NORTH KOREA : Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights Newsletter

Human Rights Without Frontiers urges the 27 EU Member States to enquire about the possible exploitation on their territory of North Korean state workers by Pyongyang

The call is addressed in priority to The Netherlands where such workers are currently employed

By Willy Fautre, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (16.04.2012) - Human Rights Without Frontiers urges the Members of the European Parliament to ask for an investigation in their respective countries about the possible delivery of work permits and visas to North Korean state workers as Pyongyang is desperately trying to get hard currencies in order to finance its paranoiac projects: nuclear program and attempted launching of satellites.

Human Rights Without Frontiers especially urges the government of The Netherlands to check how many work permits and visas have been delivered to workers sent by North Korea to fill in the state coffers as it is unethical to contribute to the financing of the worst totalitarian regime in the world.

In "Pyongyang Restaurant" in Amsterdam, Kim Jong-eun is currently exploiting 9 state workers imported from North Korea. On you will see how this restaurant looks like but you can also read an interview of the owner in which he is saying "A lot of things that are said about North Korea are not true".

In the 6 June 2011 issue of The Atlantic, Sebastian Strangio explains in an article how the North Korean regime raises money through restaurants employing North Korean workers to fill in the coffers of the state and it exploits them. See below excerpts from his article "North Korea-run restaurants spread propaganda and kimchi across Asia."

State North Korean restaurants around the world

Russia: The Pyongyang Café, at 58B Verkhneportovaya Street, Vladivostok.

It is run by the North Korean government, part of a far-flung chain of restaurants that funnels much-needed foreign exchange to the ailing regime in Pyongyang. Andrey Kalachinsky, a veteran journalist and local analyst, said that in the Soviet era, when Vladivostok was a closed military city, the Pyongyang Café was the only foreign eatery in town - a symbol of the political and economic ties between the Soviet Union and Marshal Kim Il-Sung's Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

At the Vladivostok restaurant, there is little to suggest any connection with the regime just 428 miles distant. No pictures of the Great Leader grace the walls, no slogans stamped out in shrill red Korean script. Instead, the décor excels in a sort of kitschy chinoiserie: the walls of one room are covered with naturalistic motifs - golden autumn leaves and towering cliffs - complete with a fake tree that "emerges" from the painted-on scene. Overlooking a booth was a framed poster of a woman looking out coyly from behind a large fan, the Chinese character for "double happiness" inscribed on every second blade.

North Korean restaurants in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Vienam, Bangladesh, Nepal, Dubai, and so on

North Korean government-run restaurants have existed for years in China, in regions adjacent to the DPRK's northern border, but in the past decade the business has truly gone global.

In 2002, a branch of the Pyongyang restaurant chain opened in the Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap - the first outside China - and it became an immediate hit with South Korean tour groups visiting the nearby temples of Angkor. The success of the restaurant, which featured a nightly song and dance show by the North Korean waitresses, led to the opening of a second branch in Siem Reap and a third in the capital Phnom Penh in 2003. Since then, branches have also opened in Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal, Dubai and, soon, apparently, Amsterdam.

As North Korea's economic situation becomes increasingly dire, the number of branches has increased. A chain of mid-tier restaurants might not seem like much of a way to fund a government, but for the sanctions-stricken, technologically backward DPRK, every penny counts.

North Korea's exploitation system

It's hard to know for certain how much money the restaurants raise, but in a recent report, the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo estimated that around 120,000 South Koreans visit the two restaurants in Siem Reap, Cambodia, each year, contributing an estimated 200 to 300 million won ($179,000 to $269,000) to the coffers in Pyongyang. The report concluded that each of the restaurants probably earns $100,000 to $300,000 per year for the regime. As a result, Andrei Lankov (*) said the eateries - which probably number in the "low hundreds" across Asia - are likely one of Pyongyang's major earners. "It's a small, poor country. For them a few million U.S. dollars is a sufficient amount of money."

Reports from defectors suggest that the businesses are operated through a network of local middlemen, who send a certain amount of cash to North Korea each year as remittances. According to one report, the Cambodian eateries were opened by Ho Dae-sik, the local representative of the DPRK-aligned International Taekwondo Federation. (His son, Ho Si-ryong, is listed as the email contact for the Pyongyang Café in Phnom Penh, though he did not respond to queries). Like North Korean embassies, which are meant to be financially self-sufficient, the eateries have to cover their costs without cash from the central government.

In 2009, the Pyongyang restaurants in Cambodia and Thailand suddenly closed their doors, only to reopen again after a six-month hiatus. Lintner cited an Asian diplomat in Bangkok saying the restaurants, like all "capitalist" enterprises, were hit hard by the global economic crisis, but locals familiar with the establishment in Phnom Penh offered another explanation. One worker at a nearby business said Pyongyang closed after a dispute with a Cambodian customer who tried to take one of its North Korean waitresses out for "drinks" after dinner.

If true, it would not be the first time. In 2006 and 2007, Daily NK reported several incidents in which waitresses from North Korean restaurants in China's Shandong and Jilin provinces tried to defect, forcing the closure of the operations. Kim Myung Ho added that two or three DPRK security agents live onsite at each restaurant to "regulate" the workers and that any attempts at flight result in the immediate repatriation of the entire staff.

State North Korean workers have been selected among families that have proved to be politically reliable and loyal to the regime for several generations. Another reason why they never complain or defect is that their families are hostages of the regime. If they run away, their parents and relatives will lose their social position and may be sent to concentration camps on the grounds of "guilt by association", a provision of the criminal code that punishes those who have failed to politically control the members of their family.

Kim Myung-ho, a North Korean defector who ran a restaurant in northern China, reported in 2007 that each establishment, affiliated with "trading companies" operated by the government, was required to meet a fixed benchmark payment. "Every year, the sum total is counted at the business headquarters in Pyongyang, but if there's even a small default or lack of results, then the threat of evacuation is given," Kim told the Daily NK, a North Korea-focused online publication. Evacuation - going back to North Korea - is a serious threat for someone who is allowed a few years in the relative prosperity of, say, Cambodia.

Kwon Eun-Kyoung, English editor of the Daily NK, said the eateries are part of trading companies controlled by Bureau 39, the revenue-raising arm of Kim Jong-Il's Korean Workers Party. "Every business belongs to the party and is affiliated with the party systematically," she said. "Even though it is maybe run by brokers, the whole system we presume is controlled by the center of North Korea."

*Andrei Nikolaevich Lankov is a Russian scholar of Asia and a specialist in Korean studies. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Leningrad State University in 1986 and 1989, respectively; He also attended Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung University in 1985. Following his graduate studies, he taught Korean history and language at his alma mater, and in 1992 went to South Korea for work; he moved to Australia in 1996 to take up a post at the Australian National University, and moved back to Seoul to teach at Kookmin University in 2004. Dr. Lankov has a DPRK-themed Livejournal blog in Russian with occasional English posts, where he documents aspects of life in North (and South) Korea, together with his musings and links to his publications. He also writes columns for the English-language daily The Korea Times.

See the two programmes of the German TV channels ZDF and 3SAT (including the interview of HRWF director) on North Korean state waitresses employed in "Pyongyang Restaurant" in Amsterdam
(Click on "Nordkoreanische Küche")
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