North Korea political prisoners betrayed at summit

In the prelude to the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, Robert Park, himself a survivor of Kim Jong-un's prisons, called in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post for an amnesty for North Korea's tens of thousands of political prisoners to be a condition of any peace deal. He recalled a 2014 UN report (PDF) finding that up to 120,000 were being held in camps in North Korea, and subjected to "unspeakable atrocities and hardships." Most are held in life-imprisonment slave labor complexes called "absolute control zones" (wanjeontongjekyooyeok or kwanliso). The report found that these prisoners "have no prospect of securing release [and] are subject to gradual extermination through starvation and slave labour…with the apparent intent to extract a maximum of economic benefit at a minimum of cost." Park quoted Thomas Buergenthal, a survivor of both Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen who served as a judge at the International Court of Justice, who said: "I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps…"

Park concluded: "As the Korean war appears to finally be over and peace proclaimed – no possible pretext exists for the detention of those inside the kwanliso. So any peace accord with Kim must guarantee the complete, verifiable and irreversible release of all prisoners of conscience, political and religious prisoners together with their families."

When questioned about his complete failure to address human rights at the meeting in a post-summit press conference, Trump responded: "All I can do is do what I can do. We have to stop the nuclearization. We have to do other things, and thats a very important thing."

But is it clear that any progress was even made toward de-nuclearization? BBC's Laura Bicker is skeptical. She notes that closest we've got to anything concrete is Trump's vague statement that Kim said he would to close a missile testing site. This is not even mentioned in the actual text of the agreement the two leaders signed, and as NPR  points out, it is not even clear which site is referred to. Defense One speculates: "Perhaps it was the Iha-ri Driver Training and Test Facility, which the North Koreans are already razing."

Trump's pledge to call off the relentless joint military exercises with South Korea is something anti-war voices in the RoK and around the world have been demanding for years—but let's see what comes of it. Meanwhile, the sudden "leftist" enthusiasm for Trump is sickening to behold. The predictable Robert Scheer gushes on his TruthDig about how the Trump-Kim lovefest was "A Victory for Sanity in World Politics," and admonishes us not to "nitpick this courageous step." Once again we have the notion of Trump as a hippie pacifist. "President Trump gave peace a chance," Scheer opens—seemingly forgetting the terrifying nuclear saber-rattling that preceded this spectacle.    

In contrast, Republican senators are askance at the summit, demanding that Congress get to vote on any deal with the DPRK, The Hill reports. Kinda seeming like we're through the looking glass here, eh?

And of course Trump, with his accustomed fondness for despots, is lavishing praise on Kim, speaking of a "very special bond" with the tyrant. "Well, he is very talented," Trump said. "Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough. I don't say he was nice." (The Hill)

As the Daily News notes, Trump even broached building condos on North Korea's beaches in his post-summit press conference. We could live to see it—tourists enjoying the surf from insulated luxury, while 120,000 languish in concentration camps, facing unspeakable atrocities.

Tellingly, Trump was schmoozing the dictator who runs the most totalitarian regime on the planet just days after alienating leaders of the world's most powerful remaining bourgeois democracies (we're not even sure the US counts as that anymore) at the G7 summit in Quebec. While Kim was embraced with a "special bond," Trump's trade official Peter Navarro said there was a "special place in hell" for… Justin Trudeau. (NYT)

One senses that Fox News host Abby Huntsman had a Freudian slip when she referred to the Trump-Kim summit as a meeting of "two dictators." (AP)

This lovefest between a dictator and a wannabe dictator smells to us like a further consolidation of Trump's Fascist World Order. While the peaceniks paradoxically cheer the right-wing demagogue, we are reminded yet again of the old anarchist slogan: "Neither your war nor your peace."

Map of North Korea's principal concentration camps via One Free Korea

  1. Problematic anti-war statement on North Korea

    War Resisters League endorses a "Statement of Unity by Korean Americans and Allies on the Historic Inter-Korean Summit and the U.S.-North Korea Summit." The text of the statement in inoffensive enough, if obvious—welcoming the Trump-Kim summit, calling for a formal end to hostilities, etc. It is problematic in the predictable way, stating, "The United States is responsible for endless war in…Syria…" with no mention of Russia, which has been bombing the hell out of Syria for almost three years now. But far worse is the list of other endorsers: alongside Jesse Jackson and the inevitable Noam Chomsky are the egregious Jill Stein, ANSWER, International Action Center, US Peace Council, Workers World Party and Popular Resistance—all deeply embarassing. Even more blatant is the Slobodan Milosevic International Committee!!! Yet, seemingly, a great deal of Korean-American community organizations also signed. Has the pro-fascist pseudo-left really gotten to them all?

  2. North Korea is already capitalist, it appears

    Trump and Kim Jong-un are meeting for their second summit in Hanoi, where the American wannabe dictator is reportedly lecturing his North Korean buddy to embrace capitalism like the good communists in Vietnam. (CNN) We're reminded of a quip from one South Korean official after the last summit that there could soon be a "Trump Tower Pyongyang." (PBS NewsHour) Don't worry, we'll probably live to see it. Now the New York Times Magazine runs a feature in which writer Travis Jeppesen describes hanging with the donju ("money masters," or yuppies) at a North Korean gastro-pub. The hipsters are already colonizing Pittsburgh. Pyongyang next?

    The jangmadang or unofficial markets that emerged spontaneously in the "Ardous March" of the 1990s are also well entrenched, seemingly tolerated in a legal "grey zone."

    For those paying attention, there have already been more than enough signs that North Korea is thoroughly capitalist.

  3. Scaled-down military exercises in South Korea

    The US and South Korea held their annual joint military exercises last month. But they were scaled down to mostly computer-simulated war scenarios, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and deadlock on a cost-sharing agreement between the two countries. (AP)

  4. Rights group finds North Korea uses prisoners to boost exports

    A South Korean human rights group, the¬†Citizens’¬†Alliance for North Korea Human Rights (NKHR),¬†released a¬†report¬†on Thursday stating that North Korea is using forced labor from its prison camps to mine coal and other minerals to boost exports and earn foreign currency. The group alleged that North Korea is using the money generated from the scheme to support its nuclear weapons programs. (Jurist)

  5. ‘Coup’ attempt in North Korea?

    North Korean defector and human rights activist¬†Yeonmi Park¬†on her YouTube vlog,¬†Voice of North Korea, relates a supposed recent incident in the city of Pyongsong, in which some¬†1,500¬†army¬†conscripts, angered at being assigned to mandatory industrial and agricultural labor after completing their 10-year¬†military service, staged an armed revolt. She describes it as an attempted “coup d’etat,” although it sounds more like a local mutiny, which was shortly put down by “special forces.” No information on casualties is given, nor are any sources cited.

    We can find nothing online about this, although¬†Daily NK¬†reported in April 2014 that soldiers assigned to a construction brigade in Pyongsong got into a “standoff”¬†with local civilians over access to food. It seems the soliders, receiving insufficient rations, were raiding civilian food stocks, angering the local residents.

    One wonders how many such incidents are happening in North Korea, without word ever reaching the outside world.

  6. Popular uprising in North Korea?

    We are again unsure what to make of it, but North Korean defector and popular vlogger Yeonmi Park claims in her latest episode that the town of Musan, near the border with China, was the scene of a popular uprising that had to be put down by army troops. Apparently, police arrested and brutalized women who were selling contraband goods at a market; their husbands and other townspeople attacked the police station in an effort to free them, weilding farm implements and other improvised weapons. Again, no precise date is given, nor any source for the claim.

    We can find nothing about this on Google News, although¬†Daily NK¬†reported last November that local members of a narcotics enforcement unit in Musan, the¬†617 Division, were arrested for “misconduct,” including “illegal accumulation of assets.”

    We have noted before sporadic reports of protest within North Korea. But we must again call upon Yeonmi Park to provide more information, and make clear what her sources are. Obviously, this can be done without revealing the identity of informants.