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Living Conditions in North Korea
Refugees and journalists consistently cite dire living conditions in North Korea, one of the most repressive authoritarian nations in the world. Leaking information from the secretive police state, they report firsthand knowledge to outsiders. According to these sources, the North Korean government commits severe human rights abuses against its citizens, and the government can barely feed its own people.

A 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry report cited numerous human rights abuses in North Korea, including murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions and sexual violence. The government extracts unquestioning obedience through public executions, arbitrary detention, forced labor, tight travel restrictions and religious persecution. Citizens have no basic freedoms such as the right to expression, assembly, political opposition or independent media. A sociopolitical stratification system divides North Koreans into three classes: “loyal,” “wavering” and “hostile.”

The specter of prison is one means of keeping the population in line. North Korea’s draconian three generations rule punishes the entire immediate family if one member is convicted of a serious crime. The next two generations born in the camp are then detained there for life. Existence in the camps is extreme. Clothing and food are so scarce that prisoners survive on rats and anything else they can catch. Inmates are frequently left stunted and deformed from long hours of hard labor. Twelve-hour days, seven days a week is the normal work schedule.

Life outside of the prison camps has its own grave challenges. Living conditions in North Korea are characterized by deprivation. The elite ruling class enjoys basic benefits of modern life such as indoor plumbing, cars, meat, coffee and a few luxury items. The middle class receives sufficient food and occasional new clothes. Most people, however, struggle to survive. Half of the nation’s 24 million people live in extreme poverty. North Korea’s annual GDP per capita is $1,800, making it 197th in the world and only 2 percent of South Korea’s.

One-third of North Korean children are stunted from malnutrition. For most people, meat is an unaffordable luxury. They subsist on fermented cabbage known as kimchi, rice, corn and porridge. Most homes are heated by open fireplaces, and many have no flush toilets. Electricity, for those fortunate enough to have it, is unreliable and sporadic. Power might be available for only a few hours each day. Frequently, cell phones are used as flashlights during outages.

Theoretically, education and healthcare are free in North Korea. However, school children must provide financially for desks, chairs, building materials and heat. Patients must provide their own medications, pay for heat and cook their own meals at home.

Still, living conditions in North Korea are showing some improvement, particularly for the elite who are privileged enough to reside in the capital of Pyongyang. According to the South Korea Central Bank, the North Korean economy grew by almost 4 percent in 2016. Despite spotty service and no internet, there are now 1.5 million mobile phone users. Even in smaller cities outside of Pyongyang, electric bikes from China and Japan can be seen mingling with the country’s ubiquitous bicycles.

In Pyongyang, people are buying smartphones, tablets, hi-fi speakers and HDTVs. With the exception of accessing the internet, North Korean smartphones have similar capacities to those in other nations. In place of the internet, citizens use a state-controlled intranet. There are North Korean versions of Google, Facebook, chat rooms and online dating. Food courts in Pyongyang malls offer American-style fast food restaurants serving milkshakes and French fries. Skating rinks opened in 2013, ushering in a rollerblading craze for those wealthy enough to afford skates.

Despite difficult living conditions in North Korea, its people make the best of their circumstances. In some ways, their lives are not so different from those in democratic countries. North Koreans play video games and beach volleyball. They enjoy picnics complete with food, beer and karaoke. And of course, their teenagers take lots of selfies. Hope remains that the situation can improve so that all of its people can enjoy the living conditions that its wealthiest citizens currently do.

– Anna Parker

Photo: Flickr

development projects in north koreaRuling out of fear and paranoia produces extreme tension in a state. North Korea remains one of the most oppressive authoritarian states in the world. Ruled by the Kim family and the Worker’s Party of Korea for seven decades, Kim Jong-Un continues the path of oppression through development projects in North Korea under the appearance of betterment and growth.

Development projects in North Korea do offer economic growth, some at the direct expense of citizens. These projects seek to establish an economy that is developed and thriving in order to boost its ability to be a key state in international affairs.

The Pyongyang missile development projects illustrate Kim Jong-Un’s desire to exercise extreme power by developing both nuclear missiles and military power. Creating a military powerful enough to defend borders against potential enemies allows North Korea to pursue self-sufficiency. Developing, testing and moving such missiles produces international tensions, provoking ideas of world wars.

Kim Jong-Un’s focus is not solely on military ventures but also on building orphanages, schools, ski resorts and building complexes. The project for building orphanages and schools was carried out in Wonsan. An additional 22 markets have been built and 60 renovated to grow the economy. In the five years Kim Jong-Un has ruled, the economy has increased by 1 percent to 5 percent per year.

Ten power plant projects have sprouted up to supply power to North Korea. China partnered with North Korea in order to complete two of the construction projects. Reforestation of land within North Korea shows signs of development to restore and recover timber for future logging. North Korea’s forests are used for timber exports and firewood for domestic energy. Reforestation allows for future economic growth in timber sales and exports.

These development projects in North Korea increase the pace of economic growth. However, the funding for such projects comes from bypassing sanctions set out by the U.N., manufacturers supplying funds for military expenses and North Korean workers forced to send wages home for economic projects.

Forced labor, arbitrary arrests, public executions and tightening borders to disallow people from seeking refuge in other countries are some of the harmful actions taken to fulfill development needs within North Korea. These development projects do not provide relief to the citizens but are fraught with corruption.

However, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to try and remedy the human rights abuses in North Korea. Through authorization, a group of independent experts was tasked to defend victims of human rights abuses. The council enacted the International Criminal Court as a mechanism to hold human right violators accountable.

North Korea is oppressive in its pursuit of economic growth, but with sanctions and accountability enacted by trade partners and organizations, the benefits from development projects in North Korea could possibly be more evenly dispersed among all citizens.

– Bronti DeRoche

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights Abuses in North Korea
The Kim regime has continued to inflict disturbing human rights abuses in North Korea on its people. As a result, to help keep America as well as innocent citizens of North Korea safe, the House has voted unanimously on a critical and bipartisan North Korea human rights bill.

According to Newsweek, North Korea’s authoritarian regime has “snatched” teenagers out of their schools to be Kim Jong-un’s apparent sex slaves, forces members of the country’s upper class to watch executions and its leaders are perfectly content to eat expensive foods while the rest of his people subsist on grass.

Reuters recently reported that executions are often carried out in prison camps to instill fear and intimation among prison inmates that are contemplating an escape attempt. Public executions are carried out for minor crimes and distribution of South Korean media can also lead to execution.

According to NK Daily, a person in North Korea can be sentenced to death for communicating with the outside world, and a minimum of ten years of reeducation is the punishment for listening to South Korean media or another foreign radio.

The bill to combat human rights abuses in North Korea is a reauthorization of a 2004 North Korea human rights law that will add to the measure of new provisions aimed at spreading uncensored information throughout the country to inform the citizens of North Korea what is happening in the outside world. It will enact important snippets of updates that have to do with freedom and technological advances that are beyond radio broadcasting.

Chairman Ed Royce and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy recently stated that “the truth is Kim Jong-un’s greatest enemy. So as we step up sanctions to cut off the cash that funds Kim’s nuclear program, we must also break down barriers to truth in North Korea. This bill will update critical efforts to get real, accurate information into the hands of North Koreans through radio broadcasts, USB drives, mobile devices, and more. When Kim Jong-un has to answer to the North Korean people, he will pose far less danger to us.”

– Sara Venusti

Photo: Flickr

Worst Dictators still alive

The worst dictators have a strange kind of fame. Many manage to escape widespread awareness until their regime turns irredeemably bloody or repressive. As a result of their bizarre behaviour and the extensive list of human rights violations committed under their rule, figures such as Idi Amin, Muammar Qaddafi and Kim Jong Il are now household names. Yet their notoriety grew at the end of their reigns, when their own people had revolted or their regime was nearing its final days. However, there are a number of dictators in the world in power today committing great crimes against their own people unchecked. Here are the top 5 worst dictators in the world.

1. Isias Afewerki, Eritrea

In power since 1993, Afewerki has plunged Eritrea into a living nightmare for its residents. Starting out, as many do, as an idealistic young revolutionary, Afewerki was chosen as the country’s first president after its liberation from Ethiopia. Yet after gaining the position, Afewerki essentially cut off democracy, with the country operating under a one party system and no free press. Interceptions from cables paint a desperate picture of the nation, as seen in the excerpt: ”Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea’s prisons are overflowing, and the country’s unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant.”

2. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan

Though he has been in power during comparatively good economic times, Omar al-Bashir has led Sudan to becoming one of the bloodiest and most conflicted countries in the region. Bashir was at the helm of the country during Sudan’s horrific genocide, which saw upward of 300,000 deaths, largely at the hands of militant groups that were said to have government support. He has been accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. The unceasing violent conflicts that characterized his reign ultimately led to South Sudan’s secession from the state. The new territory, however, quickly entered into war with Sudan over oil disputes and into yet another bloody conflict.

3. Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan

Ruling since 1989, Karimov’s term was first extended, and then he was reinstated in a sham election which was discounted entirely by watchdogs, against a political opponent who publicly admitted he himself had voted for Karimov. There is little to no religious or press freedom, with universities told not to train students in the realm of public issues. Brutal torture is seen as routine in the Uzbek judicial system, with Human Rights Watch expressing repeated concern over the accepted practices in Uzbek prisons. Karimov is still to call for an investigation into the Andijan massacre, where hundreds of people were killed. He also made international headlines in 2002 after evidence emerged that he had boiled one of his prisoners to death. Repeatedly named as one of ‘Parade’ magazine’s worst dictators, international rights groups have had great difficulty in breaching Uzbekistan’s borders and little success in implementing reforms.

4. Bashar Al-Assad, Syria

In a stunning display of irony, Syria’s blood-soaked dictator started his career in medicine and is a trained ophthalmologist. Inheriting power after his father and older brother died, Assad’s cruelty showed after the start of the Arab Spring. After a violent crackdown on not only rebels, but civilians, his government has no real way of restoring order and remaining in power, yet Assad stubbornly refuses to concede to any agreements. Many international leaders have called on Assad to recognize the reality of the Syrian rebellion and step down, with Britain even stating it would consider taking in Assad if it meant his departure from the state. Support from Iran and Russia, however, have strengthened the leader long enough to continue Syria’s endless and bloody war, with Assad himself showing no signs of remorse or weakening of resolve.

5. U Thein Sein, Myanmar

Thein Sein started on the right foot. His actions in opening up Myanmar garnered praise from Western leaders such as Barack Obama and Ban-Ki Moon and he was recently given a peace award from the International Crisis Group. This image sits uncomfortably with the Thein Sein of recent days. Having initially opened dialogue with Myanmar’s Aung Sang Suu Kyi, she was again recently threatened, as was a Democracy League operating in the country. He is also accused of blatantly ignoring a deepening crisis in his own country with the violent persecution of the Royingha Muslims. His actions in response to the crisis have attracted accusations of ethnic cleansing. In response, Thein Sein has recently spoken to the international press making clear that he is not afraid to use violence to maintain order, with the unsettling statement, “I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of the general public.”

Sources: Parade, HRW, Foreign Policy,  BBC
Photo: Atlanta Blackstar