account of a 30-year-old man, Shin Dong-hyuk, who is one of the few people to escape from these camps to freedom through China to South Korea. The book had been on the New York Times best seller list and is being translated into other languages.

A turning point in the N .K. human rights issue

By Kim Young-ho via The Korea Herald

Kim Young-ho is a political science and international relations professor at Sungshin University and South Korea's ambassador for human rights. He was formerly a secretary on unification to President Lee Myung-bak.

With a global consensus slowly emerging, calls are growing for an independent inquiry mechanism to carry out an in-depth investigation into egregious human rights violations committed by North Korea. In his confirmation hearing last week, U.S. Sen. John Kerry emphasized the need for "speaking out for the prisoners of gulags in North Korea." North Korea imprisons an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people in its sprawling political prison camps. As shown in the testimonies of survivors and defectors, human rights abuses there are horrific beyond description. That includes murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, persecution and enforced disappearance. Even after the new North Korean leadership took off, the camps continue to operate and the dismal situations there remain unchanged.

Since 2005, the United Nations has approved resolutions urging North Korea to improve its human rights record. But the regime has repeatedly rejected all resolutions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Council. It has refused to acknowledge and meet with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which was established in 2004 under a U.N. mandate. While North Korea refuses to respond to the U.N. recommendations, human rights conditions in the communist country continue to deteriorate.

The international community hopes that the new leadership in North Korea would take concrete measures to improve human rights conditions and address issues including gulags, abduction and the arbitrary detention of innocent South Koreans and citizens of other countries. We felt hopeless when new leader Kim Jong-un declared that "the first, second, and third priorities are to strengthen the military." Under the "military-first" policy, his government puts top priority on the military for resource allocations. This misguided policy is detrimental to not only its human rights record but also the well-being of the people.

North Korea has defended its "military-first" policy as a countermeasure to South Korea, the United States and other countries' hostile policies toward North Korea. This cannot simply be justified because Seoul has been trying to constructively engage with North Korea and build peace, stability and prosperity on the Korean peninsula.

It is the North Korean regime that makes its security more insecure by antagonizing its own people. It has imposed severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and movement. The regime classifies its population into three classes based on their perceived political loyalty, an anachronistic system of discrimination. The "hostile" and "wavering" classes are most disadvantaged in terms of access to food, housing and educational opportunities. The guilt-by-association system still exists and is used as a pretext to lock all the family members and relatives in political prison camps.

The new North Korean leadership needs to understand that its nuclear weapons program poses a "security dilemma." Genuine security for North Korea can be achieved only when it respects the individual rights of its citizens and adheres to international law and its obligations on human rights recommended by U.N. resolutions.

Amid North Korea's resistance to improving human rights conditions, the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea, which brings together more than 40 prominent human rights organizations and activists, urged the U.N. to set up a Commission of Inquiry in 2011. Two weeks ago, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also called for "a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes" that have been taking place in North Korea for decades. The U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to consider launching the Commission of Inquiry when the North Korean human rights issue is raised at its upcoming regular session in March. The establishment of the COI will be a turning point in international efforts to promote and improve North Korean human rights.

Human rights is a universal value to be respected and dealt with independently. We need to work closely with the U.N. and international nongovernmental human rights groups to achieve tangible results on the North Korean human rights issue.