Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.
In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.
On August 30, Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the world will observe the International Day of the Disappeared. We’ll be pressing governments to disclose the status of the disappeared and to prosecute those responsible for enforced disappearances. Here’s how you can join us:
Amnesty International condemns all enforced disappearances as crimes under international law. And on August 30, we’ll be doing something about them.
Sandya Eknaligoda wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, Sri Lanka, 10 January 2011
An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is arrested or abducted by the state or agents of the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.
Enforced disappearances take place around in the world, including in countries such as China, Nepal, Chad, Sri Lanka and North Korea. In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of enforced disappearances occurred during decades of civil conflict on the island. One recent example is the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing after work on Jan. 24, 2010.
Satellite image of Political Prison Camp 15, North Korea (aka Yodok)
Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a prison camp in North Korea. ‘Guilt-by-association’ (with his parents) meant that he faced a lifetime of imprisonment. He was tortured along with his father. He was forced to watch the execution of his mother and his brother. He witnessed the deaths of many children under the impossible demands of forced labor.
On May 4, Amnesty International released a new report on prison camps in North Korea, accompanied by satellite images that reveal the scope and location of these facilities. Most are located in vast tracts of wilderness: isolated, remote, harsh. And, over the last ten years, they have grown.
Amnesty estimates that these camps hold at least 200,000 men, women and children (estimates by other human rights groups are much higher.) Untold numbers of innocent North Koreans have passed through and passed away in the camps since they were created 60 years ago. Most have no idea why they were arrested; they are held without charge or trial, without access to an independent judiciary.
In addition, our researchers found that the North Korean government has beenunable to feed its people and, in violation of international law, has refused to cooperate fully with the international community to receive food aid.
Even though North Korea claims to provide healthcare for all, the latest estimate from the World Health Organization shows that North Korea spent less on healthcare than any other country in the world – under US$1 per person per year in total. In fact, many witnesses have stated that they have had to pay for all services since the 1990s, with doctors usually paid in cigarettes, alcohol or food for the most basic consults, and taking cash for tests or surgery. Because North Korea has failed to provide for the most basic health and survival needs of its people, many North Koreans bypass doctors altogether, going straight to the markets to buy medicine, self-medicating according to their own guesswork or the advice of market vendors.
Thousands are estimated to have starved to death in North Korea as recently as February this year after a botched currency revaluation. Crippling food shortages, exacerbated by government policies in North Korea, have caused widespread illness as well as people are forced to survive on “wild foods” such as grass and tree bark. Hwang, a 24-year-old man from Hwasung, North Hamgyong province, was homeless and lived alone from the age of nine. Foraging for wild foods was his only option to avoid starvation.
“I ate several different kinds of wild foods, such as neung-jae, which is a wild grass found in the fields. It’s poisonous – your face swells up the next day. Other kinds of grass and some mushrooms are also poisonous so you could die if you picked the wrong one,”
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two US journalists who had been held by North Korean officials since March on charges that they had entered the country illegally to document human rights conditions, were released by the North Korean government subsequent to a visit by former President Bill Clinton and released. The world witnessed an emotional and long-awaited reunion early this morning on the runway of Burbank airport in Los Angeles as the two journalists returned home to their families. After being in prison for 140 days, Laura Ling embraced her husband Iain Clayton tightly as Euna Lee reunited in tears with her husband Michael Saldage and her 4-year-old daughter, Hanna. For a video of the reunion, click here.
As our severalpreviousposts have explained, Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested while filming footage on North Korean refugees for California-based TV media venture Current TV. They were later found guilty of illegally entering the country and sentenced to a 12-year sentence of hard labor, consisting of 10 years for “hostile acts” as well as an additional 2 years for illegal entry.
It is clear that the North Korean government requested the visit from former President Clinton, though the details of their agreements have yet to be revealed. According to BBC news, former President Clinton plans to brief President Obama’s National Security team on the visit. President Obama allegedly praised Clinton for his “extraordinary humanitarian effort” in the case of these journalists. After the reunion with their families on the runway, the two journalists spoke briefly to the press about their experience. Laura Ling tenderly shared, “The past 140 days have been the most difficult and heart-wrenching times of our lives.” They also expressed ‘surprise’ at the release. For a video of this, click here. Thanks to everyone who took action on their behalf!
Amnesty International’s Asia Advocacy Director T. Kumar fills MSNBC in on the latest on Congressional attempts to free U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. The pair were sentenced to 12 years in prison in North Korea earlier this month. Watch the video:
On Tuesday, we heard from T. Kumar about what U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee face in their 12 year sentence in a North Korean labor camp. They got the maximum sentence of 10 years of hard labor for hostile acts and an additional two years for illegal entry, according to analysts. But exactly what hostile acts they committed remains unclear.
The two women, both of whom were investigating human rights abuses of North Korean women for the California-based Current TV media venture in San Francisco, were arrested on March 17 near North Korea’s border with China. They were held separately and in solitary confinement with limited access to either lawyers or their families. Their trial lasted five days in Pyongyang’s Central Court, the top court in North Korea. Outside observers were not permitted.
“The North Korean government seems to be using these two journalists as pawns in its dangerous game of escalating tensions with the international community,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director, in a statement. “This sentence was harsher than many observers expected, and completely out of line with any of the accusations that Pyongyang has levelled against them.” But this shouldn’t betoo surprising — the 2009 Freedom of the Press Index, published by Freedom House on May 1, gave North Korea the worst rating. North Korea acquired this rating because “independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, and citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited.” And appropriately, or perhaps ironically, their sentencing came just four days after the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Crackdown, an event journalists are still imprisoned for mentioning.
The news has been buzzing with reports of the two U.S. journalists who were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment with hard labor in North Korea. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were convicted of an unspecified “grave crime” after they were arrested in March while investigating human rights abuses of North Korean women.
But in the mean time, what do Lee and Ling face in a North Korean labor camp? Amnesty’s own T. Kumar was asked just that by John Roberts on CNN this morning. His responses show the horrifying fate in store for anyone sent to one of these camps. Here is an excerpt from Kumar’s interview:
John Roberts: If they were sent to one of these prison camps or hard labor camps, what kind of conditions would they encounter based on the studies you’ve done? T. Kumar: We have to divide the situation into two categories. First is about the living conditions. The living conditions are extremely harsh. It’s overcrowded, very little food and very little, if any, medical attention. Then every day they have to work for more than ten hours. Very hard labor starting from breaking stones to working in the mines. And very little food again during the day. Roberts: Very high rates of death in detention among these prisoners? Kumar: Yes. It’s a combination of facts why the deaths are occurring. Number one, it’s hard and forced labor. Second, it’s lack of food. And unhygienic environment…There is no medical attention at all in many cases. So combined of all of these issues, [there is a] very large number of people who die in these prison camps.