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 »

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for international inquiry

[The following article was issued by the Media Centre of the Office of the UNHCHR, dated Geneva, 14 January 2013. The South African lawyer Navanethem Pillay has been the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights since 1 September 2008. –CanKor]

Pillay urges more attention to human rights abuses in North Korea

Press conference Navanethem PillayThe UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called Monday for the international community to put much more effort into tackling the “deplorable” human rights situation of people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and said the time had come for a full-fledged international inquiry into serious crimes that had been taking place in the country for decades.

“There were some initial hopes that the advent of a new leader might bring about some positive change in the human rights situation in DPRK,” Pillay said. “But a year after Kim Jong Un became the country’s new supreme leader, we see almost no sign of improvement.”

“I am also concerned that, at the international level, the spotlight is almost exclusively focused on DPRK’s nuclear programme and rocket launches,” she said. “While these, of course, are issues of enormous importance, they should not be allowed to overshadow the deplorable human rights situation in DPRK, which in one way or another affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere else in the world.” 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 »

Pyongyang’s Worrisome Problem with Multiculturalism

New National Assemblyperson Jasmine Lee

The recent National Assembly elections in South Korea produced two results that may be of interest to North Korea watchers. The first and more obvious is the election of Cho Myung Chul as a proportional representative. Cho, running for the GNP/NFP slate, is most likely the first North Korean to ever be elected through a genuine democratic process. (Although if I’m wrong please feel free to leave a comment correcting me) A long time North Korea watcher himself and founder of the North Korea blog at the Chosun Ilbo, Cho’s ascendance to the National Assembly signals a step in the right direction for the North Korean refugee community in the ROK. Having had a chance to meet and interpret for Cho at a conference in Ottawa many years back, I can attest that he’s a genuinely humble person and wish him the best of luck.

The other result is less obvious. Also elected as a proportional representative on the NFP slate is Jasmine Lee, a Filipino-Korean actress. Her election, a landmark event in what was once racially homogenous South Korea, has sparked quite the controversy: a substantial number of netizens have posted racially inflammatory remarks about Ms. Lee. Read the rest of this entry »

Anonymous: Why North Korean Refugees Remain Nameless

So if the reports are true, China has repatriated the 31 refugees that South Korea and the NGO community have pleaded so earnestly not to. Hearing the news, I can’t say I’m surprised – after all, as I predicted a few days ago, the new interim nuclear deal the DPRK came to terms with the Americans literally pushed the refugee news off the media pages, giving Beijing the cover to quietly send the North Koreans back to what we can only hope is lenient punishment. Part of me can’t but help think of the words Jim McKay said after the disastrous German attempt at rescuing the Israeli hostages at Munich: “they’re all gone.”

I can’t help but think of how much this is non-news, especially contrasted to what this week came out as what could be the largest hyped human rights video of all time: Kony 2012. With over 50 million views, this dwarfs the number of folks worldwide who came out to protest China’s planned repatriation of the 31. Part of Invisible Children’s success is the personalization of the issue. By focusing the message on to one person, Joseph Kony, they’ve successfully turned what is a undoubtedly a complex issue into a simple anthropomorphic exercise: make Kony known, and maybe, just maybe, Dorothy, perhaps he’ll turn himself in.

The 31, and North Korean refugees in general, do not have that luxury. Read the rest of this entry »

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