Channel 4's award-winning Dispatches team continue to bring you hard-hitting undercover documentaries from around the world. North Korea The Pariah State North Korea is one of the world's most secretive states. It has been controlled in the last 60 years by The Great Leader Kim Il-sung and later his son Kim Jong-il through a tyrannical form of Stalinism. During their regime an estimated 200,000 men, women and children have been imprisoned in political concentration camps. A famine in the 1990's decimated a further two million. North Korea's ongoing nuclear threats have dashed hopes that its rigid isolation may be coming to an end. Talks last month with the USA and Japan appeared to have a reached a breakthrough, only to hit a wall when North Korea said it would not scrap its nuclear programme until it is given a civilian nuclear reactor by the international community. The United States is unwilling to comply so the deadlock continues. The First Signs Of Organised Dissent There has never been any organized dissent in North Korea or at least none that the rest of the world knows about. New technology like digital video is now being utilized to communicate to the outside world the harshness of life in North Korea. Anyone caught with a camera will be executed for treason. Any form of dissent, including speaking ill of the regime, is punishable by death. What is incredible is not that videos are being smuggled out of North Korea, but the fact that North Korean people are willing to risk their lives to capture them. The fax machine and the telephone helped to bring down the Berlin Wall, while in North Korea, cameras and mobile phones are giving the isolated North Koreans their chance to reach out beyond their borders. Getting information from other countries into North Korea also forms a part of the revolutionary struggle. The organised dissident movement, Freedom Youth League, regards the distribution of South Korean soap operas, an important weapon in their revolutionary armory. By watching these videos, the average, non-political North Korean is then exposed to the reality of the prosperity and freedoms enjoyed by a world they remain isolated from. The Famine Is Coming Again Despite 2 million people starving to death in the 1990s in an avoidable famine, Kim Jong-il is once again forcing his people to subsist on the promise of handouts that never come. The World Food Programme warns that a famine is looming once again, yet the regime is ordering all aid agencies out of the country saying that it is now able to support its own people without international help. The consequences for the North Korean people could be catastrophic. After the 1990s famine, Kim Jong-il introduced semi-free market reforms, which allowed people to buy and sell food and goods to each. However food prices soared higher than wages, and as a result only the elite sections of society government officials, security forces and the leadership of the army could eat. The average family can only afford to buy 4kg of the cheapest grain. North Koreans are surviving on less than half the internationally recommended minimum of 550-590 kg of grain a day. Kim Jong-il has always used the nuclear threat to blackmail the international community into providing food donations. With the protracted six-party talks on the nuclear threat stalemated, many of the larger foreign donors are withholding their usual food offers. To date, only 270,000 of the 500,000 tonnes of food has arrived this year. Aid agencies have now insisted that they will only supply donations if they are able to distribute it themselves. This may now be a futile decision since North Korea has formally told the United Nations it no longer needs food aid, despite reports of widespread malnutrition. China's Refusal To Help The Refugees With technology opening their minds for the first time to the reality of life on the outside, and the looming famine, more and more North Koreans are trying to flee into China. This is a dangerous journey. The river Tumen is heavily guarded. On the North Korean side, soldiers have a shoot to kill policy. Anyone caught fleeing will be imprisoned, or executed by firing squad. China is obliged under international law not to return persons to a territory where their life or freedom is threatened. This obligation is known as the principle of 'non-refoulement,' and is articulated in the 1951 Refugee Convention which China has agreed to abide by since 1982. But China is preparing to host the Olympic Games in 2008, and is determined to avoid a mass exodus from North Korea across its borders. It is cracking down with force, using what refugee advocates bluntly call 'pest removal'. This is a process of blocking entrances and exists into China and flushing out refugees by bribing Chinese citizens to reveal the whereabouts of defectors and activists. The Chinese police arrest refugees and send them back to North Korea, categorically labeling them as 'illegal economic migrants' and disregarding the persecution they face as a result of their illegal exit. At present, 400-500 North Korean refugees are repatriated every week from China to North Korea. The Chinese are prepared to detain and repatriate as many as 2,500 each week as the need arises. It is now illegal for journalists in China to talk to the refugees, thereby making it almost impossible to highlight their plight. The majority of North Koreans believe they may be fleeing to a better life, only to find themselves enslaved, raped, beaten and starved, with absolutely no rights once they reach China. Activists estimate that between 70 per cent and 95 per cent of all North Korean women fall into sex trafficking in China. Many are sold as 'wives' to Chinese farmers. Fear of repatriation to North Korea leaves them open to exploitation. This situation, although denied by the Chinese, has led to calls for the International Olympic Committee to undertake a senior level review of the North Korean refugee's plight in China with respect to evaluating the suitability of holding the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. There are tens of thousands of North Koreans hiding in China today. Despite growing up on a diet of propaganda and little else, these brave North Korean people have broken out of a life pre-programmed for them and out of a country that will kill them for fleeing. Yet sadly, when they make it across the border, a new kind of horror is waiting.
Nov 08, 2005, 23:11:40
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