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By Rosa Park, HRNK Director of Programs and Editor
Today, Friday, June 14, 2019, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and the North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC) together lay a wreath at the Victims of Communism 12th Annual Roll Call of Nations Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial located on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and New Jersey Avenue in Northwest Washington, DC. HRNK and NKFC join hands in remembrance of the countless victims of communism in North Korea since 1948, the year the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was established. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was founded thanks to a bipartisan effort in Congress that lead to PL 103-199, which was “signed into law by President Bill Clinton on December 17, 1993.”[1]After years of hard work, President George W. Bush dedicated the Victims of Communism Memorial on June 12, 2007.[2]

NKFC & HRNK wreath before the wreath-laying ceremony.

During the dedication, President George W. Bush spoke to the underlying reason behind the memorial that still resonates today: “We dedicate this memorial because we have an obligation to those who died, to acknowledge their lives and honor their memory.”[3]There are an estimated 100 million victims of communism around the world. In North Korea, at times one hears about the improved standard of living in Pyongyang and greater access to markets all around the country. Nevertheless, thanks to the 2014 United Nations Report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the world now knows that crimes against humanity have been thoroughly documented in North Korea. On the surface, these are seemingly contradictory reports.

How do we define who a victim is in North Korea? The Oxford dictionary defines a victim as “a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.”[4]Today in North Korea, every citizen is indiscriminately a victim, from the lowest “hostile” classes to the highest, privileged “loyal” classes of songbun. The Kim regime is systematically harming, injuring, and killing anybody it arbitrarily deems to be a threat. Even the privileged in North Korea face the fear of execution at the hands of the Kim regime.

While fully acknowledging the rise of markets and cell phones in North Korea, which are undoubtedly positive developments the citizens of North Korea still face widespread malnutrition, political oppression, and fearpolitik. According to the World Food Programme, “an estimated 11 million people – more than 40 percent of the population – are undernourished.”[5]Malnutrition could easily be addressed by the Kim regime, which consciously chooses to keep its weapons rather than properly feed 11 million citizens. Malnutrition is even more acute in North Korea's political prison camps. There are more than 30 kwan-li-so (political prison camps) and kyo-hwa-so (reeducation through forced labor camps) that we know. Between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners are held at the political prison camps. Many others are imprisoned in reeducation through forced labor camps. Even at the top of North Korean society, fear controls the privileged. High-level officials have been made to watch their peers be executed by ZPU-4 anti-aircraft machine guns to instill fear and to keep the elites in line. These atrocities are now well documented and continue to incite outrage. Corroboration of instances such as these have been made possible thanks to North Korean escapee testimony and satellite imagery, revealing the horrors committed by the Kim regime.

Compared to ten years ago, the world is now more aware of the suffering of the victims of communism, including the North Korean people. "Many people have been liberated from communism" states HRNK Co-Vice-Chair and NKFC Chairman Suzanne Scholte, "but North Koreans still suffer under this brutal ideology. Today, we not only remember the millions of North Koreans who have died at the hands of Kim Il Song, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un, but we remind the world that North Koreans are still suffering."

HRNK, NKFC, and countless other organizations and individuals understand that it would be detrimental to forget history and are passionate about raising awareness of the reality in North Korea. However, many Americans today are failing to remember or notice the suffering that is perpetrated at the hands of communist regimes around the world, including the crimes of the Kim regime. The Victims of Communism 2018 annual report found that “1 in 4 Americans Have Received No Education About Communism” and “52% of millennials indicated that they would prefer to live in a socialist (46%) or communist (6%) country [rather] than a capitalist (40%) one.”[6]

 HRNK & NKFC wreath-laying ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial. 

HRNK & NKFC staff and interns pause for a moment of silence for the North Korean people after the laying of the wreath at the Victims of Communism Memorial. 

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan reflected that “communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.”[7] Today in 2019, HRNK and NKFC are still working towards righting the wrongs of communism's legacy. HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu, a naturalized American born and raised in Nicolae Ceaușescu’s communist Romania, worries "that Millennials do not fully appreciate the gravity of the abominable oppression, repression, and deprivation communism caused. I experienced that up close and personal until age 19. It is truly heartening to see my younger colleagues lay a wreath on behalf of HRNK today, in memory of the victims of this ideology that ultimately gave the world nothing but desperation, destruction, and genocide." Younger generations have an obligation, just as generations had before them, to those who died at the hands of communism to ensure that the errors and crimes of the past are never, ever repeated. We must “acknowledge their lives and honor their memory.”[8]''

HRNK legal research intern Brian Wild, HRNK research intern Eliza Klingler, HRNK legal research intern Kiersten Reinhold, HRNK director of programs and editor Rosa Park, NKFC member Greg Forman, HRNK research intern Eunsaem Shin, and NKFC/DFF intern Johnny Park stand with the HRNK & NKFC wreath before the Victims of Communism Memorial. 
Photos by Michele Helen Reyes

[1]Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, "History of the Memorial," https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/memorial.

[2]Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, "The Dedication," https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/memorial.

[3]George W. Bush, White House Archives, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/06/20070612-2.html.

[4]Lexico Powered by Oxford, "Victim," https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/victim.

[5]World Food Programme, “WFP DPR Korea Country Brief April 2019,” https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000105234/download/?_ga=2.132774918.949245137.1560460769-638249160.1560460769.

[6]Victims of Communism and Yougov, "Third Annual Report On U.S. Attitudes Toward Socialism,” https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/2018-annual-report.

[7]BBC,“Ronald Reagan: In his own words,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3780871.stm.

[8]George W. Bush, White House Archives, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/06/20070612-2.html.
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By Yonho Kim
ABOUT THE AUTHORYonho Kim is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). He is a former Senior Researcher of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the former editor of the USKI Washington Review, a bi-weekly Korean report on current foreign policy developments in Washington with regards to the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Kim also manages projects on the North Korean political economy and is the author of “Cell Phones in North Korea: Has North Korea Entered the Telecommunications Revolution?

Prior to joining USKI, he was a Senior Reporter for Voice of America’s Korean Service, where he covered the North Korean economy, North Korea’s illicit activities, and economic sanctions against North Korea. From 2003 to 2008, Mr. Kim was a broadcaster for Radio Free Asia’s Korean Service, focusing on developments in and around North Korea and US-ROK alliance issues. From 2001 to 2003, he was the Assistant Director of the Atlantic Council’s Program on Korea in Transition, where he conducted in-depth research on South Korean domestic politics.

Mr. Kim holds a B.A. and M.A. in International Relations from Seoul National University, and an M.A. in International Relations and International Economics from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.



1. Introduction of Mobile Telecommunications Services
2. Increased Number of Subscribers
3. Changes in the Market

1. The Advent and Development of Servi-Cha
2. Operating Conditions of Servi-Cha in North Korea
3. Checkpoints and Corruption

1. Owners and Drivers of Servi-Cha
A. Gas Trade
B. Brokers and Forwarders
C. Servi-Cha Owners and Drivers’Network
D. Crackdowns at Checkpoints

2. Servi-Cha Users
A. Freight Charge Comparisons and Market Prices
B. Fixing Prices
C. Operation Information

3. Changes in the Market
A. Specialization in the Distribution Stage: ‘Sedentary Business’
B. Long-distance Money Transfers
C. Expansion of Trade Volume
D. Prolonged Business Relations – Credibility



Since Kim Jong-un came to power in late 2011, North Korea’s unofficial markets have been experiencing rapid changes to the extent that they may be called ‘the logistics revolution.’ Along with the expansion of state-run mobile telecommunications and spontaneously formed private transportation services, unprecedented market activities are emerging. North Korea’s mobile telecommunications service provider is now estimated at more than 4 million subscribers, close to 20% of its entire population, facilitating timely communication of market trend information. This allowed the merchants to determine quantities and prices of products to trade as well as shipping and delivery methods over the phone. The merchants can no longer compete in the markets without a cell phone. In addition, Kim Jong-un’s tolerance of private enterprises within North Korea, and the creation of de facto public-private collaborative operations have helped foster the private transportation services enterprise, also known as “servi-cha.”[1] Railways were long North Korea’s principal mode of transportation. However, beset by economic difficulties and poor electricity supply, the system became unreliable, leaving a fleet of vehicles to rise as the primary mode of commercial transportation and enabling the proliferation of these privately run servi-cha. Marketization under the Kim Jong-un era has even made possible North Korean-style parcel delivery services. Gradually disappearing “door-to-door” merchants who used to travel long distance to make profitable trade, coupled with the ability to operate a chain supply through a phone call, connecting traders, drivers, and even checkpoints, has opened up a new business era of “stay-at-home” merchants.

As such, the combination of mobile telecommunications and private transportation services has created a synergy effect, complementing one another to greatly increase the efficiency of unofficial markets in North Korea. However, there is very little research done on this combination phenomenon. In studying North Korean marketization, most researchers often fail to see the big picture by separating mobile telecommunications and private transport services as individual subjects. Even if there is a mention of ‘the logistics revolution,’ which is a result of the combination phenomenon, there is no further analysis other than relating it back to marketization.[2] Considering North Korea’s reality of great increase in mobility of people and products off the regime’s radar, and rapid expansion of market information dissemination through mobile telecommunications, the aforementioned “combination” is a core element in determining the changing direction of North Korean marketization.

This research intends to explore how cell phones are being utilized in communicating and exchanging information between actors associated with private transport services (servi-cha), and the resulting ramifications on markets. First, I assessed the cell phone communication method between the main actors, such as the owner of servi-cha, driver, client (merchant), broker, fuel oil trader, and checkpoint. Then, I examined the changing content and quality of private transportation services through the new communication method, and by extension, the trade method, scale, and how credibility plays into changing the relationship between the main actors of North Korea’s unofficial markets.

This report is primarily based on interviews conducted between September 2016 andFebruary 2018 with 19 North Korean defectors who are now resettled in South Korea. The interviewees all have experience as merchants using both cell phones and private transportation services after Kim Jong-un came to power. Two of the defectors also have experience operating servi-cha. The defectors, with age distribution between their 20s and 50s, are from the capital city of Pyongyang, Hyesan, Samjiyon, and Baekam (Ryanggang Province), Hamhung (South Hamgyong Province), Chongjin (North Hamgyong Province), and Wonsan (Gangwon Province).[3] The interviewees have relatively recently defected from North Korea, between 2012 and 2016. Detailed information on the defectors is not revealed to protect their identities and the safety of their remaining family members in North Korea. To get updated information, the author interviewed some defectors who currently maintain contacts in North Korea.


1. Introduction of Mobile Telecommunications Services

North Korea’s commercial mobile telecommunications services began in November 2002, introduced by Thailand’s Loxley Pacific in Pyongyang and the Rajin-Sonbong (now referred to as Rason) Special Economic Zone (SEZ).North-East Asia Telephone and Telecommunications Co., Ltd. (NEAT&T), a joint venture between Loxley Pacific and North Korea Post andTelecommunications Corporation, provided 2G GSM service with the acquisition of a 30-year business license. NEAT&T expanded the coverage area to Nampo, Kaesong, provincial capitals, and major highways. By the end of 2003, the number of subscribers was estimated to have reached around 20,000.[4] However, in April 2004, following a massive explosion at Yongchon Station in North Pyongan Province, North Korea shut down mobile telecommunications services. Along with the rumor that it was a bomb targeting Kim Jong-il, remotely controlled by a wireless handset, all cell phones were banned across the country and North Korea began confiscating devices.

However, in December 2008, four years after the incident, North Korea lifted the ban on cell phones and resumed services. This time, they changed their business partner to the Egyptian telecommunication firm Orascom, established CHEO, and began servicing 3G W-CDMA under the name Koryolink. Owning 75% of shareholding, Orascom was granted a 25-year business license and secured a 4-year franchise. North Korean leadership, at the time, was politically desperate for mobile telecommunication services and needed to attract extensive foreign investment. In order to demonstrate that North Korea had reached its goal of becoming a “Strong and Prosperous Nation”by the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung on April 15, 2012, they needed such economic achievements. In this sense, it was no coincidence that the phone number early Koryolink subscribers received included the digits 1912, inspired by the birth year of Kim Il-sung.[5]

By the end of the third quarter of 2011, three years after its service launching, Koryolink had established 453 base stations. As such, Koryolink expanded its network coverage including the capital Pyongyang, 15 major cities, 86 smaller cities, 22 major roads, and highways. Though this only covers 14% of North Korea’s territory, excluding the sparsely populated mountains and uplands covering most of North Korea’s land area, the network covers 94% of the entire population.[6] According to defectors, at the beginning stage of the mobile telecommunication service, calls were only stable in Pyongyang and surrounding major cities. Calls were often disrupted in Sinuiju, Hyesan, Musan, Hoeryeong, and Chungjin due to a weak network connection.[7] However, as service expanded, call quality is said to have greatly improved.

2. Increased Number of Subscribers

At the time when Koryolink launched their 3G service, it was widely expected that the service would only be provided to a few privileged individuals. However, the Koryolink network rapidly expanded its number of subscribers in a short period of time. When the service was first launched in late 2008, the number of subscribers stood at about 2,000. However, that number reached one million in February 2012, three years after Koryolink service launching. In May 2013, 15 months after reaching one million, the subscriber count yet again presented remarkable growth totaling around two million.[8] Thereafter, after a phase of stagnant growth, the number hit three million in November 2015 after another two years and six months.[9] Some institutions speculate that the number of subscribers reached 3.7 million in late 2016[10], but as Orascom has been reporting the number of its new subscribers intermittently, the exact count is difficult to verify.

  *2011.9, **2013.5, ****2015.11

North Korea has transitioned from a monopoly mobile telecommunication service market dominated by Koryolink to an oligopoly market structure. Since the early 2010s, with Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in North Korea as the sole investor, North Korea began to build a second mobile telecommunication network called ‘Gangseong Net.’ It is known to have started providing service to North Koreans in October 2013 under the name Byol.[11] It is estimated that Byol had obtained up to one million subscribers by early 2016.[12] The estimation made by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service of 4.7 million cell phones in use in North Korea in August 2017 appears to be combining the number of subscribers of both Koryolink and Byol.[13]

In terms of service content, there is not much difference between Byol and Koryolink. However, due to its lower price, Byol has attracted many customers. For instance, the basic plan with 200 free minutes per month is the same as Koryolink. The difference is that after the free minutes, Koryolink requires a purchase of an expensive foreign currency prepaid card while Byol charges an additional 30 cents per minute, making it a more affordable option.[14] Furthermore, along with the differing communication charges, North Korea is deliberately downgrading the call quality of Koryolink, shifting its subscribers to ‘Gangseong Net.’[15]

3. Changes in the Market

In the early years of Koryolink service, due to the limited cell phone supply and eligibility for subscription, the main customers were high-ranking officials representing the Party, government, military, and merchants who were able to bribe them. However, as the North Korean government relaxed some regulations, unless a specific problem was found during a background check, anyone with financial means could use cell phones. As such, the use of cell phones among the merchants proliferated and this made cell phones not only a symbol of financial and business prowess, but also a means of survival.

Though the North Korean government had blocked the Internet and international calls, and even transmission of data by the end of 2011, the merchants had no problem checking jangmadang prices, exchange rates, and other such market information in real time. Already in the 1990s, during the North Korean famine, among cross-border traders who were using illegal Chinese cell phones to communicate, there was a saying that “As long as there is a cell phone, you can survive.” The situation was such that the determining factor of business success or failure was market information. In such circumstances, the construction of a North Korean wireless network signifies an opening of nationwide business opportunity for merchants.

Wholesale and retail merchants of the jangmadang are now able to investigate and confirm market trends across the state to promptly respond to changes. Negotiations now conveniently take place over a phone instead of meeting at the market, also allowing decisions over price, quantity, shipping, and delivery methods to be made over the phone. On this account, cell phones have become an essential tool for merchants, making it impossible to survive in the jangmadang without a phone. According to defectors, long gone is the term ‘runner’ merchant, long distance trader who would carry his goods to the market, as now only with a couple of phone numbers of wholesale and retail sellers, and truck or bus drivers, one can operate a business as a ‘stay-at-home’ merchant. As such, with the rapid transmission of market information and improvement of distribution speed and range through cell phones, commodity prices have been stabilized, and trade methods taking advantage from price differences between regions are no longer feasible.[16]


1. The Advent and Development of Servi-Cha

North Korea’s transportation system was traditionally centered on the railways. However, with the economic crisis in the 1990s, the railway system was no longer able to function due to the endemic energy crisis and the deterioration of locomotives and railroad tracks. As the nation’s transportation service dwindled, North Koreans who were struggling to overcome the economic crisis created markets as a survival tactic, which in turn increased the demand for passenger and merchandise movement. As a result, a private road transportation system began to develop and business vehicles called ‘servi-cha’ were introduced.

As a matter of fact, ‘pay-to-operate’ vehicles were available even before the economic crisis. Vehicles owned by the military, factories, and enterprises illegally transported passengers and accepted fares. These ‘commercial’ vehicles began to “corporatize” in the mid-1990s during the economic crisis. Enterprises, military and state institutions went on to conduct business with state owned vehicles and imported used vehicles from China or Japan.[17] Especially with the expansion of the smuggling between North Korea and China and the resulting increase in the demand for transportation, private citizens began to pay bribes to state institutions in order to participate in the servi-cha business.[18] Private citizens with capital—Korean Japanese, overseas Chinese, merchants, and those whose family members defected and resettled in South Korea, sending money back home—smuggled in used vehicles from China or Japan. Now, some enterprises and military bases operate servi-cha by renting out their vehicles to private citizens for a fee.

The robust growth of servi-cha expanded the variety of transportation methods from freight trucks and military trucks to buses, vans, motorcycles, and taxis,[19] satisfying the various demands of the market by operating both short and long distances. Such changes also gained momentum under Kim Jong-un’s regime apparent leniency toward markets. Under Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father, the regime went back and forth between tolerance and regulation of markets. However, when Kim Jong-un ascended to power, he went beyond tacit approval, devising policy aimed to actively utilize markets.[20] Even in the private transportation service markets, there had been repeated broad scale crackdowns on vehicles used for profit in the past.[21] However, according to defectors, at least since 2014, there have been almost no broad-scale crackdowns. There is even a concern of ‘oversupply’ among the vehicle owners with the revitalized private transportation services.[22] On this account, despite the rising gas prices, servi-cha are experiencing difficulty in raising freight rates.[23]

2. Operating Conditions of Servi-Cha in North Korea

In order to operate servi-cha, people must register their cars under factories, enterprises, military bases, or other such state institutions because private ownership of vehicles is banned in North Korea. State institutions allow the owners of the vehicle to operate servi-cha in exchange for vehicle registration fees and a cut from the monthly profits obtained through operating servi-cha. Through this symbiotic relationship, the officials secure operational funds of state institutions, accumulate private wealth, and allow the owners to operate servi-cha ‘legally.’

Once the vehicle is registered, the Ministry of People’s Security General Bureau of Transportation, which oversees the Department of Motor Vehicle, issues a permit for long-distance operation. The drivers must present this permit at checkpoints. North Koreans need to carry a travel permit issued by their provincial office of the Ministry of People’s Security to go outside their residential district. However, as servi-cha is classified as a business vehicle, the drivers and users of servi-cha are able to travel without the permit. The license plate indicates the institution it is registered with and therefore vehicles registered with such institutions as the Ministry of State Security (formerly known as the State Security Department), an institution of tremendous authority, are excluded from inspection and enforcement, but incur higher servi-cha operational costs. On the other hand, operating servi-cha with license plates from food industries, People’s Committees, and organizations in the agricultural sector is relatively cheap.[24] Other than North Korean won, US dollars and Chinese yuan are also used to pay for servi-cha.

Although the expansion of private transportation services in North Korea has caused dramatic increases in gas demand, the limited public distribution system failed to satisfy that demand. Satellite images taken in 2016 identified 82 official gas stations, and it is speculated that the number has increased steadily since then. The gas stations are mainly concentrated in downtown Pyongyang and its suburbs, and scattered throughout provincial capitals and main highways.[25]Aside from this, the illegal fuel oil distribution system operated by individuals is dispersed throughout the nation, and the drivers of servi-cha are primarily using this system.

“On the way from Pyongyang to Sinuiju, when you go to the Gwaksan area of North Pyongan Province, you can see many fuel oil traders along the road where servi-cha frequently comes by. The traders are waiting for servi-cha to buy their gas. They bring 50L plastic barrels filled with gas from home.” (A defector from Pyongyang who operated servi-cha prior to defecting in 2015)The fuel oil traders either smuggle fuel oil from China and Russia, or buy the illegal outflow of fuel oil from military bases, oil reservoirs, factories, enterprises etc.[26] The military bases appropriate fuel oil by fabricating training time, and enterprises sell fuel oil received from the state to the market and buy back from the market when needed. Such illegal circulation of fuel oil is rampant throughout the country, and because of deeply rooted corruption, it is very difficult to completely eradicate these illegal practices.

3. Checkpoints and Corruption

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By Raymond Ha
DMZ Train 
Imjingang Station 
May 21, 2014 
From Seoul Station to Dorasan Station

On December 26, 2018, the two Koreas held a groundbreaking ceremony for the inter-Korean railway project at Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea.[1] There must first be sufficient progress on denuclearization for there to be meaningful progress on building and operating the inter-Korean railway, but the UN Security Council granted an exemption from UN sanctions for the ceremony itself. In addition to exploring a joint railway project, North and South Korea have also already conducted a preliminary joint on-site assessment of North Korea’s road infrastructure.[2]

Estimates of the total cost of the road and railway projects vary widely. However, if these roads and railways are connected and the political situation stabilizes such that it becomes possible to safely and rapidly transport goods across these networks, the economic benefits will be substantial. Completing the West Sea corridor that links Kaesong, Pyongyang, and Sinuiju will connect South Korea not only to China’s three northeastern provinces, but also to Beijing’s “One Belt One Road” project. The latter will open a path across the Eurasian continent and to Europe. The East Sea corridor, which connects Wonsan, Hamhung, Kimchaek, and the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone, has the potential to create lasting synergy effects by linking South Korea to Moscow’s plans to develop the Russian Far East. In particular, available reports indicate that the Rajin-Khasan project, which was launched in 2007 but halted in 2016 due to rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program, is likely to be resumed in the near future.[3]

In addition to potential violations of applicable UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, three issues must be considered as South Korea and other regional actors formulate visions for Northeast Asia’s economic future.

The first is national security. While roads and railways serve a clear economic function, once built they can also be used to transport troops, supplies, and munitions or to conduct mass evacuations of civilians. It is no coincidence that the ROK Army’s Capital Defense Command has military police checkpoints at every major bridge that crosses the Han River in Seoul. Moreover, the Schlieffen Plan, the German military’s war plan for World War I, was based on the assessment that Russia, which began to industrialize much later than other European powers, had an inefficient rail infrastructure. The German General Staff assessed that it could rapidly push through Belgium, defeat France, and re-deploy its troops to the Eastern Front before Russia could adequately mobilize its forces.

In addition, President Eisenhower, who successfully directed Operation Overlord during World War II as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, declared in his State of the Union address in January 1955 that “a modern, efficient highway system is essential to meet the needs of our growing population, our expanding economy, and our national security” [emphasis added].[4]

Congress subsequently passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which became the foundation of the U.S. Interstate Highway System.

Completing the inter-Korean road and railway network will affect national security considerations on the Korean peninsula. National security policies must change accordingly as the political situation develops. However, one must refrain from only relying on the other party’s rhetoric and apparent good intentions in devising national security policy. Concerns have already been raised about whether last year’s inter-Korean military agreements adequately accounted for key national security considerations. It is vital that South Korea and the United States comprehensively assess the national security impact of completing the inter-Korean road and railway network, if such discussions have not taken place already.

The second relates to societal control inside North Korea. Once a modern transportation infrastructure is built in North Korea, the regime can use this infrastructure to respond to and suppress revolts and episodes of civil unrest with greater speed. There appear to be no indications that the Korean Workers’ Party plans to relax its political, ideological, and social control over the North Korean population. Accordingly, the North Korean regime can be expected to exercise tight control over key transportation corridors.

Following Kim Jong-un’s latest New Year’s Address, there have already been renewed discussions about the re-opening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC). One could imagine, for instance, a situation in the not-too-distant future when North Korean workers at the KIC stage a mass strike over a dispute about wage payments. Given the lack of freedom of association or freedom of the press, it is not at all unlikely that the North Korean regime will respond with force. In doing so, the regime may use the roads and railways that were built with South Korean and other external investment.

The last issue is the question of workers’ rights and safety during the construction of the roads and railways. The tragic death of Kim Yong-Gyun, a 24-year-old worker, at a thermal power plant in Taean, South Chungcheong province on December 10, 2018 sparked discussions in South Korea about workers’ safety. This directly contributed to the National Assembly’s passage of a revised Occupational Safety and Health Act on December 27.

On December 17, The Washington Post cited human rights experts and North Korean escapees in an article that raised concerns about the potential use of forced labor in future construction projects in North Korea.[5] To date, there do not appear to have been discussions about which countries will provide the labor force to build roads and railways in North Korea. Since there has not yet been substantial progress on denuclearization, some may argue that it is too soon to discuss such detailed issues of implementation.

However, Human Rights Watch has voiced concerns since 2006 that working conditions at the KIC failed to meet international labor standards.[6]Similar concerns were raised once again on April 22, 2015.[7]International discussions of North Korea’s human rights situation typically focus on issues such as political prison camps and the forcible repatriation of refugees from China, but workers’ rights must also be improved if North Korea is to “become a normal and responsible member of the international community.”[8]

Kim Jeong-Ryeol, South Korea’s Second Vice Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, publicly stated on December 6, 2018 that the Ministry is assessing the possibility of receiving investment from international institutions to develop North Korea’s railways.[9]If multilateral investment helps fund the construction of roads and railways, it is possible that relevant parties may call for the observance of international labor standards in the construction process. However, if North Korea provides the labor force, it is not at all unlikely that the regime will mobilize prisoners or political prisoners, since they can be easily controlled in the event of an accident. North Korea has also been known to mobilize military labor for construction projects. Although North Korea is not a member state of the International Labour Organization (ILO), railroad construction in peacetime arguably does not constitute an exception under Article 2 of ILO Convention No. 29, which exempts “work of a purely military character” from the definition of forced or compulsory labour.[10]

In any policy process, there are complex considerations that are unknown to the public. Extensive, tangible change rarely occurs quickly even when policies are pursued with full force. Nevertheless, given the current South Korean president’s career as a lawyer who defended workers’ rights in the 1980s alongside Roh Moo-Hyun, another former president,[11] one can reasonably expect the Moon administration to consider such issues in its inter-Korean policy. If there are casualties during the construction process, and if the North Korean authorities attempt to cover up such an accident, there should be no one who justifies it “as a tragic but necessary price to pay for peace and prosperity among the Korean people.”

It is well known that Chinese workers endured horrific working conditions as they built the transcontinental railroad in the United States in the mid-19th century. At the very least, it would be remiss of South Korea and the international community to ignore workers’ rights at the beginning of a new era of peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula in the 21st century. Heightened attention towards workers’ safety in South Korea only increases the importance of appropriately addressing this issue.

The phrase “the steel horse wants to run” has become an enduring symbol of division on the Korean peninsula.[12]South Korea’s official media outlets hailed the groundbreaking ceremony of December 26 as a symbolic moment that “re-connected the severed artery of the Korean peninsula.”[13]

Beginning with Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address on January 1, last year saw a series of unprecedented developments, including the Singapore Summit of June 12, that no one could have anticipated in 2017. Just as the sight of Moon Jae-In and Kim Jong-un crossing the Military Demarcation Line hand in hand and the scene of the “footbridge dialogue” left a deep impression across the world, the groundbreaking ceremony of December 26 will also leave its mark as a historic moment on the path to unification.

Roads and railways have a clear direction and destination. As the Republic of Korea paints its vision of the future of the Korean peninsula, and as the international community searches for its role in this historic transformation, all parties should walk forward together with “cool heads but warm hearts.” The three issues raised above may, in retrospect, reveal themselves to be baseless concerns of an ill-informed observer.

One truly hopes that the inter-Korean roads and railways will not become “roads to nowhere” or “railways to nowhere,” but enduring paths to unity and unification on the Korean peninsula.


The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author's and not those of any other person, organization, or entity; they are the author's alone. Specifically, they do not represent the views of the Board of Directors of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) nor necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HRNK.
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CSW Communications Procedure
Human Rights Section
UN Women

1 August 2018

Dear Commission on the Status of Women:

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) is a United States-based nonpartisan, non-governmental organization that conducts and publishes research on human rights abuses in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea). As such, we have collected information concerning treatment against DPRK women constituting severe and egregious human rights violations and in some cases crimes against humanity.
북한인권위원회(HRNK)는 북한 내 인권유린 실태에 대한 조사를 진행하고 연구 보고서를 발간하는 미국 소재 초당적 비영리기구입니다. 그에 따라 HRNK는 북한의 여성을 대상으로 한 심각하고 중대한 인권 침해 및 경우에 따라서 반인도 범죄에도 해당되는 처우에 대한 정보를 수집했습니다.

Our information enclosed herein is primarily obtained from interviews conducted by HRNK Director of Programs and Editor Rosa Park in July 2018, HRNK Senior Adviser Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. in March 2018, and by HRNK Senior Adviser David Hawk, author of HRNK’s “Hidden Gulag” report series, in Seoul, South Korea in March 2015 and July 2016.[1]
본 제출서의 조사 결과는HRNK의 기획이사겸 편집장 박인혜(Rosa Park)가2018년7월에 실시한 인터뷰, HRNK의 선임고문 조셉 버뮤데즈(Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr)가2018년3월에 실시한 인터뷰, 그리고HRNK의 선임고문이자HRNK의 보고서 “감춰진 수용소(Hidden Gulag)”시리즈의 저자 데이비드 호크(David Hawk)가2015년3월과2016년7월 서울에서 실시한인터뷰로부터 얻은 정보를 바탕으로 하고 있습니다.

Ms. Park’s interview details the life of a young girl turned woman in the DPRK and the repetitive sexual assault she endured along her journey–even amongst those who helped her escape–inside North Korea and then as she courageously endured and made her way to freedom in the Republic of Korea. 
박인혜(Rosa Park)의 인터뷰는 북한에서 어른이 된 한 여자아이의 삶과 그녀가 탈북 과정 중 견뎌야 했던 끊임없는 성폭력(탈북을 도와준 사람으로부터도),그리고 이 모든 것을 굳세게 이겨내고 자유를 찾아 대한민국에 온 이야기를 자세하게 담고 있습니다.

Mr. Bermudez’ interview discusses a young woman’s experience and knowledge of a mobile labor brigade inside North Korea.
조셉 버뮤데즈(Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr)의 인터뷰는 한 젊은 여성의 북한 노동단련대에서의 경험과 이에 대해 아는 바를 다루고 있습니다.

Mr. Hawk’s “Hidden Gulag” reports document and highlight North Korea’s system of political imprisonment and oppression, manifested most severely against prisoners in its kwan-li-so (political prison camp) and kyo-hwa-so (re-education through forced labor camp) detention facilities. 
데이비드 호크(David Hawk)의 보고서 “감춰진 수용소(Hidden Gulag)”는 관리소(정치범 수용소)와 교화소(재교육을 위한 강제 노동 수용소)의 수감자에게 가장 극심하게 행해지는 북한의 정치적 구금 및 억압을 기록하고 조명하고 있습니다.

Due to reprisals, fear, precedent, and intimidation by the DPRK regime against victims and their families, some of whom are still trapped inside the DPRK, not all interviewees are comfortable sharing their names for purposes of this report. In these cases, these women either have an annotated pseudonym or are referred to as “anonymous.”
희생자 본인과 북한에 갇힌 가족들에 대한 북한 정권의 보복과 이에 대한 두려움, 선례 및 위협으로 인해 일부 인터뷰 대상자들은 실명을 밝히는데에 난색을 표했습니다. 이러한 여성들의 경우 가명을 사용하거나 익명으로 명시하였습니다.

As such, please find information on (1) the victimization of women and girls in the political prison system; (2) human trafficking, particularly against DPRK women and girls who flee to China; (3) abortion, violence against women, and infanticide; and (4) the treatment of women in DPRK society, including in labor brigades and the military.
본 제출서는 (1) 정치범 수용소 제도 아래 희생된 여성과 여아들, (2) 중국으로 떠난 북한 여성과 여자아이들에 대한 인신매매, (3) 낙태, 여성에 대한 폭력 및 영아 살해, 그리고(4) 노동단련대와 군대 등 북한 사회에서 여성에 대한 처우와 관련한 정보를 담고 있습니다.

1) Women & Girls: Victims of the Kim Regime’s Political Prison System
1) 여성과 여자아이들: 김씨 정권하 정치범 수용소 제도의 희생자들

In September 2015, HRNK published “The Hidden Gulag: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances,” detailing the systematic targeting of DPRK women who had fled to China, as evidenced by the expansion of a prison labor camp referred to as Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri, between 2008 and 2009. Through the use of former prisoner testimony and satellite imagery analysis, HRNK concluded that this facility expanded during this time as a result of the increased incarceration of female prisoners in the DPRK, most of whom were reportedly arrested for escaping the DPRK into China (typically for survival reasons). Our research “shows Pyongyang’s human rights situation remains abysmal,” HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu said. “Women—desperate to ensure their families’ survival after catastrophic famine in the 1990s—have been excessively victimized.”
2015년9월HRNK는 중국으로 도망간 북한 여성들에 대한 체계적인 억압을 자세히 기록한 보고서 “감춰진 수용소: 성적 억압과 수감자 실종(The Hidden Bualg: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances)”를 발간하였습니다. 중국으로 도망간 북한 여성들에 대한 억압은2008년과2009년 사이12호 전거리 교화소라고 불리는 강제 노동 수용소의 확장으로 입증되었습니다. 전직 수감자의 증언과 위성 사진을 분석한 결과HRNK는 북한 내 여성수감자들이 증가함에 따라 이 수용소가2008년과2009년 사이에 확장 되었다는 결론을 내렸습니다. 대부분의 여성들은 북한에서 중국으로 탈북하는 도중(주로 생존을 위한 이유로) 체포된 것으로 알려졌습니다. HRNK 사무총장 그레그 스칼라튜(Greg Scarlatoiu)는HRNK의 조사에 따르면 “북한의 인권 상황은 최악인 것”으로 나타났다고 말했습니다. 또한 그는1990년대 고난의 행군 이후 가족들의 생존을 위해 필사적이었던 여성들이 극심하게 희생당하고 있다고 말했습니다.

To cope with economic hardship, numerous women sought to leave tightly closed North Korea in search of opportunities to work or trade, mainly by crossing into China. According to Scarlatoiu and “The Hidden Gulag” report, “after their forced repatriation from China, thousands of North Korean women have been arbitrarily arrested—and detention facilities for women have notably expanded.”
경제적 어려움을 극복하고자 일자리나 교역의 기회를 위해 많은 여성들은 주로 중국으로 건너 가 굳게 닫힌 북한을 떠나려고자 했습니다.그레그 스칼라튜(Greg Scarlatoiu)와 보고서 “감춰진 수용소(The Hidden Gulag)”는“많은 북한 여성들은 중국에서 강제 송환된 후 임의적으로 체포됩니다. 그리고 여성 구류 시설은 현저히 증가하였습니다.”라고 밝히고 있습니다.

In particular, authorities have since 2008 added a new women’s section at the facility known as Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 in Jongo-ri, North Hamgyong Province, an impoverished region in the northernmost part of the country along the Chinese border. The new women’s section holds more than 1,000 prisoners.
북한 당국은 2008년부터 북한 최북단의 중국 접경 지역이자 빈곤 지역인 함경북도에 12호 전거리 교화소의 여성 수감시설을 신설하였습니다. 새로운 여성 수감시설은1,000명 이상의 수감자를 수용합니다.

"There is a kyo-hwa-so in Hamheung where the North Korean authorities imprisoned women forcibly repatriated from China. As more women were forcibly repatriated from China, the authorities decided to open a facility closer to the border to shorten the time needed to transport the prisoners. This is the reason behind the expansion of the kyo-hwa-so at Jongo-ri," said Jung Gwang-il, former Kwan-li-so No. 15 (Yodok) political prisoner.
요덕 15호 관리소의 정치범이었던 정광일씨는 “함흥에는 북한 당국이 중국에서 강제 송환된 여성들을 수감하는 교화소가 있습니다. 중국에서 많은 여성들이 강제 송환됨에 따라 북한 당국은 수감자들을 이송 시간을 줄이기 위하여 국경과 가까운 곳에 수용소를 신설했습니다. 이것이 전거리 교화소가 확장된 이유입니다.”라고 말했습니다.

David Hawk, a veteran human rights investigator, interviewed DPRK escapees over two months and worked with Colorado-based AllSource Analysis (ASA), a leading global provider of high-resolution satellite imagery, to produce the report, HRNK’s fourth on the topic since 2003.
인권 조사 전문가인 데이비드 호크(David Hawk)는2003년 이래 수용소를 다루는 HRNK의 네 번째 보고서 작성을 위해 두 달간 탈북자를 인터뷰 했고 고해상도 위성 사진 업계의 선도적인 글로벌 업체인 콜로라도 소재AllSource Analysis(ASA)와 작업했습니다.

“The North Korean gulag is no longer hidden. Its web of political prisons and labor camps—many visible on Google Earth—is there for all to see,” Hawk said. “But the men and women trapped inside this are hidden still, subject to enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and forced labor under extremely harsh conditions.”
데이비드 호크(David Hawk)는 “북한의 수용소는 더 이상 감추어져 있지 않습니다. 정치범 수용소와 강제 노동 수용소는 많은 경우 구글 어스를 통해 모두가 볼 수 있습니다. 그러나 이 곳에 갇힌 많은 남성들과 여성들은 강제 실종,임의 감금, 그리고 극도로 열악한 환경에서 강제 노동을 당하며 여전히 감추어져 있습니다.”라고 말했습니다.

4함경북도 12호 전거리 교화소
-전직 수감자를 통해 확인됨
-데이비드 호크(David Hawk)의“감춰진 수용소IV: 성적 억압과 수감자 실종(2015) (Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances (2015))”과 조셉 버뮤데즈(Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.)의“북한: 12호 전거리 교화소(2016) (North Korea: Kyo-hwa-so No.12 (2016))” 참조
-이미지 날짜: 2016년10월25일

Guard Tower: 감시탑
Main Prison: 주 수감시설
Women’s section added in 2009: 2009년에 추가된 여성 수감 시설
Housing area: 주거 단지
Agricultural support: 농업 지원 구역
Walled compound added in 2012: 2012년 신설된 격리 시설
Camp administration, security headquarters, and support area: 교화소 관리동

“These political prisoners, especially women, are the most vulnerable persons in the DPRK, and monitoring the camps through satellite imagery and analysis gives us the best possibility of bringing camp restructuring and the plight of political prisoners to light,” said DPRK expert and imagery analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. 
북한 전문가 및 영상 분석가 조셉 버뮤데즈(Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr)는 “정치범들, 특히 여성들은 북한에서 가장 취약한 사람들입니다. 위성 사진을 통한 수용소 감시와 분석은 수용소 재개편의 가능성을 높이고 정치범들의 어려움을 알리는 최상의 방법이 될 수 있습니다.”라고 말했습니다.

HRNK Co-chair Emeritus Roberta Cohen has called on the international community to demand an accounting of all those detained, missing, or dead in DPRK detention. “Women in particular are fleeing North Korea in ever greater numbers. When they are apprehended, they are subjected to deliberate starvation, persecution, and punishment. Their situation cries out for international attention,” Cohen said, noting that countless more DPRK women who cross into China are sold or forced into marriage or prostitution, as evidenced in another HRNK report, “Lives for Sale.”[2]
HRNK 공동 명예 의장 로베르타 코헨(Roberta Cohen)은 북한 수용소에서 구금,실종 또는 사망한 사람들에 대한 해명을 국제 사회가 나서서 요구하자며 호소했습니다. 로베르타 코헨(Roberta Cohen)은 “전에 없이 많은 여성들이 북한에서 떠나고 있습니다. 그들은 체포될 시 의도적인 굶주림, 학대, 그리고 처벌의 대상이 됩니다. 이러한 실상은 국제 사회에 알려져야 합니다”라고 말했습니다. 또한 로베르타 코헨(Roberta Cohen)은HRNK의 보고서“팔려가는 삶(Lives for Sale)”를 인용하며 중국으로 건너간 셀 수 없이 많은 북한 여성들이 팔려가거나 결혼 혹은 성매매를 강요 받는다는 사실을 강조했습니다.

“The Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prison Disappearances” documents the particular vulnerabilities of DPRK women jailed in a network of “political gulags” (kwan-li-so) and “labor gulags” (kyo-hwa-so). Increasingly, these facilities house women who have attempted to flee the country, and here, rates of mortality, malnutrition, forced labor, and exploitation are high.
“감춰진 수용소IV: 성적 억압과 수감자 실종(The Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prison Disappearances)”은 정치범 수용소(관리소)와 강제 노동 수용소(교화소)에서 특히 취약한 위치에 있는 북한 여성들에 대하여 기록하였습니다. 점점 더 많은 탈북 여성들이 이러한 수용소에 수감되고 있으며 수용소에서의 사망, 영양실조, 강제노동 및 착취 비율이 높습니다.

Information specific to the discriminatory, violent, and criminal treatment against DPRK women and girls follows.
북한 여성과 여자아이들에 대한 차별적이고 폭력적인 사법 처리에 대한 내용은 다음과 같습니다.

a) Testimony of Former North Korean Female Prisoners
a) 이전 북한 여성 수감자의 증언
i. Mrs. Choi Min-gyang (Imprisoned mid-2008 to late 2010)
i. 최민경(2008년 중반부터2010년 후반까지 수감됨)

Mrs. Choi Min-gyang was born in Kyongwon, North Hamgyong Province. In 1998, she fled to China owing to the acute famine conditions in North Hamgyong Province. She lived in Yanbian, the Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China, for ten years. Caught as an illegal immigrant by the Chinese police in 2008, she was forcibly repatriated to the Onsong Bo-wi-bu (State Security Department) Ku-ryu-jang (detention-investigation facility) and held for twenty-five days. 
최민경씨는 함경북도 경원군에서 태어났습니다. 그녀는 1998년 함경북도의 극심한 기근으로 인해 중국으로 떠났습니다. 그녀는 중국의 조선족자치주인 연변에서10년을 지냈습니다. 2008년 중국 경찰에 불법 체류자로 체포된 후 그녀는 강제 송환되어 온성보위부(국가안전보위부)구류장(구금 및 수사 기관)에서25일간 구금 되었습니다.

At that time, according to Mrs. Choi, there were about 300 refouled persons under detention and investigation by the Onsong Bo-wi-bu, about 80% of whom were women suspected to have been en route to South Korea. A few of the detainees were in single cells, but most were held in very crowded cells spilling into the hallways. Mrs. Choi reports no personal mistreatment but recalls that there was very little to eat. 
최민경씨에 따르면 당시 온성보위부에는 구금되어 조사를 받는300여명의 송환자들이 있었고 그 중 약80%는 남한으로 가는 길이었다고 의심을 받는 여성들이었습니다.몇몇 구금자들은 독방에 있었지만 대부분은 복도로 쏟아져 나올 만큼 매우 북적이는 방에 수감되었습니다. 최민경씨는 개인적으로 학대 받은 경험은 없지만 먹을 음식이 매우 적었다고 회상했습니다.

As Mrs. Choi had lived in China for ten years, it seemed she was not in the process of defecting to South Korea. As a result, she was transferred to the Chongjin An-jeon-bu (Ministry of People’s Safety) Jip-kyul-so (collection- detention facility) awaiting charges of “border crossing”—leaving North Korea without permission. During the month she was held there, there were, she reports, some 400 to 500 persons detained. Again, about 80% were women. And again, there was very little to eat. 
중국에서10년을 사는 동안 최민경씨는 남한으로 망명을 시도하지 않은 것으로 보입니다. 그래서 그녀는 청진안전부(인민보안성)집결소(집결 및 구금 수용소)로 보내져 국경횡단 혐의, 즉 무허가 북한 이탈 혐의를 받기 위해 기다리고 있었습니다. 그녀가 수감된 달에 그곳에는 약400~500명의 사람들이 구금되어 있었다고 전합니다.그 중 약80%가 여성이었고, 먹을 것이 매우 적었습니다.

Mrs. Choi spent an additional 100 days at the Ranam Gu-yeuk District Ku-ryu-jang (detention-investigation facility) in Chongjin awaiting “trial,” a lawyer-less five minute proceeding where the judge merely asked her if she admitted to the crime. She did and affixed a thumbprint to her confession. She was sentenced to three years at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 Jongo-ri. Arriving at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 in mid-2008, there were already about 1,000 women and 4,000 men, although the women had just been introduced the year before. Mrs. Choi’s cell was so crowded that the women could barely sit down. Her first work assignment was at a construction unit to build more cells for the women prisoners. She worked in the construction unit for a year and had to sleep sitting on the floor during that time.
최민경씨는 변호사 없이 판사가 5분 동안 죄 인정 여부만 질문하는 “재판”을 기다리며 청진시 라남구역 구류장(구금 및 수사 기관)에서100일을 더 머물렀습니다. 그녀는 죄를 인정하였고 자백서에 엄지손가락 지문을 찍었습니다.그녀는 3년형을 선고받고 12호 전거리 교화소에 수감되었습니다. 그녀가 2008년 중반12호 전거리 교화소에 도착했을 때, 여성들이 수감되기 시작한지는1년여 밖에 안되었음에도 불구하고 그 곳에는 이미1,000여명의 여성들과4,000여명의 남성들이 있었습니다. 그녀의 수감실은 너무 붐벼서 여성들이 거의 앉지도 못할 정도였습니다. 그녀의 첫 번째 노역은 건설반에서 여성 수감자들을 위해 더 많은 수감실을 짓는 것이었습니다. 그녀는1년동안 건설반에서 일하였고, 그 기간 동안 바닥에 앉아서 자야 했습니다.

Mrs. Choi was then assigned to the “corn work unit,” which made fertilizer in the winter time by mixing the frozen toilet waste with dirt. She was able to eat only watery soup made with beans and corn stalks. While Mrs. Choi weighed 57 kg (125 lb) before being forcibly repatriated, food deprivation, hunger, and weight loss began immediately upon repatriation. This continued during “pre-trial” detention and at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 Jongo-ri, resulting in significant weight loss. Due to starvation, Mrs. Choi was transferred to the ho-yak-ban (sick unit) and then to the byung-ban (very sick unit). The prison authorities eventually sent for her family to come get her once she lost consciousness when they believed she was near death. At that point, Mrs. Choi had served two years and three months of her three-year sentence. She weighed 27 kg (59.5 lb) upon release and was unable to walk. It took her a full year to regain her health. 
최민경씨는 언 배설물과 흙을 섞어 겨울철 비료를 만드는 “강냉이반”으로 배정을 받았습니다. 그녀는 콩과 옥수수대로 만든 묽은 죽 밖에 먹지 못했습니다. 강제 송환 전 57kg (125lb)이었던 최민경씨의 체중은 북한으로 송환 되자마자 음식 부족으로 인한 굶주림으로 인해 줄어들기 시작하였습니다. 이는 미결구금 기간과12호 전거리 교화소에서도 계속 되었고 이 때문에 그녀의 체중은 현저히 감소하였습니다. 굶주림으로 인해 최민경씨는 허약반(병약자반)을 거쳐 병반(위독자반)으로 옮겨졌습니다.결국 그녀가 정신을 잃었을 때 교화소 당국은 그녀가 죽을 것이라고 생각하고는 가족을 불러 그녀를 데려가게 하였습니다.그 때 당시 최민경씨는3년 형기중2년3개월을 복역한 상태였습니다. 그녀가 출소했을 당시 체중은27kg (59.5 lb)으로 한 걸음 조차 뗄 수 없었으며 건강을 회복하는데에1년이 걸렸습니다.

Fed up with North Korea, Mrs. Choi’s husband successfully fled to South Korea and used his resettlement grant from South Korea to hire a broker to bring his wife to Seoul, where she arrived in October 2012. HRNK interviewed Mrs. Choi in April 2015.
북한에 진저리가 난 최민경씨의 남편은 남한으로 탈북하는데 성공했고 부인을 서울로 데려오기 위해 남한 정부가 지원한 탈북자 정착 지원금으로 브로커를 고용하였습니다. 그녀는 2012년10월 서울에 도착하였습니다. HRNK는 최민경씨를2015년4월 인터뷰 하였습니다.

ii. Kim Min-ji (Imprisoned late 2008 to late 2011)
ii. 김민지 (2008년 후반부터2011년 후반까지 수감됨)

Ms. Kim Min-ji went to China in July 2005 at the age of 19. She was caught by human traffickers and..
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Translation by Hangyun Kim, HRNK Research InternEdited 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”:

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.


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,


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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?


▲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.


▲First Lady Ri

I see.


▲Chairman Kim

The sunrise is more spectacular than the flowers.


▲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.


▲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?


▲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.


▲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.


한라산정상에헬기패드를만들겠습니다. 우리해병대1개연대를시켜서만들도록하겠습니다.
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By Tim A. Peters, Founder of Helping Hands Korea

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.


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 Korea’s Policy on Religion,” (East Asian Review, 7:1995), 94-95.
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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.
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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.

[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.
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HRNK Publishes First Poem Dedicated to North Korean Escapees

To Three Ladies Who Prevailed
By Nimal Gunatilleke

The darkness that you saw,
The humiliation of the meek,
The breaking of the strong,
Risen cruelty crushing the weak,
Crushing the spirit of humanity,
Now, the light shed by your smile
Conquers it.

A smile conveys 
As much as the books 
Full of the fury and the pomp
Of history and time, 
But nothing compares with the look
Of quiet determination 
Transmitted in a smile.

We are the lucky few who tread 
Lightly on the ground,
Not held down and filled with dread
But floating and unbound,
Able to untie the knots that hold
The innocent and humble,
Because, we refuse to do as told
And deep inside, we fly, we fly. 

And I wait, without
Expectation, for the morning light
To show the promise of distant hills.
I lift my aching back from the toil,
Shivering and shaken with chills
Raking the frozen ground with my clawed hands.

Dinner at Neung-ra-bap-sang (능라밥상). From left to right: Sathy Gunawardhana, Nimal Gunatilleke (the author), Greg Scarlatoiu (HRNK executive director), Dr. Lee Ae-ran, Raymond Ha (Stanford University PhD candidate, HRNK editorial consultant), Amy Lau (former HRNK intern), and Amanda Mortwedt Oh (HRNK human rights attorney)

While spending another torrid summer in Seoul, I was delighted to host my dear friends Nimal Gunatilleke and Sathy Gunawardhana at my modest dwelling by the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) campus, for about a week. Nimal, Sathy and I used to work together in international development consulting, prior to my work with Korea Economic Institute (KEI) and HRNK in Washington, D.C.

During their stay in Seoul, my good old friends attended guest lectures given to my students by extraordinary women escapees: Dr. Hyun In-ae, former HRNK resident fellow, and Ms. Kim Young-soon, Political Prison Camp No. 15 (Yodok) survivor. They also met and spoke with Dr. Lee Ae-ran, recipient of the International Women of Courage Award, as we dined on exquisite North Korean food at the restaurant she runs in Chongno, in association with her North Korean Traditional Food Institute.

Humbled, inspired and awed by their life stories and resilience, Nimal dedicated a poem to these three terrific ladies. As far as I know, this is the first poem ever dedicated to North Korean escapees. We have surely seen translations of poems authored by escapees, but not poems dedicated to them by others. In the world of North Korean human rights organizations, we count so many escapees among our dearest friends and colleagues. We rely on their testimony and stories to tell the truth about North Korea’s human rights conundrum. But none of us have ever thought of dedicating them a poem. Or perhaps we just lacked the talent to do so. It took a visit by an American poet to see the first ode ever dedicated to three courageous ladies who made unthinkable sacrifices to escape North Korea’s oppression.

Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director
Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK)
August 22, 2018

Dr. Nimal Gunatilleke is the author of Ann: Just Because, a volume of poetry dedicated to the memory of his late wife. He is currently working on an anthology of poems titled The Light and The Dark. The anthology includes reflections of love and affection, joy and gladness, the catastrophes that visit people, children and the horrors of manmade disasters. An international development professional with decades of worldwide experience, Dr. Gunatilleke holds his Ph.D. and M.A. in Economics from Michigan State University and his B.S. in Mathematics and Physics from University of Ceylon. He currently resides in Lansing, Michigan.

Dr. Hyun In-ae is a non-resident fellow at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) in Washington, DC. She fled North Korea with her children in 2004 after her husband was arrested as a political dissident. In North Korea, Dr. Hyun taught Juche philosophy at Najin Maritime University in North Hamgyong Province from 1979 to 1988 and at Chongjin Medical College from 1988 to 2001. She was a visiting research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) in South Korea. Dr. Hyun is now in her late 50s and a member of the Republic of Korea National Unification Advisory Council (NUAC). She received her PhD from Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea, where she currently teaches. Dr. Hyun was one of eight North Korean escapees to meet with President Donald Trump in February 2018. 

Kim Young-soon is the author of “I Was Sung Hae Rim’s Friend,” and a survivor of the infamous North Korean Yodok Political Prison Camp No. 15. Kim, along with her family members, was imprisoned for nine years after the authorities realized she knew of her friend’s affair with Kim Jong-il. Before her imprisonment, she was a celebrated young dancer who lived among the North Korean elite. Kim escaped North Korea in 2001 and entered South Korea in 2003. Kim is now in her early 80s. She was one of eight North Korean escapees to meet with President Donald Trump in February 2018.

Dr. Lee Ae-ran and her family were designated "bad elements" by the North Korean government and sent to a labor camp following her Christian grandparents' defection to South Korea. Dr. Lee spent eight years in detention, enduring abuse, horrific living conditions, and starvation as punishment for her grandparents' alleged "crime." Upon her release, she graduated from college and worked at a government science and technology committee. In 1997, after a family relative in the United States published a memoir implicating her father in anti-regime activities, Dr. Lee fled to South Korea rather than be imprisoned again. She was able to take her 4-month old infant son with her, but was forced to leave her husband and other family members behind.

Dr. Lee is the first female escapee to earn a doctoral degree. To help others in the escapee community reach the levels of achievement she has earned, she has spearheaded a variety of initiatives. In 2005, she founded the Global Leadership Scholarship Program, which has provided more than a thousand North Korean students with scholarships to study English—a skill critical to success in South Korean colleges and universities. In January 2009, she founded the Hana Defector Women's Organization, an NGO with more than 200 members that provides North Korean women in the Republic of Korea with job training, child care, educational support, and human rights training. In 2010, Dr. Lee also opened the first North Korea Traditional Culinary and Culture Institute to provide North Korean women with practical entrepreneurial and culinary arts skills. She currently runs a restaurant in Seoul called Neung-ra-bap-sang (능라밥상). Dr. Lee Ae-ran is a recipient of the International Women of Courage Award.
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By Abraham Cooper and Greg Scarlatoiu*
For almost three decades, US administrations have tiptoed around the egregious human rights violations perpetrated by the Kim regimes in North Korea. But US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has already changed the equation, by succeeding in securing the release of American detainees Kim Dong-chul, Kim (Tony) Sang-duk, and Kim Hak-song. A reminder to us and the world that the US still has the clout to move the needle on human rights.

On the eve of the Singapore Summit we urge President Trump to put the release of Japanese, other foreign and South Korean abductees, the reunion of separated Korean families, and the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of the North Korean political prison camps, as the bill the DPRK must foot to become a normal and responsible member of the international community.

Three generations of the Kim family regime have continued to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at the expense of the human security of North Koreans, and to egregiously violate the human rights of their citizens. In order to tackle North Korean threats, the Trump Administration has applied three of the four fundamental elements of national power (diplomatic, information, military, economic power, DIME): economic power through the strengthening of the international sanctions regime; military power through the deployment of assets to the region and the reaffirming of US commitment to our Korean and Japanese allies; and diplomatic power, employing for the first time summit diplomacy, made possible by the maximum economic and military pressure and the resuscitation of inter-Korean dialogue, starting with the Pyongchang Winter Olympics.

Kim Jong-un wants security guarantees, but history has taught time and again liberal democracies shouldn’t try to guarantee the survival of a regime that runs political prison camps and commits crimes against humanity. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his key advisers represent a generation of progressive intellectuals who helped democratize their nation. Their lasting legacy however, will be ultimately defined by their stance on North Korean human rights. Will they appease tyranny and lead the ROK down the path of catastrophic compromise? Or will they become the heroes who brought freedom and human rights to both Koreas, thus decisively opening the path of unification under a truly democratic and prosperous Republic of Korea?

Time will tell. But early signs are not encouraging. The recent ban on leaflet balloon launches and loudspeaker broadcasting into North Korea is one reason for concern. North Korean escapees in South Korea give voice to silenced millions. At this critical crossroads in history, the South Korean administration must protect these heroes and ensure their voices are heard, not muffled.

All this puts the spotlight on the US’ summit diplomacy. Will it be a historic achievement for President or just another déjà vu North Korean scam?

Under any conceivable outcome, in order to achieve ultimate peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia--a fundamental U.S. security interest—the nature of the Kim regime and its horrific human rights abuses must remain in focus. 

Human rights cannot be treated as a sidebar issue, possibly sacrificed for a wink and a nod and photo-op with Kim. Human rights must not be abandoned to appease the Kim regime. Human rights cannot be postponed until an ever-elusive future scenario where the Kim regime miraculously agrees to protect the rights of its citizens. Despots do not give away human rights out of the goodness of their hearts. Human rights are always achieved and protected through struggle.

Can the US remove a nuclear threat and guarantee human rights and dignity simultaneously?

President Trump please take note, America already did it and with a much more dangerous foe. During the Cold War, President Reagan and then Secretary of State George Shultz used the issue of freedom for Soviet Jewry as the litmus test for Soviet intentions on Nuclear Disarmament. Eventually, human rights prevailed and the communist system dissolved without a shot being fired.

The US should counter Kim’s cycle of “charm offensives,” not through appeasement but through verifiable changes in North Korea. It is important to witness the blowing up of one nuclear test site. Of equal importance will be the dismantling of Kim’s Gulag. When that occurs and only then can the world be assured that the two estranged Koreas are on the path to a peaceful reunification and a hopeful future for all.

*Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director, Global Social Action Agenda
Simon Wiesenthal Center

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