For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s.
In its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned:
“The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.”
In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.
See the full statement from the Science and Security Board on the 2017 time of the Doomsday Clock.
The Doomsday Clock is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists‘ Science and Security Board, the Clock represents an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war. Since 2007, it has also reflected climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity.
The Clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as “midnight” and The Bulletin‘s opinion on how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of “minutes” to midnight. Its original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 22 times since then, the smallest-ever number of minutes to midnight being two (in 1953) and the largest seventeen (in 1991).
As of January 2017, the Clock is set at two and a half minutes to midnight, due to a
The United States tests its first thermonuclear device in November 1952 as part of Operation Ivy, before the Soviet Union follows suit in August. This is the Clock’s closest approach to midnight since its inception.
In response to a perception of increased scientific cooperation and public understanding of the dangers of nuclear weapons (as well as political actions taken to avoid “massive retaliation“), the United States and Soviet Union cooperate and avoid direct confrontation in regional conflicts such as the 1956 Suez Crisis. Scientists from various countries help establish the International Geophysical Year, a series of coordinated, worldwide scientific observations between nations allied with both the United States and the Soviet Union, and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which allow Soviet and American scientists to interact.
Further escalation of the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, with the ongoing Soviet–Afghan War intensifying the Cold War. U.S. Pershing IImedium-range ballistic missile and cruise missiles are deployed in Western Europe. Ronald Reagan pushes to win the Cold War by intensifying the arms race between the superpowers. The Soviet Union and its allies (except Romania) boycott the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, as a response to the U.S-led boycott in 1980.
In December 1987, the Clock is moved back three minutes as the United States and the Soviet Union sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles, and their relations improve.
Global military spending continues at Cold War levels amid concerns about post-Soviet nuclear proliferation of weapons and brainpower.
Both India (Pokhran-II) and Pakistan (Chagai-I) test nuclear weapons in a tit-for-tat show of aggression; the United States and Russia run into difficulties in further reducing stockpiles.
Little progress on global nuclear disarmament. United States rejects a series of arms control treaties and announces its intentions to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, amid concerns about the possibility of a nuclear terrorist attack due to the amount of weapon-grade nuclear materials that are unsecured and unaccounted for worldwide.
North Korea tests a nuclear weapon in October 2006, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a renewed American emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia. After assessing the dangers posed to civilization, climate changewas added to the prospect of nuclear annihilation as the greatest threats to humankind.
Worldwide cooperation to reduce nuclear arsenals and limit effect of climate change.New START agreement is ratified by both the United States and Russia, and more negotiations for further reductions in the American and Russian nuclear arsenal are already planned. The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen results in the developing and industrialized countries agreeing to take responsibility for carbon emissions and to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
Concerns amid continued lack of global political action to address global climate change, the modernization of nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia, and the problem of nuclear waste.
Rise of nationalism, United States President Donald Trump‘s comments over nuclear weapons, the threat of a renewed arms race between the U.S. and Russia, and the expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus over climate change by the Trump Administration. This is the first use of a fraction in the time, and the Clock’s closest approach to midnight since 1953.
In popular culture
Cover of the 1947 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists issue, featuring the Doomsday Clock at “seven minutes to midnight”.
The Doomsday Clock’s origin can be traced to the international group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists, who had participated in the Manhattan Project. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they began publishing a mimeographed newsletter and then the magazine, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which, since its inception, has depicted the Clock on every cover.
The Bulletin’s clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age…
In January 2007, designer Michael Bierut, who was on The Bulletin‘s Governing Board, redesigned the Clock to give it a more modern feel. In 2009, The Bulletin ceased its print edition and became one of the first print publications in the U.S. to become entirely digital; the Clock is now found as part of the logo on The Bulletin‘s website. Information about the Doomsday Clock Symposium, a timeline of the Clock’s settings, and multimedia shows about the Clock’s history and culture can also be found on The Bulletin‘s website.
The 5th Doomsday Clock Symposium was held on November 14, 2013, in Washington, D.C.; it was a daylong event that was open to the public and featured panelists discussing various issues on the topic “Communicating Catastrophe”. There was also an evening event at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in conjunction with the Hirshhorn’s current exhibit,
“Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950”.
The panel discussions, held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, were streamed live from The Bulletin‘s website and can still be viewed there. Reflecting international events dangerous to humankind, the Clock has been adjusted 22 times since its inception in 1947, when it was set to “seven minutes to midnight”.
“Midnight” has a deeper meaning to it besides the constant threat of war, There are various things taken into consideration when the scientists from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decide what Midnight and Global catastrophe really mean a particular year, They might include “Politics, Energy, Weapons, Diplomacy, and Climate science.”
Members of the board judge Midnight by discussing how close they think humanity is to the end of civilization. In 1947, during the Cold War, the Clock was started at seven minutes to midnight. The Clock’s setting is decided without a specified starting time. The Clock is not set and reset in real time as events occur; rather than respond to each and every crisis as it happens, the Science and Security Board meets twice annually to discuss global events in a deliberative manner.
The closest nuclear war threat, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, reached crisis, climax, and resolution before the Clock could be set to reflect that possible doomsday.
The Time and Today
The lowest point for the Doomsday Clock was 1953, when the clock was set to 2 minutes until midnight after the U.S. and the Soviet Union began testing hydrogen bombs. In the years after, the clock’s time has fluctuated from 17 minutes in 1991 to 3 minutes in 2016.
In January 2017, the clock was set at 2½ minutes to midnight, meaning that the clock’s status today is the second-closest to midnight since the clock’s start in 1947. When discussing the changes, Krauss, one of the scientists from the Bulletin, warned that our political leaders must make decisions based on facts, and those facts
“must be taken into account if the future of humanity is to be preserved.”
In an announcement from the Bulletin about the status of the clock, they went as far to call for action from “wise” public officials and “wise” citizens to make an attempt to steer human life away from catastrophe while we still can.
Doomsday Clock graph, 1947–2017. The lower points on the graph represent a higher probability of technologically or environmentally-induced catastrophe, and the higher points represent a lower probability.
She is most notable for her characteristic emotional and sometimes vitriolic tone, described as “passionate”, “vaguely menacing”, and “aggressive”. Ri made the official announcements of the deaths of Kim Il-sung in 1994 and Kim Jong-il in 2011. In a news report by CCTV News on 24 January 2012, Ri announced her retirement as chief newsreader at KCTV. She has periodically reappeared on television in the years since, typically to make an announcement regarding the country’s militaristic developments.
Ri was born in 1943 to a poor family in Togchon, Gangwon, Japanese Korea. She was cultivated by the North Korean government because of her background of abject poverty, which is considered a sign of political trustworthiness in the country. Ri studied performance art at Pyongyang University of Theatre and Film and was recruited by KCTV.
Ri began work onscreen in 1971, became chief news presenter of KCTV in 1974, and was consistently on‑air from the 1980s. Her career was unique for its longevity; while many at KCTV were demoted or purged, her career was never interrupted. After retiring in January 2012, she came out of retirement especially to announce that North Korea claims to have carried out an H-bomb detonation in January 2016 and that North Korea had launched a missile in February 2016. She also announced the nuclear test of September 2016.
Ri has received high acclaim from the North Korean authorities for her resonant voice, impressive mood and outstanding eloquence. She is known for her melodramatic announcing style. She often speaks in a wavering and exuberant tone when praising the nation’s leaders, and conversely with visible anger when denouncing the West.
According to Brian Reynolds Myers, a professor at Dongseo University and an expert in North Korean propaganda, her training in drama serves her well, given the large amount of showmanship that is typical of North Korean broadcasting.
When she made the official announcement of Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994, Ri was visibly crying during the broadcast. Likewise, when she announced Kim Jong-il’s death in 2011, she was seen holding back tears. Her melodramatic style has been parodied in the character of Kim Bong Cha, a North Korean correspondent on The Noose.
Ri usually appears wearing either a pink, Western-style suit or in a traditional Korean hanbok
Mr Trump said that a “lot of bad things happened” to Mr Warmbier, but added: “At least we got him home to be with his parents, where they were so happy to see him, even though he was in very tough condition.”
President Trump said Mr Warmbier’s death had deepened his administration’s resolve “to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency”.
“The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in told CBS News on Tuesday it was “quite clear” that North Korea had “a heavy responsibility in the process that led to Mr Warmbier’s death”.
Otto Frederick Warmbier (WARM-beer; December 12, 1994 – June 19, 2017) was an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea from January 2016 to June 2017 after being convicted of “hostile acts” against the country. Warmbier, then 21 years old, confessed to stealing a political propaganda poster and was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor.
The United States made diplomatic efforts to seek Warmbier’s release. A U.S. State Department spokesman said Warmbier’s harsh sentence was a response to U.S. sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear activities. According to his father, Warmbier’s confession was forced, and he was abducted by the North Korean government for political purposes.
Warmbier fell into a coma in North Korea and was released in June 2017, after nearly 18 months there. According to North Korean authorities, Warmbier’s coma was a result of botulism and a sleeping pill, but U.S. physicians cast doubt on that claim. Warmbier arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 13 and was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center for immediate evaluation and treatment. He was diagnosed with
Otto Warmbier was born on December 12, 1994, to Fred and Cindy (née Garber) Warmbier and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a family of American-Jewish descent and was one of three children in the family.
His father, Fred Warmbier, owns his own business, a metal-finishing company, that was featured in Forbes for its rapid growth in 2015. In 2014, he contributed to the The New York Times‘ blog titled You’re the Boss about running a small business. Otto worked as an intern at the company from 2010 to 2013.
Fred Warmbier stated that his son Otto was traveling in China at the end of 2015 when he saw a company offering trips to North Korea. He decided to go because he was adventurous, according to his father, who accused the tour operator of specifically targeting young Westerners with slogans like,
“This is the trip your parents don’t want you to take!”
Fred Warmbier said the China-based tour operator, Young Pioneer Tours, advertised the trip as safe for U.S. citizens. Danny Gratton, an adventurous British sales manager, met Warmbier in Beijing as the two boarded the tour flight to Pyongyang. The two struck up a friendship and were roommates on the trip. They stuck together from the time they got to Pyongyang until Warmbier was arrested.
Warmbier traveled to North Korea for a five-day New Year’s tour of the country organized by Young Pioneer Tours. Ten other U.S. citizens were in his tour group.
“Let’s arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong-il‘s patriotism!”.
Harming such items with the name or image of a North Korean leader is considered a serious crime by the government.
A video purporting to show the theft was released by state-run Korean Central News Agency on March 18, 2016. In the 18-second low-resolution video, an unrecognizable figure removes the sign from the wall and places it on the floor, leaning it against the wall. This action is shown twice, followed by a higher-resolution picture of the sign on the wall. The face of the person removing the poster is not seen during the video clip.
Arrest and conviction
On January 2, 2016, Warmbier was arrested for theft just prior to departing North Korea from Pyongyang International Airport. Gratton witnessed the arrest.
“No words were spoken. Two guards just came over and simply tapped Otto on the shoulder and led him away. I just said kind of quite nervously, ‘Well, that’s the last we’ll see of you.’ There’s a great irony in those words. That was it. That was the last physical time I saw Otto, ever. Otto didn’t resist. He didn’t look scared. He sort of half-smiled.”
The others in his tour group left the country without incident. His crime was described as “a hostile act against the state” by the North Korean news agency KCNA.
Warmbier was tried and convicted for the theft of the propaganda banner from a restricted area of the hotel. His trial included his confession, CCTV footage, fingerprint evidence, and witness testimony.
In a press conference on February 29, 2016, Warmbier repeated his confession that he had stolen the banner to take back to the United States. He said he stole it for the mother of a friend who wanted it as a souvenir to be hung on the wall of a church in his hometown of Wyoming, Ohio. He said that she offered him a used car worth $10,000 as payment, and that if he was detained and didn’t return, $200,000 would be paid to his mother in the form of a charitable donation. Warmbier said he accepted the offer because his family was
“suffering from very severe financial difficulties”.
He also said he was encouraged in committing his act by his desire to join the Z Society, a “semi-secret ring society” and philanthropic organization at the University of Virginia.
Warmbier read the following statement at his trial:
I never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country. I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPR Korea, for your forgiveness. Please! I have made the worst mistake of my life! Please! Think of my family.
On March 16, 2016, two hours after U.S. envoy Bill Richardson met with two North Korean diplomats from the United Nations office to press for Warmbier’s release, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Human Rights Watch called the sentencing “outrageous and shocking”, while U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that it was clear that North Korea used arrested American citizens for political purposes despite its claims to the contrary.
Sometime in the month following his trial, Warmbier suffered an unknown medical crisis that caused severe brain damage. His condition was not conveyed to anyone outside North Korea, and Swedish envoys who represent the United States’ interests in North Korea were not able to see Warmbier after March 2016.
In May 2017, Warmbier’s father said he and his wife wanted their son to be part of any negotiations between the United States and North Korea.
On June 12, 2017, Rex Tillerson, the United States Secretary of State, announced that North Korea had released Warmbier. Tillerson also announced that the U.S. State Department secured Warmbier’s release at the direction of President Donald Trump. Tillerson said that the State Department continues discussing three other detained Americans with North Korea.
Warmbier’s parents told The Washington Post that Warmbier was medically evacuated, saying they were told by North Korean officials that Warmbier had contracted botulism sometime after his trial and had fallen into a coma after being given a sleeping pill. They learned he was in a coma only one week before his release. Richardson was in contact with the family and said Warmbier urgently needed medical attention.
Prior to his arrival, a doctor with the Cincinnati Health Department discussed Warmbier’s case and expressed skepticism over the claim that botulism or a sleeping pill caused the coma. His father reported that he had received a call from President Trump at his home asking about the welfare of his son and the family. He also reported that Tillerson and U.S. special representative Joseph Y. Yun had made the transition possible.
Warmbier’s father held a press conference that day, but declined to answer a reporter’s question as to whether or not the neurological injury was caused by an assault, saying he would let the doctors make that determination. He stated that they did not believe anything the North Koreans had told them.
Neurologist Daniel Kanter, director of the neurocritical care program at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, said on June 15 that Warmbier was in “a state of unresponsive wakefulness”—a condition commonly known as persistent vegetative state. He was able to breathe on his own, and blink his eyes, but otherwise did not respond to his environment. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed he had suffered extensive loss of brain tissue throughout his brain.
Kanter stated that Warmbier’s brain injury was typical of a cardiac arrest that caused the brain to be denied oxygen. Doctors also said that they did not find any evidence of physical abuse or torture; scans of Warmbier’s neck and head were normal outside of the brain injury.
Doctors said they did not know what caused the cardiac arrest, but that it could have been triggered by a respiratory arrest.
Brandon Foreman, a neurointensive care specialist at the hospital, confirmed that there was no sign of a current or past case of botulism, which can cause paralysis but not a coma.
Medical records from North Korea showed that Warmbier had been in this state since April 2016, one month after his conviction. During his release, the North Koreans provided a disk containing two MRI brain studies, dated April and July 2016 showing damage to the brain.
He seemed well nourished. Fred Warmbier expressed anger at the North Koreans for his son’s condition, saying,
“There is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition secret, and denied him top-notch medical care for so long.”
Warmbier died in the hospital at 2:20 p.m. on June 19, 2017, at the age of 22. His parents and two siblings survived him. His family issued a statement expressing their sadness, thanking the hospital staff for their actions.
President Trump later issued a statement regarding Warmbier’s death, “There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Otto’s family and friends, and all who loved him
Twenty-seven years ago, Shin Dong-hyuk was born inside Camp 14, one of five sprawling political prisons in the mountains of North Korea. Located about 55 miles north of Pyongyang, the labor camp is a ‘complete control district,’ a no-exit prison where the only sentence is life.
No one born in Camp 14 or in any North Korean political prison camp has escaped. No one except Shin. This is his story.
A gripping, terrifying memoir with a searing sense of place, ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 will unlock, through Shin, a dark and secret nation, taking readers to a place they have never before been allowed to go.
‘This is a story unlike any other’ Barbara Demick, author of Nothing toEnvy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
This extraordinary story lifts the lid on the secretive and brutal totalitarian regime of North Korean ‘s labour camps and the forgotten political prisoners and their families whom are destined too suffer unbelievable inhumanity and are subject to summary execution at the whims of their “guards”.
Shin Dong-hyuk ‘s story appalled and horrified me and I’m still trying to work out how such a place and regime could still exist in the 21st century and why the world is not doing more to eradicate the brutal and oppressive abuse of over 23 million North Korean people.
North Korea is a problem that the world will have to face up to at some stage and whilst the supreme leader Kim Jong-un is obviously mad as a march hare and insane , his quest for nuclear weapons is not just a threat to his neighbour – but to the world in general and the stability to the entire region.
Shin Dong-hyuk (born 19 November 1982 or 1980 as Shin In Geun) is reputed to be the only known prisoner to have successfully escaped from a “total-control zone” grade internment camp in North Korea.
He was the subject of a biography, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West, by former Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden. Shin has given talks to audiences around the world about his life in Camp 14 and about the totalitarian North Korean regime to raise awareness of the situation in North Korean internment and concentration camps and North Korea.
Shin has been described as the world’s “single strongest voice” on the atrocities inside North Korean camps by a member of the United Nations’ first commission of inquiry into human rights abuses of North Korea. In January 2015, he recanted aspects of his story but a majority of experts continued to support his credibility as a victim of North Korean human rights abuses.
Camp 14: Total Control Zone
The following is Shin’s biography as told by him prior to 2015 which he later partially recanted.
Shin Dong-hyuk was born Shin In Geun at the Kaechon internment camp, commonly known as Camp 14. He was born to two prisoners who were allowed to marry as a reward for good work, although:
“neither bride nor groom had much say in deciding whom they would marry.”
Shin’s father, Shin Gyung Sub, told Shin that the guards gave him his mother, Jang Hye-gyung, as payment for his skill in operating a metal lathe in the camp’s machine shop. Shin lived with his mother until he was 12. He rarely saw his father who lived elsewhere in the camp and was allowed to visit a few times a year. According to Shin, he saw his mother as a competitor for their insufficient food rations, and consequently had no bonds of affection with his parents or his brother, Shin He Geun.
The North Korean government officials and camp guards told him he was imprisoned because his parents had committed crimes against the state, and that he had to work hard and always obey the guards; otherwise he would be punished or executed.
Shin went to primary and secondary school while in the camp. The secondary school was “little more than slave quarters from which he was sent out as a rock picker, weed puller and dam labourer.” At one point, a young girl was beaten to death by the teacher for hoarding a few kernels of corn. His education did not include propaganda or even basic information about North Korea. The personality cult around Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il was also absent; for example there were no portraits of the Kim leaders on display.
The camp was near a hydroelectric dam and mines in which the prisoners were forced to labour. In one of Shin’s prison cells, where he was held during an interrogation, he said he had electricity and running water. Shin’s mother lived in a house with multiple rooms in a “model village” in the camp, given to women who had children.
Shin experienced considerable violence in the camp, and witnessed dozens of executions every year.Part of Shin’s right middle finger was cut off by his supervisor as punishment for accidentally breaking a sewing machine. He witnessed adult prisoners and children beaten every day, and many prisoners dying of starvation, illness, torture and work accidents. He learned to survive by any means, including eating rats, frogs, and insects, and reporting fellow inmates for rewards.
Mother and brother plan to escape
When Shin was 13 years old, he overheard his mother and brother planning an escape attempt. Shin had just finished eating watery corn porridge, and was trying to sleep until he overheard that He Geun, his brother had run from the cement factory. Shin’s mother, Jang was preparing rice, a symbol of wealth in North Korea for the escape from Camp 14. Shin was jealous his brother was getting rice. Shin’s teacher was already in the gated Bowiwon village, so Shin told the night guard of his school with another boy, as informing was something he was taught to do from an early age, and he hoped to be rewarded. However, the school night guard took full credit for discovering the plan, and rather than being rewarded, Shin was arrested and guards tortured him for four days to extract more information, believing him to be part of the plan to escape.
According to Shin, the guards lit a charcoal fire under his back and forced a hook into his skin so that he could not struggle which caused many large scars still visible on his body.
On 29 November 1996, after approximately seven months spent in a tiny concrete prison cell, he was released and joined by his father, who had also been imprisoned. They were driven back to the main camp wearing blindfolds and their hands tied behind their backs. Camp officials then forced Shin and his father to watch the public executions of Shin’s mother and brother; he then understood he had been responsible for the executions.
Shin stated that at the time of the executions of his brother and mother, in his teenaged mind he felt they “deserved” their fates for both breaking prison rules and, conversely, not including him in the escape plan. Shin has since expressed remorse over his actions, saying in an interview with Anderson Cooper for the CBS television show 60 Minutes
, “My mother and brother, if I could meet them through a time machine, I would like to go back and apologize”.
In interviews to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and others, and in his Korean language memoir, Shin had said that he had no prior knowledge of the escape. It was only when talking to Harden that he revised his story and said that he had informed on his mother and brother.
Escape with Park
While working at a textile factory, Shin became friends with a 40-year-old political prisoner from Pyongyang (surnamed Park), who was educated and had traveled outside North Korea. Park had been to East Germany, and China. Park said that he shook Kim Jong Il’s hand. Park told him about the outside world, such as stories about food that Shin had not experienced before. According to Shin, nearly every meal he had eaten up to that point had been a soupy gruel of cabbage, corn, and salt, with occasional wild-caught rats and insects. He was excited by the idea of being able to eat as much food as he wanted to, which Shin considered to be the essence of freedom. “I still think of freedom as roasted chicken,” he later acknowledged.
Shin decided to attempt to escape with Park. They formed a plan in which Shin would provide local information about the camp, while Park would use his knowledge once outside the camp to escape the country. On 2 January 2005, the pair was assigned to a work detail near the camp’s electric fence on the top of a 1,200-foot (370 m) mountain ridge to collect firewood. Noting the long interval between the guards’ patrols, the two waited until the guards were out of sight, then made their attempt to escape.
Park attempted to go through first, but was fatally electrocuted climbing the high voltage fence. Shin managed to pass over the wire using Park’s body as a shield to ground the current, but still suffered severe burns and permanent scars when his legs slipped onto the lowermost wire as he crawled over Park’s body.
After escaping, Shin broke into a nearby farmer’s barn and found an old military uniform. Wearing the uniform, he was able to masquerade as a North Korean soldier at times. He survived by scrounging and stealing food.Shin was unfamiliar with money, but within two days of his escape, he had sold a 10 lb (4.5 kg) bag of rice stolen from a house and used the money to buy cookies and cigarettes. Eventually, he reached the northern border with China along the Tumen River and bribed destitute North Korean border guards with food and cigarettes.
Revision in 2015
In January 2015, Shin contacted Blaine Harden and recanted parts of his story.Harden outlined the changes to Shin’s account in a new foreword to his book, Escape from Camp 14, but did not revise every detail. He said a complete revision of the book would have taken months and he wanted to publish the new version as soon as possible.
Shin told Harden that he had changed some dates and locations and incorporated some “fictive elements” into the story. Shin said that he did not spend his entire North Korean life at Camp 14. He said that he was born there, but when he was young, his family was transferred to the less severe Camp 18, and spent several years there. He said that not only did he inform on the escape plan of his mother and brother, but also falsely implicated them in murder. He said that he twice escaped from Camp 18. The first time, in 1999, he was caught within days. The second time, in 2001, he said he crossed into China, but was caught after four months by Chinese police and sent back to North Korea. He said that he was tortured in Camp 14 in 2002, when he was 20 years old (not 13, as previously stated), as punishment for his escape. He said he was repeatedly burned and tortured in an underground prison for six months. As a result of education in Camp 18, and his previous escapes, he said he wasn’t as naive about the outside world when he made his final escape from Camp 14 as he had previously described.
In Escape from Camp 14 Blaine Harden commented that, “Shin was the only available source of information about his early life.” In his new foreword for the book in 2015, he described Shin as an “unreliable narrator” and commented that, “It seems prudent to expect new revisions”, but also clarifying “I don’t know if that’s true (that the story will change)”. Harden theorized that “Shin appears to have been exposed to prolonged and repeated torture. We can expect that this would have a major impact on every aspect of who he is, on his memory, his emotional regulation, his ability to relate to others, his willingness to trust, his sense of place in the world, and the way he gives his testimony.”
A Russian-born Korean specialist Andrei Lankov commented that “some suspicions had been confirmed when Shin suddenly admitted what many had hitherto suspected”, described Harden’s book as unreliable, and noted that defectors faced considerable psychological pressure to embroider their stories.
Shin explained he did not tell the full story because he wished to hide “that my mother and brother were executed because of my report,” saying “the most important reason why I could not reveal all of the truth was because of my family.” He went on to say:
“All I did until last September was discuss the camps as they were, but once the video was released [of his father], the nastiness of North Korea infuriated me. Then I realized I should not hold anything back.”
Post-North Korea life
After spending some time working as a laborer in different parts of China, Shin was accidentally discovered by a journalist in a restaurant in Shanghai, and the reporter recognized the importance of his story. The journalist brought Shin to the South Korean embassy for asylum, and from there he traveled to South Korea, where he underwent extensive questioning from authorities to determine if he was a North Korean assassin or spy. Afterwards, his story was broadcast by the press and he published a Korean language memoir.
Shin later moved to southern California, changing his name from Shin In Geun to Shin Dong-hyuk in “an attempt to reinvent himself as a free man,” and worked for Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a non-profit organization that raises awareness of human rights issues in North Korea and provides aid to North Korean refugees. Shin moved back to South Korea to campaign for the eradication of the North Korean prison camps.
In August 2013, Shin gave several hours of testimony to the United Nations‘ first commission of inquiry into human rights abuses of North Korea. A member of the UN commission described Shin as the world’s “single strongest voice” on the atrocities inside North Korean camps.
Shin described some aspects of his personal life in South Korea in a Financial Times interview, on popular culture saying that “I don’t really know anything about music. I can’t sing and I don’t feel any emotion from it. But I do watch lots of films and the one that moves me the most is Schindler’s List“. On food he says “I know everything is delicious. I look at the colours and the way the food is presented on the plate but it’s very difficult to choose. When I first came to South Korea, I was so greedy that I used to order too much food. Nowadays I try to order only as much as I can handle.” Although Shin lives in South Korea, he was informally adopted by an American couple in Ohio during his time in the United States. He says he maintains the relationship, “I have a good relationship with my US foster parents. I contact them often. Whenever I have a holiday, I visit them. I think of them as good parents and I try to be a good son.”
In December 2013, Shin wrote an open letter in the Washington Post to American basketball star Dennis Rodman who visited North Korea a number of times as a self-avowed “friend for life” of Kim Jong-un.
North Korean response
In 2012, when the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention asked the North Korean government about the status of Shin Dong-hyuk’s father, they responded that there was no such person. Then in 2014, after identifying Shin Dong-hyuk as Shin In Geun, the North Korean government produced a video which attempted to discredit Shin through interviews with his father and other supposed witnesses. His father denied Shin had grown up in a prison camp. According to the video, Shin had worked in a mine and fled North Korea after being accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. It also said that Shin’s mother and brother were guilty of murder. The video claimed he was now spreading “preposterous false information” about human rights. Shin confirmed the man was his father. He said that the rape allegation was a fabrication that he had heard before. He later confirmed that his mother and brother were convicted of murder, but stated they were innocent.
Shin said that he believed the North Korean government was sending him a message to be quiet about human rights abuses or his father would be killed, in effect holding his father hostage. The video prompted Shin to recant parts of his story.
Books and films
In 2012, journalist Blaine Harden published Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West, based on his interviews with Shin. Harden gave a one-hour interview about the book on the C-SPAN television program Q&A.
Executive Director of the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Greg Scarlatoiu, said the book played “an important role” in raising wider public awareness of the North Korean camps. Dalhousie University issued a statement averring that Shin’s story, as told through the book, “has shifted the global discourse about North Korea, shining a light on the human rights abuses so prevalent within the regime.”
A German documentary, Camp 14: Total Control Zone, directed by Marc Wiese, was released in 2012. It includes interviews with Shin Dong-hyuk and two former North Korean officers: the first, Kwon Hyuk, was a guard in Camp 22 and brought out amateur film footage (the only known footage of Camp 22), and the second, Oh Yang-nam, was a secret policeman who arrested people who were sent to camps. Supplementing the film are animated sequences of the camp created by Ali Soozandeh.
On 2 December 2012, Shin was featured on 60 Minutes during which he recounted to Anderson Cooper his story of his life in Camp 14 and escape. Shin said “when I see videos of the Holocaust it moves me to tears. I think I am still evolving—from an animal to a human.”
Awards and honours
In June 2013, Shin received the Moral Courage Award given by UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO (non-governmental organization).
In May 2014, Shin was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada). Students at the university “held a peace march and launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of human rights violations in North Korea. They then fundraised to bring Mr. Shin to Halifax, where his speech to an over-capacity crowd drew international attention
Kaechon internment camp
Kaechon internment camp (Hangeul: 개천 제14호 관리소, also spelled Kae’chŏn or Gaecheon) is a forced labor camp in North Korea for political prisoners. The official name is Kwan-li-so (Penal-labor colony) No. 14. It is not to be confused with Kaechon concentration camp (Kyo-hwa-so No. 1), which is located 20 km (12 mi) to the northwest. This place is commonly known as Camp 14.
Location of Kaechon camp in North Korea
The camp was established around 1959 in central North Korea near Kae’chŏn county, South Pyongan Province. It is situated along the middle reaches of Taedong river, which forms the southern boundary of the camp, and includes the mountains north of the river, including Purok-san. Bukchang, a concentration camp (Kwan-li-so No. 18) adjoins the southern banks of the Taedong River. The camp is about 155 km2 (60 sq mi) in area, with farms, mines and factories threaded through steep mountain valleys.
The camp includes overcrowded barracks that house males, females, and older children separately, and a headquarters with administration and guards housing.
Altogether around 15,000 prisoners live in Kaechon internment camp.
The main purpose of Kaechon internment camp is to keep politically unreliable persons classed “unredeemable” isolated from society, and exploit their labor. Those sent to the camp include officials perceived to have performed poorly in their job, people who criticize the regime and anyone suspected of engaging in “anti-government” activities. Prisoners have to work in one of the coal mines, in one of the factories that produce textiles, paper, food, rubber, shoes, ceramics and cement or in agriculture.
Human rights situation
Many prisoners of the camp were born there under North Korea’s “three generations of punishment”. This means anyone found guilty of committing a crime, which could be as simple as trying to escape North Korea, would be sent to the camp along with that person’s entire family. The subsequent two generations of family members would be born in the camp and must also live their entire lives and die there.
As reported by witnesses, the prisoners have to do very hard and dangerous work in mines and other workplaces from 5:30 in the morning until midnight. Even 11-year-old children have to work after school and may see their parents rarely. People are forced to work like slaves and are tortured in case of minor offences.
Food rations are very small, consisting of salted cabbage and corn, so that the prisoners are very skinny and weak. Many die of undernourishment, illness, work accidents, and the aftereffects of torture. Many prisoners resort to eating frogs, insects, rats, snakes, and even convert to cannibalism in order to try to survive. Eating rat flesh helps to prevent pellagra, a common disease in the camp which results from the absence of protein and niacin in the diet. In order to eat anything outside of the prison-sanctioned meal, including these animals, prisoners must first get permission from the guards.
In his official biography Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden, Shin Dong-hyuk claimed that he was born in the camp and lived there until escaping in his early twenties. In 2015, Shin recanted some of this story. Shin told Harden that he had changed some dates and locations and incorporated some “fictive elements” into his account. Harden outlined these revisions in a new foreword, but did not revise the entire book. Shin said that he did not spend his entire North Korean life at Camp 14. Though maintaining that he was born there, he stated that, when he was young, his family was transferred to the less severe Camp 18, and spent several years there. He said that he was tortured in Camp 14 in 2002, as punishment for escaping from Camp 18.
Kim Yong (1995–1996 in Kaechon, then in Bukchang) was imprisoned after it was revealed that two men executed as alleged US spies were his father and brother. He witnessed approximately 25 executions in his section of the camp within less than two years
From late 2010, Kim Jong-un was viewed as heir apparent to the leadership of the nation, and following his father’s death, he was announced as the “Great Successor” by North Korean state television. At Kim Jong-il’s memorial service, North Korean Chairman of the Supreme People’s AssemblyKim Yong-nam declared that “Respected Comrade Kim Jong-un is our party, military and country’s supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong-il’s ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage”. On 30 December 2011, the Politburo of the Workers’ Party of Korea formally appointed Kim as the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army. In April 2012, the 4th Party Conference elected him to the newly created post of First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Kim was formerly known as Kim Jong-woon or Kim Jung-woon. His name was first reported as 김정운 (Hanja: 金正雲; lit. righteous cloud), possibly as a result of an error in transliteration; the Japanese language does not distinguish between 운 (/un/) and 은 (/ɯn/). The initial source of his name was Kim Jong-il’s former personal chef, known by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto, who was among the few who had access to information about Kim’s household from inside the government. Chinese media had named him as 김정은 (Hanja: 金正恩; lit. righteous grace).
In December 2014, South Korea’s KBS TV revealed that they had obtained an official “administrative order” originally circulated by Kim Jong-il in January 2011 mandating that anyone sharing Kim Jong-un’s name needed to formally change their name. Similar edicts were issued regarding the names of the regime’s previous leaders when they were coming to power. The 2011 document states, “All party organs and public security authorities should make a list of residents named Kim Jong-un … and train them to voluntarily change their names.”
Early life and education
The Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school in Köniz, Switzerland, which Kim Jong-un is reported to have attended.
No official comprehensive biography on Kim Jong-un has yet been released. Therefore, the only known information on his early life comes from defectors and people who have claimed to witness him abroad, such as during his school attendance in Switzerland. Some of the information has been conflicting and contradictory, perhaps conflating him with his brother Kim Jong-chul, who was also attending school in Switzerland around the same period. Nevertheless, there has been some consensus on information about his early life. North Korean authorities have stated that his birthdate is 8 January 1982, but South Korean intelligence officials believe the actual date is a year later. Dennis Rodman said that the birthdate is 8 January 1983 after meeting Kim in September 2013. Kim Jong-Un was the second of three children Ko Yong-hui bore to Kim Jong-il; his elder brother Kim Jong-chul was born in 1981, while his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, is believed to have been born in 1987.
According to reports first published in Japanese newspapers, he went to school in Switzerland near Bern. First reports claimed he attended the private English-language International School in Gümligen near Bern under the name “Chol-pak” or “Pak-chol” from 1993 until 1998. He was described as shy, a good student who got along well with his classmates and was a basketball fan. He was chaperoned by an older student, who was thought to be his bodyguard.
Later, it was reported that Kim Jong-un attended the Liebefeld Steinhölzli school in Köniz near Bern under the name “Pak-un” or “Un-pak” from 1998 until 2000 as the son of an employee of the Embassy of North Korea. Authorities of Köniz confirmed that a student from North Korea, registered as the son of a member of the Embassy, attended the school from August 1998 until the autumn of 2000, but were unable to give details about his identity. Pak-un first attended a special class for foreign-language children and later attended the regular classes of the 6th, 7th, 8th, and part of the final 9th year, leaving the school abruptly in the autumn of 2000. He was described as a well-integrated and ambitious student who liked to play basketball. However, his grades and attendance rating are reported to have been poor. The ambassador of North Korea in Switzerland, Ri Tcheul, had a close relationship with him and acted as a mentor. One of Pak-un’s classmates told reporters that he had told him that he was the son of the leader of North Korea. According to some reports, Jong-un was described by classmates as a shy child who was awkward with girls and indifferent to political issues but who distinguished himself in sports, and had a fascination with the American National Basketball Association and Michael Jordan. One friend claimed that he had been shown pictures of Pak-un with Kobe Bryant and Toni Kukoč.
In April 2012, new documents came to light indicating that Kim Jong-un had lived in Switzerland since 1991 or 1992, earlier than previously thought.
The Laboratory of Anatomic Anthropology at the University of Lyon, France, after comparing the picture of the boy Pak-un taken at the Liebefeld Steinhölzli school in 1999 with a picture of Kim Jong-un from 2012 came to the conclusion that the two faces show a conformity of 95%. The head of the institute, Raoul Perrot, a forensic anthropologist, considers it most likely that the two pictures show the same person.
It is believed that the student at the Gümligen International School was not Kim Jong-un but his elder brother Kim Jong-chol. It is not known whether the student known as Pak-un in Liebefeld Steinhölzli lived in Switzerland prior to 1998. All the children of Kim Jong-il are said to have lived in Switzerland, as well as the mother of the two youngest sons, who lived in Geneva for some time. The Kim clan is also said to organize family meetings in Switzerland at Lake Geneva and Interlaken.
Most analysts agree that Kim Jong-un attended Kim Il-sung University, a leading officer-training school in Pyongyang, from 2002 to 2007.
For many years, only one confirmed photograph of him was known outside North Korea, apparently taken in the mid-1990s, when he was eleven. Occasional other supposed images of him surfaced but were often disputed. It was only in June 2010, shortly before he was given official posts and publicly introduced to the North Korean people, that more pictures were released of Kim, taken when he was attending school in Switzerland. The first official image of him as an adult was a group photograph released on 30 September 2010, at the end of the party conference that effectively anointed him, in which he is seated in the front row, two places from his father. This was followed by newsreel footage of him attending the conference.
Kim Jong-il’s former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto, revealed details regarding Kim Jong-un, with whom he had a good relationship, stating that he was favored to be his father’s successor. Fujimoto also claimed that Jong-un was favored by his father over his elder brother, Kim Jong-chul, reasoning that Jong-chul is too feminine in character, while Jong-un is “exactly like his father”. Furthermore, Fujimoto stated that “If power is to be handed over then Jong-un is the best for it. He has superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat.” Also, according to Fujimoto, Jong-un smokes Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes, loves Johnnie Walker whisky and has a Mercedes-Benz 600 Sedan. When Jong-un was 18, Fujimoto described an episode where Jong-un once questioned his lavish lifestyle and asked, “We are here, playing basketball, riding horses, riding Jet Skis, having fun together. But what of the lives of the average people?” On 15 January 2009 the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that Kim Jong-il had appointed Kim Jong-un to be his successor.
On 8 March 2009, the BBC reported rumors that Kim Jong-un was on the ballot for elections to the Supreme People’s Assembly, the rubber stamp parliament of North Korea. Subsequent reports indicate that his name did not appear on the list of lawmakers, but he was later elevated to a mid-level position in the National Defense Commission, which is a branch of the North Korean military. Reports have also suggested that he is a diabetic and suffers from hypertension.
From 2009, it was understood by foreign diplomatic services that Kim was to succeed his father Kim Jong-il as the head of the Korean Workers’ Party and de facto leader of North Korea. He has been named “Yŏngmyŏng-han Tongji” (영명한 동지), which loosely translates to “Brilliant Comrade”. His father had also asked embassy staff abroad to pledge loyalty to his son. There have also been reports that citizens in North Korea were encouraged to sing a newly composed “song of praise” to Kim Jong-un, in a similar fashion to that of praise songs relating to Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung. Later, in June, Kim was reported to have visited China secretly to “present himself” to the Chinese leadership, who later warned against North Korea conducting another nuclear test. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has strongly denied that this visit occurred.
North Korea was later reported to have backed the succession plan, after Kim Jong-il suspended a propaganda campaign to promote his youngest son. His birthday has since become a national holiday, celebrated on 8 January, according to a report by a South Korean website. He was expected to be named on 28 September 2010 as successor to his father as leader of North Korea.
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter visited China in early September 2010, and discussed the issue of the North Korean leadership succession with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. According to Carter, Kim Jong-il had said to Wen that Kim Jong-un’s prospective promotion to paramount leader of North Korea was “a false rumor from the West”.
On 10 October 2010, alongside his father, Kim Jong-un attended the ruling Workers’ Party’s 65th anniversary celebration. This was seen as fully confirming his position as the next leader of the Workers’ Party. Unprecedented international press access was granted to the event, further indicating the importance of Kim Jong-un’s presence. In January 2011, the regime began purging around 200 protégés of both Jong-un’s uncle-in-law Jang Sung-taek and O Kuk-ryol, the vice chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, by either detention or execution to further prevent either man from rivaling Jong-un. In the following months, Kim Jong-un was given more and more prominence as he accompanied Kim Jong-il during several “guidance tours” and received gifts from foreign delegations and personages, an honor traditionally awarded only to the living supreme leader.
Ruler of North Korea
On 17 December 2011, Kim Jong-il died. Despite the elder Kim’s plans, it was not immediately clear after his death whether Jong-un would in fact take full power, and what his exact role in a new government would be. Some analysts had predicted that when Kim Jong-il died, Jang Sung-taek would act as regent, as Jong-un was too inexperienced to immediately lead the country. On 25 December 2011, North Korean television showed Jang Sung-taek in the uniform of a general in a sign of his growing sway after the death of Kim Jong-il. A Seoul official familiar with North Korea affairs said it was the first time Jang has been shown on state television in a military uniform. His appearance suggested that Jang had secured a key role in the North’s powerful military, which pledged its allegiance to Kim Jong-un.
North Korea’s cult of personality around Kim Jong-un was stepped up following his father’s death. He was hailed as the “great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche“, “outstanding leader of the party, army and people” and “respected comrade who is identical to Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il”, and was made chairman of the Kim Jong-il funeral committee. The Korean Central News Agency described Kim Jong-un as “a great person born of heaven”, a propaganda term only his father and grandfather had enjoyed, while the ruling Workers’ Party said in an editorial: “We vow with bleeding tears to call Kim Jong-un our supreme commander, our leader.”
He was publicly declared Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army on 24 December 2011 and formally appointed to the position on 30 December when the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party “courteously proclaimed that the dear respected Kim Jong Un, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, assumed the supreme commandership of the Korean People’s Army”.
On 26 December 2011, the leading North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun announced that Kim Jong-un had been acting as chairman of the Central Military Commission, and supreme leader of the country, following his father’s demise.
On 27 March 2012, Kim was elected to the Fourth Conference of the Workers’ Party of Korea, that elected him first secretary, a newly made position, on 11 April. This position replaced the post of general secretary, which was awarded “eternally” to Kim Jong-il. At the conference, Kim Jong-un also took his father’s seats as Politburo Presidium member and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. In a speech made prior to the Conference, Kim Jong-un declared that “Imbuing the whole society with Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism is the highest programme of our Party”. On 13 April 2012, the 5th Session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly appointed Kim Jong-un Chairman of the National Defence Commission.
On 15 April 2012, during a military parade to commemorate Kim Il-sung’s centenary, Kim Jong-un made his first public speech. That speech became the basis of “Onwards Toward the Final Victory“, a repeatedly aired propaganda hymn dedicated to him.
During a 26 July 2012 performance marking the 59th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War, security around Kim reportedly increased dramatically because Kim “is extremely nervous about the possibility of an emergency developing inside North Korea” caused by “mounting opposition to his efforts to rein in the military”.
In November 2012, satellite photos revealed a half-kilometer-long propaganda message carved into a hillside in Ryanggang Province, reading, “Long Live General Kim Jong-un, the Shining Sun!”. The message, located next to an artificial lake built in 2007 to serve a hydroelectric station, is made of Korean syllable blocks measuring 15 by 20 meters, and is located approximately 9 kilometers south of Hyesan near the border with China.
Kim Jong-il’s personal chef Kenji Fujimoto stated, “Stores in Pyongyang were brimming with products and people in the streets looked cheerful. North Korea has changed a lot since Kim Jong-un assumed power. All of this is because of leader Kim Jong-un.”
Model of a Unha-9 rocket on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang, 30 August 2013
Officially, Kim Jong-un is part of a triumvirate heading the executive branch of the North Korean government along with Premier Pak Pong-ju and parliament chairman Kim Yong-nam (no relation). Each nominally holds powers equivalent to a third of a president’s powers in most other presidential systems. Kim Jong-un commands the armed forces, Pak Pong-ju heads the government, and Kim Yong-nam handles foreign relations. Nevertheless, it is generally understood that Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather before him, exercises absolute control over the government and the country.
In 2013, Kim re-established his grandfather’s style when he made his first New Year’s address, a break from the approach of his father. Kim Jong-il never made televised addresses during his 17 years in power. In lieu of delivering a speech, Kim Jong-il contributed to and approved a New Year’s Day editorial, jointly published by Rodong Sinmun (the daily newspaper of the Korean Workers’ Party), Joson Inmingun (the newspaper of the Korean People’s Army), and Chongnyon Jonwi (the newspaper of the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League). At the extraordinary meeting with his top defense and security officials on 26 January 2013, Kim issued orders on preparations for a new nuclear test and introduced martial law in North Korea effective from 29 January.
In May 2014, following the collapse of an apartment building in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un was said to be very upset at the loss of life that resulted. A statement issued by the country’s official news agency the Korean Central News Agency used the rare expression “profound consolation and apology”. An unnamed government official was quoted by the BBC as saying Kim Jong-un had “sat up all night, feeling painful”. While the height of the building and the number of casualties was not released, media reports described it is a 23-story building and indicated hundreds of people may have died in the collapse.
On 9 March 2014, Kim Jong-un was elected to the Supreme People’s Assembly. He was unopposed, but voters had the choice of voting yes or no. There was a record turnout of voters, and according to government officials, all voted yes. The Supreme People’s Assembly subsequently elected him chairman of the National Defense Commission.
In August 2012, Kim Jong-un announced economics reforms similar to China. Kim began to be mentioned by the North Korean state media as “supreme leader” (chego ryongdoja) at this time.
A set of comprehensive economic measures, the “Socialist Corporate Responsible Management System”, were introduced in 2013. The measures increase the autonomy of enterprises by granting them “certain rights to engage in business activities autonomously and elevate the will to labor through appropriately implementing the socialist distribution system”. Another priority of economic policies that year was agriculture, where the pojon (vegetable garden) responsibility system was implemented. The system reportedly achieved a major increase in output in some collective farms.
North Korean media were describing the economy as a “flexible collectivist system” where enterprises were applying “active and evolutionary actions” to achieve economic development. These reports reflect Kim’s general economic policy of reforming management, increasing the autonomy and incentives for economic actors. This set of reforms known as the “May 30th measures” reaffirms both socialist ownership and “objective economic laws in guidance and management” to improve living standards. Other objectives of the measures are to increase the availability of domestically manufactured goods on markets, introduction of defence innovations into the civilian sector and boost international trade.
At a plenary meeting of the WPK Central Committee held on 31 March 2013 in the wake of war threats with South Korea, Kim Jong-un announced that North Korea will adopt “a new strategic line on carrying out economic construction and building nuclear armed forces simultaneously”.
Ri Yong-ho, Kim Yong-chun, U Tong-chuk and Kim Jong-gak were handpicked to groom the young leader and were close confidants of Kim Jong-il. They have either been demoted or disappeared. One South Korean government official said Kim Jong-un is trying to “erase all traces of his father’s rule” eleven months after stepping into power and “replacing top brass with officers who are loyal to him alone”. By the end of 2013, three defense ministers and four chiefs of the army’s general staff had been replaced and five of the seven men who had escorted his father’s hearse two years earlier had been purged, with his uncle Jang Sung-taek one of the most prominent. Jang Sung-taek is believed to have been executed by machine gun.
Kim Jong Uns Uncle Jang Song Thaek gets publicly arrested
Execution scene of Jang Sung-taek, North Korea
North Korea Defence Chief Hyon Yong-chol ‘executed’
It has been claimed that Kim Jong-un has also put to death members of Jang’s family. According to multiple sources, Kim is attempting to completely destroy all traces of Jang’s existence through “extensive executions” of his family, including the children and grandchildren of all close relatives. Those reportedly killed in Kim’s purge include Jang’s sister Jang Kye-sun, her husband and ambassador to Cuba, Jon Yong-jin, and Jang’s nephew and ambassador to Malaysia, Jang Yong-chol. The nephew’s two sons were also said to have been killed. At the time of Jang’s removal, it was announced that “the discovery and purge of the Jang group… made our party and revolutionary ranks purer…” and after his execution on 12 December 2013 state media warned that the army “will never pardon all those who disobey the order of the Supreme Commander.”
Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese chef who used to work as Kim Jong-il’s personal cook, described Kim Jong-un as “a chip off the old block, a spitting image of his father in terms of face, body shape, and personality”.
In July 2012, Kim Jong-un showed a change in cultural policy from his father by attending a Moranbong concert. The concert contained several elements of pop culture from the West, particularly the United States. Kim used this event to debut his wife to the public, an unprecedented move in North Korea.
In a 2012 news story, Business Insider reported, “Signs of a rise in luxury goods have been creeping out of North Korea since Kim Jong-un took over as last year. Just recently, Kim’s wife Ri Sol-ju was photographed holding what appeared to be an expensive Dior handbag, worth almost $1,594 — an average year’s salary in North Korea.” According to diplomatic sources, “Kim Jong-un likes to drink and party all night like his father and ordered the [imported sauna] equipment to help him beat hangovers and fatigue.”
During Dennis Rodman’s 26 February 2013 trip to North Korea, Vice Media correspondent Ryan Duffy observed that “the leader was ‘socially awkward’ and didn’t make eye contact when shaking hands”.
Kim Jong-un did not appear in public for six weeks in September and October 2014. State media reported that he was suffering from an “uncomfortable physical condition”. Previously he had been seen limping. When he reappeared he was using a walking stick.
One report by the Japanese Asia Press agency in January 2013 claimed that in North and South Hwanghae provinces more than 10,000 people had died of famine. Other international news agencies have begun circulating stories of cannibalism. One informant, based in South Hwanghae, said: “In my village in May, a man who killed his own two children and tried to eat them was executed by a firing squad.”
Portraits of Kim Jong-un’s father and grandfather (Arirang Festival mass games in Pyongyang)
On 25 July 2012 North Korean state media reported for the first time that Kim Jong-un is married to Ri Sol-ju (리설주). Ri, who appears to be in her early 20s, had been accompanying Kim Jong-un to public appearances for several weeks prior to the announcement. The BBC, quoting an analyst who spoke to The Korea Times of South Korea, reported that Kim Jong-il had hastily arranged his son’s marriage after suffering a stroke in 2008. According to some sources, the two married in 2009 and Ri gave birth to a daughter in 2010.
Kim Jong-un has one half-brother, one half-sister and an older full-brother (see below). He also has a younger full-sister, Kim Yo-jong, who was believed to be about 23 in 2012. She sometimes accompanies him.
In March 2013, former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman visited Kim Jong-un in North Korea and on his return reported that Ri had given birth to a daughter named Ju-ae in 2012.
Meet Kim Jong II, leader of North Korea – a nation imprisoned by poverty and with a population so hungry, people eat bugs and grass. Now this megalomaniacal dictator is holding the civilized world hostage with what many see as a cunning strategy of extortion, threatening to develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons. It’s a strategy by which the United States has indicated it cannot abide
North Korea (listen), officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK; Chosŏn’gŭl: 조선민주주의인민공화국; hancha: 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國; MR: Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk), is a country in East Asia, in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. The capital and largest city is Pyongyang. North Korea shares a land border with China to the north and north-west, along the Amnok (Yalu) and Tumen rivers. A small section of the Tumen River also forms North Korea’s border with Russia to the northeast. The Korean Demilitarized Zone marks the boundary between North Korea and South Korea. The legitimacy of this border is not accepted by either side, as both states claim to be the legitimate government of the entire peninsula.
Over time North Korea has gradually distanced itself from the world communist movement. Juche, an ideology of national self-reliance, was introduced into the constitution as a “creative application of Marxism–Leninism” in 1972. In 2009, the constitution was amended again, removing the brief references to communism (Chosŏn’gŭl: 공산주의).
The name Korea derives from Goryeo, itself referring to the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo, the first Korean dynasty visited by Persian merchants who referred to Koryŏ (Goryeo; 고려) as Korea. The term Koryŏ also widely became used to refer to Goguryeo, which renamed itself Koryŏ in the 5th century. (The modern spelling, “Korea“, first appeared in late 17th century in the travel writings of the Dutch East India Company‘s Hendrick Hamel.). Despite the coexistence of the spellings Corea and Korea in 19th century publications, some Koreans believe that Japan, around the time of the Japanese occupation, intentionally standardised the spelling on Korea, making Japan appear first alphabetically. Other commentators have pointed out that Japan continued to refer to Korea as “Corea” and “Chosen,” even after Japan absorbed Korea, and that Japan would have had no need to concern itself with Korea’s alphabetical position in international forums, considering that Japan had absorbed Korea, and thus Korea ceased to appear as an independent entity in international forums.
After Goryeo fell in 1392, Joseon became the official name for the entire territory, though it was not universally accepted. The new official name has its origin in the ancient country of Gojoseon (Old Joseon). In 1897, the Joseon dynasty changed the official name of the country from Joseon to Daehan Jeguk (Korean Empire). The name Daehan, which means “great Han” literally, derives from Samhan (Three Hans). However, the name Joseon was still widely used by Koreans to refer to their country, though it was no longer the official name. Under Japanese rule, the two names Han and Joseon coexisted. There were several groups who fought for independence, the most notable being the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea.
Korean history begins with the founding of Joseon (often known as “Gojoseon” to prevent confusion with another dynasty founded in the 13th century; the prefix Go- means ‘older,’ ‘before,’ or ‘earlier’) in 2333 BC by Dangun, according to Korean foundation mythology. Gojoseon expanded until it controlled northern Korean Peninsula and some parts of Manchuria. The Gija Joseon was purportedly founded in 12th century BC, and its existence and role have been controversial in the modern era. In the 2nd century BC, Wiman Joseon which fell to the Han China near the end of the century. Later the Han Dynasty defeated the Wiman Joseon and set up Four Commanderies of Han in 108 BC. There was a significant Chinese presence in northern parts of the Korean peninsula during the next century, and the Lelang Commandery persisted for about 400 years until it was conquered by Goguryeo. After many conflicts with the Chinese Han Dynasty, Gojoseon disintegrated, leading to the Proto–Three Kingdoms of Korea period.
In Unified Silla, poetry and art was encouraged, and Buddhist culture thrived. Relationships between Korea and China remained relatively peaceful during this time. However, Unified Silla weakened under internal strife, and surrendered to Goryeo in 935. Balhae, Silla’s neighbor to the north, was formed as a successor state to Goguryeo. During its height, Balhae controlled most of Manchuria and parts of Russian Far East. It fell to the Khitan in 926.
The peninsula was united by King Taejo of Goryeo in 936. Like Silla, Goryeo was a highly cultural state and created the Jikji in 1377, using the world’s oldest movable metal type printing press. The Mongol invasions in the 13th century greatly weakened Goryeo. After nearly 30 years of war, Goryeo continued to rule Korea, though as a tributary ally to the Mongols. After the Mongolian Empire collapsed, severe political strife followed and the Goryeo Dynasty was replaced by the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, following a rebellion by General Yi Seong-gye.
King Taejo declared the new name of Korea as “Joseon” in reference to Gojoseon, and moved the capital to Hanseong (old name of Seoul). The first 200 years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of Hangul by King Sejong the Great in the 15th century and the rise in influence of Confucianism in the country.
Between 1592 and 1598, Japan invaded Korea. Toyotomi Hideyoshi led the Japanese forces, but his advance was halted by Korean forces with assistance from Righteous army militias and Ming Dynasty Chinese troops. Through a series of successful battles of attrition, the Japanese forces were eventually forced to withdraw, and subsequently signed a peace agreement with diplomats of Ming China. This war also saw the rise of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his renowned “turtle ship“. In the 1620s and 1630s, Joseon suffered from invasions by the Manchu which eventually extended to China as well.
Japan tried to suppress Korean traditions and culture and ran the economy primarily for its own benefit. Anti-Japanese, pro-liberation rallies took place nationwide on 1 March 1919 (the March 1st Movement). About 7,000 people were killed during the suppression of this movement. Continued anti-Japanese uprisings, such as the nationwide uprising of students in 1929, led to the strengthening of military rule in 1931. After the outbreaks of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and World War II, Japan stepped up efforts to extinguish Korean culture.
Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names. Worship at Japanese Shinto shrines was made compulsory. The school curriculum was radically modified to eliminate teaching in the Korean language and history. Numerous Korean cultural artifacts were destroyed or taken to Japan. Resistance groups known as Dongnipgun (Liberation Army) operated along the Sino-Korean border, fighting guerrilla warfare against Japanese forces. Some of them took part in allied action in China and parts of South East Asia. One of the guerrilla leaders was the communist Kim Il-sung, who later became the leader of North Korea.
During World War II, Koreans at home were forced to support the Japanese war effort. Tens of thousands of men were conscripted into Japan’s military. Around 200,000 girls and women, many from Korea, were forced to engage in sexual services for the Japanese military, with the euphemism “comfort women“.
Suspected communist sympathizers awaiting execution, Jeju in May 1948
At the end of World War II in 1945, the Korean peninsula was divided into two zones along the 38th parallel, with the northern half of the peninsula occupied by the Soviet Union and the southern half by the United States. Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea evaporated as the politics of the Cold War resulted in the establishment of two separate states with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems.
Soviet General Terentii Shtykov recommended the establishment of the Soviet Civil Authority in October 1945, and supported Kim Il-sung as chairman of the Provisional People’s Committee for North Korea, established in February 1946. During the provisional government, Shtykov’s chief accomplishment was a sweeping land reform program that broke North Korea’s stratified class system. Landlords and Japanese collaborators fled to the South, where there was no land reform and sporadic unrest. Shtykov nationalized key industries and led the Soviet delegation to talks on the future of Korea in Moscow and Seoul. In September 1946, South Korean citizens had risen up against the Allied Military Government. In April 1948, an uprising of the Jeju islanders was violently crushed. The South declared its statehood in May 1948 and two months later the ardent anti-communist Syngman Rhee became its ruler. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was established in the North on 9 September 1948. Shtykov served as the first Soviet Ambassador, while Kim Il-sung became Premier.
Soviet forces withdrew from the North in 1948 and most American forces withdrew from the South the following year. Ambassador Shtykov suspected Rhee was planning to invade the North, and was sympathetic to Kim’s goal of Korean unification under socialism. The two successfully lobbied Joseph Stalin to support a short blitzkrieg of the South, which culminated in the outbreak of the Korean War.
Civilians killed by North Korean forces near Hamhung, October 1950
The military of North Korea invaded the South on 25 June 1950, and swiftly overran most of the country. A United Nations force, led by the United States, intervened to defend the South, and rapidly advanced into North Korea. As they neared the border with China, Chinese forces intervened on behalf of North Korea, shifting the balance of the war again. Fighting ended on 27 July 1953, with an armistice that approximately restored the original boundaries between North and South Korea. More than one million civilians and soldiers were killed in the war. As a result of the war, almost every substantial building in North Korea was destroyed.
Although some have referred to the conflict as a civil war, other important factors were involved. The Korean War was also the first armed confrontation of the Cold War and set the standard for many later conflicts. It is often viewed as an example of the proxy war, where the two superpowers would fight in another country, forcing the people in that country to suffer most of the destruction and death involved in a war between such large nations. The superpowers avoided descending into an all-out war against one another, as well as the mutual use of nuclear weapons. It also expanded the Cold War, which to that point had mostly been concerned with Europe.
A heavily guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ) still divides the peninsula, and an anti-communist and anti-North Korea sentiment remains in South Korea. Since the war, the United States has maintained a strong military presence in the South which is depicted by the North Korean government as an imperialist occupation force.
The relative peace between the South and the North following the armistice was interrupted by border skirmishes, celebrity abductions, and assassination attempts. The North failed in several assassination attempts on South Korean leaders, most notably in 1968, 1974 and the Rangoon bombing in 1983; tunnels were frequently found under the DMZ and war nearly broke out over the axe murder incident at Panmunjom in 1976. In 1973, extremely secret, high-level contacts began to be conducted through the offices of the Red Cross, but ended after the Panmunjom incident, with little progress having been made and the idea that the two Koreas would join international organizations separately.[clarification needed]
During the 1956 August Faction Incident, Kim Il-sung successfully resisted efforts by the Soviet Union and China to depose him in favor of Soviet Koreans or the pro-Chinese Yanan faction.  The last Chinese troops withdrew from the country in October 1958, which is the consensus as the latest date when North Korea became effectively independent, though some scholars believe that the 1956 August incident demonstrated independence. North Korea remained closely aligned to China and the Soviet Union, and the Sino-Soviet split allowed Kim to play the powers off each other. North Korea sought to become a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and emphasized the ideology of Juche to distinguish it from both the Soviet Union and China.
Recovery from the war was quick — by 1957 industrial production reached 1949 levels. In 1959, relations with Japan had improved somewhat, and North Korea began allowing the repatriation of Japanese citizens in the country. The same year, North Korea revalued the North Korean won, which held greater value than its South Korean counterpart. Until the 1960s, economic growth was higher than in South Korea, and North Korean GDP per capita was equal to that of its southern neighbor as late as 1976.
In the early 1970s China began normalizing its relations with the West, particularly the U.S., and reevaluating its relations with North Korea. The diplomatic problems culminated in 1976 with the death of Mao Zedong. In response, Kim Il-sung began severing ties with China and reemphasizing national and economic self-reliance enshrined in his Juche Idea, which promoted producing everything within the country. By the 1980s the economy had begun to stagnate, started its long decline in 1987, and almost completely collapsed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 when all Russian aid was suddenly halted. The North began reestablishing trade relations with China shortly thereafter, but the Chinese could not afford to provide enough food aid to meet demand.
The Arduous March
In 1992, as Kim Il-sung’s health began deteriorating, Kim Jong-il slowly began taking over various state tasks. Kim Il-sung died of a heart attack in 1994, in the midst of a standoff with the United States over North Korean nuclear weapon development. Kim declared a three-year period of national mourning before officially announcing his position as the new leader.
North Korean efforts to build nuclear weapons were halted by the Agreed Framework, negotiations with U.S. president Bill Clinton. Kim Jong-il instituted a policy called Songun, or “military first”. There is much speculation about this policy being used as a strategy to strengthen the military while discouraging coup attempts. Restrictions on travel were tightened and the state security apparatus was strengthened.
Flooding in the mid-1990s exacerbated the economic crisis, severely damaging crops and infrastructure and led to widespread famine which the government proved incapable of curtailing. In 1996, the government accepted UN food aid. Since the outbreak of the famine, the government has reluctantly tolerated illegal black markets while officially maintaining a state socialist economy. Corruption flourished and disillusionment with the regime spread.
North Korean women present gifts to South Korean business tycoon Chung Ju-yung, 1998
In the late 1990s, North Korea began making attempts at normalizing relations with the West and continuously renegotiating disarmament deals with U.S. officials in exchange for economic aid. At the same time, building on Nordpolitik, South Korea began to engage with the North as part of its Sunshine Policy.
The international environment changed with the election of U.S. president George W. Bush in 2001. His administration rejected South Korea’s Sunshine Policy and the Agreed Framework. The U.S. government treated North Korea as a rogue state, while North Korea redoubled its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons to avoid the fate of Iraq.
North Koreans bowing in front of statues of Kim Il-sung (left) and Kim Jong-il
In August 2009, former U.S. president Bill Clinton met with Kim Jong-il to secure the release of two American journalists who had been sentenced for entering the country illegally. Current U.S. president Barack Obama‘s position towards North Korea has been to resist making deals with North Korea for the sake of defusing tension, a policy known as “strategic patience.”
Early European visitors to Korea remarked that the country resembled “a sea in a heavy gale” because of the many successive mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula. Some 80% of North Korea is composed of mountains and uplands, separated by deep and narrow valleys. All of the Korean Peninsula’s mountains with elevations of 2,000 meters (6,600 ft) or more are located in North Korea. The coastal plains are wide in the west and discontinuous in the east. A great majority of the population lives in the plains and lowlands. According to a United Nations Environmental Programme report in 2003, forest covers over 70 percent of the country, mostly on steep slopes. The longest river is the Amnok (Yalu) River which flows for 790 kilometres (491 mi).
The highest point in North Korea is Baekdu Mountain, a volcanic mountain which forms part of the Chinese/North Korean border with basaltlavaplateau with elevations between 1,400 and 2,744 meters (4,593 and 9,003 ft) above sea level. The Hamgyong Range, located in the extreme northeastern part of the peninsula, has many high peaks including Kwanmobong at approximately 2,541 m (8,337 ft).
Other major ranges include the Rangrim Mountains, which are located in the north-central part of North Korea and run in a north-south direction, making communication between the eastern and western parts of the country rather difficult; and the Kangnam Range, which runs along the North Korea–China border. Mount Kumgang, or Diamond Mountain (approximately 1,638 metres or 5,374 feet), in the Taebaek Range, which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.
Long winters bring bitter cold and clear weather interspersed with snow storms as a result of northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia. The daily average high and low temperatures for Pyongyang in January are −3 and −13 °C (27 and 9 °F). On average, it snows thirty-seven days during the winter. Winter can be particularly harsh in the northern, mountainous regions.
Summer tends to be short, hot, humid, and rainy because of the southern and southeastern monsoon winds that bring moist air from the Pacific Ocean. Spring and autumn are transitional seasons marked by mild temperatures and variable winds and bring the most pleasant weather. The daily average high and low temperatures for Pyongyang in August are 29 and 20 °C (84 and 68 °F).
On average, approximately 60% of all precipitation occurs from June to September. Natural hazards include late spring droughts which are often followed by severe flooding. Typhoons affect the peninsula on an average of at least once every summer or early autumn.
In 2015, North Korea experienced extreme drought which affected crops and electricity supplies. According to the Korean Central News Agency, the drought was the worst seen in 100 years.
The unicameral Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) is the highest organ of state authority and holds the legislative power. Its 687 members are elected every five years by universal suffrage. Supreme People’s Assembly sessions are convened by the SPA Presidium, whose president (Kim Yong-nam since 1998) also represents the state in relations with foreign countries. Deputies formally elect the President, the vice-presidents and members of the Presidium and take part in the constitutionally appointed activities of the legislature: pass laws, establish domestic and foreign policies, appoint members of the cabinet, review and approve the state economic plan, among others. However, the SPA itself cannot initiate any legislation independently of party or state organs. It is unknown whether it has ever criticized or amended bills placed before it, and the elections are based around a single list of WPK-approved candidates who stand without opposition.
The Juche ideology is the cornerstone of party works and government operations. It is viewed by the official North Korean line as an embodiment of Kim Il-sung’s wisdom, an expression of his leadership, and an idea which provides “a complete answer to any question that arises in the struggle for national liberation”.Juche was pronounced in December 1955 in order to emphasize a Korea-centered revolution. Its core tenets are economic self-sufficiency, military self-reliance and an independent foreign policy. The roots of Juche were made up of a complex mixture of factors, including the cult of personality centered on Kim Il-sung, the conflict with pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese dissenters, and Korea’s centuries-long struggle for independence.
It was initially promoted as a “creative application” of Marxism–Leninism, but in the mid-1970s, it was described by state propaganda as “the only scientific thought… and most effective revolutionary theoretical structure that leads to the future of communist society”. Juche eventually replaced Marxist–Leninism entirely by the 1980s, and in 1992 references to the latter were omitted from the constitution. The 2009 constitution dropped references to communism, but retained references to socialism.Juche’s concepts of self-reliance have thus evolved with time and circumstances, but still provide the groundwork for the spartan austerity, sacrifice and discipline demanded by the party.
The North Korean government exercises control over many aspects of the nation’s culture, and this control is used to perpetuate a cult of personality surrounding Kim Il-sung, and, to a lesser extent, Kim Jong-il. While visiting North Korea in 1979, journalist Bradley Martin noted that nearly all music, art, and sculpture that he observed glorified “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, whose personality cult was then being extended to his son, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il.[page needed] Bradley Martin also reported that there is even widespread belief that Kim Il-sung “created the world”, and Kim Jong-il could “control the weather”.[page needed]
Such reports are contested by North Korea researcher Brian R. Myers: “divine powers have never been attributed to either of the two Kims. In fact, the propaganda apparatus in Pyongyang has generally been careful not to make claims that run directly counter to citizens’ experience or common sense.” He further explains that the state propaganda painted Kim Jong-il as someone whose expertise lay in military matters and that the famine of the 1990s was partially caused by natural disasters out of Kim Jong-il’s control.
A propaganda poster with Kim Il-sung’s official portrait.
The song “No Motherland Without You“, sung by the North Korean Army Choir, was created especially for Kim Jong-il and is one of the most popular tunes in the country. Kim Il-sung is still officially revered as the nation’s “Eternal President”. Several landmarks in North Korea are named for Kim Il-sung, including Kim Il-sung University, Kim Il-sung Stadium, and Kim Il-sung Square. Defectors have been quoted as saying that North Korean schools deify both father and son. Kim Il-sung rejected the notion that he had created a cult around himself, and accused those who suggested this of “factionalism“. Following the death of Kim Il-sung, North Koreans were prostrating and weeping to a bronze statue of him in an organized event; similar scenes were broadcast by state television following the death of Kim Jong-il.
Critics maintain this Kim Jong-il personality cult was inherited from his father, Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il was often the center of attention throughout ordinary life in the DPRK. His birthday is one of the most important public holidays in the country. On his 60th birthday (based on his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred throughout the country. Kim Jong-il’s personality cult, although significant, was not as extensive as his father’s. One point of view is that Kim Jong-il’s cult of personality was solely out of respect for Kim Il-sung or out of fear of punishment for failure to pay homage. Media and government sources from outside of North Korea generally support this view, while North Korean government sources say that it is genuine hero worship.
B. R. Myers also argues that the worship is real and not unlike worship of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. In a more recent event – on 11 June 2012 – a 14-year-old North Korean schoolgirl drowned while attempting to rescue portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il from a flood.
North Korea has a civil law system based on the Prussian model and influenced by Japanese traditions and Communist legal theory.Judiciary procedures are handled by the Central Court (the highest court of appeal), provincial or special city-level courts, people’s courts and special courts. People’s courts are at the lowest level of the system and operate in cities, counties and urban districts, while different kinds of special courts handle cases related to military, railroad or maritime matters.
Judges are theoretically elected by their respective local people’s assemblies, but in practice they’re appointed by the Korean Workers’ Party. The penal code is based on the principle of nullum crimen sine lege (no crime without a law), but remains a tool for political control despite several amendments reducing ideological influence. Courts carry out legal procedures related to not only criminal and civil matters, but also political cases as well. Political prisoners are sent to labor camps, while criminal offenders are incarcerated in a separate system.
The security apparatus is very extensive, exerting strict control over residence, travel, employment, clothing, food and family life. Security establishments tightly monitor cellular and digital communications. The MPS, State Security and the police allegedly conduct real-time monitoring of text messages, online data transfer, monitor phone calls and automatically transcribe recorded conversations. They reportedly have the capacity to triangulate a subscriber’s exact location, while military intelligence monitors phone and radio traffic as far as 140 kilometers south of the Demilitarized zone.Mass surveillance is carried out through a system which includes 100,000 CCTV cameras, many of which are installed at the border with China.
The close China-DPRK relationship is celebrated at the Mass Games in Pyongyang
Initially, North Korea had diplomatic ties with only other communist countries. In the 1960s and 1970s, it pursued an independent foreign policy, established relations with many developing countries, and joined the Non-Aligned Movement. In the late 1980s and the 1990s its foreign policy was thrown into turmoil with the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Suffering an economic crisis, it closed 30% of its embassies. At the same time, North Korea sought to build relations with developed free market countries. As a result of its isolation, it is sometimes known as the “hermit kingdom“.
North Korea’s policy is to seek reunification without what it sees as outside interference, through a federal structure retaining each side’s leadership and systems. In 2000, both North and South Korea signed the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration in which both sides made promises to seek out a peaceful reunification. The Democratic Federal Republic of Korea is a proposed state first mentioned by then North Korean president Kim Il-sung on 10 October 1980, proposing a federation between North and South Korea in which the respective political systems would initially remain.
Inter-Korean relations are at the core of North Korean diplomacy and have seen numerous shifts in the last few decades. In 1972, the two Koreas agreed in principle to achieve reunification through peaceful means and without foreign interference. Despite this, relations remained cool well until the early 1990s, with the exception of a brief period in the early 1980s when North Korea provided flood relief to its southern neighbor and the two countries organized a reunion of 92 separated families.
The Sunshine Policy instituted by South Korean president Kim Dae-jung in 1998 was a watershed in inter-Korean relations. It encouraged other countries to engage with the North, which allowed Pyongyang to normalize relations with a number of European Union states and contributed to the establishment of joint North-South economic projects. The culmination of the Sunshine Policy was the 2000 Inter-Korean Summit, when Kim Dae-jung visited Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. On 4 October 2007, South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il signed an 8-point peace agreement.
Relations worsened yet again in the late 2000s and early 2010s when South Korean president Lee Myung-bak adopted a more hard-line approach and suspended aid deliveries pending the de-nuclearization of the North. North Korea responded by ending all of its previous agreements with the South. It also deployed additional ballistic missiles and placed its military on full combat alert after South Korea, Japan and the United States threatened to intercept a Unha-2 space launch vehicle. The next few years witnessed a string of hostilities, including the alleged North Korean involvement in the sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan, mutual ending of diplomatic ties, a North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, and an international crisis involving threats of a nuclear exchange.
Of all KPA branches, the Ground Force is the largest. It has approximately 1 million personnel divided into 80 infantry divisions, 30 artillery brigades, 25 special warfare brigades, 20 mechanized brigades, 10 tank brigades and seven tank regiments. They are equipped with 3,700 tanks, 2,100 APCs and IFVs, 17,900 artillery pieces, 11,000 anti-aircraft guns and some 10,000 MANPADS and anti-tank guided missiles. Other equipment includes 1,600 aircraft in the Air Force and 1,000 vessels in the Navy. North Korea has the largest special forces and the largest submarine fleet in the world.
North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, but its arsenal remains limited. Various estimates put its stockpile at less than 10 plutonium warheads and 12–27 nuclear weapon equivalents if uranium warheads are considered. Delivery capabilities are provided by the Rocket Force, which has some 1,000 ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometres.
According to a 2004 South Korean assessment, North Korea possesses a stockpile of chemical weapons estimated to amount to 2,500–5,000 tons, including nerve, blister, blood, and vomiting agents, as well as the ability to cultivate and produce biological weapons including anthrax, smallpox, and cholera. Because of its nuclear and missile tests, North Korea has been sanctioned under United Nations Security Council resolutions 1695 of July 2006, 1718 of October 2006, 1874 of June 2009, and 2087 of January 2013.
Much of the equipment is engineered and produced by a domestic defense industry. Weapons are manufactured in roughly 1,800 underground defense industry plants scattered throughout the country, most of them located in Chagang Province. The defense industry is capable of producing a full range of individual and crew-served weapons, artillery, armoured vehicles, tanks, missiles, helicopters, surface combatants, submarines, landing and infiltration craft, Yak-18 trainers and possibly co-production of jet aircraft. According to official North Korean media, military expenditures for 2010 amount to 15.8% of the state budget.
With the exception of a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese, North Korea’s 24,852,000 people are ethnically homogeneous. Demographic experts in the 20th century estimated that the population would grow to 25.5 million by 2000 and 28 million by 2010, but this increase never occurred due to the North Korean famine. It began in 1995, lasted for three years and resulted in the deaths of between 300,000 and 800,000 North Koreans annually. The deaths were most likely caused by malnutrition-related illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis rather than starvation.
International donors led by the United States initiated shipments of food through the World Food Program in 1997 to combat the famine. Despite a drastic reduction of aid under the Bush Administration, the situation gradually improved: the number of malnourished children declined from 60% in 1998 to 37% in 2006 and 28% in 2013. Domestic food production almost recovered to the recommended annual level of 5.37 million tons of cereal equivalent in 2013, but the World Food Program reported a continuing lack of dietary diversity and access to fats and proteins.
The famine had a significant impact on the population growth rate, which declined to 0.9% annually in 2002 and 0.53% in 2014. Late marriages after military service, limited housing space and long hours of work or political studies further exhaust the population and reduce growth. The national birth rate is 14.5 births per 1,000 population. Two-thirds of households consist of extended families mostly living in two-room units. Marriage is virtually universal and divorce is extremely rare.
A dental clinic at one of North Korea’s major hospitals
North Korea had a life expectancy of 69.8 years in 2013. While North Korea is classified as a low-income country, the structure of North Korea’s causes of death (2013) are unlike that of other low-income countries. Instead, it is closer to worldwide averages, with non-communicable diseases—such as cardiovascular disease and cancers—accounting for two-thirds of the total deaths.
A 2013 study reported that communicable diseases and malnutrition are responsible for 29% of the total deaths in North Korea. This figure is higher than those of high-income countries and South Korea, but half of the average 57% of all deaths in other low-income countries.Infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and hepatitis B are considered to be endemic to the country as a result of the famine.
A free universal insurance system is in place, but quality of medical care varies significantly by region.Preventive medicine is emphasized through physical exercise and sports, nationwide monthly checkups and routine spraying of public places against disease. Every individual has a lifetime health card which contains a full medical record.
The 2008 census listed the entire population as literate, including those in the age group beyond 80. An 11-year free, compulsory cycle of primary and secondary education is provided in more than 27,000 nursery schools, 14,000 kindergartens, 4,800 four-year primary and 4,700 six-year secondary schools. Some 77% of males and 79% of females aged 30–34 have finished secondary school. An additional 300 universities and colleges offer higher education.Kim Il-sung University is the only one with four-year courses.
Most graduates from the compulsory program do not attend university but begin their obligatory military service or proceed to work in farms or factories instead. The main deficiencies of higher education are the heavy presence of ideological subjects, which comprise 50% of courses in social studies and 20% in sciences, and the imbalances in curriculum. The study of natural sciences is greatly emphasized while social sciences are neglected.Heuristics is actively applied to develop the independence and creativity of students throughout the system. Studying of Russian and English language was made compulsory in upper middle schools in 1978.
North Korea shares the Korean language with South Korea, although some dialect differences exist within both Koreas. North Koreans refer to their Pyongyang dialect as munhwa (“cultured language”) as opposed to South Korea’s Seoul dialect, the p’yojuno (“standard language”), which is viewed as decadent because of its usage of Japanese and English loanwords.
Words from Japanese, Chinese or Western origin have been eliminated from munhwa along with the usage of Chinese hanja characters. Written language uses the chosŏn’gul phonetic alphabet, developed under Sejong the Great (1418 – 1450).
The influence of Buddhism and Confucianism still has an effect on cultural life. Buddhists reportedly fare better than other religious groups. They are given limited funding by the government to promote the religion, because Buddhism played an integral role in traditional Korean culture.
Chondoism (“Heavenly Way”) is an indigenous syncretic belief combining elements of Korean shamanism, Buddhism, Taoism and Catholicism that is officially represented by the WPK-controlled Chongu Party. In contrast, the Open Doors mission claims the most severe persecution of Christians in the world occurs in North Korea. Four state-sanctioned churches exist, but freedom of religion advocates claim these are showcases for foreigners. Amnesty International has also expressed concerns about religious persecution in North Korea.
Sneaker-wearing North Korean youths walking in Pyongyang.
According to North Korean documents and refugee testimonies, all North Koreans are sorted into groups according to their Songbun, an ascribed status system based on a citizen’s assessed loyalty to the regime. Based on their own behavior and the political, social, and economic background of their family for three generations as well as behavior by relatives within that range, Songbun is allegedly used to determine whether an individual is trusted with responsibility, given opportunities, or even receives adequate food.
Songbun allegedly affects access to educational and employment opportunities and particularly whether a person is eligible to join North Korea’s ruling party. There are 3 main classifications and about 50 sub-classifications. According to Kim Il-sung, speaking in 1958, the loyal “core class” constituted 25% of the North Korean population, the “wavering class” 55%, and the “hostile class” 20%. The highest status is accorded to individuals descended from those who participated with Kim Il-sung in the resistance against Japanese occupation during and before World War II and to those who were factory workers, laborers or peasants in 1950.
While some analysts believe private commerce recently changed the Songbun system to some extent, most North Korean refugees say it remains a commanding presence in everyday life. However the North Korean government claims all citizens are equal and denies any discrimination on the basis of family background.
A map of political prison camps in North Korea. An estimated 40% of prisoners die of malnutrition.
North Korea is widely accused of having one of the worst human rights records in the world. North Koreans have been referred to as “some of the world’s most brutalized people” by Human Rights Watch, because of the severe restrictions placed on their political and economic freedoms. The North Korean population is strictly managed by the state and all aspects of daily life are subordinated to party and state planning. Employment is managed by the party on the basis of political reliability, and travel is tightly controlled by the Ministry of People’s Security.
Amnesty International also reports of severe restrictions on the freedom of association, expression and movement, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment resulting in death, and executions. North Korea also applies capital punishment, including public executions. Human rights organizations estimate that 1,193 executions had been carried out in the country by 2009.
The State Security Department extrajudicially apprehends and imprisons those accused of political crimes without due process. People perceived as hostile to the government, such as Christians or critics of the leadership, are deported to labor camps without trial, often with their whole family and mostly without any chance of being released.
Based on satellite images and defector testimonies, Amnesty International estimates that around 200,000 prisoners are held in six large political prison camps, where they are forced to work in conditions approaching slavery. Supporters of the government who deviate from the government line are subject to reeducation in sections of labor camps set aside for that purpose. Those who are deemed politically rehabilitated may reassume responsible government positions on their release.
The North Korean government rejects the human rights abuses claims, calling them “a smear campaign” and a “human rights racket” aimed at regime change. In a report to the UN, North Korea dismissed accusations of atrocities as “wild rumors”. The government also admitted some human rights issues related to living conditions and stated that it is working to improve them.
North Korea has been maintaining one of the most closed and centralized economies in the world since the 1940s. For several decades it followed the Soviet pattern of five-year plans with the ultimate goal of achieving self-sufficiency. Extensive Soviet and Chinese support allowed North Korea to rapidly recover from the Korean War and register very high growth rates. Systematic inefficiency began to arise around 1960, when the economy shifted from the extensive to the intensive development stage. The shortage of skilled labor, energy, arable land and transportation significantly impeded long-term growth and resulted in consistent failure to meet planning objectives. The major slowdown of the economy contrasted with South Korea, which surpassed the North in terms of absolute Gross Domestic Product and per capita income by the 1980s. North Korea declared the last seven-year plan unsuccessful in December 1993 and thereafter abandoned planning.
The loss of Eastern Bloc trading partners and a series of natural disasters throughout the 1990s caused severe hardships, including widespread famine. By 2000, the situation improved owing to a massive international food assistance effort, but the economy continues to suffer from food shortages, dilapidated infrastructure and a critically low energy supply. In an attempt to recover from the collapse, the government began structural reforms in 1998 that formally legalized private ownership of assets and decentralized control over production. A second round of reforms in 2002 led to an expansion of market activities, partial monetization, flexible prices and salaries, and the introduction of incentives and accountability techniques. Despite these changes, North Korea remains a command economy where the state owns almost all means of production and development priorities are defined by the government.
The economy is heavily nationalized. Food and housing are extensively subsidized by the state; education and healthcare are free; and the payment of taxes was officially abolished in 1974. A variety of goods are available in department stores and supermarkets in Pyongyang, though most of the population relies on small-scale janmadang markets. In 2009, the government attempted to stem the expanding free market by banning janmadang and the use of foreign currency, but the resulting inflation spike and rare public protests caused a reversal of these policies. Private trade is dominated by women because most men are required to be present at their workplace, even though many state-owned enterprises are non-operational.
Industry and services employ 65% of North Korea’s 12.6 million labor force. Major industries include machine building, military equipment, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing and tourism.Iron ore and coal production are among the few sectors where North Korea performs significantly better than its southern neighbor – it produces about 10 times larger amounts of each resource. The agricultural sector was shattered by the natural disasters of the 1990s. Its 3,500 cooperatives and state farms were among the most productive and successful in the world around 1980 but now experience chronic fertilizer and equipment shortages. Rice, corn, soybeans and potatoes are some of the primary crops. A significant contribution to the food supply comes from commercial fishing and aquaculture. Tourism has been a growing sector for the past decade. North Korea aims to increase the number of foreign visitors from 200,000 to one million by 2016 through projects like the Masikryong Ski Resort.
Foreign trade surpassed pre-crisis levels in 2005 and continues to expand. North Korea has a number of special economic zones (SEZs) and Special Administrative Regions where foreign companies can operate with tax and tariff incentives while North Korean establishments gain access to improved technology. Initially four such zones existed, but they yielded little overall success. The SEZ system was overhauled in 2013 when 14 new zones were opened and the Rason Special Economic Zone was reformed as a joint Chinese-North Korean project. The Kaesong Industrial Region is a special economic zone where more than 100 South Korean companies employ some 52,000 North Korean workers. Outside inter-Korean trade, more than 89% of external trade is conducted with China. Russia is the second-largest foreign partner with $100 million worth of imports and exports for the same year. In 2014, Russia wrote off 90% of North Korea’s debt and the two countries agreed to conduct all transactions in rubles. Overall, external trade in 2013 reached a total of $7.3 billion (the highest amount since 1990), while inter-Korean trade dropped to an eight-year low of $1.1 billion.
North Korea’s energy infrastructure is obsolete and in disrepair. Power shortages are chronic and would not be alleviated even by electricity imports because the poorly maintained grid causes significant losses during transmission.Coal accounts for 70% of primary energy production, followed by hydroelectric power with 17%. The government under Kim Jong-un has increased emphasis on renewable energy projects like wind farms, solar parks, solar heating and biomass. A set of legal regulations adopted in 2014 stressed the development of geothermal, wind and solar energy along with recycling and environmental conservation.
North Korea also strives to develop its own civilian nuclear program. These efforts are under much international dispute due to their military applications and concerns about safety. Russian energy company Gazprom has a project for a $2.5 billion gas pipeline to South Korea through Pyongyang, which is expected to generate an annual revenue of $100 million from transit fees.
Transport infrastructure includes railways, highways, water and air routes, but rail transport is by far the most widespread. North Korea has some 5,200 kilometres of railways mostly in standard gauge which carry 80% of annual passenger traffic and 86% of freight, but electricity shortages undermine their efficiency. Construction of a high-speed railway connecting Kaesong, Pyongyang and Sinuiju with speeds exceeding 200 km/h was approved in 2013. North Korea connects with the Trans-Siberian Railway through Rajin.
Road transport is very limited — only 724 kilometers of the 25,554 kilometer road network are paved, and maintenance on most roads is poor. Only 2% of the freight capacity is supported by river and sea transport, and air traffic is negligible. All port facilities are ice-free and host a merchant fleet of 158 vessels. Eighty-two airports and 23 helipads are operational and the largest serve the state-run airline, Air Koryo. Cars are relatively rare, but bicycles are common.
R&D efforts are concentrated at the State Academy of Sciences, which runs 40 research institutes, 200 smaller research centers, a scientific equipment factory and six publishing houses. The government considers science and technology to be directly linked to economic development. A five-year scientific plan emphasizing IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology, marine and plasma research was carried out in the early 2000s. A 2010 report by the South Korean Science and Technology Policy Institute identified polymer chemistry, animal cloning, single carbon materials, nanoscience, mathematics, software, nuclear technology and rocketry as potential areas of inter-Korean scientific cooperation. North Korean institutes are strong in these fields of research, although their engineers require additional training and laboratories need equipment upgrades.
Unha-3 space launch vehicle at Sohae Satellite Launching Station
Under its “constructing a powerful knowledge economy” slogan, the state has launched a project to concentrate education, scientific research and production into a number of “high-tech development zones”. However, international sanctions remain a significant obstacle to their development. The Miraewon network of electronic libraries was established in 2014 under similar slogans.
Despite a historically strong Chinese influence, Korean culture has shaped its own unique identity. It came under attack during the Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945, when Japan enforced a cultural assimilation policy. Koreans were encouraged to learn and speak Japanese, adopt the Japanese family name system and Shinto religion, and were forbidden to write or speak the Korean language in schools, businesses, or public places.
After the peninsula was divided in 1945, two distinct cultures formed out of the common Korean heritage. North Koreans have little exposure to foreign influence The revolutionary struggle and the brilliance of the leadership are some of the main themes in art. “Reactionary” elements from traditional culture have been discarded and cultural forms with a “folk” spirit have been reintroduced.
Visual arts are generally produced in the aesthetics of Socialist realism. North Korean painting combines the influence of Soviet and Japanese visual expression to instill a sentimental loyalty to the system. All artists in North Korea are required to join the Artists’ Union, and the best among them can receive an official licence to portray the leaders. Portraits and sculptures depicting Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un are classed as “Number One works”.
Most aspects of art have been dominated by Mansudae Art Studio since its establishment in 1959. It employs around 1,000 artists in what is likely the biggest art factory in the world where paintings, murals, posters and monuments are designed and produced. The studio has commercialized its activity and sells its works to collectors in a variety of countries including China, where it is in high demand.Mansudae Overseas Projects is a subdivision of Mansudae Art Studio that carries out construction of large-scale monuments for international customers. Some of the projects include the African Renaissance Monument in Senegal, and the Heroes’ Acre in Namibia.
Kim Il-sung’s personal works are considered “classical masterpieces” while the ones created under his instruction are labeled “models of Juche literature”. These include The Fate of a Self-Defense Corps Man, The Song of Korea and Immortal History, a series of historical novels depicting the suffering of Koreans under Japanese occupation. More than four million literary works were published between the 1980s and the early 2000s, but almost all of them belong to a narrow variety of political genres like “army-first revolutionary literature”.
Government policies towards film are no different than those applied to other arts — motion pictures serve to fulfill the targets of “social education”. Some of the most influential films are based on historic events (An Jung-geun shoots Itō Hirobumi) or folk tales (Hong Gildong). Most movies have predictable propaganda story lines which make cinema an unpopular entertainment. Viewers only see films that feature their favorite actors. Western productions are only available at private showings to high-ranking Party members, although the 1997 Titanic is frequently shown to university students as an example of Western culture. Access to foreign media products is available through smuggled DVDs and television or radio broadcasts in border areas.
Bias in reporting on North Korea has occurred in international media as a result of the country’s isolation. Nonsensical stories like Kim Jong-un undergoing surgery to look like his grandfather, executing his ex-girlfriend or feeding his uncle to a pack of hungry dogs have been circulated by foreign media as truth despite the lack of a credible source. Many of the claims originate from the South Korean right-wing newspaper The Chosun Ilbo. Max Fischer of The Washington Post has written that “almost any story [on North Korea] is treated as broadly credible, no matter how outlandish or thinly sourced”. Occasional deliberate disinformation on the part of North Korean establishments further complicates the issue.