North Korea's Cruelty
In an ominous reversal, North Korea has apparently scrapped its 2000 decree that it would be lenient toward citizens who "illegally" crossed the border -- in effect, almost everyone leaving the country -- to China to find food or earn money to feed their families. According to recent border-crossers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Pyongyang has implemented harsher punishments for those repatriated.For the crime of wishing to eat,
The North Koreans interviewed recounted the chilling language officials use to describe the policies the North reinstated perhaps as long ago as late 2004: Those crossing the border without state permission "won't be forgiven," no matter why they went to China or what they did there, including first-time "offenders."
The hardening policy shows how Pyongyang is violating the obligations it undertook when it signed major human rights conventions in the 1990s.
North Korea is denying its citizens their fundamental rights by preventing them from freely leaving the country; arresting those who make such an attempt; and arbitrarily detaining, mistreating, torturing and sometimes even executing border-crossers who are repatriated. China, too, regularly flouts its obligations under the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention by labeling all North Koreans "illegal economic migrants" and sending them back.
Many of these North Koreans crossed the border because the state failed them. North Korea claims to have a socialist system under which all citizens receive free food, education, medical care and housing. But the reality is that only the country's elite enjoy such privileges. The rest of the population is left to fend for itself. Undertaking the dangerous and difficult journey to China is a form of self-defense. The North Korean government fails to feed its people but then persecutes them for trying to survive.
A 42-year-old woman from Haeju said she was deported from China in December 2003 and served 18 months in a North Korean labor camp. "Every day, I saw someone dying. We were given a fistful of powdered corn stalk, three times a day, and people had trouble digesting it. Many people died after having diarrhea for a week," she said. "They left patients in the hallway outside toilets. So many people died, they wrapped bodies in plastic sheets and buried them in a mountain."Kim Jong-il's death, when it comes, cannot possibly be painful enough.