There are two mains religious beliefs in North Korea: Shamanism and Christianity. Both are severely persecuted and those thought or accused of engaging in either are subject to brutal treatment. This includes physical beatings, ingestion of polluted food, positional torture, sleep deprivation and forced squat jumps.
The Ministry of People’s Security are responsible for 90% of the documented serious human rights violations against Shamanic adherents and the Ministry of State Security is responsible for 90% of violations against Christians. The difference is that Christianity is seen as a political crime and adherents are tried in secret. To possess a bible is to risk death.
We are pleased to attach a copy of the June minutes thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them. It was a full meeting marked by a decision to end the North Korea campaign which has run for over a decade. The group thanked Tony for his work on this campaign over the years. Although no longer a specific campaign, we will carry out actions from time to time if the opportunity arises.
The human rights situation in North Korea is grim and the regime is one of the most repressive in the world. A report has just been published by Human Rights Watch called Worth less than an Animal which provides vivid descriptions of how prisoners awaiting trial are treated. All political, social, legal, economic and civil rights are severely restricted and the use of torture, forced labour and other abuses represent a crime against humanity.
There seems little likelihood of change in the near future. China holds the key since the state relies on them to survive. China has other problems of its own and is unlikely to want further instability and chaos which would ensue if Kim Jong Un was deposed. The HRW report is similar in many respects to the earlier UN report on DPNK published in 2018.
Speculation over health of Kim Jong-Un and his Nation
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.
Update: 14 March. Ben Rogers has kindly sent us the text of his talk which is attached at the bottom of this post.
The Salisbury group is grateful to the Cathedral for holding an Evensong once a year marking the work of Amnesty International and enabling us to nominate a speaker during the course of the service. About 60 attended last nights service. For many years the Cathedral has provided space for the group to display each month an appeal for a Prisoner of Conscience. This month it is Ahmed Mansoor a human rights defender and POC who is in prison in Abu Dhabi. The Cathedral has a window dedicated to the work of Amnesty.
We were delighted to invite Benedict Rogers (pictured) to speak who, among other things, has a particular interest
in North Korea. Ben is East Asia Team Leader of CSW, a Christian charity which promotes religious freedom around the world.
He said that the UN regards North Korea to be in a category all of its own as far as human rights are concerned. It violates every single human right. As a member of CSW, they were the first to call for a commission of enquiry and two years later in 2014, the UN did so.
The gravity, scale and nature of abuses has no parallel in the modern world he said. The report found that:
North Korea had committed crimes against humanity and manifestly failed to uphold its responsibility to protect. These crimes entail “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation. Source, Wikipedia
In 2007, CSW produced a report A Case to Answer. A Call to Act which concluded that the human rights situation in North Korea was a crime against humanity. Although things seem bleak, he said there were some glimmers of light. In a recent report, Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance, it was noted that North Koreans were getting more information about the outside world. They were beginning to realise that life south of the border was better. There was anecdotal evidence that prison guards did realise the world was watching.
The regime saw Christianity as a particular threat. Anyone caught practising it faced severe punishment or could be executed. If a carol was allowed it would only be ‘We three Kims of Orient are!’
Those who did manage to escape to China were sent back to face severe punishment in the prison camps. There were around 200,000 thousand people in the prison camps he said. He ended with the famous quotation mistakenly attributed to Edmund Burke:
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
Lively meeting this month and we were pleased to welcome another new member. We discussed the death penalty report; North Korea; the UK government’s possible changes to the Human Rights Act and forthcoming events. We also discussed the closure of the neighbouring New Forest group which we hope may not be permanent. Next meeting on 13 February.
If you are interested in human rights and would like to join us you would be very welcome. You will see our events at the end of the minutes so making yourself known at one of those would be a way to join. It is free to join the Salisbury group. One of our concerns is the new government’s plans to possibly weaken human rights especially when we leave the EU so helping us with that would be appreciated.
Minutes of the group meeting held on 11 April 2019 are attached thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them. We discussed North Korea, the death penalty report, future events including a film night, a market stall and a talk by the author and journalist Paul Mason in June. There are also some statistics of our social marketing showing quite a busy month.
If you are interested in joining the local group and live in the south Wiltshire area then coming along to one of our events is the best thing to do and you will find a list at the end of the minutes.
The minutes of the group meeting in March 2019 are available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them. A full meeting with several events planned, see the end of them for the list. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.