CanKor Megaphone: Meet Seongmin Lee, HanVoice’s First Pioneer!

MegaphoneIN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE: As many of you may know, I have been involved with North KoreaHV_Ignite_Poster_Image-1n human rights issues with an organization called HanVoice (www.hanvoice.ca), which I helped found in 2007. Since then, HanVoice has grown into the largest non-profit in Canada dedicated to North Korean human rights issues.

When it comes to North Korean refugees, one of the key areas of need that we have identified is leadership. This is especially true for the North Korean community in South Korea, where most of these refugees ultimately settle. Despite more than a fifteen year presence within South Korea, very few North Koreans have emerged as leaders of their own community.

With a first-of-its-kind program designed to address these challenges, HanVoice is pleased to announce the launch of the HanVoice Pioneers Project. Inviting a bright future leader to Canada, this program is designed to impart upon this candidate the tools necessary to speak on behalf of the North Korean refugee community worldwide. This will include not only learning English, but taking advocacy classes and “walking the halls of power” by interning at a Member of Parliament’s office. Read the rest of this entry »

Testimony Before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, June 4, 2013

[On June 4, 2013, I was called as a witness to testify before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Below is the entirety of my prepared statement – I believe, there were some off the cuff remarks that probably drove the French language interpreters nuts.]

Jack KimGood afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me today to speak. As I wear several hats when it comes to North Korea, whether it is HanVoice, www.cankor.ca, or the North Korean Human Rights Film Festival Toronto, on behalf of all these organizations, I again extend my thanks.

Canada’s DPRK Policy: Controlled Engagement

Canada’s response to North Korea has been, at least rhetorically, aggressive. Since 2010 our government has pursued what has been termed a “Controlled Engagement” policy. The Controlled Engagement (“CE”) policy restricted bilateral contact with the regime except to four distinct areas: regional security concerns, human rights and the humanitarian situation, inter-Korean relations, and consular issues. It also forbid Canadians from importing and exporting anything into North Korea, and also introduced strict technology and investment sanctions. Read the rest of this entry »

North Koreans in Toronto: The NGO Predicament

It is no secret for anyone living in Toronto that persons of North Korean descent are living in Canada, and that most of them end up settling in Toronto. Also, for anyone who has devoted any effort to North Korean issues in Toronto, it is obvious after only a bit of time that most, if not all of them, have spent some considerable time in South Korea. You don’t have to notice that the first thing that many North Koreans do is obtain a smartphone, or that they stop needing your assistance after two weeks in Canada, or that the clothing they choose to wear is remarkably South Korean. Some will simply openly tell you that they came from South Korea and chose to live in Toronto.

Unfortunately, that is not the story they tell the Canadian immigration authorities. Doing so would spell doom to a refugee claim, which all North Koreans lodge upon entering the country. Rather, the typical North Korean refugee claim starts in North Korea and goes straight through China to Canada, omitting the South Korean leg of the journey. This is for obvious reason. Being honest and upfront about coming through a country that welcomes North Korean refugees with lavish subsidies would lead to an outright dismissal of their refugee claim.

There is a further wrinkle now that a lie has been told: the laws surrounding misrepresentation. If found to have misrepresented themselves to the government under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the claimant would then find themselves unable to enter Canada for two years, with legislation now in the House of Commons that would expand that period to five.

Although I have written in the past how the Canadian government should respond to this issue, what has been neglected is how civil society should cope with this recent phenomenon. How should non-governmental organizations that deal with North Korea specifically respond to the North Koreans arriving on our shores? Read the rest of this entry »

Conflicting Messages: Whipping Out The Crystal Ball

When it comes to message control, our current Prime Minister’s office has nothing compared to the likes of Pyongyang. The rulers of the DPRK have for the last seventy years been quite fastidious when it has come to shaping the regime’s official message. After all, when you enjoy the benefits of controlling both the media and your diplomats abroad, the only thing you really have to worry about are the folks who decide to leave your tightly-controlled society.

It’s surprising that despite some extreme shocks to the system, including the famine and the death of the only leader the country had ever known in 1994, the regime’s grip did not grow any “looser.” Perhaps the areas around the country’s northern provinces have become a little more porous after the famine, but despite the relative free flow of knowledge that appears to be growing in the borderlands between China, the number of people (successfully) fleeing the country has dwindled, especially after the recent power succession.

This makes the conflicting messages coming out of the country quite surprising. Read the rest of this entry »

I Thought Groundhog Day was Last Week

So North Korea continues its streak as the only country that has tested a nuclear weapon in the past fifteen years.

The official English statement that was released by KCNA is interesting for two reasons. The first is that Pyongyang elegantly stated that the weapon that it tested yesterday was a smaller version (“miniaturized” per the Korean language version) of the weapons that were tested in 2006 and 2009. This of course is a thinly veiled statement directed towards those worried about the DPRK building a bomb that could fit snugly on top of a Taepodong rocket. Pyongyang’s answer is “si, su puede.”

The other interesting part of the statement is North Korea’s claim that its nuclear deterrent has become “diversified.” The most orthodox interpretation of this is that North Korea now possesses a bomb different from those that it tested earlier: namely, one of the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) variety. This would be alarming in many respects: it means that the DPRK has, despite the myriad of sanctions lodged against it, acquired this technology. It means that the DPRK, with this technology, can continue to produce HEU type weapons en masse: since if there’s anything that’s remotely abundant in North Korea, it’s uranium. It also means that there has been some sort of cooperation between the DPRK and someone, whether it be China, or Pakistan, or Iran. Read the rest of this entry »

Surprise! We Have Satellite(s)!

Some quick thoughts on the rocket launch:

  • Unha-3 rocketSurprise! Certainly caught everyone off guard. This especially after an official announcement possibly extending the launch window. Is this a case of Pyongyang simply buying time or disjointed government?
  • Si, su puede! This time around, the North Koreans have told their own people that it was a success. But really, did they have any choice on the matter? First, with a million cell phones now in circulation, keeping mum about a rocket launch at all would have been disastrous. Second, after announcing publicly that the April launch was a failure, coming out a second time empty-handed would have severely shaken public confidence in the endeavour. But how about those who do have access to the outside world? If it was a failure, couldn’t they spread the news over those cell phones you talk about? Sure – but as long as the regime gets to frame the issue first by calling it the “second successful satellite launch,” then does it really matter? Those who have tried hard to prove a negative (ie. there is no North Korean satellite) will find it hard pressed to combat the regime on this one. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: Escape From Camp 14


ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14, by Blaine Harden. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012. X 224 pp. hardcover. ISBN 978-0670023325. Reviewed by CanKor “Human Factor” editor Jack Kim.


For those who disbelieved, and continue to disbelieve, North Korean refugees when they first started trickling in, Shin Dong Hyuk’s story is the mother of them all. Born in a concentration camp, witness to unspeakable horrors, the protagonist of an amazing escape from a country that condemned him even before he was born. The story is, well, far too fantastic. It is unbelievable.

His story has been well documented in the media. After all, the book hit double digits on the amazon.com best seller list. According to Shin, he was born in Camp 14 to inmates of the camp, grew up there, watched his mother and brother executed, and serendipitously managed to escape not only the camp, but the DPRK itself. According to the author, Shin describes nonchalantly every day features of the camp that to those of us fortunate enough to live outside its fences, stir up Holocaust imagery: starvation, public executions, camp guards savagely beating inmates. He describes how snitching became a method of survival, to the point that he reverses previous accounts of his life in the book by admitting that this very snitching led to the execution of his mother and brother. Read the rest of this entry »

Kim Jong Un: I Am NOT My Father

I would like to think that Kim Jong Un listened to my advice and hired a Don Draper type to sex up the regime’s image

abroad. Yes, such visions of grandeur. Bringing us back to reality, however, the DPRK has certainly gone to some great lengths to ameliorate its image abroad, to the point that some have described it as an “extreme makeover.” It all perhaps began with Kim Jong Un complaining about the general disrepair of amusement parks (“pathetic” is supposedly the word used). One has to wonder in opaque North Korea whether Kim was referring to simply the amusement park itself, or really criticizing the way that his father ran the country.

Meet the new boss

Then we have Kim the 3rd walking around accompanied by a mystery woman who we later find out he has married – perhaps even against his father’s wishes. Even if this allegation of filial impiety is not true, Kim Jong Il never trotted out his women in public.

The implication of this rather public announcement is enormous: again, Kim Jong Un is not his father! Then we have a well publicized concert involving trademark infringement of the Mickey Mouse variety and mini-skirts that would have shocked O Jin U if he were still around. We receive word of things like prisoner amnesties. Finally, Ri Yong Ho is sacked. The official cause is illness; the word on the street is power struggle, including fanciful notions of firefights in the inner sanctums of Pyongyang. Ri Yong Ho was supposedly one of the capos in the Kim Jong Il regime. Getting rid of someone like him again is clear signal that a new boss has rolled into town.

At the end of the day, this branding exercise seems a clear play to contrast Kim Jong Un from Kim Jong Il. Perhaps the rumours that Kim Jong Un (and Jang Song Thaek behind him) really want to open the country up. The evidence so far, doesn’t suggest that yet: the border hasn’t been this controlled since the 2008 Olympics and the kwan-li-so system still exists. What isclear is that the regime has, six months after his death, buried Kim Jong Il, set up his statue right beside Kim the 1st, and has all but announced that his era is over. Read the rest of this entry »

Progressives, Meet Bandwagon

Historically, progressives in the ROK have taken a vow of silence when it comes to North Korean human rights (“NKHR”).

Rep. Lee Seok Ki gets accosted by farmers… opposed to the FTA

For anyone involved in the issue, this has been a sore point even before the days of the Sunshine policy. Conservatives love to bring this up (at times for their own reasons) and progressives do not (again, at times for their own reasons). What are these reasons, you ask?

To answer this, we should go to a fundamental premise behind human rights: they are inherently political. The issue of NKHR is of no exception. Unfortunately, this issue has been yanked artificially away from the realm of “simply political;” rather what we have seen with the issue is a hyper-politicization that has created a schism between the left and the right. This divide quickly came to the point that some progressives in the past had remained peculiarly silent on NKHR. Read the rest of this entry »

Why North Korea Needs Don Draper

The disgustingly good looking Jon Hamm as Don Draper. To make things even more unfair, we hear he’s a pretty good guy.

Anyone reading the title may laugh (sotto voce would be most appropriate) and wonder what I’m really getting at. Not only because a) for the uninitiated, Don Draper is the fictional advertising executive from television’s Mad Men, but b) for the initiated, Draper’s portrayal in the show as a defender of “blood-on-your-mouth” capitalism makes him a rather unworthy candidate to represent a worker’s paradise like the DPRK.

But really, I’m serious.

To put North Korea’s popularity abroad in SAT terms:

DPRK : Outside DPRK = LeBron James : Outside Miami (Except Seattle) Read the rest of this entry »

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