Archive for the ‘Covid-19’ Category


Speculation over health of Kim Jong-Un and his Nation

Kim Yong-Un

The unprecedented absence of North Korea’s leader from its most important state celebration, the Day of the Sun on 15 April, has fuelled speculation as to the health of Kim Jong-Un.   Suggestions from Daily NK – news supplied largely from defectors – is that the leader has recently received heart surgery.  No confirmation of this has been made to date however.  Another theory is that the leader is being protected from Covid-19, since Kim Jong-Un is often seen in close physical contact with people, offering handshakes and hugs, which make him vulnerable to the virus.

This secrecy surrounding his health inevitably extends to the health of the entire ‘hermit kingdom’.  While thousands have been quarantined, borders closed and tourists and foreign diplomats seen off, the government still insists there are ‘no cases in the country’.

Kim is however eager to be seen as pro-active in protecting the nation from the virus.  He recently chaired a public health meeting and has issued hygiene advice nationwide.  Pyongyang has received test kits from Russia and from China while various items of protective equipment have been donated by UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders.

The ‘great leader’ would be reluctant in any case to admit to the arrival of the virus since any weakness might invite criticism of his regime.  It was fear of reporting the disease to central government that allowed it initially to spread in China but whether North Korea will learn from this lesson seems unlikely.  A defector who recalls practising medicine during the SARS outbreak of 2002/03 said that not only was medical equipment seriously lacking then, but deaths were going unrecorded.

Certainly the sheer length of the border between North Korea and China, and its regular use by smugglers and traffickers, would suggest that the virus might enter relatively easily. If it did, that would be a tragedy for the 40% of North Koreans reportedly undernourished. And while new hospitals have been built under Kim’s rule, experts say they mostly benefit the elite in this two-tier nation.

This month the defector Thae Yong-Ho made history by winning a constituency seat in South Korea’s government. Once deputy ambassador to the UK, he says he is determined to work for the freedom of his compatriots who live in virtual ‘slavery’.  The high price defectors pay (and there are on average 1000 per year) is the knowledge that their extended families will be detained, or worse, in one of the country’s many detention centres and labour camps.

Human rights, and the health care that these insist on, are sadly in very short supply in North Korea.

 

 

Sources: The Guardian, ABC News, TPM Seoul.

 


Hundreds of Rohingya refugees left stranded at sea

The British media is understandably filled with the effects of the pandemic on people’s lives in the UK at present and there are many who are suffering from its effects.  Being in lockdown whilst living in cramped flat with no garden is extremely difficult and distressing.  Those who are in insecure employement in the gig economy are also suffering financial stress.  Care home and medical staff with insufficient or no PPE are daily risking their lives.  Recession is inevitable the effects of which will hurt the poorest the hardest.

While there are many in the country who are suffering these things, there are those in other countries who are suffering more.  In particular the Rohingya.  They suffered cruelly under the Burmese military regime and had their villages burned down and were subjected to mass rape and murder at the hands of the Burmese.  Hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring Bangladesh and live in one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

There are now reports of boatloads of refugees refused entry into Burma because the Covid-19.   Amnesty has received information concerning up to five boats thought to be carrying Rohingya refugees seen off the coasts of Malaysia and southern Thailand in recent days, with hundreds of people believed to be on board the vessels.  Those in the boats are likely to be fleeing persecution in Myanmar or from overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.

An Amnesty press release said:

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued 396 Rohingya people from a large boat which had been turned back by the Malaysian authorities and is believed to have been at sea for two months.  According to early reports, 32 people on the boat died at sea, but the figure is now thought to be almost double that. UNHCR – the UN refugee agency – has said that the survivors are severely malnourished and dehydrated.

On 5 April, another boat carrying 202 Rohingya people was intercepted by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.  Its passengers were brought to safety and are now in COVID-19 quarantine.  18 April 2020

Human Rights Watch noted:

Over 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are currently living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, the bulk of whom were driven out of Myanmar by a military campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that began in August 2017.  As a result of that campaign, the Myanmar government and military now face accusations of genocide before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  The estimated 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State in Myanmar are subject to government persecution and violence, confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement, and cut off from access to adequate food, health care, education, and livelihoods.  18 April 2020

The genocidal policies by the Burmese have already inflicted misery on these people.  Added to that, they are now subjected to further stress and misery as a result of the pandemic.

Sources: Amnesty; Human Rights Watch; The Burma Campaign; Arakan Project; Guardian

 


Credible evidence of prisoners killed during Covid-19 concerns

Around 36 prisoners in Iran are feared to have been killed by security forces after the use of lethal force to control protests over COVID-19 safety fears, Amnesty International has learned.  The full story can be read on Amnesty’s site:

Prisoner deaths: Iran

The situation in Iran is grave and the government has relaxed social distancing rules and travel restrictions in a move that could be disasterous.  The country is reeling from the continued US sanctions.