A Matter of Survival

The North Korean Government’s Control of Food and the Risk of Hunger

[1] "North Korea Rejects U.N. Food Aid," BBC News Online, September 23, 2005.

[2] As of this writing in late March 2006, the two sides had yet to reach agreement on WFP's future work in North Korea.

[3]It is difficult to obtain accurate data on North Korea's grain production. The FAO/WFP, the United States Department of Agriculture, and South Korea's Rural Development Administration publish the only reliable data sets, though each uses a different approach. The three sets of data roughly correlate, particularly with respect to trends in grain production. The data from FAO/WFP divides yearly production in November-October periods, rather than January-December periods. Those figures include projected production, although they are subsequently updated. As a result of North Korea's demand that WFP end emergency food aid at the end of 2005, WFP and FAO were not allowed in the country to carry out a production assessment survey in 2005. The United States Department of Agriculture's data includes only major grain such as rice, maize, wheat, and barley produced in cooperative farms, and omits other grain produced at cooperative and private farming lands. South Korea's Rural Development Administration estimates the amount of all grain produced at both cooperative and individual farms, analyzes production after harvest, and has been consistently releasing data for decades.

[4] There have been anecdotal South Korean press reports indicating, after a decade of private trades, there is a growing class of the newly rich, who don't always belong to the elite class, but nevertheless have much better access to food and other necessities than the rest of the population. Because of lack of access to North Korea, however, it is difficult to confirm exactly who make up this new "class," and how widespread such phenomena are. Park Dae-han, "Economic Polarization in North Korea," Yonhap News, February 23, 2006.

[5]White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2005, Korea Institute for National Unification, April 2005, pp 201-226.

[6] Lee Suk, The DPRK Famine of 1994-2000, Korea Institute for National Unification, December 2004.

[7] Human Rights Watch interview with Mr. Lee Min Bok, Seoul, February 2, 2006.

[8]Starved of Rights: Human Rights and the Food Crisis in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Amnesty International, January 2004.

[9] "North Korea, Admitting Food Shortages, Asks Japan for Rice," The Associated Press, May 26, 1995.

[10] "North Korea Admits Its Famine Killed Hundreds of Thousands," The Associated Press, May 9, 1999.

[11] Good Friends, a South Korean NGO that has assisted North Korean refugees in China for years, estimates that about 3 million people died during the famine. Human Rights in North Korea and The Food Crisis, Good Friends Center for Peace, Human Rights and Refugees, January 2004. Based on various official statistics, including those from the DPRK Central Bureau of Statistics and FAO/WFP, and birth and death rates between 1994 and 2000, economist Lee Suk estimates that 580,000 to 690,000 people died of hunger or hunger-related diseases. However, Lee says, the estimate increases dramatically to 630,000 to 1.12 million deaths if one uses information available on the nutritional status of North Korean children. Suk, The DPRK Famine of 1994-2000. Daniel Goodkind and Loraine West, demographic experts, say North Korea lost roughly one million people to famine. Daniel Goodkind and Loraine West, "The North Korean Famine and Its Demographic Impact," Population and Development Review, June 1, 2001.

[12]White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2005, Korea Institute for National Unification, April 2005.

[13]Monthly North Korea, September 2004, pp 214-216.

[14] "Understanding North Korea 2005," EducationCenter for Unification, Ministry of Unification, 2005. South Korea's Ministry of Unification played the role of the state's propaganda arm against North Korea during the Cold War era. The information it produced was often seen as politically biased. However, this perception has shifted somewhat since South Korea changed its North Korea policy from one of confrontation to "engagement" when former President Kim Dae-jung took office in 1998.

[15] Human Rights Watch, "The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 14, no. 8 (C), November 2002, pp 25-26; Are They Telling Us the Truth? Brutality Beyond Belief, Life Funds for NorthKoreanRefugees & DatabaseCenter for North Korean Human Rights, February 2004, pp 86-107.

[16] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, February 6, 2006.

[17] Human Rights Watch interview, Seoul, February 2, 2006.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview, Seoul, February 7, 2006.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview, Seoul, February 2, 2006. Lee escaped to China in November 1990, was caught the same day, then subsequently interrogated and tortured by North Korean security officials. As he spent only one day in China, the authorities determined that he had not committed any "subversive" offense, and released him. He escaped again to China, spending a few years in hiding, before making his way to South Korea to resettle in Seoul. Now he works as a human rights activist.

[20] WFP, "WFP Emergency Reports," February 24, 2006.

[21] In July 2005, WFP regained access to KowonCounty in SouthHamgyongProvince, seven months after it was banned from visiting the county in January 2005. WFP, "WFP Emergency Reports," July 22, 2005.

[22] Bradley K. Martin, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, U.S., September 2004, pp 551-568.

[23] "Medecins sans Frontires Forced to Withdraw from North Korea," Agence France-Presse, September 30, 1998.

[24]"MSF calls on donors to review their aid policy towards DPRK," Medecins sans Frontires (MSF) press release, September 30, 1998.

[25] WFP, "WFP Emergency Reports," November 11, 2005.

[26] Andrew S. Natsios, The Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics and Foreign Policy, United States Institute of Peace, printed in U.S., 2001, pp 171-179. Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, Hunger and Human Rights: The Politics of Famine in North Korea, printed in U.S., August 2005.

[27]White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2005, Korea Institute for National Unification, pp 201-226.

[28] "U.N. agency says approval is given to plan to battle nutritional deficiencies in North Korea," The Associated Press, February 23, 2006.

[29] Suk, The DPRK Famine of 1994-2000.

[30]Understanding North Korea's Economic Reforms, Center for the North Korean Economy, Korea Institute for National Unification, April 2005.

[31] Ibid.

[32] "Special Report FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission To The Democratic People's Republic Of Korea," FAO/WFP, November 22, 2004. According to the World Health Organization, North Korea had a population of 22,664,000 in 2003, with an annual growth rate of 0.8 percent, which would put the current population at about 23 million. South Korea's Ministry of Unification also estimates it at about 23 million.

[33] FAO/WFP estimates North Korea loses about 15 percent of the harvest for a variety of reasons, including delays in processing crops and shortages of transportation and decent storage facilities. FAO/WFP also says North Korea needs 230,000 tons of seeds for planting and 180,000 tons of grain for feeding stock animals. "Special Report FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to The Democratic People's Republic Of Korea," FAO/WFP, November 22, 2004.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Kwon Tae Jin, Korea Rural Economic Institute, Seoul, December 2005; Human Rights Watch interview with South Korean economist specializing in North Korea (name withheld at interviewee's request), Seoul, January 2006.

[36]South Korea's Rural Development Administration estimates the grain production in North Korea in 2005 at 4.54 million tons, up by 5.3 percent from 2004. "Estimated 2005 Grain Production in North Korea," Rural Development Administration, November 29, 2005.

[37] Kwon Tae Jin, "North Korea's Food Availability in 2006 and Prospect of Inter-Korean Cooperation," Korea Rural Economic Institute, December 2005.

[38] "FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to the DPRK," FAO/WFP, November 22, 2004.

[39] "Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation Democratic People's Republic of Korea 10488.0," WFP, February 3, 2006.

[40] Natsios, The Great North Korean Famine, pp 179-181.

[41] "DPRK 2004 Nutrition Assessment Report of Survey Results," Central Bureau of Statistics, Institute of Child Nutrition, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, http://www.unicef.org/dprk/dprk_national_nutrition_assessment_2004_final_report_07_03_05.pdf (retrieved on February 7, 2006).

[42] "The Silent Emergency," UNICEF, http://www.unicef.org/sowc98/silent.htm (retrieved on February 24, 2006).

[43] Joo Sung-ha, "North Korea to Revive PDS in October Sent Order to Whole Country," DongA Daily, August 31, 2005.

[44] Moon Sung-kyu, "North Korean Authorities Confirm Normalization of Food Supply," Yonhap News, October 27, 2005.

[45] WFP, "WFP Emergency Reports," October 28, 2005.

[46] WFP, "WFP Emergency Reports," November 25, 2005.

[47] "The WFP DPR Korea Monthly Update November/December 2005," WFP, December 2005.

[48] "Human Rights in North Korea and The Food Crisis," GoodFriendsCenter for Peace, Human Rights and Refugees, January 2004, pp 66-73; Natsios, The Great North Korean Famine, pp 171-179.

[49] Founded in December 2004, The Daily NK focuses on democracy and human rights in North Korea, but covers nuclear weapons, separated families and other North Korea-related topics. It publishes online, mostly in Korean, but some is translated into English. It has several correspondents stationed in China, who periodically interview North Korean escapees to publish the latest information inside North Korea. It has a conservative editorial line, but its articles on developments inside North Korea are considered reliable.

[50] Kim Young Jin, "10 Questions and 10 Answers for Chungjin Resident in December 2005," The Daily NK, December 27, 2005.

[51] Kwon Jung-hyun, "Rice Prices Stabilize in Sinuiju in December," The Daily NK, December 13, 2005. Kwak Dae-jung, "About Food and Commodity Prices in North Korea This Winter," The Daily NK, December 13, 2005.

[52] Joo Sung-ha, "Double Price System in North Korea's Food Distribution," DongA Daily, November 10, 2005.

[53] Han Young Jin, "Is North Korea Doing Rice Business Against Its Own People?" The Daily NK, February 24, 2006.

[54]Human Rights in North Korea and The Food Crisis, Good Friends Center for Peace, Human Rights and Refugees, January 2004, pp 30-35. A survey conducted by Good Friends from 1997 to 2000 against 1,855 North Koreans showed drastically high death rates among children of nine years or younger and those of 60 or older, compared to people of other ages.

[55] WFP, "WFP Emergency Reports," September 30, 2005.

[56] WFP, "WFP Emergency Reports," November 11, 2005.

[57] Regardless of their reasons for leaving, North Koreans often face harsh treatment upon return, ranging from detention to torture, long prison terms and even executions. The North Korean government considers leaving North Korea without state permission as a criminal offense and often as an act of treason, which may be punishable by death. China is obliged under international law not to return persons to a territory where their life or freedom is threatened. This obligation, known as the principle of "non-refoulement," is articulated in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, both of which China has been a party to since 1982. The right of non-refoulement is recognized as a rule of customary international law, binding on all states regardless of whether they have signed that treaty. China, however, has been arresting and sending back North Koreans, categorically labeling them as "illegal economic migrants" and disregarding the persecution they will face as a result of their illegal exit. The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China, Human Rights Watch, November 2002.

[58] Kim Young Jin, "10 Questions and 10 Answers for Chungjin Resident in December 2005," The Daily NK, December 27, 2005.

[59] In 2005, WFP distributed 293,000 tons of commodities to help feed 4.6 million North Koreans. In 2004, it provided 274,000 tons to 5.4 million people, and in 2003, it distributed 512,000 tons to 5.9 million people. Human Rights Watch email interview with Gerald Bourke, WFP spokesman, April 3, 2006.

[60] Human Rights Watch email interview with Richard Ragan, WFP Country Director for the DPRK, January 4, 2006.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gerald Bourke, WFP spokesman, February 8, 2006.

[63] "WFP Emergency Reports," WFP, February 24, 2006.

[64] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gerald Bourke, WFP spokesman, February 8, 2006.

[65] "DPRK Appeal No. 05AA059 Programme Update No. 3," International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), December 31, 2005. The U.N. agencies often worked in collaboration with each other and carried out a variety of projects, including food and medical aid. More development-focused projects included food for work programs such as the rehabilitation of farm land damaged by floods, the restoration of sea dykes and river embankments, the building of irrigation ditches in drought-prone areas, and reforestation projects. WFP and UNICEF also have worked with the North Korean government to locally produce corn soya blend, rice milk blend, grain milk blend, biscuits, and fortified noodles, all intended for the most vulnerable beneficiaries."Food Security: Overview, World Hunger Korea (DPR)," UNICEF, July 23, 2004.

[66] "Project to Assist North Korean Infants and Young Children," The (South Korean) Ministry of Unification, December 2005.

[67] "The (South Korean) Government's Monitoring Efforts for Aid to North Korea," The (South Korean) Ministry of Unification, December 2005.

[68] According to the WFP, as of the end of 2005, 12 western NGOs had residing staff in Pyongyang, including ADRA (Adventist Development & Relief Agency International), Campus fuer Christus, CESVI (Cooperazione e Sviluppo), Concern Worldwide, DWHH/GAA (German Agro Action), GAIN, Handicap International, KMED, PMU Interlife (PringstMissionens Utveck-lingssamarbete), Premiere Urgence, TGH (Triangle Generation Humanitaire) and Save the Children.

[69] 'Art. 11 (2), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), Resolution 2200 A (XXI), 16 December, 1966.

[70] 'The right to adequate food (Art. 11),' May 12, 1999. E/C.12/1999/5, CESCR General Comment 12 (17). (General Comments).

[71] 'The right to adequate food (Art. 11),' May 12, 1999. E/C.12/1999/5, CESCR General Comment 12 (28). (General Comments).

[72] Art. 2 (1), CESCR.

[73] 'The nature of States parties obligations (Art. 2, par.1),' December 14, 1990. CESCR General Comment 3 (9). (General Comments).

[74] 'The nature of States parties obligations (Art. 2, par.1),' December 14, 1990. CESCR General Comment 3 (9). (General Comments).

[75]Starved of Rights: Human Rights and the Food Crisis in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Amnesty International, January 2004.

[76] Ibid.

[77] "Food rations by class," Understanding North Korea 2005, Education Center for Unification, The Ministry of Unification, March 2006, pp 245-247.

[78] "Amount of Grain Production (in North Korea)," Rural Development Administration, emailed to Human Rights Watch in December 2005.

[79] DPRK second periodic report to CESCR. Economist Lee Suk says, there is a possibility North Korea exaggerated the amount of grain production until 1994, but the statistics released after 1995, the year North Korea began receiving international aid, are considered relatively trustworthy. Suk, The DPRK Famine of 1994-2000.

[80] "North Korea's Harvest Hits Record High Since 1990," Radio Free Asia, October 26, 2005.

[81] The International Food Aid Information System, WFP.

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