Dear President Kim Jong-Un
Supreme Leader of North Korea
We write this letter to you to raise a number of points that would demonstrate the depth of international concern about your country. In so doing, our wish is to help you improve your country’s image, strengthen your leadership and help the people of North Korea.
2013 can be a time of opportunity for you to open a door that has long been shut without regard to the shifts in the world around. You can start off by reworking some policies and practices perpetuated since your father’s time—for the wellbeing of your own people.
More than 200,000 men, women and children are still being held in prisons and gulag camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Most of them have been incarcerated for political reasons and are not guilty of any internationally recognised crimes. Prisoners have to endure conditions that resemble the worst forms of human rights abuse and many die of starvation.
The human rights of the people of North Korea are routinely violated, despite its ratification of numerous international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
People are living in constant fear and insecurity, knowing if they do not follow the government-scripted codes of conduct it could result in the loss of their freedom, basic human rights, and their lives. They are subject to enforced disappearance, “unfree labour”, torture and execution.
The DPRK government stands guilty of crimes against humanity and flagrant violations of international laws. It is accused of arresting people on false premises and giving harsh penalties for small offences.
Millions of North Koreans are suffering from hunger, malnutrition and inadequate health care. According to our understanding, the DPRK government has the capacity and resources to offer a minimum level of care to people but apparently it is neglecting it.
Let’s face it. People’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of religion are not acknowledged in your country. Access to and sharing of information is restricted. The voices of dissent are ruthlessly suppressed. Whatever we know and hear about North Korea—considered to be the most tightly closed-off region in the world—come through the filter of a state-controlled media.
Food Shortages and Famines
In March 2011, a joint UN survey estimated that over six million people in North Korea urgently required international food assistance to avoid famine. The World Food Programme called it the worst famine in a decade. Several NGOs and media outlets reported hunger-related deaths.
Some of the causes of the famine are harsh winters, destruction of harvests through floods, economic mismanagement, and the government’s discriminating food policies that favour the military, government officials, and other loyal groups.
Since 1995 the United States has provided North Korea with over $1 billion in help, about 60 percent of which was given as food aid and 40 percent for energy, according to a Congressional Research Service report in 2008. The aid was suspended halfway through due to a lack of transparency in aid distribution and the escalating tensions caused by the North’s nuclear missile tests and restrictions on international monitors.
More recently, reports surfaced about a ‘hidden famine’ in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae, killing up to 10,000 people so far. People were so desperate to ward off starvation that incidents of cannibalism rose dramatically. Yes, it is hard to believe in this modern age but ‘numerous testimonies’ have confirmed the shocking findings.
The international community is always willing to provide assistance to a people in need. But it is ironic that when you ask for food aid, the first question that comes to their mind is: will it be really delivered to the people for whom it is given, or it will be manoeuvred like before? They fear the fund might be used for military purposes.
Torture and Abuse of Human Rights
Individuals arrested on criminal charges often face torture by officials aiming to enforce obedience and extract bribes and information. Common forms of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings with iron rods or sticks, kicking and slapping, and enforced sitting or standing for hours. Prisoners are subject to pigeon torture, in which they are forced to cross their arms behind their back, are handcuffed and hung in the air tied to a pole, and finally beaten with a club causing loss of circulation or limb-atrophy that often leads to death within weeks.
Guards sometimes rape female detainees. One study done in 2010 found that 60 percent of refugee respondents who had been incarcerated saw a death due to beating or torture. Incidents of cannibalism were also reported in some prison camps as a result of confiscation of meat rations by prison officials.
North Korea’s Criminal Code stipulates that death penalty could be applied only for a small set of crimes, but these include vaguely defined offences such as “crimes against the state” and “crimes against the people” that could be and are applied broadly. What is concerning is that your government exercises inhuman methods of torture and execution.
In 2001, a condemned inmate had got his body torn apart by guard dogs as executioners fired. Three bullets shattered his skull, splattering blood near other prisoners who were forced to watch.
According to statements of some defectors, forced abortions have also become a common practice, and if babies are born, many of them are killed, sometimes before their mothers’ eyes.
Forced Labour Camps
Testimonies from escapees have established that persons accused of political offences are usually sent to forced labour camps, known as “gwalliso”, operated by the National Security Agency.
The Kwan-li-so are gulags or concentration camps that, as of 2003, unlawfully detained about 200,000 North Koreans in a total of six to eight camps in remote valleys guarded by high mountains, in the country’s northern provinces. The Kwan-li-so violates international laws on multiple grounds and are generally charged with various crimes against humanity such as forced internment, forced labour, torture, rape, forced abortion, starvation, and death without charge or trial.
It is unfortunate that your government still practices collective punishment, sending people to forced labour camps to work under a “guilt-by-association” system (yeon-jwa-je), where not only the offender but also his or her relatives such as parents, spouse, children, and even grandchildren have to work. Some defected guards have said that they were taught to treat prisoners as national traitors who must suffer condemnation up to three generations of their families.
These camps are notorious for their inhumane living conditions and gross human rights violations, including severe food shortages, little or no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, mistreatment and torture by guards, and executions.
Forced labour at the gwalliso often involves strenuous manual labour such as mining, logging, and agricultural work, all done with rudimentary tools in dangerous and harsh conditions. Death rates in these camps are reportedly extremely high.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Your government has criminalised leaving the country without state permission and those who leave face harsh punishment if caught, including interrogation, torture, and other penalties. Those suspected of religious or political activities, including contact with South Koreans, are given lengthier terms in horrendous detention facilities or forced labour camps with chronic food and medicine shortages, harsh working conditions, and mistreatment by guards.
Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have fled since the 1990s, and some have settled in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Beijing categorically labels North Koreans in China “illegal” economic migrants and routinely repatriates them.
A number of North Korean women and girls have been trafficked into marriage or prostitution in China. Many children of such unrecognised marriages have been forced to live without a legal identity or access to elementary education, because their parents fear that if they register they would be identified by Chinese authorities and forcibly sent back home.
Your country’s judiciary system is not independent as all staff including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, court clerks and jury members are appointed and controlled by the Supreme People’s Assembly. The judges remain highly vulnerable to threats from the government which can subject them to “criminal liability” for handing down “unjust judgments.” The penal code, with definitions of offences and penalties often ambiguous and open to interpretation, is not also consistent with the principles of modern criminal law.
Anything done in opposition to the regime is treated as political crimes, leading to strict punishment and subjugation. When a person is arrested for political crimes, suspects are not even sent through a nominal judicial process; after interrogation they are either executed or sent to a forced labour camp, often with their entire families.
Your government uses fear by threats of forced labour and public executions to prevent dissent, and imposes harsh restrictions on freedom of information, association, assembly, and travel.
Your government periodically investigates the “political background” of the citizens to review their level of allegiance to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WRK), and forces those who fail such assessments to leave the capital.
A strong leadership for a battered economy like yours is essential. But you seem to have chosen your father’s military-first policy instead of a peaceful and diplomatic process. Your actions stand in direct contrast to your pronounced resolve to rebuild your country’s moribund economic condition.
This was proven once again on Saturday (26 January) when you decided to take the path of “retaliation” in response to an American-led United Nations sanction on North Korea. You have reportedly ordered your party officials to take “substantial and high-profile state measures” to conduct a third nuclear test to show your ability to “target” the U.S. But the sanction, which was also a response to your government’s December 12 rocket launching, was not uncalled-for. Carrying out such expensive and destructive experiments is not the way to boost an impoverished economy.
Dear President Kim Jong-Un, have you ever paused for a moment and considered how you really want to be remembered by your people? As a dictator? Or a people’s leader? Perhaps you should. How you are remembered would be determined by how you act as a statesman.
The fact is, your treatment of your people resembles the way some former dictators used to treat their people, sending them to camps or execute them. Hitler organised the execution of the Holocaust, the systematic extermination of six million Jews and millions of other non-Aryans. Josef Stalin deliberately orchestrated the famine that claimed between 7 and 11 million lives in Ukraine and in parts of the Soviet Union. Pol Pot, through his hegemonic agrarian socialism, caused the deaths of approximately 26 percent of the total Cambodian population.
These dictators died a very disgraceful death. Not to mention, their people hated them for what they did and associated them with all that is evil and heinous. We urge you to take lesson from their fates and end all violations of human rights in your country.
We urge you to abandon the decades-long systematic pattern of human rights abuses committed by Pyongyang against its people and sincerely hope that you will create your own legacy. You can restore the North Koreans’ trust in their rulers and gain their respect by upholding their human rights.
If you want to be remembered as the man who stood against the current and abandoned a brutal legacy, it is the time. Your people need democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion. We are in the 21st century and there is no room for dictatorship at the expense of precious lives and basic rights.
Your late father, Kim Jong-II, isolated your people from the modern world, so much so that those few North Koreans who managed to escape had to spend several months in special care schools to adjust themselves to the ways of the 21st century.
Whom are you trying to punish? The western world doesn’t suffer from this, only your people do. Last year’s rocket launch failure cost your government $850 million, enough to feed millions who are starving to death.
Women suffer the most in a famine situation; every 40 of 1000 women had died in the previous famines. They also suffer due to the gendered structure of North Korean society. Women face problems like anaemia, premature birth and haemorrhage because of vitamin deficiency.
Children also face high mortality rates. The main reason behind the deaths of infants under two is the lack of breastfeeding. A child may die because of various reasons such as prenatal, neonatal and postnatal complications. A child may die even long after it was born owing to reasons of malnutrition, infections and so on. So, a high-impact prevention policy is necessary to redress the mortality problems.
Another thing that you should look into is the violation of individual’s right to privacy. Every home in your country is forced to set up a portrait of the “Great Leader” Kim II Sung and the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong II. Inspectors come on a surprise visit and hand out fines if the portraits are not well-kept. Every adult citizen must also wear a button of Kim II Sung!
It is quite ironic that since its establishment, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea could never justify the purpose of its official name. When a country’s name says it is democratic, it has a moral obligation to be so. Its leadership should work towards uplifting the democratic values and allow people to apply their choices to elect or change their own representatives. If North Korea is a democratic state, it is indeed the worst kind of it in the entire history of democracy. There can be no justification for Mao Tse-Tung—styled “people’s democratic dictatorship,” which is only an extended version of dictatorship sustaining repression and regimentation.
A democracy should serve its people’s interests and work for their prosperity by empowering them with the power of their rights and freedom to choose their path of livelihood. The citizens of North Korea under your leadership are far from getting any such privileges. Over the years their lives have been made miserable and their rights deliberately denied.
We, on behalf of your people who have no means to express themselves, would like to pose a few questions which may provide some food for your thought:
Q.1. Being a young leader of this country, what are the ways you seek to bring the lives of the people at par with the lives of those on the other side of the DMZ?
Q.2. Do you and your regime still think you have the consent and mandate from common people to continue your job?
Q.3. In this world of globalisation, is this right to keep North Korea isolated and its people more like distant aliens away from the advancements of civilisation?
Q.4. Is it not your duty to respect the rights of your people who have obeyed your family’s leadership for decades, albeit with little improvement in their living conditions?
Q.5. In what context does your leadership thinks that North Korea could be a role model for peace and humanity for the world?
Q.6. Are nuclear weapons more important than your people’s prosperity? Should they remain hungry and half-fed to fuel your baseless ambitions?
Q.7. Does North Korea’s age-old socialistic framework, which has no acceptance and practicability in this age of democracy, still holds the future for its people?
Mr. President, before you answer these questions, you must first think that even those whom your regime has followed as leadership models were washed over by the tides of time and their system had to be remodelled to suit the needs of a changing world.
You should analyse your position in light of that. The direction in which you and regime have being heading has outlived its relevance. You must change your direction now and democracy is all you have at the moment. You are standing at a crossroads in history and a bold decision can seal your place permanently in the heart of your people. Even with a functional democracy you can continue your lineage and continue to serve your people.
Our humble wish is that you would be able to rise to the occasion and do what must be done today or tomorrow.
On behalf of ‘The Oslo Times’
Editor in Chief