Corée du nord: Le goulag caché (The hidden gulag – in full satellite view!)

Nk_prison_1Continuant notre série à l’occasion du 40e anniversaire de la « Révolution culturelle » chinoise (et au moment où Juifs et Arméniens s’apprêtent à se remémorer les génocides dont ils ont été victimes) …

Il faudrait aussi rappeler que les quelque 100 millions de victimes du système communiste (URSS, Chine, Cambodge, Vietnam – sans parler du million d’Afgans et des 200 000 Tchéchènes), n’en épuisent pas le bilan puisque les camps d’internement et d’extermination (plus de 250 000 prisonniers) continuent en Corée du Nord, avec expérimentations chimiques et biologiques, en vue d’une éventuelle attaque de leurs voisins du sud, sur des familles entières (sans parler de la sous-alimentation délibérée de la population).

D’où l’intérêt du travail de l’humanitaire américain David Hawk, qui publiera (y compris grâce à l’aide de photos satellite) un rapport sur ses recherches en 2001 (« The Hidden gulag ») et de l’entretien qu’il donnera trois ans plus tard au site canadien Cankor:

Extraits:

Various prison-labour camps were being translated as “management centers” and “enlightenment centers” or “re-education centers”. After hearing the brutal conditions, the extreme punishments, and the extremely high rates of deaths in detention, and virtually no component or aspect of “education” or “rehabilitation” or self-organization, I turned to my translator and asked, “Why are you calling this place an enlightenment center, since what is being described sounds to me more like a slave labour or even a death camp?” To which my translator responded, “Well that’s how the Korean word he is using is usually translated into English.”

The Rwandan genocide lasted three months. The Khmer Rouge genocide lasted three years and eight months. What is different about North Korea is the long-term institutionalization of the severe repression. The political penal labour colonies and prison-labour camps have been around for a very long time; perhaps going on now almost half a century, year-in and year-out. The long-term repression cannot really be compared to the political violence of civil wars and armed conflicts, or to the violent anarchy within “failed states.” And, of course, the phenomenon of repression in North Korea is not “genocide” as defined in international law, even though the “g” word is sometimes used — inaccurately, in my opinion. The DPRK State objective is to remove the presumed wrongdoers from society and use them as a source of slave labour. In other words, to work them half to death, but not kill them outright and immediately, as was the case for segments of the population in Cambodia and Rwanda. Except perhaps the kwan-li-so political penal labour colonies in North Korea, which are, in my opinion, clear and massive “crimes against humanity” as that concept is defined in Article VII of the [Rome] Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal.

First, I had not previously encountered, or even heard of, the “guilt-by-association” phenomenon, where up to two generations of family members are also imprisoned, usually for lifetime sentences at hard labour, for the presumed political offence of another family member. Subsequently, I read that this was also practiced by Korea under Yi dynasty feudalism and also historically in China under the rule of various emperors. But I had never encountered or heard of it before. Secondly, the ethnically motivated forced abortions and infanticide practiced against North Korean women (if they happen to be pregnant when they are forcibly repatriated from China), because they are suspected of bearing “half-Han” babies. This too is completely beyond the pale of the usual repressive practices around the world.

Fortunately, in the absence of on-site verification, we were able to obtain commercially available satellite photographs for selected prison camps, on which the former prisoners were able to provide very detailed identifications of their former residence areas and work sites, etc.

As a child, Kang Chul Hwan (whose story is told in “Aquariums of Pyongyang”) spent a decade in the kwan-li-so political penal labour colony at Yodok for the presumed political offence of his grandfather. When he saw the Yodok camp photos (The first time around we sent him photos of Yodok town, not the nearby prison camp!) he recognized many sites, including even the beehives he had tended as an imprisoned child labourer. He said, “That is where I grew up… I’m keeping this photograph.”

Putting human rights at the top of the engagement agenda would be unworkable. Of course, there are some human rights activists who seek regime change in North Korea. There are others who use the human rights issue as a stick to beat their ideological adversaries. Conversely, there are some South Korean engagement proponents who pine for the Marxism-Leninism and/or the Juche solipsism of the Kim feudal dynasty in the DPRK. This is normal. But 50 years of military standoff and extreme ideological confrontation between North and South Korea brought no improvement to the human rights situation in the DPRK. The ROK’s « sunshine » policy is barely 5 years old. Recall that it took 15 years for the Basket 3 provisions of the Helsinki accords to produce positive results behind the Iron Curtain.

THE CANKOR INTERVIEW: Conversation with David Hawk
DAVID HAWK ON THE PROCESS OF WRITING “HIDDEN GULAG”
Original interview by Erich Weingartner
Tuesday, 14 September 2004

David Hawk, a prominent human rights investigator and advocate, is author of “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps,” a collection of prisoners’ testimonies and satellite photographs he assembled for the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Previously, Hawk investigated the Rwandan massacres for the US Committee for Refugees, and directed the Cambodia Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Hawk consulted for the Landmine Survivors Network on US landmine policy and humanitarian assistance projects in Cambodia and Vietnam. From 2001 to 2003, Hawk was a Brandeis University Fellow in Human Rights, Intervention, and International Law. David Hawk was interviewed electronically by CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner on 7 September 2004.

CANKOR: Last month, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for the first time since its inception appointed a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. What is the function of this rapporteur?

Hawk: The resolution at the UN Commission of Human Rights last April that mandated the appointment of a country specific rapporteur calls for a report to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Commission, based on such information as he can gather in-country and from such “credible and reliable information from Governments, NGOs, and any other parties who have knowledge of these matters.”

CanKor: They appointed 51-year old Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai professor of law who previously acted as UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Do you personally know him?

Hawk: I met Vitit years ago at the beginning of UNTAC, the UN peacekeeping mission in Cambodia, though I have not yet been in touch with him regarding North Korea. He is very well known and highly regarded in UN human rights circles. His appointment was a terrific choice.

CanKor: You are probably more aware than most people of the difficulty that the Rapporteur will face in gathering his information. Not only because of your investigative work in countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Rwanda, but more recently the research you did on North Korean prison camps. How did you get involved in writing “The Hidden Gulag?”

Hawk: The US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is a recently formed NGO. They initially planned to do three reports: one on the situation of Koreans in China; one on access to food (both of which are in progress) and one on the political prison camps. For the other reports they turned to Korea specialists and scholars. But for the prison camps reports, they were looking for an experienced human rights advocate, not a Korea specialist, who could look at the DPRK situation with fresh eyes.

CanKor: And you of course have extensive experience and a professional reputation in human rights advocacy, including in countries of Asia.

Hawk: I had previously done a lot of work on human rights issues in East Asia, particularly Southeast Asia. Also, I had been on the Boards of Directors of both Amnesty International USA, and Human Rights Watch/Asia during the 1980s, so I had followed the struggles for human rights and democracy in South Korea. And I was aware of the North Korean famine and humanitarian aid crises of the late 1990s. Being aware of the embarrassing paucity of information on the DPRK in the annual reports of AI and HRW, I knew well how very little documentation was available on the situation in North Korea. So when the US Committee asked me to investigate and prepare this report, and when they informed me that there were, since 2001-2002, many more former North Koreans now residing in South Korea who were potential sources of information, I welcomed the opportunity to see if it was possible to fill in this obvious gap in our global knowledge of human rights practices.

CanKor: What were your expectations when you started researching your book?

Hawk: I heard there was much more written material available in English, primarily translations of previous interviews by South Korean NGOs with former North Korean prisoners. So I thought I could review and analyze these scattered materials and round off the report with a few personal interviews in Seoul. It turned out to be a much bigger project than I expected.

CanKor: How did you go about researching the subject of your book? What were your sources of information?

Hawk: I started by doing background reading on North Korea, and then began to study closely all the English language materials — translated from Korean — based on previous interviews with former prisoners: starting with the two translated prison memoirs by Kang Chul Hwan and Soon Ok Lee, but also including a number of interviews with anonymous former prisoners. The first thing that struck me was that very different kinds of prisons and camps were all being called “political prisons.” Some facilities were said to hold tens of thousand of prisoners for virtually lifetime sentences, and other facilities held under a hundred prisoners for less for several weeks. This was not a wrong or incorrect translation. But it was not very descriptive. Further, in those translated interviews, the former prisoners movingly described with great sincerity how they felt about the sufferings they endured. But there was not much detail about the phenomena of repression associated with their imprisonment.
Usually, when interviewing victims of human rights violations, great care is taken to clearly establish the facts about time and place, and the identity of the perpetrator, so that regional patters of repression, variations over time, and the “command responsibility” of the perpetrators can be ascertained. But in my initial research, I couldn’t organize my notes into various piles or categories as to type or prison or location.

CanKor: Was your difficulty due to the inadequacy of the translations?

Hawk: I wasn’t sure. In any case, I thought I could rectify this in the course of my personal interviews. But after several interviews in South Korea, I immediately ran into another problem of translation. Various prison-labour camps were being translated as “management centers” and “enlightenment centers” or “re-education centers”. After hearing the brutal conditions, the extreme punishments, and the extremely high rates of deaths in detention, and virtually no component or aspect of “education” or “rehabilitation” or self-organization, I turned to my translator and asked, “Why are you calling this place an enlightenment center, since what is being described sounds to me more like a slave labour or even a death camp?” To which my translator responded, “Well that’s how the Korean word he is using is usually translated into English.”
At this point I knew I had to find a method of categorization. I asked what exactly are the Korean words being used by the former DPRK prisoners for various kinds of incarceration facilities, the Korean names for various phenomena of repression, and for the variety of policy and/or military units used in the various arrest, interrogation and guard functions. I took these Korean words to several of my South Korean human rights NGO colleagues — several of them speak or read Chinese as well as Korean and English — and they laid out for me the Korean hangul characters, the Chinese characters on which the hangul was based, the several alphabetized transliterations of the hangul, and finally the exact literal English translation of the component elements of the Chinese characters.

CanKor: So that is the origin of the “Glossary of North Korean Repression” chart that is printed in your book.

Hawk: By then I had the categories of incarceration facilities I needed to organize the interviews and crosscheck the data. After that it was a matter of carefully probing the former prisoners for the details of the phenomena of repression they experienced and/or witnessed, pressing the interviewees for more specific and concrete information. My goal was to get beyond the level of general or vague allegations, and I guess I was pretty relentless. At one point, one of my translators turned to me and said, “You are not like a journalist; you’re an interrogator.”

CanKor: The individual stories of witnesses and their testimonies are very dramatic, and unimaginably tragic. I assume you met all these people cited in your report personally?

Hawk: Yes. And I only used information from their personal experiences or that which they saw or heard directly; nothing third hand.

CanKor: How did you react emotionally to the stories you heard?

Hawk: It is necessary to be very clinical while conducting these kinds of interviews, like a lawyer taking a deposition. The former prisoners wanted to tell their stories so the world outside of Korea would know what was happening in North Korea. On the other hand, recalling their suffering and what they had witnessed brought several interviewees to tears; in which case it was necessary to wait until they regained their composure before going on with the interview.
It was when the interview was finished — the notebook folded and the pencil put away — that the humanness of their stories would hit me, and I too would feel emotionally drained. I would thank them for taking so much time to tell me their stories (each interview lasted two to four hours), and then, if it was still afternoon, I’d try to head off to a gym, pop some rock n’ roll into a walkman, crank-up the volume, and have a very hard workout. If it was evening, I’d toss back a couple big shots of soju back at my hotel.

CanKor: Were there differences between the stories and attitudes expressed by former inmates and former camp guards?

Hawk: The former inmates could provide great “inside” detail about their residence and work site. But they had much more limited information about other parts of the large prison camps that they heard about only from other prisoners. Guards, on the other hand, had a slightly larger “outside” picture of the prison camp and its administration. I wish I had asked the guards more questions about what and how they felt about the prisoners. But I was really mostly trying to get at eyewitness accounts from persons who could testify to the existence of Camp No. such and such, and stipulate its location and the years it was in operation, as even these most elemental of facts were hard to come by.

CanKor: Had your work with Cambodian and Rwandan survivors prepared you for what you heard?

Hawk: Very much so. It was easy for me to recognize epic survival accounts: testimonies of persons who endured unspeakable brutality and witnessed sufferings beyond imagination. And who had amazing stories of their personal survival in the prison camps and their escape from North Korea. Most of my interviewees had taken the month’s long trek from Northern China down through Southeast Asia before reaching Seoul, a route that has recently been publicized because of bottlenecks in Vietnam or Cambodia.

CanKor: Yes, and making international diplomatic waves after the 468 North Korean defectors were airlifted from Vietnam to Seoul at the end of July. Is the North Korea situation similar to the other cases you have been involved in?

Hawk: Mostly very different. The Rwandan genocide lasted three months. The Khmer Rouge genocide lasted three years and eight months. What is different about North Korea is the long-term institutionalization of the severe repression. The political penal labour colonies and prison-labour camps have been around for a very long time; perhaps going on now almost half a century, year-in and year-out. The long-term repression cannot really be compared to the political violence of civil wars and armed conflicts, or to the violent anarchy within “failed states.”
And, of course, the phenomenon of repression in North Korea is not “genocide” as defined in international law, even though the “g” word is sometimes used — inaccurately, in my opinion. The DPRK State objective is to remove the presumed wrongdoers from society and use them as a source of slave labour. In other words, to work them half to death, but not kill them outright and immediately, as was the case for segments of the population in Cambodia and Rwanda. Except perhaps the kwan-li-so political penal labour colonies in North Korea, which are, in my opinion, clear and massive “crimes against humanity” as that concept is defined in Article VII of the [Rome] Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal. But still, this is a phenomenon of repression very different from either Cambodia or Rwanda.

CanKor: Did you run into any surprises?

Hawk: Two. First, I had not previously encountered, or even heard of, the “guilt-by-association” phenomenon, where up to two generations of family members are also imprisoned, usually for lifetime sentences at hard labour, for the presumed political offence of another family member. Subsequently, I read that this was also practiced by Korea under Yi dynasty feudalism and also historically in China under the rule of various emperors. But I had never encountered or heard of it before.
Secondly, the ethnically motivated forced abortions and infanticide practiced against North Korean women (if they happen to be pregnant when they are forcibly repatriated from China), because they are suspected of bearing “half-Han” babies. This too is completely beyond the pale of the usual repressive practices around the world.

CanKor: How difficult was the problem of verification?

Hawk: Usually, the only real “verification” is the “on-site” kind, such as that normally done by the ICRC, and sometimes in some places by UN officials or reputable human rights NGOs. Of course, up to this point, DPRK authorities do not allow that. So what there was to go on in the North Korea situation, in the first instance, was the internal coherence of the information provided by the interviewee, and the extent to which his or her interview data was consistent with the other testimony from similar places. And, if it wasn’t, how the interviewee could explain the variation.
Fortunately, in the absence of on-site verification, we were able to obtain commercially available satellite photographs for selected prison camps, on which the former prisoners were able to provide very detailed identifications of their former residence areas and work sites, etc.

CanKor: Tell me about the satellite photos. How did you obtain them?

Hawk: I first learned how to get satellite photos from a Korean-speaking Seoul-based journalist for the Far Eastern Economic Review (subsequently for Time Magazine), who, at the time of my first visit to Seoul, was trying to obtain satellite photos for one of the camps. He told me how he was doing it and encouraged me to try to get photos for other additional prison camps. Back in the USA, the US Committee called one of the commercial satellite photo companies in Denver Colorado, but sensing that we were completely amateur neophytes when it came to this technology, the company referred us to an environmental NGO in Washington, the National Resource Defense Council. The NRDC is concerned about severe environmental degradation, and therefore tracks nuclear waste globally. They already had very detailed maps of the Korean peninsula, as well as the computer programmes to handle satellite photography.
After getting the former prisoners to locate, as best they could, the sites of the camps on these detailed maps, we tried to get more specific satellite photos of those camps. These showed to the former prisoners, usually by sending first the maps, and then the actual photographs to South Korea. The former prisoners and guards were asked to identify the buildings and areas on the photographs. But it usually took several rounds of mapping and photographing to get it right, because the camps are named for nearby towns or landmarks. We usually started off finding the town or landmark. But looking at the photos, the former prisoners would say, “Oh no, the prison camp is further over to the left or right, top or bottom.”

CanKor: How did the camp survivors react to seeing the satellite images?

Hawk: As a child, Kang Chul Hwan (whose story is told in “Aquariums of Pyongyang”) spent a decade in the kwan-li-so political penal labour colony at Yodok for the presumed political offence of his grandfather. When he saw the Yodok camp photos (The first time around we sent him photos of Yodok town, not the nearby prison camp!) he recognized many sites, including even the beehives he had tended as an imprisoned child labourer. He said, “That is where I grew up… I’m keeping this photograph.”
Kim Yong is a former prisoner who escaped from kwan-li-so labour colony No. 18 (a labour camp where coal is mined for a nearby electric power plant) by hiding in the coal-car of the train that led to the power plant. Initially, we saw on the map the river he mentioned, and the power plant. So we sent him satellite photos. At first he said, “No the prison camp and coal mines are further up the mountain.” Going back to the satellite company with new coordinates, NRDC printed out additional photos, in three long printouts, each roughly twenty feet long by three feet wide.
Kim Yong was visiting Los Angeles at the time. I rolled up the photos in mailing tubes. When Kim Yong came to my motel near the Los Angeles airport, we unrolled the photos. They were longer than the room. But he looked at them closely and said, “Yes that’s it. I recognize many, many things. To tell you what they are will take a very long time. We have to meet again starting tomorrow morning.”
The next day we met up again. He took me to the library of a Korean language Christian school where he was studying. We pushed 4 or 5 big library tables together, unrolled the long photos, and taped them together next to each other. Kim Yong hopped up on the tables in his stocking feet, with a magnifying glass in one hand and post-its in the other, a pencil behind his ear. Marking his prison dormitory here, the mouth of the mine-face where he laboured over there, over here the kimchi fermentation barrels, over there the rifle range were disobedient prisoners were executed, and so on.
Then his translator hopped up on the tables in his stocking feet and went around, writing the English translation of the sites that Kim Yong had identified. Finally, I jumped up on the tables and went around scotch-taping all the post-its so they wouldn’t come off when we rolled up the photographs. We took them back to NRCD, where they used specialized computer software to input the bilingual identifications onto the satellite photos.
Kim Yong had been right. It took all day.

CanKor: Amazing. Did these former prisoners understand the significance of this technology?

Hawk: Most basically, the former prisoners understood that with the details they had previously given about their prison camps, the satellite photos would result in a major step forward in the documentation and exposure of these terrible places.

CanKor: Based on your experience collecting data on this subject, what advice would you give UN Special Rapporteur Muntarbhorn?

Hawk: I hope he will have the opportunity to go to Pyongyang and explain his mission and his mandate directly to Foreign Ministry officials at the outset of his appointment. But of course, it is up to the DPRK whether or not they will agree to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. My hope is that diplomatic support can be mustered to encourage the DPRK to cooperate with Vitit at the outset of his work.

CanKor: Are you saying that getting into a dialogue with DPRK and seeking in-country access should be a higher priority than publicizing the information to increase public pressure?

Hawk: The Special Rapporteur on the DPRK is mandated to “seek and receive” information from the former prisoners and also from such human rights NGOs as Good Friends, the International Federation, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the US Committee and others. His findings, then, will also necessarily be a matter of public record. But after he has prepared his report based on all the sources available to him, he should first provide a copy of the report to the DPRK Foreign Ministry before he makes it public. The DPRK should not be taken by surprise when the report becomes public. He might even include the DPRK’s responses to his information in the report itself. This is not easy to do because of the already long lead-time before the publication of UN reports. But still, that would be my recommendation based on my experience as a UN human rights official in Cambodia.

CanKor: As you know well, there is an ongoing disagreement between human rights activists and proponents of engagement as far as the DPRK is concerned. Are the two aims in contradiction with each other?

Hawk: To posit a dichotomy between « engagement » and « human rights » is false. Engagement is a security policy, and there is naturally always some tension between security and other foreign policy considerations. For example, it should be recalled that US security considerations almost always trumped human rights in South Korea during the hard struggle for human rights and democracy in the 1980s. Putting human rights at the top of the engagement agenda would be unworkable. Of course, there are some human rights activists who seek regime change in North Korea. There are others who use the human rights issue as a stick to beat their ideological adversaries. Conversely, there are some South Korean engagement proponents who pine for the Marxism-Leninism and/or the Juche solipsism of the Kim feudal dynasty in the DPRK. This is normal.
But 50 years of military standoff and extreme ideological confrontation between North and South Korea brought no improvement to the human rights situation in the DPRK. The ROK’s « sunshine » policy is barely 5 years old. Recall that it took 15 years for the Basket 3 provisions of the Helsinki accords to produce positive results behind the Iron Curtain. Is it possible to have an engagement policy that would also be honest in its efforts to improve human rights in North Korea? It is not only possible. It is probable.

CANKOR: Mr. Hawk, we thank you for this conversation.

12 Responses to Corée du nord: Le goulag caché (The hidden gulag – in full satellite view!)

  1. […] dernière dans le WSJ du défecteur et auteur d’une des plus puissantes dénonciations du goulag oublié de la Corée du nord (« Les Aquariums de Pyongyang », Kang Chol-Hwan avec […]

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  2. […] que malgré les énièmes annonces de sanctions le dernier goulag à ciel ouvert continue, avec le soutien cynique de la Chine, à martyriser et affamer sa population et […]

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  3. jcdurbant dit :

    HIDDEN IN PLAIN SATELLITE SIGHT ! (A full-size North Korean gulag – with a little help from their Chinese friends and our indifference !)

    Inmates raped, tortured, given forced abortions and forced to dig their own graves before being murdered with hammers by guards …

    At the end of the Second World War so many people said, ‘If only we had known, if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces. Well now the international community does know … there will be no excusing the failure of action because we didn’t know – we do know.

    Kirby (UN)

    The U.N. report contains more of this harrowing testimony, which it says is tantamount to « extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence. » It compared conditions to camps run by the Nazis during World War II and gulags set up in Soviet Russia.

    Comparing the crimes committed by North Korea to the Nazis, Kirby told Reuters on Monday: « Some of them are strikingly similar. »

    The report added: « The unspeakable atrocities that are being committed against inmates of the ‘kwanliso’ political prison camps resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian states established during the 20th century.

    « The institutions and officials involved are not held accountable. Impunity reigns. The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world. »

    The report also warned China that it may be « aiding and abetting crimes against humanity » with its policy of forcibly repatriating North Koreans who fled across its borders. Kirby wrote another letter to China’s charge d’affaires in Geneva, Wu Haitao, saying that those caught fleeing to China and sent back to North Korea were likely to be tortured or executed. Haitao replied to say that this was not true.

    But the report also shed new light on the country’s darkest side – its labor camps.

    As many as 120,000 North Koreans are thought to be imprisoned across the country, many of them in four large camps. This number may have shrunk in recent years, according to the report, but only because many of the inmates have been murdered or starved to death.

    NBC

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  4. […] où l’on en voit les résultats du côté de l’Ukraine ou de la Chine et de la Corée du nord […]

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  5. […] où l’on en voit les résultats du côté de l’Ukraine ou de la Chine et de la Corée du nord […]

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  6. […] où l’on en voit les résultats du côté de l’Ukraine ou de la Chine et de la Corée du nord […]

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  8. jcdurbant dit :

    WHAT IS BUREAU NO 39 ? (As China-supported North Korean butcher and starver of his own people puts on his yearly show for complicit Western media, who bothers to investigate the world’s largest state criminal organization ?)

    Located in a heavily guarded concrete building in downtown Pyongyang, Bureau No. 39 is the nerve center of North Korea’s state-run network of international crime. Its official name is Central Committee Bureau 39 of the Korean Workers’ Party. The authors refer to it by what Bechtol says is the more accurately nuanced translation of “Office No. 39.”

    The mission of Office No. 39 is to generate torrents of cash for North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il, by way of illicit activities abroad. Favorite rackets include international trafficking of drugs produced under state supervision in North Korea, and state production and laundering into world markets of counterfeit U.S. currency, and cigarettes. Such activities are tied directly to the survival of Kim’s regime. The authors report “the crimes organized by Office No. 39 are committed beyond the borders of North Korea by the regime itself, not solely for the personal enrichment of the leadership, but to prop up its armed forces and to fund its military programs.”

    What sets Office No. 39 apart from more pedestrian political corruption or organized crime is that this operation is not some wayward private gang or unauthorized appendage of government. It is an integral and institutionalized part of the North Korean regime. As such, it enjoys the perquisites and protective trappings of the modern nation-state, including the use of North Korean embassies and state-run businesses abroad, and the reluctance of other nations to intervene in the sovereign affairs of North Korea.

    Office No. 39 is directly tied to Kim himself, who set it up way back in 1974, when his father, Kim Il Sung, was still in power. The authors explain: “This office was established for the explicit purpose of running illegal activities to generate currency for the North Korean government.” Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, which ended subsidies from Moscow, Office No. 39 has become ever more important, and especially over the past 10 years, its activities have become more prolific.

    Office No. 39 continues to report directly to Kim, who took charge of the regime when his father died in 1994. According to a North Korean defector interviewed by the authors, Kim Kwang-Jin, who has firsthand knowledge of North Korean financial practices, Office No. 39 is also known to North Korean insiders as “the keeper of Kim’s cashbox.” Organized into 10 departments, specializing in various illicit activities, Office No. 39 serves as a slush fund through which billions of dollars have flowed over the years. In a bizarre personal touch, these funds are collected and presented periodically to Kim in aggregate amounts, labeled “revolutionary funds,” on such special occasions as his official birthday, Feb. 12, or the birthday of his late father, Kim Il Sung, April 15th.

    This money is not spent on easing the miseries of millions of repressed and famished North Koreans. That effort–from which Kim also has a record of appropriating resources to sustain his regime–is left to the likes of international donors, contributing via outfits such as the United Nations. The authors explain that the profits of Bureau 39 help swell the offshore bank accounts of Kim’s regime, used not only to pay for his luxurious lifestyle, but to buy the loyalties and materials that underpin his totalitarian, nuclear-entwined military state …

    Claudia Rosett

    http://www.forbes.com/2010/04/15/kim-jong-il-north-korea-opinions-columnists-claudia-rosett.html

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