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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Appropriations on North Korea (Corrected)

by | January 27th, 2014 | 07:00 am
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[An earlier version of this post suggested that funds appropriated for broadcasting might be spent on the defector, South Korean, religious or Japanese radio stations that target North Korea. This was incorrect; the post has been corrected to clarify how the money has been allocated.]

Buried in the massive appropriations bill signed by the President were several provisions pertaining specifically to North Korea. First, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State (DRL) has been given the mandate to “establish and maintain a database of prisons and gulags in North Korea, including a list of political prisoners, and such database shall be regularly updated and made publicly available on the Internet, as appropriate.” Roberta Cohen made a succinct and cogent case at the Asan Washington Forum last summer that the prison camps should be made the top human rights priority on the country.

The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights has apparently been working on this project for State. The Center maintains a somewhat complex archive organized by both person and event, modeled on the West German archive of East German abuses.

Most work on the prison camps can be traced back to a series of reports initiated by David Hawk’s classic Hidden Gulag for the Committee on Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK, with a second edition in 2013). The innovation of this report was to combine satellite imagery with defector testimony. Hawk’s work has been followed by collaborations between HRNK and DigitalGlobe on particular camps, including on Camps 22 and 25; these and other HRNK publications can be found here. Amnesty International has also been posting analysis of satellite imagery of the camps.

Broadcasting is another area where funds are earmarked (not less than $8,938,000 to be exact). This funding will go to “International Broadcasting Operations” under Title I of the bill, ie. to VOA and RFA.

It is worth noting that VOA and RFA are not the only players in this game, and many others are involved in these activities as well. North Korea Tech provides the best inventory we have seen—including schedules: Free North Korea Radio (자유북한방송), Furusato (ふるさとの風), KBSNippon no kaze (日本の風), North Korea Reform Radio (북한개혁방송), Open Radio for North Korea (열린북한방송), Radio Free AsiaRadio Free Choson (자유조선방송), Shiokaze (しおかぜ), Voice of AmericaVoice of the Martyrs, and Voice of the Wilderness.

In addition, the ‘‘Migration and Refugee Assistance’’ part of the bill mandates “assistance for refugees from North Korea, including for protection activities in the People’s Republic of China.” This mandate was included in both the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act and its 2008 renewal. But it naturally raises the complex question of how to effect such protection. It could be argued that such money could not be spent legally in China itself, as Beijing continues to deny that there is a refugee problem, plays cat-and-mouse with groups supporting the refugees, and has even cooperated with North Korean authorities in returning refugees. There is also the question of whether groups involved in protection of refugees want to take US—or any government—money, given that it could complicate their humanitarian mission. LiNK, for example, doesn’t take any.

One discouraging note on the success of these protection efforts. According to LiNK’s Sokeel Park, only 14 North Korean refugees arrived in the US in 2013, bringing the official total to 163.

To watch for: more detail on how and by whom these activities will be carried out.