Defector: Sanctions have not curbed North Korea 'guest workers'

By Elizabeth Shim
Defector: Sanctions have not curbed North Korea 'guest workers'
Kim Jong Un continues to benefit from the deployment of a massive overseas labor force, a defector said Wednesday. File Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- International sanctions designed to block North Korea deployment of overseas labor are not working and the state-sanctioned workforce in Russia and the Middle East remains a significant source of revenue for the Kim Jong Un regime, a defector said.

Roh Hoi-chang, a former central party secretary for the External Construction Supervision Bureau in North Korea, told UPI a source in the regime spoke to him a week ago.


Appearing at a North Korea human rights event at United Nations headquarters on Wednesday, the defector said he maintains contact with sources he developed while he worked at sites in Russia and the Middle East for seven years. He escaped in 2013 and resettled in South Korea in May 2014.

According to Roh's source, United Nations Security Council sanctions Resolution 2375 is not being properly enforced at sites, often under private supervision.

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"Sanctions, to my knowledge, has not done much [to curb] North Korea," he said.

The defector also said the private employers who need a cheap North Korean workforce willing to endure harsh conditions are often "out of reach" of local governments. The companies reap profits from using the cheap labor, Roh said, as states look the other way.


The lack of compliance with sanctions among some U.N. member states, and the continued use of forced laborers, have benefited North Korea as other sources of revenue have become restricted or blocked.

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Death, illness or injury among the North Korean overseas workforce also serve as a stark reminder to the United States and South Korea, even as new strategies are being tested, human rights violations remain a top concern, especially among defectors with firsthand experience of abuses.

"We would sometimes get injured on the job, and because so many people, 10 to 30 per small room, lived together, we would catch diseases," Roh said, recalling his time at a Middle East work site where the temperatures would average 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

In Russia, North Korean "guest workers" were given inadequate food, even as they began their day at construction or logging sites "as soon as they were up."

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"The meals consisted only of rice and salt, but it was better than what we could get in North Korea."

Each worker would be paid about $3,000 per month, but most of the earnings would be "donated" to the Korean Workers' Party, leaving individuals to keep about $60.

The defector said one North Korean colleague chose to commit suicide -- refusing to eat and destroying his digestive tracts by ingesting nothing but alcohol and aspirin for 10 days.


"The deployment of overseas workers only fattens the bellies of the on-site employers and North Korea's ruling elite," Roh said. "This is another form of imprisonment."

Defector and activist Jung Kwang-il, founder of No Chain, said the human rights situation in North Korea has not changed since the North Korean leader's meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

"North Korea political prison camps is an ongoing problem of the present," Jung said. "There are many losing their lives in detention facilities."

The activist criticized claims of peace from governments that are engaging with North Korea.

"I don't know whom this peace is for," Jung said, adding the recent invitation extended to Pope Francis to visit Pyongyang is a hollow gesture.

"Actually, North Koreans don't know who the pope is, what he does, or that Roman Catholicism is a religion," the activist said, referring to the information blockade enforced in the country.

"It is regrettable peace is being promoted amid this repression."

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