The World Today for November 16, 2023
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North Koreans face hunger, forced labor, shortages of medicine and other supplies, and no freedom of expression or assembly, according to North Koreans who managed to escape the so-called Hermit Kingdom and tell their stories to the world.
Yet when more than 500 North Korean citizens – mostly civilians and religious figures – attempted to flee from China to South Korea to escape the hellscape of their homeland, Chinese officials seized them and sent them back into the clutches of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, reported Radio Free Asia.
South Korean officials condemned the repatriation, the BBC wrote, saying it flew in the face of the international principle of “non-refoulement,” which makes it illegal to send refugees and asylum seekers back to places where they could face persecution. The South Koreans said China should either grant these unfortunate folks asylum – or let them continue to South Korea.
Under North Korean law, attempting to escape the country is tantamount to “treachery against the nation,” a crime punishable by death or rendition to a forced labor camp, noted Human Rights Watch.
And families of those who have managed to escape can be sentenced to labor camps or banished to the “northern wilderness” “without supplies,” according to a review of the documentary film, “Beyond Utopia,” which follows a family’s escape.
In the meantime, the United Nations said that around 2,000 North Koreans are currently being held in China after they fled North Korea without permission. UN officials exhorted Kim to allow their inspectors into North Korea so they could assess what might happen if those 2,000 North Koreans were shipped back home.
China, however, claimed that it was harboring no “defectors.” Instead, it classifies North Koreans who flee their country as illegal economic migrants.
These migrants suffer untold horrors.
Jihyun Park, now an activist based in the United Kingdom, told Voice of America that she escaped North Korea in 1998 as the country collapsed into famine. In China, smugglers sold her into a forced marriage. Six years later, Chinese police caught her and sent her back to North Korea. She was sentenced to a detention camp for political prisoners. In 2004, she escaped again. The UK eventually granted her asylum.
North Korea not only wants to prevent its people from escaping. Its government has also sought new people who might come but never leave.
A Japanese court recently found North Korean officials in the capital of Pyongyang guilty of “illegal solicitation and detainment” after luring Japanese and other citizens to the country between 1959 and 1984 through its “paradise on Earth” program, which promised free healthcare, good jobs, and other perks if they would move there. But these credulous victims found only harsh conditions in “mines, forests or farms,” reported the Associated Press.
If the country has to lie to lure people to its shores, it’s no wonder that some locals want to leave.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing was unlawful, a verdict that deals a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s policy to curb the number of migrants entering the country, CBS News reported.
The case centers on a deal signed between the United Kingdom and Rwanda last year that allowed the UK to send anyone arriving on its shores illegally to the East African nation to have their asylum claims processed. The plan was estimated to cost the UK government at least $175 million in payments to Rwanda.
The deal’s aim was to put a halt to the increasing number of migrants trying to reach the UK via small boats across the English Channel.
But in its ruling, the court said asylum seekers would face “a real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement to their country of origin if they were removed to Rwanda.”
Non-refoulement stands as a fundamental principle in international law, ensuring that asylum seekers are safeguarded against compulsory return to the nation they had fled.
The court added that Rwanda has “a poor human rights record,” and cautioned there were substantial grounds to believe that asylum claims would not be properly determined by Rwandan officials.
Sunak expressed disappointment at the decision, but noted that the government will work on a new treaty with the African nation, as well as “revisit our domestic legal frameworks” if necessary.
The Rwandan government said the decision was ultimately one for the UK’s judicial system, but rejected the court’s assertions that it was not “a safe third country for asylum seekers and refugees.”
Meanwhile, human rights groups welcomed the verdict, saying the British government’s policy “sought to punish rather than protect those fleeing conflict and persecution.”
A Long Way Down
The Sri Lankan Supreme Court issued a symbolic ruling saying that the once-powerful Rajapaksa family, which ruled the nation for nearly two decades, were among those responsible for the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, Agence France-Presse reported.
In 2022, Sri Lanka’s economy crashed. As a result, Sri Lankans faced power outages, hours-long lines for fuel amid shortages and historic inflation rates.
The crisis triggered a series of mass protests from March to July 2022 that resulted in the resignation of the government, including Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, then-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and finally President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the BBC reported at the time.
Afterward, anti-corruption organization Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) and four other activists brought a complaint against 13 former officials which said the Rajapaksa brothers and the others – including two former central bank governors and current President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was prime minister in the later stages of the crisis – were responsible for the crisis, Reuters explained.
The court agreed.
While admitting that the mishandling of the economy by the Rajapaksa administration from 2019 to 2022 contributed to the crisis through “their actions, omissions and conduct,” the court ordered no punishment other than repaying the petitioners’ legal costs.
Mahinda Rajapaksa held the South-Asian Republic’s top job from 2005 to 2015 and oversaw the end of the three-decade civil war against Tamil rebel groups in 2009. His younger brother Gotabaya, formerly his defense secretary, won the presidency in 2019 following the terror attacks on Easter Sunday the same year.
After his election, the Telegraph had reported on his family’s legacy, including “extremist” stances on ethnic issues, and allegations of war crimes and murdering journalists.
The decision made by Sri Lanka’s highest judicial institution is the latest sign of the downfall of a dynasty that, not so long ago, was seen as untouchable. For TISL, “It is now up to the citizens to take any further action.”
A Little Shelter
The Caribbean nation of Dominica will create the world’s first marine protected area for sperm whales, a move scientists say will help in the conservation of the endangered species, which in turn will help save the planet, the Associated Press reported.
This week, the government announced it will designate a nearly 300-square-mile zone on the waters located on the western side of the island nation as a reserve for the whales, which have the largest brains in the world and can grow up to 50 feet. This area is already an important nursing and feeding ground for the cetaceans.
Officials added that the protected region will permit sustainable artisanal finishing and delineate an international shipping lane to prevent ships from hitting the cetaceans. An officer and an observer will also monitor the area and ensure that whale tourism regulations are enforced.
Scientists and conservationists welcomed the decision, while noting the important contribution sperm whales offer in fighting climate change.
Sperm whales defecate near the ocean surface, releasing nutrient-rich feces that lead to plankton blooms. This process helps capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, transporting it to the ocean floor when the plankton dies.
Around 500 sperm whales inhabit the waters around Dominica, forming part of a localized population that moves along the Lesser Antilles chain.
Shane Gero, a whale biologist leading the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, explained how sperm whales are a matrilineal society, with young males leaving and changing oceans during their lives. Protecting the species is crucial, especially given the potential impact on their numbers if fewer female calves are born, as sperm whales can only produce a single calf every five to seven years.
Threats to their survival include collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear, and exposure to agricultural runoff. That’s in addition to whaling having already significantly reduced their population, with only around 800,000 sperm whales remaining worldwide, added Gero.
Many Lives, Many Looks
In the “Shrek” series of movies, Puss in Boots opens his eyes big and round, and wields a mighty weapon with this mesmerizing, pleading stare.
That’s a look you might recognize in your feline. It’s just one of hundreds of expressions cats use, Live Science reported.
In fact, researchers observing cats for a year at a cat café in Los Angeles ‘collected’ 276 different facial expressions employed by 50 felines, according to a new study. These ranged from playful to aggressive and everything in between.
The team noted that each individual expression combined around four of 26 unique facial movements, including parted lips, dilated or constricted pupils, nose licks and different ear positions.
Their findings showed that around 45 percent of the facial expressions were friendly, while 37 percent showed aggression. Another 18 percent were ambiguous or fell into both categories.
The researchers also found that various facial expressions are similar across a number of species, including humans, dogs, and monkeys. This also includes what they referred to as “a common play face,” which involves the mouth’s corners pulled back and the jaw dropped to create a laughing-like appearance.
Although more research is needed to understand what the animals are “saying” to one another, the study is the first to do a deep dive into the ways felines communicate beyond the obvious purring and meowing.
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