North Korean camp survivor Dong-Hyuk Shin tells true feelings about his book and campaign

North Korea prison camp escapee and human right activist, Dong-Hyuk Shin
Share this

Dong-Hyuk Shin, the only North Korean prison camp escapee, revealed that the inaccurate details in his autobiography “Escape from Camp 14” were neither lies nor confusion about his memories following his traumatic experiences. He just wanted to keep some painful experiences to himself.

“First of all, let me tell about the controversial issues surrounding my book, as some people are still regarding me as a liar. For what and how would I make up those horrible memories? I just wanted to hide a part of my life in the book. Isn’t that a choice I am free to make?” Shin said.

Escape from Camp14
Escape From Camp 14

According to the book, Shin underwent torture in North Korea’s most notorious political prison camp, No.14, at the age of 13. He later corrected this claim, however, to say that it was actually in Camp 18, known to be less controlled, when he was 20 years old, after moving out of Camp 14 at age six. Shin was transferred back to Camp 14, again, so he escaped from No. 14 in the end.

He said that he also had to correct the inaccurate report about his confession from United States media. The author of his book, Blaine Harden added in a new forward of the e-book that, “Trauma experts see nothing unusual in this.”

Shin, however, strongly denied the loss of memories, as Harden explained. “I didn’t forget any of the memories of my life. In reality, I couldn’t forget them even if I tried.  Every time I tried to erase those terrifying moments, they remained in my head more clearly,” he said.

The prison camp survivor has undergone a tough time since the end of last year, when he arrived in South Korea. Last October, North Korean authorities produced a video called “Lie and Truth” to attack Shin, who had given evidence of North Korea’s human rights violations in front of the UN Commission of Inquiry. In the video, Shin’s father — whom he believed to be dead — contradicted his story.

“I found out that my father was still alive when I watched the video. I believed that he died in the prison camp where he was transferred. When I saw him in such a ridiculous video for the first time, I wasn’t happy at all, but I felt despair. I thought that he would’ve rather died than lived, because I can imagine how much he suffered and is still suffering tortures in the country because of me.”

“If I knew that my story would have gained this much fame at that time, I would’ve disclosed every single detail to the writer.”

The video and the presence of his father ultimately made him reveal what he did not explain in the book. Amid condemnation from many people, he could not stand the criticism of other North Korean defectors.

“I didn’t care about the South Korean media that only focused on the numbers, such as Camp 14 and 18 and my age, while ignoring the scars of prison camp torture on my body. But I was very sad and even enraged because of other defectors who had suffered in North Korea like me,” he continued.

“Some of them denounced me by showing the video produced by North Korean government. I felt miserable, as they didn’t know my true intention, which was to save the dying. I think that they might be jealous of my fame and money. But to be honest, I didn’t earn any money while working for human rights. And the fame had nothing to do with my life, since many North Koreans are still being killed. If I knew that my story would have gained this much fame at that time, I would’ve disclosed every single detail to the writer.”

He alluded to discontinuity in the campaign on his Facebook page this January, but a month later he restarted it.

The prison camp survivor has been involved in North Korean human right activity since 2007. But recently he has felt that everything that he has done was in vain, as nothing has changed yet compared to eight years ago.

“I started this campaign desperately to save tens of thousands of maltreated North Korean residents, because I was also one of them. I didn’t have time, as people were dying every second.”

He was particularly skeptical about the UN’s inquiry into the human rights situation in North Korea, launched in 2013.

“For what did the United Nations establish the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea? What did they do for North Korean residents? It took more than one year for the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee to adopt the resolution. What is next, then?

“I gave all evidence to them in order to save my family and friends — not to lay flowers on their graves. I don’t think that the officials of the UN would understand how serious the real situation in North Korea is, because most of them have not lived that kind of a desperate life.”

The 33-year-old activist begged people to see the invisible reality: “When I told my story to the UN, at first they asked me whether I could prove it,” he said.

“Six million Jews died in the Holocaust over the course of about three years. Who imagined that many people were killed in that short a time? It is exactly same as 70 years ago. We can’t see what is happening in North Korea, but the fact is that people are being publicly executed at this very moment.”

“I felt miserable, as they didn’t know my true intention, which was to save the dying.”

Despite of his sense of futility over his human rights campaign, he said that he will never give it up.

Currently, Shin is planning two projects for the near future. “I’m thinking to publish a magazine about ordinary South Koreans’ lives and to send them into North Korea through the Chinese border with North Korea,” he said.

Similarly, South Korea’s activist groups, led by North Korean defectors, have sent anti-North propaganda leaflets, attached to large balloons, from near the border for several years. This activity, however, escalated tensions between the two Koreas, and North Korean authorities even threatened South Korea with military action.

“North Korea’s sensitive reaction indicates that these flyers are quite influential in society. I chose to produce a magazine to describe South Korea more specifically. I would like to feature photos of couples holding hands, drinking coffee in the cafe, and walking freely in central Seoul. And I wish North Koreans could realize that they also have a right to live like that.”

“I found out that my father was still alive when I watched the video. I believed that he died in the prison camp where he was transferred.”

He said that the second project is a bit more personal. “I’m aiming to make a video that rebuts every part of the video ‘Lie and Truth,’ before a conference at the United Nations in Geneva this September,” he said.

Through the video, he is hoping to send two messages to the North Korean government. “My ultimate goal is to enter North Korea with a delegation to the UN, and I want to visit Camp 14 where I was born and lived. If I can do that, no one will dispute my life, and finally I can prove the human rights violations,” he said.

The other message seems to be more important for In-Gun Shin — that was the original name of human rights activist Dong-Hyuk Shin.

“I’ll request the authorities let me meet my father either in North Korea or in a third country before he dies. And firstly, I’ll ask him why I was born in the prison camp. I then will say ‘I love you’ to my father for the first and last time.”

Photo and article by EJ Monica Kim

Secret exchanges and informal interactions: new report shines light on lobbying in the EU

lobbying in the EU
Share this

What is the state of lobbying in Europe? How transparent is it? Is there a clear and enforceable code of conduct for lobbying activities? How diverse are the voices affecting decision making?

In their latest report Lobbying Europe: Hidden Influence, Privileged Access Transparency International (TI) answers these very questions.

The study looks at the practice of lobbying and its regulations within 19 EU national governments and the three main EU institutions: the European Commission, the EU Parliament, and the EU Council.

It is underpinned by three research criteria:

  1. Transparency – are interactions between lobbyists and public officials transparent and open to public scrutiny?
  2. Integrity – is there a clear and enforceable code of behaviour that ensures lobbying is conducted ethically?
  3. Equality of access – how diverse is the range of voices affecting decision-making, how accessible is the political system to a wide range of citizens?

With some 15-30 thousand lobbyists regularly walking in the corridors of EU institutions, the lobbying industry in Europe is not just thriving but is becoming increasingly sophisticated. It includes professional lobbyists, corporations, private sector representatives, trade unions and law firms, and also NGOs, think-tanks, academics and faith-based organisations.

Underpinned by transparency, integrity and equality of access, lobbying can be a democratic tool, as multiple views can help shape the political debate and agenda in ways that are richer and fairer to the millions of people who will be ultimately impacted by the decisions taken. Legislation on food labeling, pesticide use, carbon emissions, smoking bans, recycling targets, and gay marriage are all examples of lobbying as a force for good.

However, in their latest report TI show us why the practice often still has a rather seedy ring to it.

The study finds ineffective and piecemeal lobbying regulations across EU countries and institutions overall. It finds that only seven (Austria, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and the United Kingdom) of the 19 countries investigated have some kind of lobbying regulation in place, but even then regulation is either poorly designed or not properly implemented.

When measured against international standards and best practices, the 19 EU countries and EU institutions together only scored an average 31 percent for the quality of their promotion of transparency, integrity and equality of access in lobbying.

For the three EU institutions alone the score is slightly higher at 36 percent, but still well below the ideal mark.

At 55 and 53 percent respectively, Slovenia is the only country and the EU Commission is the only institution to surpass the 50 percent mark. In both, whereas transparency and integrity measures are found to be relatively solid, the measures’ reach, implementation and enforcement are, however, found to be lacking.

The study finds that only 10 of the 19 countries assessed have some form of lobbying register.

In six (Austria, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, the United Kingdom), this is a national mandatory register. Yet while mandatory, lobbying, its targets and activities are found to be too narrowly defined – indeed none of the 19 countries are found to have adequate definitions across the board.

The UK Lobbying Act (2014), for example, is estimated by the Association of Professional Political Consultants to only be able to capture around one per cent of those who engage in lobbying activities – this is due to its narrow targets focus on ministers, permanent secretaries and special advisers – but not on members of parliament or local councillors, the staff of regulatory bodies, and private companies providing public services.

In 14 countries, voluntary registers may apply only to select institutions, such as the National Assembly and Senate in France, in the Netherlands, and the EU Transparency Register, or to target sub-national level institutions, such as the Italian regions of Tuscany, Molise and Abruzzo, or Catalonia in Spain.

These registers’ voluntary nature fails to fully and accurately capture the real extent of lobbying, and through use of non-user-friendly data formats and through weak or non-existent oversight and sanctions, their potential as transparency, integrity and equality of access tools is further hindered.

Another finding of the report is that much of the influence in Europe is exercised through informal relationships away from the public eye, such as through corporate hospitality events, all paid expense business trips, gala dinners, or quiet drinks in parliamentary bars.

Lobbyists in Hungary told of their travels alongside international business delegations and visits to football matches. Lobbyists in Milan told of how they catch politicians in the Alitalia’s lounge in Linate’s Airport, while they wait to catch their flight to Rome.

Below the radar by design, such interactions are likely to fall through any regulatory net.

The study highlights also how particular groups enjoy privileged access to decision makers. With the largest sums of money spent, the pharmaceutical, finance, energy and telecoms sectors tend to dominate the lobbying landscape. In 2012, the official figure for spending by the pharmaceutical sector alone was 40 billion Euros, however the study suggests a more realistic number for the sector would be 91 billion Euro.

Transparency International
Click to enlarge

That Goldman Sachs recently increased their declared lobbying expenses does seem to corroborate that official figures tend to err on the conservative side.

The study also warns that with an increasingly intertwined relationship between politics and business, known as the ‘revolving door’ between public and private sectors, is posing serious risks of regulatory and policy capture.

Although a cooling-off period before former public officials can lobby their former colleagues is in place in most countries, the report finds that none of the 19 EU countries have effective monitoring and enforcement of such revolving door provisions.

One example cited is that of France. Since 2013 French legislation requires a three-year cooling-off period between the end of a public service mandate and a role within a company that the official previously had interactions with as part of his or her mandate.

In practice, effective monitoring is likely to be impeded by the very limited resources available to monitoring bodies, such as the Public Service Ethics Commission, versus the scope of their monitoring responsibilities – for the Public Service Ethics Commission this is over some 5.5 million public officials. And with MPs also being exempt from such cooling-off period, such legislation shows room for improvement.

When it comes to equality of access to decision makers, in 17 of the 19 EU countries assessed public officials are required to promote citizens’ participation through consultations, indicating that public engagement is paramount.

Yet although formal mechanisms to collect a variety of voices do exist, none of the countries are found to have measures in place that can show whose voices decision makers ultimately take into account. Measures that ensure a balanced composition of advisory groups — key in preventing cases like this – are only found in Portugal.

The report however does also praise some regulatory improvements that have occurred, such as the recently adopted lobbying law in Ireland, and the progress made in a number of countries — namely Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain — towards regulating not just lobbying but also its parallel act of political financing.

Yet, while such developments are positive and welcome steps in the right direction, the study warns that transparency, integrity, and equality of access remain overall rather elusive in lobbying regulation in Europe, and that while many voices seek a chance to shape political debates in ways that take their own interests into account, when it comes to influencing decision makers it is the well-resourced corporate interests that reach the most ears.

Overall, a lack of a EU-wide mandatory lobbying register on one side, and the presence of mostly voluntary and generally poorly designed, implemented and/or enforced national codes of conduct on the other, are enabling lobbying to continue to take place below the radar, so that we don’t really know who is lobbying whom, for what, and with what resources.

The study calls for lifting such veils of secrecy and the opening of lobbying to public scrutiny as the first steps towards promoting a fairer system in which a plurality of voices have equal access to political agenda-setting, and in which decisions ultimately are made so that people are put before profits.

Analysis by Annalisa Dorigo

Images from the Transparency International report

The second-most spoken languages around the world

Share this

You can probably guess the most spoken language in any given country around the world; after all, it’s usually the official language of the country. But have you ever given thought to the second-most spoken language in a country? Olivet Nazarene University has put together an interactive map that covers the second most spoken languages in each country around the world.

While it might seem insignificant, the second-most spoken language in a country can tell you a lot about the country’s history, culture, and more. For example, in the United States, more than 60 million people speak a language at home other than English, with Spanish as the second-most spoken language, backing up the United States’ reputation as a “melting pot.” However, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have French as their second-most spoken language, a reflection of their historical ties to France and French culture.

Europe, meanwhile, is known for being a continent of diverse languages and cultures; children often grow up speaking several languages and are able to fluently switch between languages at ease. Therefore, it makes sense that the second-most spoken language varies greatly among European countries, with no clearly dominant second language.

The second-most spoken languages around the worldIn parts of Africa, the second-most common language is often used as a “lingua franca,” a bridge language used by people who don’t share a native language to communicate. For example, French is the second-most common language in Algeria, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Morocco. The second-most spoken language may also be predominantly used by the educated classes and/or in major cities.

The second-most spoken languages around the worldSurprisingly, Southeast Asia is the area of the world where English is the second-most spoken language. Speakers of various ethnic languages and dialects use English as a common bridge language, and many schools in Japan and South Korea also teach English from a very early age, making it incredibly common throughout the area.

As the world continues to become more connected thanks to technology, communicating clearly becomes more and more important. Knowing the second-most commonly spoken language in countries you visit or do business with can help you communicate clearly and efficiently with people no matter where you are.

By Matt Zajechowski

Olivet Nazarene University‘s second language map

Corso Krymská Street Festival – Photo document by Michaela Škvrňáková

Share this

Corso Krymská is known as one of the best street festival in Prague. The third annual took place this weekend in Prague Vršovice. The centerpiece was the world-famous Krymská street, which has been compared to such sites as Montmartre in Paris, Kreuzberg in Berlin and Camden Town in London.

Saturday’s festival was attended by 36 enterprises. The main events took place in the streets of Krymská, Francouzská, Donská, Černomořská, Sevastopolská, Petrohradská and Slovenská. These streets began to fill in around 11 a.m. and the outside entertainment lasted until 10 p.m., when everyone moved into the bars.

During the day festival-goers had the opportunity to taste lots of delicious food. Besides many excellent vegetarian specialties you might find homemade burgers, spring rolls, bread with lard, homemade pancakes and much more.

When browsing the street people visited the exhibitions, wrote poems, listened to bands, DJs or literary readings, danced the tango, visited workshops, and took in theater, but the main point was to have fun, relax and get to know your neighbors.

By Michaela Škvrňáková

Photos: Michaela Škvrňáková

Sběrné suroviny Corso Krymska Corso Krymska Strojovna Corso Krymska Corso Krymska Corso Krymska The Solution The Solution Šťastný domov Café Sladkovský Corso Krymska Corso Krymska the poet Corso Krymska café V lese spring roll _DSF5119 Corso Krymska Corso Krymska Café Sladkovský Corso Krymska

Bloody spring in Macedonia

Share this

BELGRADE, Serbia — Early Saturday morning the Macedonian town of Kumanovo was awakened by a major shootout and grenade explosions. According to local media reports, police officers were attacked by an armed group, estimated to be 70 fighters strong.

TV NOVA morning news reported that one whole part of the town was blocked by strong police forces, and many more of Macedonian army and police units were arriving from other places.

Unofficial reports confirmed three police officers had lethal injuries, while another 11 were wounded and were receiving care in hospitals.

Police action is in progress, and results are yet to be seen. There are unconfirmed reports of casualties on the other side as well.

makedonija 2Kumanovo is a small town in northern Macedonia. This state is widely known for its long-lasting dispute with Greece, which has been unwilling to recognize their name due to historical reference.

With a mixed Christian and Muslim (Albanian) population, Macedonia has not been excluded from violence based on ethnic or religious grounds.

In 2001, Albanian paramilitary groups took control of a region close to Kumanovo, claiming their right to independence. Many months later and after the loss of hundreds of lives, Macedonia prevailed and peace talks resulted in wide democratic rights for the Albanian minority.

However, one month ago a strong group of the armed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) took control of a police outpost on the border between Macedonia and Kosovo and sent a message to the Macedonian government that they will fight for Great Albania. This, in general, reflects the wish of some Albanians to unite all of the nation in a single state, along with the territories where they live now. This 18th century idea affects all neighboring countries — Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.

By Miroslav Velimirovic