Rohingya Refugee Crisis Leads to Shifting Tide in Indonesia

by Delisha Valacheril

Figure 1 Displaced Rohingya at a refugee camp. Source: Yahoo Images
Figure 1 Displaced Rohingya at a refugee camp. Source: Yahoo Images

 

The Rohingya are survivors of atrocities committed by the government of Myanmar. Described as the most persecuted minority in the world by the United Nations, the Rohingya are the world’s largest stateless population. Under Myanmar’s Citizenship Law, the government has consistently denied citizenship to this group of people for decades. 135 distinct ethnic groups are recognized under the law, with Rohingya being one of the few exceptions. Without citizenship, they are deprived of basic rights such as access to health services, education, and employment. Forced to leave their homes and families, more than 730,000 fled to neighboring countries like Bangladesh or Indonesia. Approximately 600,000 still reside in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State. They are restricted to refugee camps and settlements where there is a severe lack of food, adequate healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities. The long-lasting systemic abuses against the Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar government are equivalent to crimes against humanity, deprivation of liberty, and even apartheid.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group who have lived in the predominantly Buddhist region of the Rakhine State of Myanmar for generations. Since the government of Myanmar does not recognize them as an official ethnic group, during the conflict, authorities took over much of the former Rohingya land. Forced to flee their homeland, nearly a million Rohingya live in makeshift camps on the outskirts of civilizations. Despite being disenfranchised, refugees try to have a way of life, but the seasonal flooding and tropical storms endemic to safe haven regions like Bangladesh prevent them from doing so. Due to decades of state-sanctioned discrimination, repression, and violence, the Rohingya refugees cannot return to their homes either.

The remaining 600,000 Rohingya who have been arbitrarily detained in Myanmar endure even worse conditions with no agency or freedom. Of the 72,000 children who are confined to these detention sites, 40,000 were born into imprisonment, and it is all they have ever known. Access to indispensable necessities like clean water, enough food, and adequate housing is limited in this squalid, stateless purgatory. Military officials impose strict curfews, unnecessary checkpoints, and barbed wire fencing, significantly affecting the Rohingya population’s right to movement. This directly violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respective of Article 13. By depriving this community of their civil liberties and development rights, such as freedom to movement, food, water, and housing, the government is hardening the barrier of segregation to marginalize them from society permanently.

Figure 2 Young girl holding a child in detention sites in Myanmar. Source: Yahoo Images
Figure 2 Young girl holding a child in detention sites in Myanmar. Source: Yahoo Images

How did the crisis begin?

          Presently, in Sittwe, a town that was once home to approximately 75,000 Rohingya residents before 2012—constituting nearly half of the town’s population—only 4,000 individuals remain. Anti-Muslim sentiments across Myanmar marked the onset of a period of heightened oppression of the Rohingya in both policy and actions. Article 3 of the 1982 Law, on the other hand, positions taing-yin-tha, national race, and identity as an ongoing basis for recognition of citizenship. This meant that national race trumps citizenship, so even though Rohingya were born and raised in Myanmar, they can be kicked out because they are not a part of the national race. This environment set the stage for more severe and organized military atrocities in 2016 and 2017. The largest exodus of refugees is marked by military attacks that occurred in August of 2017 that resulted in the massacre of thousands, villages burned to the ground, and the whole community displaced. The war crimes that occurred offer a clear warning of Myanmar’s military to carry out ethnic cleansing and the government to support the internment of the Rohingya people. The brutality that played out in the Rakhine State is on par with apartheid, persecution, and imprisonment.

Figure 3 Rohingya landing on the shores of Indonesia. Source: Yahoo Images
Figure 3 Rohingya landing on the shores of Indonesia. Source: Yahoo Images

What is happening to Rohingya refugees in Indonesia right now?

Indonesia is turning away 150 Rohingya refugees from its shores because of local resentment about the arrival of boats carrying exhausted refugees. Due to the unending oppression in Myanmar and the growing risks of calamity in Bangladesh, refugees are now risking tumultuous sea voyages to seek refuge in neighboring countries like Indonesia. However, the growing influx of immigrants is a cause for concern for Indonesian residents. The Indonesian navy has intercepted a boat with Rohingya refugees as it neared the coast of Aceh. Aceh is the only state in the archipelago where 90 percent of the population follows Islamic law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that since November 11 Rohingya boats have landed, and the refugees have relocated to informal sites, mainly in Aceh and one in North Sumatra. The attack on refugees is not an isolated incident but rather the consequence of an organized online campaign of misinformation, deception, and hate speech directed towards Rohingya.

In the escalation of hatred against the Rohingya, hundreds of students stormed a temporary Rohingya shelter in Indonesia’s western Aceh province, demanding their deportation. The students shouted and physically abused the migrants before forcing them onto trucks and transporting them to the government office responsible for immigration. Demands for relocation stem from local anger over the already limited resources that are overstretched to accommodate new arrivals. Residents do not want the refugees in their communities and have gathered to protest boat landings. The greater international pressure to provide fair asylum to Rohingya refugees is causing tensions to rise in Southeast Asian governments. It is unfair to expect these countries to deprive resources of their citizens instead of addressing the real issue.

What Can We Do?

The responsibility to end the worst forms of violence and persecution falls on the government of Myanmar. For instance, by cutting off the Myanmar military’s government funding, the revenue from the abusive operations can be allocated to the Rohingya people so they can finally experience justice.

The governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh should pressure the government of Myanmar to be responsible for the genocide and displacement of the Rohingya people. By exerting the existing international obligations that require governments to take a number of actions to prevent and punish genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, Myanmar will have to respond. It is a long road to repatriation, but placing pressure on governments and non-profit organizations ensures the onus falls on Myanmar to correct its wrongs.

The long-term root causes of the crisis must be addressed to quell the tide of hopelessness. However, until safe and dignified returns are guaranteed for Rohingya refugees, they will require emergency assistance in order to survive. Myanmar is strengthened as a state by its multi-ethnic, multi-religious makeup. With help from foreign governments and humanitarian aid, the Rohingya can work towards restoring their rights.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani Conflict: Attacks in the Nagorno-Karabakh Region

by Caitlin Cerillo

A Long History of Conflict

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, Armenia and Azerbaijan have held political, economic, and territorial tensions. Prior to this, both countries were considered part of the Soviet Union after its formation in 1922. Nestled between the two countries is a region called Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been at the center of these strong tensions.

 

This image depicts a destroyed city in Nagorno-Karabakh from the first Armenia and Azerbaijani conflict.
Agdam, a deserted and destroyed city following the first Nagorno-Karabakh war fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan from 1988 to 1994. Source: Yahoo Images

 

With the region having an Armenian ethnic majority, it established a secessionist movement in 1988 with the goal of becoming part of the Armenian Republic. This movement was challenged on the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh region geographically belonging to Azerbaijan and control of the area granted by the Soviets to the Azerbaijani government. Pushback against the region’s secessionist movement would lead to the first violent war fought between the two countries. This would result in a ceasefire, with Armenia maintaining territorial control in 1994.

 

This image depicts a map of the involved countries/regions. Armenia on the left-most side, Azerbaijan on the right-most side, and the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the middle, highlighted in bright red.
Map of the involved countries/regions. Source: Yahoo Images

Tensions Rise Again

Three years ago, the conflict was provoked again, leading to the second Armenian and Azerbaijani War. Once again, these tensions broke out regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Although the first war ended in Armenia’s favor, Azerbaijan claimed victory with the help of its Turkish allies. Similar to the result of the first war, a ceasefire was facilitated by Russia and the two countries. Azerbaijan was promised territorial control of the areas of the Nagorno-Karabakh region it captured in the war, with Armenia agreeing to release control of some areas it previously occupied.

Present-day Attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh

Even today, the conflict has continued to wage on. On December 12, 2022, the Azerbaijani government released troops in the Nagorno-Karabakh region due to a self-proclaimed “anti-terrorist military offensive.” Azerbaijan began by blockading the Lachin corridor, which is the only way Nagorno-Karabakh is connected to Armenia. This blockade weakened the import of food and other resources to the hundreds of thousands living in the region.

 

Photo of the Lachin Corridor which connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
The Lachin Corridor, which was blockaded in December 2022 by the Azerbaijani government. The Lachin Corridor is the only connecting source between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Source: Yahoo Images

 

With the fear of attacks on loved ones and the reality of ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Azerbaijani government, tens of thousands of Armenians have fled to their home country as of September 2023. As defined by the United Nations, ethnic cleansing is the forced removal of an ethnically homogenous group through intimidation tactics and/or coercive practices. These practices can include—but are not limited to—murder, arrest, displacement or deportation, destruction of property, and severe physical injury to civilians.

Just one example of the devastating attacks of the Nagorno-Karabakh region occurred on September 19 in a village called Sarnaghbuyr. Citizens of the region have undergone extremely poor living conditions and food shortages for nine months due to the Lachin corridor blockage. Zarine Ghazaryan, a mother of four, witnessed explosions from Azerbaijan when searching for baby formula for her youngest child, Karen. Zarine was then told that one of her sons, Seyran, was wounded from the attack, and two, Nver and Mikayel, were killed. Nver and Mikayel were only ten and eight, respectively.

Along with the casualties of innocent civilians, many were witnesses to the murder of others. Arman, a fifteen-year-old, was around other children in the village when the attack occurred. He suffered wounds himself along with having to see the horrific sight of other children being killed and wounded. While the Azerbaijani government has asserted that the attacks were strictly for “neutralizing legitimate military targets,” it has left survivors and human rights experts calling the attack indiscriminate or carried out at random with a carelessness towards the safety of others.

The brutal attacks in the Nagorno-Karabakh region have violated several articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The rights of the lives of innocent civilians of the involved countries, especially those living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region have not been protected. Families who have chosen to flee to Armenia have undergone extreme hardship, with the Armenian border being backed up causing the postponing of the safe arrival of refugees. Human rights organizations, like Human Rights Watch, have called on the Azerbaijani government for the guarantee of those who have fled Nagorno-Karabakh’s return if they choose to do so. Human Rights Watch has also asserted that the Armenian language, culture, and education must be preserved and protected, without discrimination. Those who choose against returning to the region, should receive monetary reparations and the safe retrieval of any goods or property left after fleeing should be carried out as soon as possible.

Helping Nagorno-Karabakh

There have been several measures taken to help those affected. This includes humanitarian aid in the form of financial assistance, response plans, and more. In 2021, the United Nations created the Armenia Inter-Agency Response Plan. The purpose of this plan was to bring together humanitarian partners who were dedicated to helping the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. The plan outlined the highest priorities of aid and the ways in which the resources could be allocated the most efficiently. Through the Armenia Inter-Agency Response Plan, over 34,000 non-food resources were delivered to the region by UN agencies and over 11,000 school-age children were assisted in their education, among other things. In September 2023, the European Union funded 5 million euro to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, with an additional 4.5 million euro to help the displaced population and those who are still living in the region and vulnerable to violence and hostility.

Food Insecurity: Ecuador and the Global Poor

Since 2014 and the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has been steadily rising, with hundreds of millions being threatened by malnutrition and hunger. In 2020, above 30% of the global population was found to be moderately or severely food insecure. Food insecurity affects different populations in distinct ways, and in order to understand this more clearly, we examine Ecuador. Here, historical contexts have unique influences on food insecurity, but also, this nation exemplifies the reality that low-income nations face when combatting hunger. 

Facts and figures of food insecurity in Ecuador 

Hunger is an issue that is widespread globally and within Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, researchers Akram Hernández-Vásquez, Fabriccio J. Visconti-Lopez, and Rodrigo Vargas-Fernández found that the region has the second-highest figures for food insecurity globally. The region is also predicted to be the fastest-growing in food insecurity rates. 

Ecuador is just one example of why food insecurity manifests and in which populations. The country is ranked second in the region for chronic child malnutrition: 23% of children under five and 27% of children lack access to proper nutrition. 

According to the Global Food Banking Network, an international non-profit focused on alleviating hunger, 900,000 tons of food are wasted or lost yearly in Ecuador. This is an alarming statistic considering that 33% of the population experienced food insecurity between 2018 and 2020 一 a threefold increase since 2014-2016. 

Economic conditions have only been heightened in the pandemic, leading to widespread protests across the nation by indigenous people demanding equitable access to education, healthcare, and jobs. In sum, indigenous people cannot afford to get by, exacerbating existing food insecurity.

A man holding a protest sign with a few people to the left.
Figure 1: Source: Flickr, Motoperu; Protesters holding a sign that says “No more injustice, eliminate lifetime presidential salaries,” Cuenca, Ecuador.

Maria Isabel Humagingan, a 42-year-old Indigenous Quichua from Sumbawa in Cotopaxi province described why she was protesting to Aljazeera reporter Kimberley Brown

“For fertilizer, for example, it used to be worth $15 or up to $20, now it costs up to $50 or $40. Sometimes we lost everything [the whole crop]. So we no longer harvest anything.”

During a time when global inflation is rising, it is the poorest people who are at the most risk. Even those who used to live on subsistence farming are vulnerable. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) found that Ecuador’s food insecurity had risen from 20.7% to 36.8% in one year during the pandemic, and it is apparent that indigenous peoples are the most at risk during this time. 

This is not to mention the fact that during a time when global hunger is growing, there is a disproportionate impact on women. Ultimately, food insecurity, while complex and layered, is a mirror of the prejudices and inequalities of society. In order to better understand why and who is impacted, we first need to understand two components: is food available (production and imports), is the food adequate (nutritious), and is food accessible (affordability)? 

Factors behind food insecurity in Ecuador and beyond 

Environmental Racism 

Ecuador has a long history of environmental racism, and for the sake of brevity, we will be focusing on the practices of Texaco/Chevron and its impact on soil fertility. 

Victoria Peña-Parr defines environmental racism as,

“minority group neighborhoods—populated primarily by people of color and members of low-socioeconomic backgrounds—… burdened with disproportionate numbers of hazards including toxic waste facilities, garbage dumps, and other sources of environmental pollution and foul odors that lower the quality of life.”

From 1964 to 1990, Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001) drilled oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Over 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater were dumped in water sources and unlined open pits left to seep into the soil and devastate clean water sources for people and agriculture. Additionally, 17 million gallons of crude oil were spilled in the disaster now known as “Amazon Chernobyl.” Ecuadorians, a good majority of which were indigenous peoples displaced from their land due to environmental destruction, levied a suit against Chevron which was won in February 2011. 

Indigenous people standing behind and looking at an open and unlined oil pit.
Figure 2: Source: Yahoo Images; Indigenous people overlooking one of 900 unlined, open oil pits from Chevron.

During the judicial process, 916 unlined and abandoned pits of crude oil were found. The human rights implications of this historic case and horrifying disregard for human and environmental safety are lengthy, in order to learn more read this blog by Kala Bhattar

With this brief background in mind, it is clear to see how this would impact agricultural production, particularly in rural areas where indigenous persons live. Moreover, Afro-Ecuadorians, while only making up 7.2% of the population, are 40% of those living in poverty in the entire country. Most Afro-Ecuadorians live in the province of Esmeraldas, one of the poorest in the country, where most people live off agriculture and “85% of people live below the poverty line.”

UN experts have found that this population is the most vulnerable to environmental racism, suffering from systematic contamination of water supplies and intimidation. 

As people suffer through the impacts of a ravaged environment, they must continue to rely on subsistence farming without aid. When crops fail to provide enough economically and for individual families, many go without in this impoverished region. 

Climate Change

Global warming is leading to changes in weather patterns that have a serious impact on agricultural production 一, particularly in low-income countries that rely on seasonal rains, temperature, and other factors. 

Climate change has also led to more severe and deadly disruptions, from hurricanes and earthquakes to monsoons, flooding, and mudslides. Ecuador has been suffering from these climate changes, despite only producing 2.5 metric tons of CO2 emissions per capita (the US comparatively emitted 5,222 million tons in 2020). 

Specifically, Ecuador has suffered from a lack of water, specifically irrigation water, landslides, droughts, and heavy rains. The last two aforementioned climate impacts are particularly salient issues as it has impacted seed development by not allowing them to germinate or produce

Image of a map with areas ranging from blue to deep red to indicate areas under threat by climate change. Latin America, Sub-saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia are the most threatened.
Figure 3: Source: Yahoo Images, Mannion, et al. in Trends in Ecology & Evolution; Worldmap where biodiversity is threatened the most by climate change.

In all, the consequences of climate change are having disproportionate effects on low-income states globally in spite of the that they have historically contributed very little to greenhouse emissions. The worst impacts are on nations surrounding the equator and countries with relatively hot climates 一 both of which tend to be low-income countries. 

Ukraine War

Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, food prices have been rising. Ukraine is a leading wheat producer globally. It is the seventh-largest producer of wheat, supplies 16% of the world’s corn, and 40% of the world’s sunflower oil. In the summer of 2022, 22 million tons of grain were stranded in Ukrainian ports, causing mostly low-income countries to feel the growing threat of food insecurity. 

Additionally, Ukraine supplied 40% of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) wheat supply. The immediate impact of this is clear in the 45% increase in wheat prices in Africa alone, while any country that receives aid from WFP (which Ecuador has since 1964) is threatened directly by the situation. 

As food prices continue to soar, the price of food sold within lower-income nations remains the same, creating a gap between cost and production. The conflict has also led to increases in the price of fuel and fertilizer, leading to food insecurity in many countries beyond just Ecuador. The war in Ukraine has disrupted global food supply chains and led to the largest global food crisis since WWII

Hunger and the human right to food 

There has long been a precedent in the international human rights framework for the right to food, beginning with the first declaration (unanimously accepted) in 1948. In Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the right to an adequate standard of living is guaranteed to everyone with the express mention of food. Fast forward 20 years later, and once more, Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) reiterates (almost identically) the right to food. 

The ICESCR actually expounds further on a state’s responsibility to free everyone from hunger, specifically outlining that either individually or through international cooperation specific programs should be developed to address food insecurity and hunger. Moreover, the covenant addresses that food-importing and food-exporting countries should both be reviewed for problems that would impact the equitable distribution of food globally. Lastly, agrarian systems should be reformed to address nutrition and achieve maximum utilization and efficient use of agricultural resources.

 Image of a bowl with the words “Zero Hunger” from the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Figure 4: Source: Yahoo Images, United Nations; Logo of the second Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger.

In 1999, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights convened to review the progress to end hunger. General Comment 12 reiterated the obligation of states to fulfill the aforementioned responsibilities. Most crucially, however, was the specific mention that states must immediately address issues of discrimination that plague food insecurity. In the case of Ecuador, it is clear that this remains a salient issue. 

Most recently, in 2015, during a historic UN summit, world leaders adopted 17 objectives to be achieved by 2030. Known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the second objective is to create a “Zero Hunger” world by 2030. 

Conclusion: Fighting Food Insecurity 

According to the World Food Program, 60% of the world’s hungry live in areas afflicted by conflict. There is no simple way to end a conflict, but it is crucial that all states remember their commitments to the SDGs and ICESCR. This means that states need to step in to provide nutritious food when a home state will not or cannot. Just like Red Cross, journalists, and other humanitarian organizations are protected by international humanitarian law from being targeted in conflict, so too should persons ensuring food access to people. Moreover, countries should address the factors that contribute to food insecurity such as environmental racism and climate change. 

There is no one solution for this issue since there is no single cause. However, by refusing to accept these conditions, learning more about the causes and conditions of food insecurity, and demanding more, we can begin to bring about a world that truly is free from hunger.

  • Food Insecurity in Birmingham, AL by Mary Bailey
  • America: The Land of the Hungry by Kala Bhattar 
  • The Right to Food: A Government Responsibility by Zee Islam 
  • Donate to the World Food Program
  • Learn more and get directly involved with SDGs 
  • Follow @uab_ihr for Speaker events, blogs, and to learn more about supporting human rights locally and globally

 

The Religious Persecution of Falun Gong Practitioners in China

A parade of people wearing bright yellow outfits with red accents walk down the streets with drums.
Falun Gong is distinguished by its bright yellow and red signature colors. Source: Yahoo! Images

Content Warnings: imprisonment, religious persecution, torture, trafficking, rape, brainwashing

Falun Gong, officially known as Falun Dafa, is a form of qigong, which roughly translates to ‘cultivation.’ Qigong is similar to yoga or tai chi and focuses on the perfection and refinement of mind and body. Falun Gong takes this a step further and incorporates the cultivation of morality and virtue. In 1992, Li Hongzhi introduced the practice to China. As the practice grew in popularity, excitement about the health and wellness benefits associated with the tradition have flourished. Not only this, but the culture of Falun Gong experienced a rediscovery of ancient Chinese philosophies combining elements of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Government Involvement

The Chinese government largely celebrated the practice throughout the 1990s, but on April 25th, 1999, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), led by Jiang Zemin, launched a violent campaign against Falun Gong by issuing a letter expressing their wish to see Falun Gong destroyed. The atheist communist regime, which notoriously rules by the threat of force, was itself threatened by the emphasis on morality and traditional Chinese culture found in practitioners. 

Since 1999, an organization called Friends of Falun Gong has reported cases of torture, disappearance, brainwashing, rape, and death of Falun Gong practitioners by the CCP. When a person dies while imprisoned, families are told that their loved one committed suicide or died of a disease, but the bodies are cremated before evidence can be gathered. Notably, a relatively new development alleges that many of these detainees are victims of organ trafficking.

A sign on a busy Chinese street reads, “Eradicate-Falun Gong Evil Cult.” The sign is sponsored by Hong Kong Youth Care Association Limited.
The CCP baselessly accuses Falun Gong of being an evil cult. In China, they are neither evil nor a cult. Source: Yahoo! Images

Through propaganda campaigns, the CCP has classified Falun Gong as a xiejiao, which in some contexts has similar implications to the word ‘cult.’ Personally, as someone who actively studies religion and cults, I would not qualify the practice as a cult, as it does not pass any widely accepted tests qualifying organizations as cults.

Propaganda and Unclear Beliefs of Americanized Version

In my research about Falun Gong, I found very conflicting information about the moral beliefs of practitioners. Officially, they have three significant tenets: Zhen, Shan, and Ren, which translate to truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, respectively. They emphasize ancient Chinese values and, by my evaluation, hold a form of virtue ethics. As far as I can tell, the version being practiced in China is unharmful and beneficial to its practitioners. The relationship between Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong and the Americanized version based in New York is unclear. The following are productions of the official organization of Falun Dafa.

A dancer flies through the air in a split. She is wearing a long flowy skirt that she pulls around her head in the shape of a lily pad. In the blue background, you can see buildings with Chinese-style architecture.
Shen Yun posters include dancers with long flowy skirts dancing elegantly. Source: Yahoo! Images

Shen Yun is a dance-based performance/production sponsored and organized by Falun Dafa. They are based in New York City and perform internationally but do not perform in China for fear of persecution. The performance has themes of anti-Marxism, anti-atheism, and a passing instance of homophobia. Jio Tolentino, a writer for the New Yorker, saw the show twice in New York and calls the production uncanny and unsettling. Throughout my research, I have not found any instances of China-based practitioners personally expressing the themes seen in Shen Yun.

The Epoch Times

The Epoch Times is a newspaper sponsored by and associated with Falun Dafa. While claiming to be “unbiased,” they post far-right opinion pieces and side with Trump in many of their political articles. To anyone with an ear tuned to the sound of right-wing dog whistles, the Epoch Times website is loud, high-pitched, and painful. Again, I have not found any instances of China-based practitioners expressing the harmful themes found in the Epoch Times. It seems to me that the Americanized version of Falun Gong is a harmful version of what is being practiced and persecuted in China.

Religious Rights and Persecution

Human rights, with respect to a person’s religion, is a complicated subject. Too often, we see people using the excuse of religious freedom to act in a bigoted way toward certain communities. Religion is a personal practice meant, consciously or otherwise, to help a person cope with and understand the trials and tribulations of existing as a human in this world. Sometimes, that religion will come with a set of morals that each practitioner decides to follow. People have a natural right to practice their own religion and to determine their own moral codes without persecution or intervention. But, as with every right, this only extends insofar as it does not impede the rights of others.

Three people in bright yellow outfits with red accents stand back-to-back while holding three different poses commonly seen in the practice of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong practitioners deserve to be safe in their nations. They deserve the space to cultivate their spirituality without fear of persecution. Source: Yahoo! Images

The CCP must be held accountable for imprisoning, torturing, and trafficking the organs of Falun Gong practitioners in China. These people are not impeding on the rights of others. They peacefully practice truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance while aligning their body and mind through qigong. In accordance with my working definition of religion, nobody deserves to face religious persecution. Everyone has a right to decide how they will come to terms with and cope with their own existence. It is important that, as humans, we keep certain spaces safe for people to cultivate their spirituality. By taking away every space that may be safe for these people to practice, the CCP is violating their rights. 

Nepal Criminalizes Urban Poor

The right to equitable housing, employment, and standard of living are in jeopardy due to Nepal’s government policies towards the displaced community. In the capital district of Kathmandu, the mistreatment of vulnerable, minority populations ensues without providing any alternative measures. Street vendors line the capital with their small business trying to make a living, but new policies are allowing authorities to seize their property and rob them of their way of life. This campaign is accusing street vendors of blocking sidewalks and obstructing pedestrian pathways. People who cannot find regular employment resort to selling their wares on the street. Now, their livelihood is threatened. These are non-permanent, transition spaces for vulnerable individuals dealing with poverty. Nepal government is displacing people who already do not have a place to live, and they are not providing adequate housing. This is only exacerbating the significant homeless population in the country. Preying on this disadvantaged population is harmful and violates human rights

Source by Flickr

Government Action

Along the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, rumbles of protests seem to emerge. The city announced that they will be removing beggars in an effort to make Kathmandu a beggar-free city. The landless squatters held a rally on December 5th from Maitighar to New Baneshwor urging for the government to provide alternative housing. Demanding government aid and relief United National Squatters Front Nepal Chairperson Kumar Karki stated to the press, “Removing us from the current place without arranging an alternative is not tolerable. It is a violation of human rights.” The slum settlements in the Kathmandu valley are not a threat to the government 

Source by Yahoo Images

 

Community Response

The government has bulldozed their living structures, so the only way to resolve the issue is through dialogue. Evictions are not the solution. According to the National Land Commission, a statutory body, the city government has failed to provide an alternative place to live. Under international human rights law, everyone has the right to the opportunity to work and to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing, and shelter. The continued removal of residents is causing undue hardship on the citizens. This policy targets people who have no alternate source of income or no way of supporting themselves. Most of the time, it is young women and children which means now young women and children are being made homeless.  

Source By Yahoo Images

Enact Change

In order to prevent any more draconian governmental initiatives, you can get involved with Help Nepal. Donation, sponsorship, and volunteering are all great ways to support the Nepalese people faced with displacement. Posting on social media to raise awareness is another helpful measure. Speaking out against policies like this will result in less similar policies. Right to housing, work, and living are all basic human rights. Sprawling urban fringe is not only seen in Nepal, but in fact a lot of other parts of the world deal with these same issues. This is why it is important to discuss and bring attention to these topics.    

Steps That Outside Governments Can Take Toward Ending the Human Rights Violations of North Korea

Kim Jong-Un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea shakes hands with Xi Jinping, the President of China.
Xi Jinping puts diplomatic relations with North Korea above the safety and well-being of refugees. Source: Yahoo!

Note from the author: This post is the fourth of my four-part series on the North Korean Regime. I recommend reading the other parts before this one for understanding, but doing so is optional. To find the other parts, scroll down and click on “View all posts by A. Price.” 

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) consistently acts like a toddler in its negotiations and diplomatic relations with other countries. They consistently refuse food and humanitarian aid that their citizens desperately need for petty political reasons. The World Food Program (WFP) was denied access to North Korea in 2005 because its monitoring process was too intrusive for North Korea’s standards. Because of this type of behavior, it is apparent that the DPRK wishes to mishandle food aid and allow their rural citizens to starve and die before accepting the WFP’s guidelines. 

Food and Humanitarian Aid

The Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK; the regime) insists on inserting itself into food aid distribution and consistently passes policies that would manipulate citizens into subservience to the regime. One such policy would make the receipt of food aid contingent on reporting to one’s government-sanctioned job. This effectively stifles any chance at economic mobility for poor and rural people. Such a policy is against the conditions of the World Food Program, but instead of complying with the WFP to receive the aid, they let their citizens starve. The WFP has a humanitarian interest in feeding these people, so they are left at a crossroads: supply food aid according to North Korea’s standards or allow North Korea to starve its rural citizens. 

Seven children stand in a field waving at the camera. Behind them, there are rolling hills with crop lines and a cow.
Rural children take the hardest hit when the DPRK rejects food and humanitarian aid. Source: Yahoo!

Because of the WPK’s toddler-like nature, it is imperative that food and humanitarian aid are not contingent on the government’s cooperation. Historically, the US has made food aid contingent on the dismantling of specified nuclear programs. This leaves the WPK with the choice: give up our nuclear program or let our citizens starve. For them, this is a no-brainer. The WPK cares much more about politics and big blow-up things than the starvation and suffering of its citizens. This is why it is increasingly important that food and humanitarian aid are not contingent on the cooperation of the government. 

China

Because of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, China is the only country directly bordering North Korea. This means that China has the highest amount of undocumented North Korean refugees. China is compliant with the North Korean regime’s disgusting agenda. Instead of complying with the United Nations (UN) guidelines for refugees, China heavily polices bordering towns and consistently returns refugees to the abusive DPRK. Because of this, refugees must travel all the way through China to another country before being able to fly to a safe place such as South Korea where they can seek asylum. 

A colorful festival takes place with dancers and streamers. On a pedestal, four people stand holding the flags of North Korea and China.
China supports the North Korean regime. Source: Yahoo!

Because of the threat of being deported back to North Korea and subsequently thrown into a prison camp, many refugees, specifically those assigned ‘female’ at birth (AFAB), fall victim to human trafficking. Because of the One-Child policy and selective abortions, China now has a disproportionate level of people in male bodies as opposed to those in female bodies. This incongruence means that many men cannot find or afford brides and many North Korean AFAB people are sold as brides to poor Chinese men. The people in these situations rarely feel safe in their new homes and often fall victim to abuse, blackmail, and rape.

The UN must step into China to enforce its guidelines for refugees. China must become a safe place for North Korean refugees to seek asylum. Until then, these people will continuously fall victim to deportation and human trafficking.

International Participation

The DPRK is a participant of the UN. The UN has treaties and guidelines surrounding the topic of human rights, but they are not enforced. The DPRK has signed seven different human rights treaties including the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As you have seen throughout this series, these treaties are not enforced by the United Nations or any other organization interested in human rights. 

As a participant of the UN, the US should apply pressure for the enforcement of the UN’s treaties and policies. North Korea consistently fails in its Responsibility to Protect (R2P) its citizens, calling for international actors to step in and protect these citizens. The WPK has proven that it does not care about these people and will not let go of its power without a fight. North Korea’s citizens will continue to be treated terribly as the collective group of outside countries chooses not to intervene, constituting one of the most significant and worst human rights situations in recent history.

How You Can Help

Four refugees wearing backpacks walk through a field to safety.
Refugees rescued by Liberty in North Korea follow a 3,000-mile secret escape route that includes walking paths, buses, and trains. Source: Yahoo!

North Korea is one of my special interests. I could write about this topic for the rest of my life. I encourage you to look into this issue (resources linked below) and spark your own interest in the North Korean human rights situation. I encourage you to consider, if you can, donating to an organization that I really believe in. They are called Liberty in North Korea. They are working on the ground to help North Koreans escape the regime through a 3,000-mile secret escape route. Their website includes many resources and even a blog written by people personally affected by the North Korean regime. 

Below I have linked some resources for you to explore at your leisure.

Liberty in North Korea

Crossing Borders  

UN General Assembly on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK 

Policy Recommendations – The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

Brookings article on the Biden administration and the DPRK  

World Report 2021: North Korea | Human Rights Watch 

World Report 2022: North Korea | Human Rights Watch 

CRS Report – Foreign Assistance to North Korea 

 

Control by Threat of Force: The Abuses of the Criminal System of North Korea

A person sits in the corner of a small, dirty cell with nothing but a mattress and a small bowl. They are sitting in a ball with their arms around their legs and their head down.
Most prison cells are smaller than this one. Source: Yahoo! Images

Note from the author: This post is the third of my four-part series on the North Korean Regime. I recommend reading the first two parts before this one, but it is not required to understand this part. To find the other parts, scroll down and click on “View all posts by A. Price.” If the last part is not available yet, be sure to check back in during the upcoming weeks when it will be posted.

Content Warnings: torture, malnutrition, imprisonment, death, suicide, rape

As you are reading this, there are children in labor camps who have no idea that a world exists beyond their barbed wire. They believe that the entire world is confined within the fences that hold them. They have never heard of countries, the regime that holds them there, or the existence of people who look different from them. They were born to enslaved, imprisoned parents and taken from them before they could even wean off breast milk. They have never felt as though they’ve had enough to eat. They have lived in a constant state of overwork and malnutrition for their entire lives. They don’t know about the Kim Dynasty or the regime. All they know is that the guards who hold them there are above them. They hold all the power in the world in their batons and rifles. The lingering threat of death holds their minds captive, reducing them to survivalists, doing anything they can to stay alive. They catch mice, rats, and moles to eat. They avoid confrontation with the guards and hide their pain so as to not disappoint the powerful guards with their lives in their hands. 

There has only ever been one known escapee from these horrifying “Special Total-Control Zones” where children born to prisoners are held for their entire lives. Shin Dong-Hyuk had no idea that a world existed where food was sufficient until one of his friends told him about Kim Jong-Il and the world beyond the prison camp. When the guards left them alone outside for a split second, he and his friend decided to make their break. His friend fell unconscious due to the high voltage barbed wire fence, and Shin used his friend’s body to climb out and run away. He never saw his friend again, and his deepest regret is not going back to rescue him. Hear him tell his story here.

A man with glasses and a blue shirt speaks into a microphone. Behind him are signs, one reading, “Shout for Freedom.”
Shin Dong-Hyuk. Source: Yahoo! Images

Status of Legal Code

The Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) intentionally writes laws in abstract, vague language. The laws are never communicated to the general public who are supposed to be following them. This gives the regime complete and total power over the criminality of these citizens. If a person of a high Songbun (class) wants a person of a lower Songbun to be arrested for any reason, they will simply interpret the law to mean whatever they want it to mean and have that person arrested. Common offenses include “conspiracy to subvert the State”, “treason against the Fatherland”, and “illegal trade.”

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

When a person is accused of having broken a law, they are immediately detained by police. Rarely are they told the reason for their arrest or the rights that they have. They are brought to a jail where they are not told the amount of time until their trial. The only form of bail is the informal bribery of the guards. Only a lucky few with resources and connections are able to leave the station at this point in the process. 

When their trial date comes along, they have no say in the outcome. If they do not prove themselves to be innocent beyond a reasonable doubt, then they are assumed to be guilty and sentenced at the judges’ discretion. For most of them, their only hope is that a family member has bribed the judge in their favor. In most cases, this bribe costs their family everything that they have, ruining their lives and pushing them deeper into poverty. 

A person sits in a witness booth in front of at least four judges. There is an armed guard standing behind him, and a North Korean flag hanging on the wall behind the judges.
Free and fair trials are non-existent in the DPRK. Source: Yahoo! Images

Forced Labor as Punishment

The main form of punishment used by North Korea is imprisonment in forced labor camps. They believe forced labor to be a form of repatriation in that when a person works for their country, they will grow an appreciation for it and be less likely to commit a crime against it. That, of course, is just what they tell people. The WPK knows that the purpose of these prison camps is to exploit the slave labor of people deemed “undesirable” and to feed the ego of the state. They know that the people in these prison camps are being tortured. I truly believe that if the WPK could do anything to possibly make the lives of these people worse, they would do it without question. The WPK is the embodiment of evil, and being in a labor camp controlled by them is completely and unfeasibly miserable.

Human Rights in Prison Camps

This section, in particular, will detail some of the torture endured by prisoners. If learning of this torture will be of particular detriment to your mental health, I recommend ending here and reading any of the other articles on this site that may be easier for you to stomach. 

When in a North Korean labor camp, guards have full and complete discretion over the lives of the prisoners. Guards in this situation grow increasingly sadistic as they continue their jobs and commit heinous acts in the name of their regime, justifying it by dehumanizing the people under their control. Most people, especially those with female anatomy, do not leave these camps without being the victim of rape, most of the time on multiple accounts. All people lose copious amounts of weight during their stay due to malnutrition. If a guard wants you to eat dirt, you eat dirt. If they want you to grab the high-voltage fence, you grab the high-voltage fence. There is no limit to the power that the guards have over you. 

Prisoners are randomly and sporadically accused of withholding information from the guards. They are then subject to intense interrogation techniques. When Shin Dong-Hyuk was young, his mother and brother were accused of trying to escape. He was suspected to have information about this plan. As a result, he was subject to torturous interrogation. He lost the tip of his right middle finger, his face was sliced open with a weapon, and he was hung over a fire by his hands and feet. He still bears the scars from this torture. When he inevitably had no information to give the guards, he was forced to watch his mother and brother be hanged and shot in a public execution. 

Trigger Warning: the next image is a depiction of torture.

Trigger Warning. A black and white line drawing shows a very young Shin Dong-Hyuk being hung from the ceiling by a rope around his hands and a chain around his feet. He is being lowered into the flames of a fire and hit with a stick. There are three guards watching, unphased, and a row of torture equipment hanging on the wall behind them.
A drawing of the torture endured by Shin Dong-Hyuk after being wrongfully accused of withholding information. Source: Yahoo! Images

There is no happy note on which to end this article. The lives of incarcerated people in North Korea are miserable. They are subject to the worst human rights violations worldwide. I encourage you to take a moment for your mental health after reading this article so that together we can put an end to this inhumane treatment. Be sure to read my next article, the fourth part of this series, titled, “Steps That Outside Governments Can Take Toward Ending the Human Rights Violations of North Korea.” 

How the North Korean Regime Uses Cult-Like Tactics to Maintain Power

Kim Jong-Un stands on a high ledge waving to thousands of people standing uniformly down below. He is wearing a black suit. Everyone in the crowd is wearing red, and there is a group of people in the distance wearing white to spell something out among the red. It is not clear what they are positioned to spell out.
Kim Jong-Un carries on his grandfather’s charismatic image. Source: Yahoo! Images

Note from the author: This post is the second of my four-part series on the North Korean Regime. I recommend reading part one before this, but it is not required to understand this part. To find the other parts, scroll down and click “View all posts by A. Price.” If the other parts are not available yet, check back in during the upcoming weeks when they will be posted.

Content Warnings: cults, mass manipulation, death by suicide, honor killings, abusive governments

Charles Manson of the Manson Family convinced his followers to murder nine people who criticized him. Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate convinced thirty-nine members to commit suicide in hopes of leaving their bodily “containers” and ascending into a spaceship hidden behind the Hale-Bopp Comet. Jim Jones of Jonestown convinced nine hundred and nine people to drink poisoned kool-aid in a mass suicide mission. What quality unites all these people and gives them the ability to hold such great power over their captive audience? The answer, of course, is charisma. When a charismatic person with a hunger for power learns how to manipulate a group of people, there is no limit to the amount of power that they have access to.

A group of masked people in black robes stand in a circle, with four masked people of different colored robes in the center, as if performing a ritual.
Not all cults look like robed people standing in a circle performing a satanic ritual. Some cults blend into the international order and fly just below the radar. Source: Yahoo! Images

My specialty in human rights research is in religion and cults. I have been studying religion and cults informally for many years, and formally since my start at UAB. While reading Sandra Fahy’s book, Dying for Rights (cited in Part 1 of this series), many red flags stood out to me. Every new thing I learned added evidence to my theory that North Korea would qualify as a cult under pretty much every model of qualification widely accepted by professional researchers of religion and cults. Below, I break down North Korea’s regime and classify it as a cult based on three main criteria:

First and foremost, the group must have an all-encompassing leader who has convinced the group that they are perfect and can do no wrong. This person could be a real person or a theoretical, such as a god or deity. Second, there must be an in-group vs. out-group system of understanding. Members of the group believe that they are fundamentally different, usually fundamentally better in some way than non-members of the group. Third, the leader must exercise excess control over the lives of the members of the group. The most comprehensive model of examining the treatment of cult members by their leaders was created by Steven Hassan and is called the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control. It is widely accepted that groups are cults insofar as they comply with the BITE model. I will better explain what this entails in the section of this article titled, “BITE Control.”

Cult of Personality: The lore of Kim Il-Sung and His Predecessors

A painting with a smiling Kim Il-Sung in the center surrounded by a yellow glowing halo. In the right bottom corner, there are four Korean citizens, one of whom dressed in military attire, another in construction equipment. They are holding books and saluting the portrait of Kim Il-Sung. In the left bottom corner are three waving flags: the Workers Party of Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Korean People’s Army.
A common piece of propaganda shows Kim Il-Sung in a glowing halo. Source: Yahoo! Images

Kim Il-Sung came to power in 1949, only 4 years after the peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel. Tensions between North and South Korea were steadily rising, and the 38th parallel was not yet demilitarized. Kim gained power through the rising hatred of South Korea and the Allies of WWII. He was a very charismatic leader who gained popularity through manipulation, false promises, and specialization*. He gave himself the name “Supreme Leader” and convinced the public of North Korea that he was sent from a god to Make Korea Great Again. The public was convinced that he was immortal, infallible, and omnipresent, similar to the concept of “God” in most religions. To this day, each North Korean home has a picture of Kim Il-Sung, and if they are found to have damaged it or taken it down, they are sent to prison. When he died in 1994, the country publicly cried out and anyone found not to be mourning was sent to prison. 

*In this context, specialization is the process by which leaders of groups make the members feel as though they are inherently different, or inherently better than non-members.

The story of his immortality had to be revised. They now told people that Kim Il-Sung willingly gave up his position as Supreme Leader because he wished for his son, Kim Jong-Il, to take over. They were told that he honorably sacrificed his life for the betterment of his country by empowering his son. Kim Jong-Il carried on his cult of personality until his death in 2011 when the process was repeated. His son, Kim Jong-Un, took over and is still in power today. Each citizen still believes that the Supreme Leader holds the power of the Universe, only dies when they choose to give up their position, and grasps a level of understanding that others cannot even aspire to.

Us vs. Them

A group of people walking in sync and wearing all white uniforms. They are parading around a large North Korean flag.
North Koreans are taught to be uniform “bricks in the wall.” Source: Yahoo! Images

Since the division of the Korean peninsula after the surrender of Japan that ended World War II, North Koreans have internalized that they are fundamentally different from other people. They believe that immigrants and their descendants with non-Korean ancestry are spies from other countries, South Koreans and Americans are inherently evil, and any outsider who criticizes the state is disrespecting their Supreme Leader and the god who sent them. By internalizing their national identity as the most important aspect of themselves, they are manipulated into devoting more and more of themselves to the regime, to the point of death. By internalizing the dehumanization of non-North Koreans, they can justify the threats of extreme violence by the regime toward other countries, such as the lingering threat of atomic war.

BITE Control 

BITE stands for behavior, information, thought, and emotion. Groups are evaluated as cults insofar as they control these four aspects of their members’ lives. View the official Bite Model here

B – Behavior Control

Any behavior not approved by the state is punishable to the fullest extent of the law, at the discretion of the judges who are appointed by the regime. As one can expect, these judges do not make decisions based on the actions of the accused. Their decisions are overwhelmingly based on one’s Songbun (or class), explained in part one of this series. People of North Korea, especially those of lower Songbun do not have control over their actions. Anything they do can and will be used against them at any chance the police force gets, without prior knowledge of any laws they may be unintentionally breaking. This strongly exacerbates the imbalance of power and starkly divides classes. In the third part of this series, I will delve deeper into the prison system of the DPRK and the corruption that comes with it. Check out the third part of this series titled, “Control by Threat of Force: The Abuses of the Criminal System of North Korea” for more information.

I – Information Control

The only media that North Koreans have access to (legally or otherwise) is 100% state-sanctioned. State-sanctioned media reporters are instructed to use certain pitches, tones, and audiovisual illusions to strategically convey their message. When watching this media, citizens are said to be put in a dissociative state, similar to the experience of those in other cults hearing leaders speak, where any meaningful information is not received. Critics of North Korea refer to this as brain fog. When this is the only media not punishable by law, it is difficult for citizens to ‘see through the fog’ for any information that could enable them to tap into their human rights or political ability. 

The DPRK extends this brain fog to the media that it allows to leave the country. Think about what you know about North Korea and if you have ever heard any clear, concise information about the human rights abuses occurring there. It probably looks foggy. They are not shy about admitting their use of this strategy.

“One of our strategies is that when the Americans look at our interior, we make it murky as if wrapped in a fog.” (Fahy, Sandra. Dying for Rights: Putting North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses on the Record. p. 93 Columbia University Press, 2019.).

This is a quote from a North Korean government directive. All information that is approved to leave is scrambled up, mistranslated, and recorded until the perfect amount of confusion and manipulation is communicated. This is why it is important for people like you to spread any information you have about the DPRK to others. Without our help, the fog will effectively stifle any chance of help for these people.

Kim Jong-Un smiles amongst a group of women. They are all wearing white uniforms, crying out, and grabbing onto Kim in adoration.
Citizens are taught to adore their Supreme Leader with every ounce of their being. Kim Jong-Un’s smile has an eerie twinge when one realizes the gross human rights violations that he regularly commits against these very women. Source: Yahoo! Images
T – Thought Control

A huge way that cults control their members is through indoctrination and the discouragement of skepticism. As seen in the last section, the only media that North Koreans are allowed to consume is state-sanctioned and heavily indoctrinating. If it is found out that any citizen is participating in skepticism about the regime, they will be thrown in prison camps. All community members are forced to report anyone that they hear questioning the regime, and it is not easy to find a group of people who share your concerns without a high risk of being ratted out. It is dangerous and isolating to question the regime, so people avoid doing so.

E – Emotion Control

Each week, every citizen of the DPRK over 14 years of age must attend and speak at a “self-evaluation meeting” with their community. In these meetings, they are forced to tell their community how they could have been better citizens of the regime during the past week. They will admit to times they accidentally bumped into their picture of Kim Il-Sung, or how they complained about being tired after laboring all day. This enforces the culture of juche, the concept of self-sufficiency that guilts North Koreans into suffering and even dying before asking anyone around them for help. These meetings more harshly affect those of lower Songbun, as they are more likely to feel as if they have let their regime down by simply being poor. This type of emotional control leads to the regime’s harsher control over its citizens.

How to Process this Information

A blue-toned graphic shows a drawing of a person doing multiple acts of self care. These include: making coffee/tea, wrapping themselves in a blanket, doing yoga, listening to music, walking their dog with a loved one, and being in nature.
Do what you need to take care of yourself. Try making yourself coffee/tea or walking your dog. Source: Yahoo! Images

Personally, learning about this initially took a bit of a toll on my mental health, so I encourage you to at least take a few deep breaths and do something to take care of yourself. By simply being aware of the ways by which the North Korean regime gains and maintains power over its citizens, you are looking through the fog that the regime intentionally placed over itself. That is a heavy burden to bear. Reading and knowing about these gross human rights violations takes a lot of cognitive and emotional resources. I encourage you, the reader, to take a few minutes after reading this post to process how you are feeling. Do some self-care. Maybe drink some water or follow a 10-minute yoga flow tutorial on youtube. Cry if you need to; you are allowed to feel. Take care of yourself so you can be better equipped to help put an end to these violations in the future. 

China’s Zero-COVID Policy

A man wearing a mask
(source: yahoo images)

Since the pandemic began, you might have seen multiple different snippets of Chinese citizens in their homes under complete lockdown. You might have even seen drones patrolling the streets and citizens shouting lamentations out of their window.

What you may not have known is that all of these scenarios mentioned above are a direct result of China’s COVID protocols. Currently, China is imposing a “zero-COVID” policy on all of its citizens. However, as President Xi Jinping was just re-elected for a third five-year term, we can assume that the policy will not be going anywhere anytime soon. 

The “zero-COVID” Policy: Prevention

landmark in china
(source: yahoo images)

Let us now evaluate what this so-called “zero-COVID” policy is and what it entails. Supposedly, China “recognizes domestic outbreaks are inevitable, and its policies are not geared towards having zero cases at all times but instead, are about “dynamically” taking actions when cases surface.” 

China’s policy can be split into two distinct features: prevention and containment. In the case of prevention, China ensures PCR tests (which are fast and highly accurate ways to diagnose COVID) are readily available for anyone at any given time. The normality and presence of tests has in turn caused certain businesses and buildings to require individuals to show proof of being COVID negative to enter these public spaces. However inconvenient this might be to those who are not tested, this notion has definitely kept cases low—after all, if functioning in life requires having a negative test, why would one risk getting sick? One surely would not want to risk getting sick since it would mean they would be practically unable to enter any public places. Hence, prevention of COVID prevails in China. 

The “zero-COVID” Policy: Containment

Chinese mountain
(source: yahoo images)

Prevention of COVID seems to be rather successful in China. However, the other part of China’s zero-COVID policy seems to be the one that sparks controversy and frequently makes its way into mainstream media: containment. 

Allegedly, China’s “[control tactics] aimed at swiftly cutting off transmission chains to forestall outbreaks, involve quarantining cases at government-supervised facilities and locking down buildings, communities or even entire cities.” 

Picture this: you wake up, get dressed, and are having your typical morning routine. Perhaps you might be feasting on some waffles or eggs as you prepare for your day. In any case, you eat your breakfast, and then head out to work. You get to your office around 10 minutes early, anticipating it will be a good day. 

About halfway through your work day, you receive word that you will not be heading home to your family that night. Someone in that building (a coworker of yours), tested positive for COVID, and the city decided to place your entire office building on lockdown.

Swiftly, within hours, government officials are shoving mattress and bed materials through the window. Additionally, food supplies are en route to the office. The basic necessities of human survival are all now being prepared to be delivered to your office, which, for the next couple of days, will be your home. 

This scenario is one that many people living in China have experienced. Starting your day normally to simply head to work and be told that you would not be allowed to go back home for a couple of days is a harsh reality in China. 

This ability for the government to impose this upon its citizens is all, as one would expect, due to China’s commitment to its zero-COVID policy. 

However, in addition to putting entire office buildings under lockdown for days, China is also able to put entire cities on lockdown. The population of the cities which fall victim to China’s harsh quarantine policies matters not—Shanghai, China’s largest city, was even placed on lockdown. Other cities that have been placed on lockdown include Xian, Chengdu, Tianjin, Shenzhen, and regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Jilin.

When a city is placed on lockdown, its citizens typically get little notice. The lockdowns, unsurprisingly, are complete lockdowns—there are no exceptions. Everything closes. Everyone is required to stay inside, no matter what. China ensures complete and total lockdown.

The government guards and watches over the streets 24/7 and ensures that no one roams the streets without permission. On top of that, drones often fly about, blaring messages out loud to remind everyone of the lockdown procedures.

When China decides to place a city under lockdown, eeriness overflows the streets. The scene is reminiscent of ghost towns and movies of towns left abandoned due to some unforeseeable incident. 

The Impacts and Implications

Chinese flag
(source: yahoo images)

These efforts on China’s end, despite how draconian they might appear, have definitely accomplished China’s goals. Globally, China is practically one of the least impacted nations by COVID—despite the fact the virus allegedly originated from China in the first place. 

According to OurWorldInData, China’s all-time COVID case count is about 1 million. The United States’s total is about 97 million. Additionally, in China, only about 5,000 have died from complications with COVID, while over a million people have died in the United States. 

Naturally, this presents an ethical dilemma—how should a government go about protecting the lives of its citizens from an illness? Should the government take China’s route of practically removing one’s agency over their own life in order to keep cases and deaths down, or should a government take the route of the USA where COVID mandates are less harsh or non-existent?

The low incidence of COVID outbreaks might make it seem as if China is doing the correct thing—governments should step in and enforce lockdowns onto people. However, while this surely will indeed keep cases at a low count, it will also imply other things—most importantly, the implication that the government ultimately knows what is best for its people and has the final say in how people live their lives. If a government can step in randomly and deny its citizens the free will to leave an office building, what else can it do in other situations? This notion of a government exuding agency over its people in times when it deems best surely is not a notion that is only demonstrated in situations of COVID—it is a notion that is bound to resurface in other parts of one’s life.

What the correct and best thing for a government to do, as it relates to infection control, is not as clear cut as one might think. It is certainly problematic for a government to have total authority over its people (which thereby would give it the power to strictly enforce COVID policies). At the same time, this has been an effective strategy in keeping cases low. On the other hand, the United States has been uncertain as to how to implement COVID policies. The USA is not used to enforcing policies in situations that have never occurred before, such as the COVID pandemic. Hopefully, if there is one positive thing we could gain from the entire pandemic, it is that if a pandemic were to ever break out again, due to COVID, we are better equipped to deal with it. 

The Implications of an Abusive Command Economy on the Rural People of North Korea

Four young Korean children stare sorrowfully through an open window with blue doors. Their ribs are visible and their arms are skinny.
Malnutrition in childhood leads to long-term physical and cognitive health effects. By limiting resources to impoverished communities, the DPRK holds control over the bodies and minds of these people. Source: Yahoo! Images

Note from the author: This post is the first of my four-part series on the North Korean Regime. To find the other parts, scroll down and click “View all posts by A. Price.” If the other parts are not available yet, check back in during the upcoming weeks when they will be posted.

Content Warnings: mass financial abuse, famine, malnutrition, dehumanization, classism, starvation


Imagine grocery shopping for your family, and instead of finding a variety of food choices, you find a store filled with a surplus of children’s socks, different colored hats, and beach toys even though you live nowhere near the coast. The only food you can find in the store is a few loaves of moldy bread, a small produce section filled with rotting vegetables, and a frozen section with freezer-burned packaged meat. The best you can do is buy a bag full of rotting vegetables and plant them in the ground behind your house, careful not to be caught doing so by the police. The soil you remember being rich with vitamins has turned to gray dust, and everything you plant dies before sprouting. Your family will live off the rotting leftovers from last week’s grocery trip until you can scrounge together enough scraps to make it through. You know that your neighbor has a secret garden that does moderately well, so you sneak over to offer her what’s left of your money in exchange for a few vegetables. If the police catch you exchanging goods, you and your neighbor will be charged for participating in a free market, thrown in a prison camp without a fair trial, and held for an unregulated amount of time. 

The only media you’ve ever seen tells stories of a utopia; the Kim family is sent from heaven to make the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea, the most wonderful place to live. They tell you that people in other countries, like South Korea and the United States, live under terrible governments who do not care for them the way the Kim family cares for you. In the end, you have no reason not to believe them. You have never seen the conditions of other countries and any criticism of your regime has been consistently disputed throughout your entire life. The stark reality of your consistent mistreatment exists in a dichotomy with the ideals that you have been brainwashed to believe to be true. 

Approximately 20 million rural North Koreans live in this reality…

Songbun

The class system of North Korea is called Songbun. At birth, each North Korean citizen is labeled as core, wavering, or hostile based on their place of birth, status, and the national origin of their ancestors. For example, a person whose ancestors immigrated from South to North Korea will be given a low Songbun and be assumed to have genetically inherited hostility towards the government. One’s Songbun can never be changed, as it determines every aspect of one’s life including how resources will be allocated to your community and how much mobility you will have throughout the state.

A pyramid chart with five horizontal sections. It is a gradient from white at the top to red at the bottom. The top section is labeled, “Supreme Leader: Kim Il-Sung (1949-1994) / Kim Jong-Il (1994-2011) / Kim Jong-Un (2011-present)” The next section is labeled, “Workers Party of Korea (WPK): More commonly known as the North Korean Regime - Consists of relatives of the Kim family and high-up government officials” The third section is labeled, “‘Core’ Songbun: Consists of people with a long family history of loyalty to the regime - most are residents of Pyongyang” The fourth section is labeled, ““Wavering” Songbun: Consists of people who have a family history of immigration and have since assimilated and residents of semi-large suburbs outside of Pyongyang” The bottom section is labeled, ““Hostile” Songbun: Consists of people with a family history of defecting, immigrating, or convicted criminals; people of non-Korean nationalities; people who have an acquired or assumed genetically-inherited hostility towards the regime”
The Hierarchy of the DPRK. Source: Diagram made by author.

The Command Economy

The Workers Party of Korea (WPK), more commonly known as the North Korean Regime, holds tight control over the command economy and uses it to abuse all people of low Songbun, specifically those who live outside the capital, Pyongyang. Instead of ordering the production of valuable goods like food and home maintenance products for their communities, they overproduce menial things, like children’s socks and beach toys. Many do not have the mobility to go to a neighboring town for resources, and as I will expand on later, many believe that they deserve to starve if they are not entirely self-sufficient.

This economic system has the dual effect of limiting opportunities to participate in the job market. People are not allowed to sell products unless they are commanded to do so by the WPK. Because the WPK is not tasked to create job opportunities for rural people, these people have no opportunity to make money, which only exacerbates the problem of reduced resources.

Lots of brightly colored shoes are piled onto shelves and hanging from the walls and ceilings in a Korean store. There are yellow signs with red and black text in Korean
The overproduction of menial things at the expense of food and necessities. Source: Yahoo! Images

The March of Suffering

The culture that encourages the idea of “suffering for the greater good” is called juche. Juche is the Korean term for the culture of self-sufficiency. It is an idea that is pushed hard into the minds of all North Koreans. Asking for help, depending on friends or family, or participating in a small-scale economy of goods with your neighbors makes you an inherently weak person because you are expected to work harder instead of “begging”. This idea is so ingrained in the minds of North Koreans that they will accept immense abuse from higher-ups at the expense of asking for help or demanding rights.

Starting in 1990, a great famine swept the nation under the rule of Kim Il-Sung. He coined the term “The March of Suffering” to refer to the famine. Using this name, he convinced those who took the hardest hit, the rural people of low Songbun, that they were doing the most honorable thing for their country by suffering in this famine. They were dying for it. Kim Il-Sung glorified their suffering by convincing them that not only did they deserve it (juche), but that their suffering was contributing to the greater good of the country. He had such control over the minds of these people that they loyally followed him straight to their graves. 

Handled correctly, this famine could have lasted no longer than a year, and would not have become nearly as severe as it has. Instead, estimates from Crossing Borders suggest that between 240,000 and 3.5 million people have died in the DPRK from malnutrition since 1990.* The famine has outlived not only Kim Il-Sung but also his predecessor Kim Jong-Il. 

*The reason for such a wide range of statistics is that collecting accurate data in North Korea is virtually impossible. I expand on the use of outside media control in the second part of this series titled, “How the North Korean Regime Uses Cult-Like Tactics to Maintain Power.”

The camera is facing down a building-lined street. The buildings are neutral colors and appear old. There are two trees with no leaves. There is a group of people all wearing the same dark green/blue clothing. One person is dressed in bright blue and standing in the middle of the street.
Even in Pyongyang, vibrant colors are rare. The buildings are drab and dull, the trees are dead, and people dress monochromatically and uniformly. The person in bright blue serves as a traffic director. Source: Flickr

Suppose the topic of North Korea is interesting to you and you want to work towards clearing up the fog surrounding the nation. In that case, I highly recommend Dying for Rights: Putting North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses on the Record by Sandra Fahy. This book is very informative and one of the only easily accessible, comprehensive accounts of North Korean human rights. It is where I learned most of what I know about the DPRK. It set the baseline on which I built my entire comprehensive understanding of the social systems at play. 

The cover of Sandra Fahy’s book. The picture on the cover is taken through a fence in North Korea. The camera’s focus is on the background, making the fence of the foreground very blurry. The view of the fence consists of a top white metal bar and five vertical bars that are red and white. In the background, which is in focus, we look over a small body of water to see a few densely packed and desolate-looking houses. The grass and trees out front are dead. There is snow on the ground. The sand is rocky and gray. There is one bright blue structure that looks like a child’s playhouse starkly contrasting its desolate surroundings. Above the fence, text reads, “Dying for Rights: Putting North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses on the Record; Sandra Fahy.”
The cover of the aforementioned book. Source: Fahy, Sandra. Dying for Rights: Putting North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses on the Record. Columbia University Press, 2019. Picture taken by A. Price.

As I will expand upon in the rest of this series, it is imperative that people outside of the DPRK “clear the fog” and find ways to look into the state. One of the biggest motivators for activism is awareness. As people on the outside, some of the most valuable things we can do are spread awareness, garner activism, and bring that activism with us into our participation in the government, whether that be running for office or simply voting for people who share our concerns.

If you are not registered to vote, you can do so here: Register to vote in the upcoming midterm election today.