In recent months, the world has watched North Korea adopt several reform measures under its new leader. However, it appears that policy regarding human rights problems in the country will remain unchanged.
Earlier this year, former Washington Post correspondent Blane Harden released a book entitled Escape from Camp 14, which details the conditions inside one of North Korea’s political prison camps. In the current issues of Foreign Policy, Harden again touches upon the issue of North Korea’s camps, and his perception of Kim Jong Eun’s leadership.
Kim Jong Eun has come under international media scrutiny since he took office, drawing interest from a global audience. The leader has made many public appearances recently with his wife Ri Sol Joo since inheriting his father’s office, projecting a warm demeanor and interacting directly with his people.
Much of the attention Kim Jong Eun has received from the foreign medias has been fairly lighthearted, focused on topics such as his appreciation of Disney characters or his newly revealed wife. However, as Harden points out, there are more serious issues at hand when considering North Korea. Harden stresses, “Before we allow ourselves to get too hopeful or amused, it is worth noting that North Korea remains uniquely repressive.”
Harden explains, “Indeed, after seven months under Kim Jong Eun, the entire country seems to have become even more of a prison than it was under his father, Kim Jong Il, not less.” He adds, “As many as 20,000 North Korean troops have been sent to seal the Chinese border; defections have declined sharply.”
Harden describes how defection from North Korea might become more difficult should such strict policy remain in place, “If the lockdown continues, this would be a fundamental change in what for more than a decade had been a semi-permeable border region, where a few North Koreans could dash to freedom and many others could fetch food, clothing and video gadgets that helped to improve lives and increase the flow of information.”
“While Kim Jong Eun and his wife trot around for televised inspections of miniature golf courses, there appears to be no significant change in the infamous political labor camps that have existed in North Korea for more than half a century.” Harden notes that while the new leadership may appear in some ways different than that of Kim Jong Il’s, this is not the case when concerning certain critical issues. “Indeed,” writes Harden, “human rights seems as irritating to the new leader as it was to his father.”