North Korea, a state that has a notorious reputation for its secretive, alarming and militaristic demeanor, is at it again. After momentarily stepping down after having alarmed the international community with threats of nuclear testing in February 2013, the regime has once again avowed its intent to initiate an onslaught of nuclear testing despite ongoing suspicion that the state is erecting a nuclear arsenal.

According to a local North Korean newspaper, the state is simply taking protective measures against potential threats to its independence waged by the U.S. and neighboring South Korea. North Korea‘s decision to revitalize its nuclear testing programs is another method in which the state has demonstrated its military competence in order to establish itself as a global militaristic threat and power.

This wager comes fresh off of the United Nations‘ sanctions against North Korea for launching a set of short-range missiles in March, eerily chosen to occur on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean ship. According to the Security Council, the regime’s decision to launch the short-range missiles violated significant UN agreements. According to the South Korean defense ministry’s spokesperson, Kim Min-seok, “This missile is capable of hitting not only most of Japan but also Russia and China.” Therefore, the missiles also pose a grave threat towards the well-being of residents in neighboring states — a threat that has not been taken lightly.

Despite North Korea’s recalcitrance, South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, issued a message to the state warning that the sheer economic cost of maintaining an effective nuclear testing program may in fact endanger the longevity of the state. While the economic cost of nuclear-building is in itself an obstacle for North Korea, Yun also avows that South Korea and its alliances in the Security Council will further aggravate the regime’s ability to conduct nuclear testing. For instance, Yun affirmed that “South Korea, together with its partners in the Security Council, will make the cost of having these nuclear weapons very very high, very very heavy, so that could backfire to the regime — the survival of the regime.”

Furthermore, the foreign minister threatened that if North Korea continues to defy present and future sanctions, the regime would have to face substantial retribution from the UN. Therefore, not only will the regime’s nuclear testing program come as a direct economic threat to its government and people, it is also fraught with the potential to break the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — an international agreement that strives to maintain nuclear peace. It is especially alarming that North Korea has already withdrawn from this crucial peace-keeping treaty, indicating its resistance to upholding its once-alleged commitment to the diplomatic use of nuclear technology.

However, Yun’s intentions are not only aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear testing wagers, but also to facilitate the reunification of Korea,  a process which the foreign minister recognizes as arduous and delicate. The notion here is that the reunification of North and South Korea will help stabilize Asia and engender a long unseen sense of trust among the Asian nations. It is presumed that global peace is unattainable without first having attained global trust.

Furthermore, the foreign minister elaborates: “The geopolitical plate of the region is going through what I would call tectonic shifts. We are witnessing a rising China, a resurgent Japan, an assertive Russia and an anachronistic North Korea which is simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development.” Therefore, in order for any cohesion to be established among these changing nations, the development of trust is imperative.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: ABC News, BBC, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

Cut off from much of the world, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, is a mystery to most people. The DPRK constantly provokes its southern counterpart with missile tests and hosts odd guests like Dennis Rodman. If you only got your information from the mainstream media, you probably perceive the nation to be an uncontrollable enemy of the United States and the Western world.

Much of the reason why we know very little about this country is because the DPRK government purposely isolates itself and its people. Any political expression is prohibited, unless you are supporting the Kim family establishment. For those looking to get the inside scoop on the DPRK, here are five websites to help you become more informed: This trusted news site provides independent news and intelligence information focused on North Korea. From politics and military to social and culture, NKnews provides a wide array of news and prides itself on being impartial. This company has taken a strong stance against the North Korean regime. Dailynk provides information of widespread human rights and other violations by the government. In hopes to free the people, the publication works to defend human rights, supports democratization and a peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula.

The Korea Herald: This publication is South Korea’s leader in English-language news and boasts over 1 million users. Its National section also includes news on North Korea. News topics include military activity and political tensions between the two neighbors.

The New York Times: The Times is a world-renowned news agency so it is not surprising that they have an extensive archive of news on North Korea. Their 4,612 articles about North Korea covers human rights, international relations, military activity and more. They also have a “Chronology of Coverage” that has updated several times a week since the start of the year.

Reddit, North Korea News: Although not a news site, Reddit’s North Korea News page is probably the largest aggregator of North Korean news articles on the web. People create threads with news articles from all across the internet. Article sources include Bloomberg, The Times, Dailynk, and other international publications. It is a great way to stay updated on anything related to North Korea.

We hope you will visit these websites and stay informed on North Korea. The best way to fight against any misconceptions about a people is to learn about them, and these websites should provide you with some great information!

– Sunny Bhatt

Sources: New York Times, Reddit, The Korea Herald, DailyNK, NK News
Photo: North Korea Herald

North Korea and the United Nations go head to head on matters of human rights. In a resolution passed on March 28, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva condemned North Korea for “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, that continue to be committed in the country.”

The resolution came shortly following a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry conducted earlier in the month, and received acceptance by 30 nations, against six opposing and 11 abstaining.

Many of the human rights violations allegedly occurring in North Korea are unparalleled in a world modernized by the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. A great number of people are detained in prison camps for crimes they did not commit. Their guilt, it seems, is declared by association with family members or close friends of those who allegedly committed political crimes. The Commission report provided evidence for circumstances of rape, murder and torture within the prison labor camps.

North Korean officials did not appreciate the Commission and resolution results. So Se Pyong, North Korea’s UN envoy, claimed the UN Human Rights Council had politically confronted North Korea, putting the nation on the defensive. When UN Human Rights investigators asserted North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un be tried for crimes devastatingly akin to those committed under Nazi rule, the country’s ambassador told the Council to “mind your own business.”

Despite the horrendous situation the investigative Commission has shown, many activists are pleased that the results have led to such strong support for the UN resolution.  Rather than stopping at investigations of nuclear proliferation and weapons development, the United Nations will now be putting Security Council and General Assembly staff to work on bringing justice to North Korea.

At this point, some world powers are wary of the extent that can be done regarding the issue. At most, North Korea could be taken to the International Criminal Court by UNSC, yet China and Russia, both veto powers, voted against the March resolution. However, an increase in investigation could possibly turn the tide. Human rights may not yet be completely universal, but for now the world is making progress.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reuters
Photo: Yahoo

In a bid to better relations with its southward neighbor, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has agreed to allow family reunions with The Republic of Korea for those separated during the Korean War. Initially proposed by President Park Geun-hye early in 2014, the reunion was promptly rejected by North Korea.

However, a news conference from the North Koreans communicated the acceptance of the proposal under the guise of improving relations between the two countries. Between 1985 and 2010, over 22,000 individuals have been reunited with their families as organized by both governments on the peninsula, reports The New York Times.

This development comes as a result of South Korea’s prompt to its northern neighbor to prove their desire to reconcile citing a letter from North Korea which relayed the message of “reconciliation and unity” with South Korea. The letter comes from the National Defense Commission and more directly, Kim Jong-un himself. “The DPRK [North Korea] has already unilaterally opted for halting all acts of getting on the nerves of South Korea and slandering it,” reports the BBC.

However, South Korea and its military ally, the United States, remain wary of either proposal. Previous military provocations despite periodic peace concessions from North Korea keep the two allied nations skeptic. A North Korean disarmament of nuclear arms remains to be realized and this new development may just be another power play from the North.

Furthermore, “Foal Eagle” maneuvers, annual military drills between South Korea and the U.S., are often met with aggression from North Korea. In 2013, North Korea threatened both nations with pre-emptive nuclear strikes, viewing the military collaboration as acts of aggression against the People’s Republic.

“Foal Eagle” will consist of around 10,000 soldiers from both South Korea and the U.S. and is set to begin in February.

In its open letter, North Korea has asked to stop the military drills, to which the U.S. has responded with a clear no—the drills will continue as planned.

Whether or not North Korea is serious in its calls for reconciliation remains to be seen, as will most likely become clear as the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises begin.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: BBC, CNN, New York Times
Photo: Borgen

Despite the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea’s penchant for holding Americans hostage and despising the United States on principle, the country has nonetheless reached out to a Stanford University-led research team to help solve its mounting tuberculosis (TB) crisis.

North Korean doctors first approached Stanford Medical School and California-based tuberculosis experts in 2008. Since that time, the North Korean government has invited members from the Stanford Medical School to address the state of TB in the country, the worst in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Tuberculosis affected 8.6 million people in 2012 and claimed 1.3 million lives. While it is largely eradicated in industrialized societies, the respiratory disease still affects developing countries located in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Western Pacific.

North Korea’s problems with TB arose in the 1990’s, when the country was wracked with floods, droughts and ultimately wide-spread famine after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1990. Without aid from their former Communist ally, widespread malnutrition overwhelmed the country’s inhabitants, resulting in upwards of 2.5 million starvation related deaths.

Improper nutrition coupled with few medical supplies led to a resurgence of TB in the country. In 1998, the Ministry of Public Health began implementing Directly Observed Treatment Short (DOTS) course, a repetitive and now defunct method of TB treatment.

Unlike other regions that evolved their treatment methods (like sub-Saharan Africa,) North Korea continued use of DOTS resulted in Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR TB,) particularly virulent strains of the disease that do not respond to basic antibiotic therapy.

Although North Korea does not keep drug-resistance records, a report by Eugene Bell, an NGO specializing in patient relapse, revealed large numbers of TB relapse in North Korea, signifying particularly high levels of MDR TB.

“We had anecdotal information from North Korean doctors, who were right on this one. They weren’t able to diagnose drug resistance, but they could see what happens when they treated people with drugs and they came back,” says K.J. Seung, a Eugene Bell doctor and author of the MDR TB report in the Public Library of Science. “Now we have original scientific data that clearly documents drug resistance.”

The notoriously xenophobic regime’s plea for help has resulted in the 2013 installation of North Korea’s first diagnostic laboratory to test drug-resistant MDR TB. In collaboration with the TB Consortium and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit working to strengthen global security, the team is dedicated to improving North Korea’s treatment facilities and teaching North Korean doctors modern methods of controlling the disease.

The invitees must remain apolitical and are constantly monitored by minders, government-appointed tour guides that ‘mind’ what one sees and does in the hosting country. Despite these constrictions, researchers have continued their efforts to bolster MDR TB resistance efforts, noting the health of North Korea and the world depends on their efforts.

Emily Bajet

Sources: Global Post DDN News, Stanford, Stanford, Stanford Medical School, North Korea Now, Mother Board, World Health Organization
Photo: Vice

Dennis Rodman is set to visit North Korea for the third time, meeting with its current ruler, Kim Jong-Un, with whom Rodman has established a friendship.

The primary reason for Rodman’s visit is to help train North Korea’s national basketball team, an American sport that the North Korean ruler enjoys. The training is said to last for four days.

Rodman’s visit comes at a time when Jang Song-Thaek, Kim’s uncle, was recently executed by the state on charges of treason and conspiring against the state. The execution was allegedly demonstrated in front of other would-be conspirators of the coup d’état.

The Daily Mail reports that this would be only the beginning of a possible purge set against members of the old regime, under Kim’s father, Kim Jong-Il. Such a display would make room for a newer crew under the new regime.

Furthermore, old state records are being erased, including those of Jang Song-Thaek. The deleted online records were estimated to range upwards to 35,000 documents.

Rodman himself is set to coach the national team in preparation for a match against former NBA players that will be held in the near future. The game, called “Big Bang in Pyongyang,” is to be hosted by Paddy Power, an online gaming company from Ireland.

For the upcoming exhibition match, Rodman hopes to recruit Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen, his former Chicago Bulls teammate.

As for the Obama administration’s response, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, cites that the only comment is the official State Department caution on traveling to North Korea. U.S. citizens should refrain from traveling to an isolationist country – a country with which the U.S. does not have current diplomatic ties.

Rodman’s NBA career consists of five NBA championships. Rodman won his first two championships with the Detroit Spurs between 1989-1990. The latter three were won as a part of the Chicago Bulls between 1996-1998 alongside Michael Jordan.

– Miles Abadilla

Sources: Daily Mail, ESPN, Huffington Post, New York Times, Time Magazine
Photo: World News

This week, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been conducting public hearings on potential human rights violations committed by the DPRK. This was the first panel established to investigate claims of human rights violations by the government of North Korea.

The Commission was started by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March with a one year mandate to investigate such claims. The panel is the most direct confrontation of the North Korean government by the international body.

While the world body has been critical of North Korea’s nuclear program, it has been less vocal about the repressive nature of the country towards its citizens. The International Criminal Court has been accused of focusing predominantly on Africa, while turning a blind eye to the situation in North Korea. The expanded focus of the ICC is an important step for the international community in dealing with problems of this kind.

The DPRK manages to keep a tight grip over its citizens, preventing migration in or out of the country. Without direct access to the country, the international body relies on defectors to provide a glimpse into life in the repressive country.

Although North Korea denies their existence, there are approximately 80,000-120,000 political prisoners held in 5 prison camps across the country. Many prisoners lose their lives during their stay due to the harsh conditions and torture.

North Korea denies committing human rights abuses and has called past UN resolutions on the subject as a part of a ‘political plot’ to destabilize its government. Many defectors hope that the panel will lead to the indictment of Kim Jong-un and his government allies in the International Criminal Court.

As one defector, Shin Dong-hyuk, explained, “We were expendables they were keeping as beasts of labor, to get the most out of us before we die.” Shin, like many others, was forced into a labor camp. Unlike most of his peers, Shin escaped. Shin is now telling his story to the panel in hopes of advocating against the government of North Korea.

A female defector, Hee Heon-a, explained that conditions inside the prison camps are often unbearable for women. Most women are sexually exploited and some are even beaten until they miscarry. Thus far, the commission has identified nine patterns of human rights violations used in the country, such as torture, induced famine, and arbitrary detention.

Later this month, the commission is set to convene in Japan to meet with defectors from the country and those knowledgeable about the abduction of Japanese nationals. The hearings will take place in Tokyo on August 29-30. Government officials, NGOs, and other research organizations are set to take part in the discussion.

The chairman of the Commission, Michael Kirby, said Pyongyang has not yet agreed to participate in the hearings. Although there are few options to prevent such abuses from occurring further, the international community is utilizing the panel as a forum to raise awareness about the human rights abuses in North Korea.

– Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: UN, New York Times, Policy Mic
Photo: Washington Post

North Korea Flood
Throughout the month of July, North Korea has been struggling with severe rainfall. In turn, the United Nations has sent food in order to help the North Korean flood victims.

On July 11, in central areas of North Korea, there was as much as 20 centimeters, or nearly 8 inches of rain. As a comparison, the state of California sees 17.28 inches of rainfall every year. Hawaii has 23.47 inches.

North Korea saw in one day nearly half of the average yearly rainfall in California. Even the state with the most rainfall per year – Louisiana – only has 59 inches per year. So 8 inches would be about 1/7th of Louisiana’s yearly rainfall. It was devastating to the country.

As of July 15, over 750 people were homeless due to the flooding, while two people had been reportedly killed. The flooding has destroyed large areas of farmland in multiple provinces of North Korea, including South Hamkyong, North Hwanghae, and Kangwon.

The farmland that was severely damaged ranged across over 1,700 acres. This puts incredibly pressure on the agricultural sector of North Korea. The flooding has created shortage of crops and food within the country, leaving many people to face starvation. In July 2012, there was worse flooding – 88 people died and 62,000 people were left without homes.

However, this year, the damage has become nearly as devastating as last year’s floods. As of August 6, over 30 people have died while nearly 20 are missing, almost 50,000 have become homeless, and 10,000 (nearly 25,000 acres) hectares of farmland are damaged, and 1,000 (nearly 2,500 acres) hectares of crops are ruined.

Unfortunately, the floods of 2012 left North Korea’s agricultural sector nearly beyond repair. North Korea does not have the technology and infrastructure in order to survive when faced with natural disaster. The country will certainly face crop failure, food scarcities, and other problems within their country due to these unavoidable and devastating floods.

Experts believe the 2013 floods will have “a longer term impact on food security” than last year’s floods; other issues that are arising are the failing of early crops, like potatoes, and concern over public access to water that is safe.

Thankfully, North Korea is not alone in facing these problems. Indeed, the international community is already beginning to come together in order to give aid to those who are facing problems due to the flood, such as hunger and homelessness.

For example, the United Nations, through the UN’s World Food Programme, said that they have officially begun sending aid to North Korea. The aid includes emergency rations of maize to the major flood victims. They will be sending 460 tons to the afflicted country.

The aid will reach about 38,000 people who are living in the areas that have to deal with crop devastation. This is incredibly helpful, since it would be giving emergency aid to those who are forced to fight hunger and the lack of food security. 400 grams will be given to each individual each day for a month.

Another international organization that has come to the aid of North Korea is the International Federation of the Red Cross Crescent Societies (IFRC). They are providing relief aid to the areas that face the flooding, which involves doing whatever is needed within the actual areas of the flood, such as medical care.

Overall, the United Nations is providing a short-term solution to an emergency situation, which will be incredibly helpful to the thousands who will no longer be devastated by hunger. However, there is still much to be done on the long-term for North Korea, and hopefully, the international community will come together in order to help a struggling country.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: Times of India, Global Post, Flood List, Between Waters
Photo: Update News

Relying on a significant amount of guesswork and speculation, the Bank of Korea, headquartered in Seoul, produces an annual report on the North Korean economy. Because North Korea does not release economic data, South Korea’s efforts rely on intelligence gathered by the National Intelligence Service and other institutions, and link that information on North Korea to South Korea’s own growth rates. All of this is in order to compare the growth rate of the two countries, and aid in calculating the cost of the distant goal of reunification of the two countries.

The report found that, surprisingly, economic growth in North Korea has actually expanded for the second year running. The economy grew by 1.3% last year, after a growth rate of 0.8% in 2011. While it is hardly an economic boom – and much of the growth is attributed to international donors and an influx of aid after Typhoon Bolaven in August 2012 – sustained growth is nevertheless significant for the beleaguered nation.

However, expected policy changes from a regime that has prioritized economic growth have so far failed to manifest. Thus, the growth has failed to make an impact on much of the North Korean population. Despite an estimated 3.9% growth last year in agriculture, 2.8 million North Koreans still require food aid as the country once again faces severe food shortages.

Per capita income in North Korea resta at about $1200, despite the recent growth. For perspective, per capita income in South Korea is nearly 20 times higher. One further problem with the North Korean economy that the distribution of wealth is not reflected in estimates of per capita income. Much of the wealth of North Korea is located in the capital city of Pyongyang, the one place in the country where reports of economic growth can be believed. And meanwhile, the wealth gap widens and economic growth continues to fail to reach the citizens who would benefit the most.

– David Wilson

Sources: Wall Street Journal Huffington Post
Sources: Global Grind