Time to Address North Korea’s Prison Labor Camps, by Roberta Cohen

[CanKor Brain Trust member Roberta Cohen is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. She is a specialist in human rights, humanitarian, and refugee issues and a leading expert on the subject of internally displaced persons. CanKor reproduces here a statement made by Ms Cohen at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies‘ Washington Forum 2013 and subsequently published by them as Issue Brief #60. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. –CanKor]

Roberta Cohen with Shin Dong Hyuk

Roberta Cohen with Shin Dong Hyuk

It is time for the international community to address itself directly to the most serious of North Korea’s human rights violations – the prison labor camps. Situated in the mountains of North Korea, the camps are estimated to hold some 100,000 to 200,000 prisoners, including whole families, many of whom are not expected to survive.

The issue has come to the fore through the combined efforts of human rights NGOs and former North Korean prisoners who have escaped the country. For several decades, NGOs, academics and journalists from the United States, Western Europe and the Republic of Korea have conducted painstaking research to unearth verifiable information about the camps and North Korea’s overall human rights situation. They have come up with persuasive evidence despite the regime’s efforts to conceal its conduct through denial of access. Read the rest of this entry »

Is there a role for Europe in the Korean crisis?

Until this past week I had never even heard of the Centre for European Reform. On Friday 12 April 2013, my emailed alerts to the North Korea Forum on LinkedIn brought my attention to Ian Bond’s excellent article Out of range, out of mind: Is there a role for Europe in the Korean crisis?

European union conceptAs you might have read in the left-hand column, CanKor has always been interested in the “role to be played in northeast Asia by second-tier middle powers like Canada, Australia and the European Union.” I have often puzzled over the fact that after the initial “Sunshine” enthusiasm shown by European countries for a role in North Korea in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Europe by and large seems to have ceded its politically astute and innovative role to the geopolitical interests of the USA.

My own European roots have rebelled against the notion that when it comes to North-East Asia, Europe should act as cheerleaders of a  doomed-from-the-start American policy initiated by an American President politically traumatized by the events of 9-11. Who would have thought that Barack Obama would continue his predecessor’s ill-conceived notion that somehow playing the DPRK’s game of brinkmanship would bring them to their knees? I too wish that doing nothing except wagging a finger would have prevented North Korea from building up to 10 nuclear warheads and a missile capable of launching a (non-functioning) satellite into orbit.

Our best efforts over the past seven years have not been able to stir the Canadian Government into any useful direction. Even playing the “good cop” role, as Andrei Lankov recently suggested in Ottawa, seems beyond our government’s ability or intent. The same apparently goes for Australia and New Zealand. Read the rest of this entry »

Dutch Seminar on Outsourcing Garment and Textile Production in North Korea

[The Dutch company MODINT Buying and Production and MODINT Logistics are holding a sourcing and production seminar on 19 April 2012 in Zeist, Netherlands. The following information reached CanKor through Paul Tjia, Director of GPI Consultancy. –CanKor]

The production costs in China, where wages are rising fast, are increasing and companies are searching for cheaper locations. This is already visible in the field of garments and textiles. For this reason, MODINT, the Dutch trade association for fashion, interior design, carpets and textiles, will organize again a seminar on sourcing and production countries (19 April, from 13.00-17.00 hours). In this edition, MODINT will focus on alternative production countries, including North-Korea, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Several speakers will share their thoughts on how realistic these countries are as alternatives to China.

For the production of garments, North-Korea is one of these upcoming destinations. Although the Cold War has not ended, and political tensions remain high, more than 70 South-Korean garment companies are already producing clothing in own factories in the Kaeasong Economic Zone, employing tens of thousands of North-Korean workers. Read the rest of this entry »

UN Human Rights Council discusses DPRK

Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman. (UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré)

Chronic food shortages have become the most pressing human rights issue in the DPRK, according to an independent United Nations human rights expert. “I would underscore the importance of meeting the food shortfall by ensuring that an adequate quantity of food of good quality is available through additional imports by the Government, supported by international agencies and bilateral donors,” said Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.

On Monday, 12 March 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council held an “interactive dialogue” with Darusman, whose new report covers the period from September 2011 to January 2012. In that time, according to the report, the situation “continued to deteriorate”. More than six million people urgently required international food assistance. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hungry Child in North Korea by Karin Lee

[Long-time CanKor supporter Karin Lee, Executive Director of the Washington-based National Committee on North Korea (NCNK), wrote this article for The Peninsula, a Blog of the Korea Economic Institute (KEI) on 1 February 2012. Ms Lee explores the current status of a US-DPRK deal on food aid that was expected to be announced during the week following the death of DPRK leader Kim Jong Il.  –CanKor]

Children at a nursery in Huichon, Chagang Province, 1998 (Photo by Erich Weingartner)

In December 2010, North Korea began asking multiple countries for food aid. Its request to the U.S. came in early 2011, but it wasn’t until December 2011 that a deal seemed close, with the U.S. prepared to provide 240,000 metric tons (MTs) of assistance. Kim Jong Il died soon after this news hit the press, and details of the potential deal were never announced.

In the ideal world, Ronald Reagan’s “hungry child” knows no politics. But the case of North Korea is far from ideal. The U.S. government states it does not take politics into consideration when determining whether to provide aid to North Korea. Instead, the decision is based on three criteria: need in North Korea, competing demands for assistance, and the ability to monitor aid effectively. Yet these three criteria are subjective and tinged by politics.

In 2011 a succession of four assessment delegations (one by U.S. NGOs, one by the U.S. government, one by the EU and one by the UN) visited the DPRK. All found pretty much the same thing: widespread chronic malnutrition, especially among children and pregnant or lactating women, and cases of acute malnutrition. The UN confirmed the findings late last year, reporting chronic malnutrition in children under five in the areas visited — 33% overall, and 45% in the northern part of the country.

Some donors responded quickly. For example, shortly after its July assessment, the EU announced a 10 Million Euro donation. Following its own May assessment, however, the U.S. government was slow to make a commitment. Competing demands may have played a role. In July, the predicted famine in the Horn of Africa emerged, prompting a U.S. response of over $668 million in aid to “the worst food crisis in half a century.” While there was no public linkage between U.S. action on the African famine and inaction on North Korea, there could have been an impact. Read the rest of this entry »

The DPRK Interregnum: Window of Opportunity for the International Community by Victor Hsu

[CanKor Brain Trust member Victor Hsu is a Visiting Professor at the Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management. In this article, published by the Nautilus Institute’s Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network (NAPSNet), he argues that the post funeral interregnum in the DPRK should be seen as a window of opportunity for moving North Korea’s relationships in a constructive direction. To do this, Hsu suggests that the international community network and create a coordinated engagement plan that avoids duplication, maximizes the increasingly scarce resources among traditional donors and gathers lessons learned for future engagement. Donors could facilitate this work by supporting civil society knowledge-sharing efforts with the DPRK, which is more sustainable and less susceptible to the vicissitudes of inter-state relations. –CanKor]

Kim Jong Un walks alongside the body of his late father during last month's funeral procession. (Photo: AP)

Now that the funeral of Kim Jong Il is over, it is time for the international community to explore avenues of engaging with the DPRK, rather than trying to read the tea leaves about who is in charge or whether Kim Jong Un is the real Supreme Leader and Military Commander. This period presents a window of opportunity either to engage constructively or to destabilize the Korean peninsula. It is truly a time of danger and opportunity. While it is legitimate to expect the DPRK to take the first step, there is an equal onus on the international community to adopt policies and strategies to encourage the DPRK to initiate a new chapter in its foreign policy. However, this post funeral interregnum may be ironically the right time for the “strategic patience” policy of the Obama’s administration. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with CanKor Brain Trust member Charles Burton

CanKor Brain Trust member Charles Burton’s views on the changing situtation in North Korea were reported in Erica Bajers’ report “Dictator’s death met with concern in Niagara” published in the Niagara Falls Review on December 19, 2011. Article below:

Dictator’s death met with concern in Niagara

By Erica Bajer, QMI, 19 December 2011

North Korean women cry after learning death of their leader Kim Jong Il on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is worrying local residents with ties to the country.

Unlike the deaths of other high-profile dictators, including most recently Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Kim Jong-il’s death is not being met with relief and joy.

Instead, his death has caused fear and uncertainty, said Brock University political science professor Charles Burton, who worked on North Korean relations in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing from 1998 to 2000.

“Any change there is destabilizing and anything destabilizing causes worry about what’s going to come next,” he said.

“It’s not a cause for celebration … we don’t know what will happen.”

He said despite the fact the dictator chose his 28-year-old son Kim Jong-un as his successor, it’s unclear if the regime will continue.

Burton said North Koreans equate age and experience with wisdom and may not be willing to accept such a young, inexperienced leader.

“The real concern is the transition,” he said.

Burton said there’s a strong possibility a power struggle between different factions of the Kim family and the military will break out. Read the rest of this entry »

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