North Korea Under International Sanctions
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North Korea Under International Sanctions

    The North Korean national men's and women's soccer teams are now in Japan to compete in the East Asian Championship finals. They have been allowed to participate as an exception to Japan's unilateral sanctions on North Korea.

    International sanctions against the North were put in place because of its continued missile and nuclear programs. The increasingly isolated country is under global scrutiny, especially for its human rights situation.

    No prize money for North Korean national teams

    One of the matches in the Asian championship finals that attracted attention was the December 12th game between the 2 Koreas.

    Many Korean residents in Japan came to cheer on their teams with uniforms featuring their nations' flags.

    One spectator said it's extremely rare to be able to watch a North Korean team playing in Japan, and that he expected it to be an exciting match. A female fan said it doesn't matter which team wins as long as they perform well.

    The North Korean teams arrived in Japan on December 5th. Although the Japanese government's unilateral sanctions ban North Korean nationals from entering the country, the soccer teams were given an exception.

    The members of the women's team appeared in red coats, and the men appeared in black. Members of a pro-Pyongyang group of Korean residents in Japan were among those who welcomed them at Haneda Airport.

    The women's team opened its training session to the media last week. Team captain Kim Nam Hee said they are determined to win and make the country's leader Kim Jong Un happy.

    A reporter asked her if there were concerns the team might not be granted visas to enter Japan. Kim responded that there were none. Another team member was asked if they will be punished if they lose. She said there is nothing to worry about as they only focus on winning.

    The East Asian football association has decided not to grant any prize money to the North Korean national teams taking into consideration UN sanctions resolutions and the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula.

    N.Korea faces serious food shortage and human rights problem

    On December 12th, North Korean state-run media aired footage of Kim Jong Un at an event promoting the munitions industry.

    During the broadcast, it was stressed that "in accordance with our great 2-track policy of pursuing economic growth and nuclear development, the country will smash the hardline policy toward the North by the United States and its puppets."

    The 2-track policy has been championed by the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un. Amid mounting international sanctions, he has pushed ahead with his nationwide tours to farms and factories in an apparent attempt to show both at home and abroad that the nation's economy is on the right track.

    However, the international community is increasingly concerned about a chronic shortage of food and the human rights situation in North Korea. The concerns were discussed on December 11th by the UN Security Council.

    Britain's UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft raised a recent incident involving a North Korean defector. The soldier crossed the military demarcation line into the South last month. Parasites were found in his body.

    He said the soldier's starved physical condition speaks volumes about the standards of health and welfare in a country that professes to put the military first, and it shows how the country treats those who are most vulnerable.

    The issue of systematic violence, including the use of forced labor, torture and public executions was also on the agenda.

    US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that the North Korean regime forces its people to work up to 14 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, often with no compensation. She said failure to report to an assigned job can result in imprisonment in a forced labor camp for 6 months to 2 years.

    She also quoted defectors as saying all North Koreans aged 12 and older are required to attend public executions. She said this is a graphic reminder of consequences of disobedience of the government.

    A woman who defected 10 years ago explained the harsh forms of punishment that took place in the labor camps. She says she was accused of not listening to her guards and kicked and beaten, and she still suffers from liver and muscle problems as a result. She says the Kim family is using the camps as a means of carrying out massacres.

    The North Korean leader assumed power towards the end of 2011. He has purged senior officials and is severely punishing defectors as a means of consolidating power.

    In 2013, Kim's uncle Jang Song Thaek was executed on treason charges. The Minister of the People's Armed Forces, Hyon Yong Chol, was purged in 2015.

    South Korean intelligence says that last month, the head of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army, Hwang Pyong So, who is also Kim's aide, was punished for having a questionable attitude toward the party.

    Violations of human rights are rampant in North Korea. Even the country's top elites can become victims of abuse. North Korea's UN representative protested, saying the council was being used for political purposes and raising non-existent human rights issues.

    He said the country will continue its nuclear and missile programs, and its nuclear military power must be strengthened both in terms of quality and quantity. He also said North Korean leader Kim's achievements will shine forever.

    South Korea: North Korea is short of 0.7 million tons of food

    South Korea's Unification Ministry says North Korea has a population of slightly more than 24 million. A document submitted to parliament last year by the ministry shows the North needs about 5.5 million tons of food a year, but is believed to be short by 0.7 million tons. The document is based on a survey by a UN agency.

    Many people there starved to death during severe food shortages in the late 1990s. Since then, the situation in the country has improved.

    But the issue remains unresolved, as the North does not have enough machines, fuel and chemical fertilizers for farming.

    Ministry officials say the living conditions in North Korea remain extremely poor due to food shortages in all parts of the country, excluding Pyongyang, and low medical standards. They say the mortality rate of children under the age of 5 and women with children is 8 times as high as their South Korean counterparts.

    In September, the officials decided to provide US$8 million in humanitarian aid to the North through the World Food Programme and UNICEF. They said they will deal with humanitarian aid and political situations separately.