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

One glance at Pyongyang, North Korea, and an outsider would surmise that the country was prospering. Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, is an impressive city that stands as the crown jewel of the country. However, the contrast between Pyongyang and other North Korean cities is seemingly boundless. The true reality of North Korea seen away from the capital; the poverty, hunger, and desperation is on full display in every other location in the country.

On a regular weekday rush hour morning, the squeak of bicycle tires and the blaring voice of the dictator override all other sounds. Occasionally, a single car may be seen crossing the street. In these other cities outside of the capital, Pyongyang, the scarcity of electricity and dirty streets tell a different tale.

Not only are the other urban areas of North Korea struggling, but the rural areas are also struggling along with the cities.

The people in rural North Korea are simply struggling to live from one day to another, lacking the basic necessities to survive. During the cold winter months, these North Koreans have to gather firewood throughout the day. Not for the benefit of being warm, but for their survival. The people in these areas are extremely underweight, and many have hair falling out from extreme malnutrition.

The world outside of North Korea:

Annual GDP per capita is about $1,800, which ranks 197th in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. GDP is 28 times higher in the United States and 18 times higher in South Korea.

– About half of North Korea’s population of 24 million lives in “extreme poverty,” according to  the KUNI reports.

– One-third of children are stunted, due to malnutrition, according to the World Food Program.

– The life expectancy, 69, has fallen by five years since the early 1980s, according to the blog North Korea Economy Watch. The blog notes that those figures are based on official statistics, so the real numbers could be even lower.

– Inflation may be as high as 100%, due to mismanagement of the currency.

– Most workers earn $2 to $3 per month in pay from the government. Some work on the side or sell goods in local markets, earning an extra $10 per month or so.

– Most homes and apartments are heated by open fireplaces burning wood or briquettes. Many lack flush toilets.

– Electric power is sporadic and unreliable, with homes that have electricity often receiving just a few hours per day.

– Parents who send their kids to schools are expected to provide desks, chairs, building materials and cash to pay for heating fuel. Some students are put to work producing goods for the government or gathering up discarded materials. Parents can bribe teachers to exempt their kids from labor or just keep them away from school, even though that violates official policy.

– North Korea has a “free” medical system, but hospital patients must pay for their own drugs, cover the cost of heat, and prepare all their own meals at home.

– Zachary Wright
Sources: Huffington PostCNNTelegraphUS News
Photo: NY Daily 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

Aid Workers Still In North Korea
While tensions have been escalating over the last few weeks between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States, United Nations humanitarian aid and development workers are still working inside North Korea.

North Korea began to increase the frequency and severity of its statements after the passing of United Nations sanctions. Today 36 U.N. workers from around the world are still working in the country alongside 21 North Korean workers. A North Korean official claimed that foreigners should contemplate leaving the country, saying that they could not promise their safety after April 10. The fact that the humanitarian aid workers continue their work in such a tense and potentially dangerous situation is a testament to the spirit of the people who are working to help improve the lives of those living in severe poverty. United Nations representatives are concerned about the safety of their staff but say that they will be closely studying North Korea’s actions and later decide what they see as the appropriate course of action.

As the United States is more and more involved in the international scene with North Korea, South Korea has maintained US support of the aforementioned aid workers. Even while N. Korea’s leadership claims to be at the point of declaring war these people are still working to help the many people suffering from malnutrition and severe poverty there in North Korea. These workers provide a true testament to the global passion to help others and fight poverty.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: Reuters

dennis and kim

Last month, ex-NBA basketball player, Dennis Rodman, did what many political leaders will never have the opportunity to do. He made the long trip over to North Korea and met with its mysterious and very powerful leader, Kim Jong Un.

North Korea is known for its isolation, yet, recently, has begun to make huge headlines in the United States. North Korea and the United States have never been allies and tension between the two countries have existed for years. North Korea’s nuclear test last month has only increased this tension, making new threats against American military bases in Japan and in Guam even more pressing and serious. The threat came earlier this month from a spokesperson for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army, who said “the U.S. should not forget that the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, where B-52s take off, and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are within the striking range of the D.P.R.K.’s precision strike means.” Videos depicting the White House and Congress buildings being blown up have recently come out of North Korea.

Yet, even with all of this, communication between President Obama and Kim Jong Un has been very little. In fact, any communication on the matter, is made through the media. The spokesperson for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army made his statement to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The Pentagon retaliated by making a rare announcement about the missions nucelar-capable B-52 bombers have and will continue to take over South Korea.

Chances of any U.S. political official making his or her way to a police state, such as North Korea is very rare. And, yet, Dennis Rodman recently acted as an ambassador for the Harlem Globetrotters, flying to North Korea to meet and spend two days with Kim Jong Un.

Dennis Rodman has come back with a lot of insight into Kim Jong Un, making it seem as if the North Korean dictator is willing to speak directly with President Obama to meet some sort of peace agreement. He even offered advice to Kim Jong Un in talking to President Obama, saying, “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there.” While President Obama has not made any efforts to talk to Kim Jong Un, Dennis Rodman has been making his rounds to talk about his trip to North Korea, appearing on many talk and news shows. Recently he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and referred to Kim Jong Un as his friend and a nice guy. In an interview on “This Week,” Dennis Rodman on talking about Kim Jong Un said, “I love him. He’s awesome.”

Whether or not Dennis Rodman’s knowledge of North Korea and Kim Jong Un will be helpful to the United States in its dispute with North Korea is unknown as U.S. State Department officials have no plans to debrief the former basketball star. Former deputy assistant secretary of state, Col. Steve Ganyard, finds this ridiculous as  “There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman.”

-Angela Hooks

Sources: CNN, NY Times, ABC News
Photo: CBS News

FAO Encourages Food Security in North Korea
With their recent posturing and threats of nuclear destruction to both South Korea and the United States, North Korea has been a hot topic of many newspaper headlines and evening news programs. Surprisingly though, little attention has been paid to the chronic lack of food security in North Korea, an issue that the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has been trying to address for years.

The gross human rights violations of Kim Jong-un notwithstanding, North Korean civilians have been the greatest casualty of the failed agricultural and food reapportionment policies of the government. By shutting out much of the international community, including various NGOs and aid workers, progress has been slow in devising a realistic solution to the problem of food security in North Korea. The most recent FAO mission report on food security in North Korea is startling, with both soybean oil and vegetable production down dramatically, raising concerns that were highlighted by mission leader Kisan Gunjal when he remarked that “The country needs to produce more protein-rich foods like soybean and fish and to put more effort into growing two crops a year so a more varied diet is available for everyone.”

However, there were bright spots on the horizon as annual staple food production has been growing over the past couple of years, effectively mitigating the amount of acute malnutrition in the population. Overall, the FAO was satisfied with the improvements their targeted aid has made in specific areas, yet considerable headway still remains in combating children’s vulnerability to shock and pregnant and nursing mothers’ levels of malnutrition. DPRK Country Director Claudia von Roehl commented on the status of food security in North Korea when stating that while harvest figures were optimistic, “the lack of proteins and fats in the diet is alarming” as there are still about two million children in the country who are in need of healthy, balanced diets.

Brian Turner

Source: FAO News
Photo: Time

North Korean Prison Camps Uncovered Using Google Earth
Using new Google Earth images, analysts and human rights groups have uncovered visual proof of several prison camps operating in the oppressive North Korean state. Long an unconfirmed and secret program that the country continually denied as foreign propaganda, the regime’s prison camps are now verifiable through high-definition satellite imagery.

The UN has been encouraged by rights groups to investigate the situation that has persisted for nearly 50 years, as there are thought to be nearly 200,000 political and civilian prisoners held in a series of camps – many detained as punishment for attempting to flee North Korea in search of food or work, according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission.

With the release of the latest satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth, a newly constructed prison camp can be seen in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, that did not exist when the last images were released in 2006, according to the North Korean Economy Watch website. Analysts were able to determine such details as a 13-mile-long fence, with two checkpoints and six guard posts, and a seemingly nonoperational coal mine.

Reports of conditions inside North Korea’s prison camps have been few and far between, as very few prisoners have ever escaped alive, with little chance of ever leaving the prison at all once they are in. The accounts of life inside, where perceived “enemies” of the regime and three generations of their family can become imprisoned for the rest of their lives, are extremely harrowing. Such stories include prisoners “forced to to survive by eating rats and picking corn kernels out of animal waste.”

Other such conditions include abuse, torture, sexual violence, and disease; analysts suspect that nearly 40 percent of prisoners die of starvation and malnourishment, while those who survive are worked to death in harsh conditions for up to 16 hours per day. Prisoners who attempt to escape and are caught face execution.

The role of Google Earth has played a large part in the increased amount of knowledge that rights groups have available on the prison system. Former prisoners have, with the improvement in imagery that is now high-definition, been able to work with analysts in pinpointing the exact features of the prison camps that they were in, including their barracks and camp execution grounds.

Although the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, stated that steps are needed in order to take stronger action against the regime, she also acknowledged that the UN had hoped that the change in leadership would improve the human rights situation in the country. Ms. Pillay stated that the UN will look into creating an international investigation into the North Korean prison camps system since it is clear that the situation is not improving.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Telegraph


Earlier this week, North Korea set off its latest nuclear test, defying United Nations resolutions in a move President Obama called “highly provocative” as he promised swift action from international allies and the U.N. Security Council. The latest nuclear test was the country’s most powerful to date and was North Korea’s response to “American hostility” which was quickly condemned by the international community, including the country’s only ally, China.

North Korea is one of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world, with ongoing drought and famine plaguing its population of nearly 24.5 million. The communist regime has continued to build up a large military and allocated resources to further its nuclear program, with attempts at showing military power including launching ballistic missiles, sending satellites into space and two prior nuclear tests. Marcus Noland, with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, concludes that “the development of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems is the central political goal of this regime.”

Famous for its secretive and oppressive government and numerous human rights offenses, it is estimated that nearly 2.5 million citizens have died since the continuous famine starting in the 1990s. Rural communities are still plagued by starvation and a serious food shortage – conditions that the government continually downplays to international agencies. Andrew Natsios, author of The Great North Korean Famine, states “the quid pro quo of food aid for scaling back the nuclear program has become a pattern in the authoritarian state, which then reneges on the deal.” Natsios also asserts that the current food shortage and severe poverty are affecting an entire generation of North Koreans, with no end in sight. Citing evidence of severe malnutrition, the average North Korean soldier is 10 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart.

Despite the deplorable conditions, North Korea has continued to aggressively increase military and nuclear programs, having the “third-largest land army in Asia,” while an estimated 8.7 million people remain destitute and in need of food aid.

The United States and other international powers are encouraging new sanctions at the U.N. Security Council that will slow North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile development, but the consequences of North Korea’s defiance of U.N. resolutions and defiance of its usual Chinese allies for much-needed food-aid are still unclear.

Christina Mattos Kindlon

Source: CBC News; US News