LATVIA: Majority language pushed in schools, leaving parents miffed

Teachers in the Baltic country’s bilingual schools are transitioning into teaching mostly in Latvian. Critics worry that the reform will come at the detriment of minority students — mainly ethnic Russians.

By Daiva Repeckaite

DW (08.09.2018) – – Words in various languages adorn the stairs of Riga’s secondary school No. 34. Inga Sokolova, the school’s deputy headmaster, greets a colleague in a classroom with Latin and Cyrillic alphabets on the walls, and the two exchange jokes about coming to work even during the summer break. Both project an image of a happy multilingual community, where recent Chinese immigrants and traditional minorities study side by side. Yet for over a decade now, there has been uncertainty about whether bilingual schools like this, which cater to the country’s large Russian-speaking minority can survive the latest attempt to ‘Latvianize’ them.


By the 2020/2021 school year, the government wants all 16- to 18-year-olds to study in Latvian only — except subjects related to minority languages and heritage. Currently minority schools have the option of teaching only 60 percent in the national language. Grades seven to nine will also see an increase in the amount of teaching in Latvian.


Proponents say the changes will boost integration. Critics respond that schools will struggle to recruit teachers. The government promises €3.3 million ($3.82 million) from EU structural funds to have at least 2,700 teachers improve their language skills, but its critics question why the government seems hellbent on dismantling something that works. In November,, a Baltic news site, wrote that as many as 8,000 teachers would need to improve their Latvian. Several protests have taken place, and the Constitutional Court is scrutinizing the reform.


Parallel school systems

Over a quarter of pupils in Latvia speak another language at home, usually Russian. Sokolova says the school administration has repeatedly met with parents to reassure them. “It’s not like a child will be left alone with a strange book, not knowing which side to open it from,” she asserts. According to the education ministry, of the 94 state-funded minority schools, over 41 percent teach half of their curriculum in Latvian, whereas other schools mix and match the languages.


After World War II, Latvia became part of the Soviet Union, which meant that Latvians could study in their native language, but a parallel Russian-language education developed for incoming Russians and other Soviet residents, absorbing pre-war minority schools. In 1991 independent Latvia viewed these “new” residents as colonizers and required them to take a Latvian language test to gain citizenship rather than granting it automatically. According to the latest data, 11 percent of the population does not have Latvian citizenship.


The dual education system was reformed in several stages, introducing more teaching in Latvian in 2004. When researchers in the UK and Norway compared Latvian school exam results between 2001 and 2010, they found “significant deterioration” in pupils’ performance in minority schools after the share of teaching in Latvian increased. It took five years for the results to return to pre-reform levels. In absolute terms, however, minority pupils continued outperforming their native-Latvian peers in some subjects.


The reform “will expand opportunities for young people in vocational and higher education, where learning takes place in the Latvian language, as well as increase their competitiveness in the labor market,” according to Gunta Araja, head of policy initiatives and development at the education ministry.


Armen Khalatyan, whose son is in secondary school, is not convinced. He often takes to a Facebook group of Russian-speaking parents to voice his opposition to the reform. He believes it is not about integration, but rather about disconnecting Latvian-born Russian-speaking children from their heritage. “Most of them [Russian-speakers] were born in this country,” he says, one of a choir of critics who cite the results of graduation exams to prove their point: Native Russian speakers do just fine.


Minority as the majority

In the former industrial town of Daugavpils, a group of teenagers hang out by the picturesque river Daugava. One of their friends has already left for Riga, but the others have no interest in the capital, which it is far bigger, busier — and effectively bilingual. Here in their hometown, 89 percent of residents speak Russian at home.


Daugavpils is in the fast-shrinking eastern province of Latgale, but it is home to a university, a new arts center, numerous lakes and green spaces, and bustling cafes, where Russian is nearly the only language one hears spoken. Statistically it’s the least ethnic Latvian city, and one in six does not have Latvian citizenship.


The youngsters cheerfully share their experience learning Latvian, which they have succeeded at to varying degrees. One of them, who studies at the local art school, says that while all classes are in Latvian, finding information online for homework and personal projects is much easier in Russian.


‘Shaming teachers’

Andrejs Zaicenko, a chemistry teacher, has been busy attending seminars for teachers to comply with the novelties of the reform. His is a minority school, and his pupils, like him, speak Russian at home. Fortunately for him, comfort in delivering his classes in Latvian is not an issue, but he still has doubts.


“[A teacher’s] work will only be judged according to two parameters: Firstly, your pupils’ exam results; secondly, the competitions they have taken part in,” he says.


Educators like Zaicenko worry that science-inclined pupils tend to struggle with languages, and the shift may alienate them from science as well. “If a pupil asks me to explain something in Russian because he didn’t understand it in Latvian, should I fulfill my duty to explain my subject, or should I behave according to the law and say, ‘Sorry, I won’t explain it to you in Russian. Go and read some books’,” Zaicenko worries.


In June, a bilingual school received a warning from the State Language Center for conducting an event in Russian during a random inspection of 16 schools. This sent a ripple of concern across bilingual schools.


“Shaming teachers for the [approaches] they use begs the question what goal the government wants to achieve — to increase the level of education or to make everyone speak Latvian,” Zaicenko says. Both of those goals could be achieved another way, he adds: “I check the scientific facts and a Latvian teacher checks the quality of writing. This is where we need a reform: promoting cooperation among teachers. But there are not enough incentives for it — on top of all the work we do daily.”


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SAUDI ARABIA: A call for help to Human Rights Without Frontiers

Human Rights Without Frontiers urges anyone who can help to contact Joanna Colomas

HRWF (04.09.2018) – My name is Joanna Colomas and I am a 23-year-old French national requesting any form of assistance in my inquiries about my missing fiancé, Basim Ahmed Bahmeed, born 09.05.1991, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.


We met in 2014 when we were students in Los Angeles and have been in a relationship since then. However, his family has always opposed our relationship and has continuously tried to keep us apart. They have unfortunately managed to prevent us from getting married to date, as it is complicated for a Saudi to marry a non-Saudi. We have also been trying to conceive and are presently following an IVF treatment, with the embryo transfer planned for next month. I understand that despite these circumstances, our not being married prevents me from being able to inquire about him through consular channels. For what it is worth, I am in possession of a sworn statement that solemnly declares we are in a stable relationship and live together in France, and I have a photocopy of his passport that I can provide upon request.


Up to 2016, his parents and siblings made death threats against him/us, and took his phone and passport away for several months so he would not be able to travel out of Saudi Arabia. As of 2017, seeing that we still intended to make a life together, Basim’s parents resorted to more extreme actions, i.e, contracting a long-term bank loan in his name so he could not leave the country, or bribing officials so his criminal records showed that he owed hundreds of thousands of American dollars to the Saudi government for unpaid fines, which resulted in his arrest at the airport in Jeddah, KSA, when he attempted to travel to Nice, France on 07.03.2018.  Some of the alleged infractions in his record dated back to 2008. Nevertheless, he had been able to travel out of Saudi Arabia by proving the fines were added recently using false dates.


He traveled for work from Nice to Dubai on 08.28.2018. He sent me confirmation of his arrival at Dubai airport by text at 02:20 am via WhatsApp, and he said he was heading to customs. I have not heard from him ever since and he has disappeared from social media and all other modes of communication. His phone is not turned off but the line seems completely shut down. His number appears unregistered on WhatsApp. His phone number is/was +966555773041.


I have contacted all hospitals in Dubai and the surrounding area but have failed to localize him. I have called the Dubai police to report him as missing but was told that I had to come in person. I would travel to look for him without hesitation if only I did not fear being arrested too. Indeed, I have strong reasons to think that his family, knowing my name and passport number, may have added similar charges to my record in Dubai by means of bribery. I have also addressed an email to the Dubai police on Thursday 08.30.2018 and they told me that I “must contact Dubai Police via Diplomatic Channels, i.e. my Consulate or Embassy in UAE along with his passport copy”; however, the French Consulate and Embassy both have replied that they were unable to assist as he is not a French citizen. Due to past events and his family being aware of his imminent work transfer to Dubai, I believe that his parents may have once more succeeded in obtaining new charges added to his records, resulting in his arrest at customs.


I am extremely worried about him, his health and safety and really do not know what else to do to find him and help him. I would be so grateful for your assistance in this affair.




Joanna Colomas
992 Chemin du Claret
06510 Carros – FRANCE
Tel. +33 7 69118646


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WORLD: Recognizing the Rights of Domestic Workers – ILO

Domestic workers are one of the groups most vulnerable to exploitation, violence, harassment, and forced labour.

ILO (23.08.2018) – –  “Every day, she would tell me that I’m crazy and stupid. I couldn’t take that. But since she kept on saying that every day, I got used to it. Whenever they beat me up, I just cried in a corner”, recalls Julia * , a Filipino domestic worker who suffered constant verbal abuse and physical beating for more than a year before daring to run away to the police.


Around the world, workers who work in isolation, where nobody is watching, are particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment at work. Domestic workers are just such workers. A workforce 67 million strong, domestic workers provide essential care for our homes and loved ones; yet, they frequently suffer forms of violence and harassment, exploitation, coercion, ranging from verbal abuse to sexual violence, and sometimes even death. Domestic workers who live in the homes of their employers are especially vulnerable.


For many of them, daily abuses like lack of rest and non-payment of wages can quickly turn into forced labour. “I was trapped inside; I couldn’t go out. And I didn’t have any money. I was not paid even a single peso. Every time I would ask my employer when I could get my salary, she would say that she will think about it”, explains Julia.


“At the root of this situation is discrimination,” explains Philippe Marcadent, Chief of the ILO Branch related to Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions.


“Domestic workers are often not recognized as workers, and face discrimination as women, often from poor and marginalized groups, such as migrants and indigenous peoples.”


But domestic workers are organizing and leading efforts to achieve decent work. Zainab and Marcelina, two former domestic workers turned leaders of their organizations, each faced years of violence and harassment at work. Despite the difficulty in sharing their stories, they do so because it is a reality the world must know, and to encourage other domestic workers to speak out. As the ILO is currently discussing the possible adoption of a new legal instrument on violence and harassment in the world of work, domestic workers are stepping up and speaking out.


International standards can be powerful tools to protect domestic workers. The ILO Domestic Workers Convention No. 189, adopted in 2011 , recognized millions of domestic workers as workers, further empowering them to advocate for their rights, and fight violence and harassment. Furthermore, the ILO Forced Labour Protocol , adopted in 2014, requires member states to take effective measure to prevent forced labour, protect victims and ensure their access to justice. In particular, countries must ensure the relevant legislation applies to all workers in all sectors. This obligation is particularly relevant for domestic workers as one key issue is that they are not always recognized as workers by the national legislation, hence not benefiting from the same rights and protection.


However, to date, 25 countries have ratified the Domestic Workers Convention No. 189 , another 30 or so have adopted laws or policies extending protections to domestic workers, and only 25 countries have ratified the Forced Labour Protocol . Governments, employers and workers, as well as individual households, all have a role to play to ensure protection of domestic workers from violence and harassment.


Since the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention No. 189, the ILO adopted a global strategy to support Governments, workers and employers to make decent work a reality for domestic workers. Through this strategy, the ILO has supported some 60 countries to extend protections to domestic workers, ensure compliance with these standards, shift norms, and strength the representation of domestic workers and employers of domestic workers. These country-level experiences on policies such as working time, wages, social security, migration, labour inspections and organizing have been documented and compiled at


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Human Rights Without Frontiers calls upon President Poroshenko to pay the pensions of retired people in Eastern Ukraine

A call for help from Dr Borys Kondorskii

HRWF (29.08.2018) – Human Rights Without Frontiers calls upon President Poroshenko to urgently pay the pensions of retired people living in Ukraine’s ‘uncontrolled territories’. The situation of retired people in general in the whole of Ukraine is absolutely dramatic. Professors, teachers, medical doctors and other Ukrainians who have worked for state institutions since the independence receive less than USD 100 per month…


A call for help and social justice from Dr Borys Kondorskii


Ukraine is currently the country where all human rights in all spheres of life are being violated. It especially concerns those citizens of Ukraine who reside in so-called uncontrolled territories. Getting your retirement pension is one of the fundamental human rights since a retiree has no other maintenance.


Already since 2014 receiving retirement pension by those citizens of Ukraine who reside in the territories of not recognized DPR and LPR has been subject to a whole series of requirements and conditions that were disrespectful to human dignity. One had to regularly draw up different documents, the requirements to which were constantly being changed. Degrading check-ups were a regular thing.


Since May 2018 Pension Fund of Ukraine has completely stopped paying retirement pensions to the majority of the citizens of Donbass. Kyiv Appeal Administrative Court declared these actions illegal. Yet both Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Pension Fund have constantly been ignoring the decision of the court.


It is worth noting that the average retirement pension in Ukraine is equal to 100 US dollars. Ukraine has been in the state of permanent economic and political crisis during the whole period of its independence. During this time Ukraine’s take in the world industrial production has reduced in more than 50 times. All of this results in the critical shortage of budget funds.

Who is Dr Borys Kondorskii?

Some time ago, our organization received a first email from Dr Kondorskii saying:

As an independent researcher I am working in the field of theoretical problems of history, politology, biological and language evolutions. More than 50 scientific papers of mine have been published for the recent 5 years. One can familiarize oneself with my articles on the website ResearchGate. I am currently developing a theory of a revolutionary period which has a high prognostic potential. I have predicted a real possibility of the occurrence of state formation on the basis of an idea of a “caliphate” as well as the nature of further development of the events in Syria already in May, 2014 at the XIIIth International Conference of Africanists in Moscow.

Before this May I received 100$ of my retirement pension and 70$ of social securities from local authorities. I lived off this money, worked on my articles and went to scientific conferences at my own expense. I participated in 4 conferences in person in 2017 as well as in 8 conferences in absence. Now Ukrainian government has deprived me of my retirement pension only on the ground of the fact that I reside in Donetsk, as well as thousands of other retirees who live on the territories of self-proclaimed DPR and LPR. This is a major violation of the constitution of the country, international human rights treaties which have been signed by Ukraine, as well as Minsk accords.

I believe that your organization, holding true to the ideals of human rights, should rise the question of lawlessness of the actions of Ukrainian government in terms of human rights violation.

Dr Borys Kondorskii

HRWF thinks that beyond his personal case, it is important to highlight the dramatic situation of all pensioners in Ukraine.


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GERMANY-CHINA: Will Germany deliver another victim to her persecutors on August 31?

In April, Germany deported back to China an Uyghur asylum seeker who “disappeared” after his repatriation. Now, Germany has apologized for the “mistake,” yet plans to deport on August 31 Sister Zhao of The Church of Almighty God, who will likely “disappear” as well.



Bitter Winter (27.08.2018) –– German authorities have announced that on August 31 they will forcibly deport to China Sister Zhao, an asylum seeker currently detained in Ingelheim who resisted repatriation on July 9.


Nine NGOs active in the field of religious liberty wrote on August 1 to German Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to intervene on behalf of Sister Zhao.


Ms. Zhao is a member of The Church of Almighty God, a Chinese Christian new religious movement founded in 1991, which is heavily persecuted in China and is included since 1995 in the official list of xie jiao.


Xie jiao (customarily translated as “evil cults,” but in fact meaning “heterodox teachings”) are movements the government does not approve of. Being active in a xie jiao is a crime punished by Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code with a jail penalty of 3 to 7 years or “more.”


A confidential CCP document leaked to Western media indicates that a new massive campaign for “eradicating” xie jiao and CAG has been launched in 2018, with the number of arrests and sentences increasing.


In April 2018, Germany deported back to China a Uyghur Muslim asylum seeker. Once he landed in China, he “disappeared,” and his lawyer and family have all reasons to fear the worst. Germany has now apologized calling the deportation “a mistake.” Apologies, however, did not save the Uyghur, and late apologies would not save Sister Zhao.


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NORTH KOREA: A French diplomat on the frontlines in Pyongyang

Olivier Vaysset talks running the French Cooperation Office in the DPRK from 2011-13


By Hamish Macdonald


NK (08.06.2018) –– In October of 2011, the French Cooperation Office began operating in Pyongyang, North Korea. While maintaining that it had no diplomatic relations with the DPRK, Paris sent diplomat Olivier Vaysset to run the office.


Vaysset, a diplomat with previous postings in Angola, Laos, Japan, Burma, Taiwan and Singapore, was in the country between October 9 2011 and November 1 2013.


The period represented a critical time for the DPRK. Just one month after Vaysset’s arrival North Korea announced that its then-leader – Kim Jong Il – had passed away, with currently leader Kim Jong Un ascending to power.


And in February 2013, North Korea also conducted its third underground nuclear test leading to a period of extreme tensions on the peninsula.


Vaysset spoke to NK News about his time and experiences in Pyongyang at this important juncture.


NK News: As head of the French Cooperation Bureau in Pyongyang what was your mission and your day-to-day tasks on the ground in the DPRK?


Olivier Vaysset:I had to set up the office within the German campus in one of the abandoned spaces left after German reunification. It took me two years to set up an operational office sufficient to our diplomatic work, with the help of the North Korean authorities.


At the same time, I had to follow the political and security situation in the Korean peninsula, to manage our bilateral academic and linguistic cooperation and our cultural and research cooperation and, finally, for the priority missions, to monitor the action of French NGOs and that of EU food aid in coordination with UN agencies, and to relay France’s serious concerns about the human rights situation.


Other missions included conveying to the North Korean authorities France’s commitment to press Pyongyang to scale down its nuclear and ballistic programs and analyzing the Party rhetoric in an attempt to understand the authorities’ policy on this matters.


And, finally, during any visits by French businessmen, to emphasize the constraints of bilateral economic relations as set forth in UN and European sanctions.


While such tasks hardly constituted a “routine” in such a context, it was important to strive for regularity so as to maintain one’s mental equilibrium while furthering an understanding of one’s environment.


My daily tasks consisted of studying the Party journal with my liaison officer and delving deeper into important topics; reading KCNA, newspapers, magazines and specialized sites about the region; keeping up with UN agency reports; participating in weekly meeting of EU Heads of Mission and the one organized by the WFP.


I also had to read my French colleague’s notes and report back to Paris on the results of my contacts and reading… Not to mention all the administrative work to be done by only two Frenchmen plus a minder and a driver.


NK News: You arrived in Pyongyang at a crucial time – just before Kim Jong Il died. What was the atmosphere like in the city at the time and in 2012 under the new leadership?


Olivier Vaysset:Arriving two and a half months before the sudden death of Kim Jong Il, I felt like I had taken a machine back in time to the post-Korean War years and had to adapt to a past, somewhat static time.


Very quickly the brutal news of the death of the country’s father-mother was followed by the raw expression of pain and anxiety by the population. Nothing surprising when you know the Korean emotional tradition and the grip this one man had on the daily lives of the North Korean people.


Just as brutally, within a few weeks, the population had to rejoice to see the son following the father’s path.


Within a few months, Pyongyang changed its face from cold austerity to a city with new towers, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, markets and shopping malls. The most impressive thing was the exponential increase in cars – and not the cheapest ones – and the onset of traffic jams, a real challenge for the female traffic officers who had never experienced such a flow of vehicles.


It was a whole new message: you are authorized to flaunt your wealth and enjoy your life in a great city; a city embellished with modern towers, theme parks, ice skating rinks, an aquarium and much more to come. And a promise: you will not have to tighten your belt anymore.


NK News: You were also there in 2013 when tensions were exceptionally high. What was the atmosphere like then and did you get the sense that North Koreans believed there was the danger of conflict starting?


Olivier Vaysset:This was a situation of great confusion due to many factors: a message that was meant to be clear and imperative did not go well through the foreign ministry. The Ministry of Defense took over to reduce the prospect of a serious conflict. When the authorities said they could not protect us in the event of an imminent conflict, we were advised to leave or to go to distant shelters (but without further details).


The authorities told us that the people’s pursuit of daily activities demonstrated their courage and faith in a final victory. However, Pyongyang’s population had undergone emergency training in case of alerts. Our local contacts seemed to be waiting for clarification and our Chinese and Russian friends were dubious. So the situation in Pyongyang was in sharp contrast with the situation in Seoul, where a number of foreigners had bought plane tickets and packed their bags.


The biggest challenge for the EU Heads of Mission was to lower the pressure coming from our media-fueled capitals; every journalist was so excited to be at the front line of a great conflict… Albeit with no time to report and perhaps no living readers.


NK News: You were posted in the DPRK for over two years. What were the biggest or most significant changes you observed as having occurred throughout your time in the country?


Olivier Vaysset:As I said before, the changing face of Pyongyang. But also a young leader who carried some hope for the people and who wanted to show some kind of modern behavior with his wife and the famous “Moranbong” all-girls band.


Another significant change consisted of the relative relaxation of the Pyongyang citizens even when pushed to do Herculean works for the masses and participation in great festivities remain de rigueur, but something one feels more over time is the general complexification of society following the destructuring of the system caused by the famine: the creation of an autonomous private market, tolerated and repressed according to unknown, ever-changing norms.


NK News: Where you able to travel outside of Pyongyang with any regularity and which locations were you able to visit?


Olivier Vaysset:One doesn’t need permission for a day trip outside Pyongyang, and one can drive one’s own car as far as the western port of Nampo. In 30 minutes by car from home, you will find yourself in another world, somewhere  between poverty and very modest means.


I’ve been to all North Korean provinces except for Chagang and Ryanggang. I visited French and German NGO projects and the UN projects. We were invited to go to Rason by train for the inauguration of the section of railway from the Russian border to the port of Rajin. I know the western coast too, where expats go to relax.


I was quite surprised by the number of historical sites and temples which are still standing in some parts of the country. I went down to the DMZ and Kaesong industrial zone and up to Dandong.


NK News: While in Pyongyang, were there strict limits on where you could go around the city? Were you able to access some of the markets there?


Olivier Vaysset:Except for the “forbidden city” and military installations, I was able to walk all over Pyongyang, which I did every weekend to get a feel of the city. One can see small shops and people selling food at their window or in the street. The famous Tongil market is easily accessible – even though you need local currency to buy anything.


All in all, to insist that Pyongyang is only a “showcase” city is to miss a good part of the reality there. It takes time to go beyond the big avenues to perceive and see the view from the ground, literally by the soles of one’s shoes.


NK News: Humanitarian cooperation was a key element of the Bureau’s mission when it was set up. Was the Bureau able to make a positive impact in this area and what were the biggest impediments you observed to better humanitarian conditions in the DPRK?


Olivier Vaysset:Very few NGOs decided to stay under the new strict regulations and tough constraints. They were brought under a new appellation “European Union Program Support Units” (EUPS).


I do not know who gave instructions to the “Korean European Cooperation Coordination Agency” (KECCA) but she was the voice of the severe obstacles that NGOs face. NGOs, unlike UN agencies, have no political relay to have their voice heard, hence my role to defend and support French NGOs with the help of the Ambassador of Sweden.


“General winter” is another obstacle.


More impediments came from American sanctions. Since 2013, banking channels were regularly disrupted, with humanitarian organizations unable to transfer funds into the country. They also faced delays in procurement, additional requirements for licensing, and ensuring equipment or supplies were not on the sanctions list.


But if political reasons and national pride can explain the North Korean constraints, the political debate in the West seems to me unhealthy and excessive. Some people are ready to let the population die in the name of “humanitarian purity” and bet on a general revolt of a hungry population. And If this scenario doesn’t work then we resort to the nuclear final solution.


Quite seriously, I am impressed by these young Europeans’ commitment who work under such conditions and arrive at highly credible results for the benefit of vulnerable groups. We must trust them.


NK News: What was your sense of how your DPRK counterparts saw their country’s relationship with France? Did they deem it important to strengthen ties?


Olivier Vaysset:The North Korean authorities welcomed the opening of the French office, which they saw as the last stage before the establishment of formal diplomatic relations. The 1981 visit of future-President Mitterrand to Pyongyang who was received by Kim Il Sung made them believe in a commitment on his part in this direction. Eventually, we were only one of two EU member states to stay away from establishing diplomatic relations.


Other reasons were France’s image as the country of the Revolution and of General de Gaulle, hero of the Resistance to the invader, and France’s policy of national independence, sovereignty and nuclear power. France being a permanent member of the UN Security Council helped too. Hence North Korea’s high expectation of France.


NK News: Amid the diplomatic progress seen since the beginning of 2018, it has been proposed in some quarters that the U.S. could operate a liaison office in Pyongyang as a step towards normalizing U.S.-DPRK ties. Having come from such an office, how would you see such a step taken by the U.S. and does it have the potential – if realized – to have a large impact?


Olivier Vaysset:Difficult to answer, although France did participate in the UN forces during the Korean War. And we authorized a DPRK office in Paris since 1969 more or less integrated within the DPRK mission to UNESCO.


I think it’s essential to be there in order to dispel fantasies and assumptions and to have daily physical contact with the country and its people. One must remain open and work patiently without moralizing or expecting immediate results. Americans would run the risk of exasperating their host and being pushed out.


I would rather see a small U.S. mission for diplomatic and humanitarian tasks with instructions not to try to play smart and not to reject the experiences of their colleagues and foreign aid workers. Modesty would have the most impact.


NK News: For you personally, what was it like residing in Pyongyang? What were the best and worst parts about operating as an expat in North Korea?


Olivier Vaysset:Not having known the USSR under Stalin or the early years of Communist China, it was a unique experience. I am very pleased to have been able to communicate directly or through intermediaries with various North Korean interlocutors and to have shared in ordinary activities with the populace.


I never felt any negative feelings towards myself, unlike my experience in some other countries. I have to thank my foreign colleagues, NGOs and UN workers for that.


The suffering of the people and the (relative) absurdity of the system only make the resilience of the North Koreans even more moving. Such energy brings hope for a slow evolution of the country, particularly with the intelligence and courage of the women to find practical solutions.


The experience also gave me the opportunity to get a better understanding of myself and to test my own ability to go beyond mere intellectual habits.


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Romania must take bold action to tackle the legacy of corruption before assuming the Presidency of the EU Council

It is high time the European Union enforces its judicial precepts in a country repeatedly listed by Transparency International as one of the EU’s most corrupt states

By Willy Fautre


The Parliament Magazine (23.08.2018) –– While August may traditionally be a quiet month, with the institutions, restaurants and streets of Brussels falling quiet as many escape the city for a summer break, in Romania it has been anything but tranquil. Over the last few weeks and months, the roads and city squares of Bucharest have frequently been brought to gridlock, as tens of thousands of the country’s citizens take to the streets to make their voices heard in the face of a rapidly evolving political crisis.


The cause is well-known: the seemingly intractable battle against collusion and corruption within the very body supposedly responsible for ridding the country of graft, the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), in a country repeatedly listed by Transparency International as one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.


Recent anti-corruption efforts have driven huge chasms in Romania’s already fractured political landscape and state institutions. As the country prepares to take up the Presidency of the Council of the EU, bold action is needed now more than ever to address this hugely damaging stand-off. One solution? A state-wide political amnesty, to reset from the divisions that have played out all too clearly in a summer of nationwide protests.


There is no sign of a solution being reached at domestic level, as legal and political gridlocks show no signs of abating. Liviu Dragnea, the head of Romania’s Social Democratic party (PSD) and former President of the Chamber of Deputies, was this summer sentenced to three and a half years in prison for incitement to abuse of office, pending appeal. In the meantime, the PSD has prepared moves to impeach the opposition-backed President Klaus Iohannis of the National Liberal Party, who earlier this year also sacked the head of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Kovesi, who had presided over a statistically improbable spike in conviction rates in recent years.


The DNA had come to evolve a toxic relationship with the Romanian Security Services (SRI) which desperately needs to be severed. The two bodies, integral to the fight against corruption, developed a relationship that created the potential for abuse of the justice system. This self-serving alliance, cemented by a protocol of cooperation earlier this year, is concerningly reminiscent of communist-era justice, meted out by the dreaded Securitate.


This relationship has reportedly extended to manipulating judges, with the SRI accused by a Parliamentary Commission of seeking to influence the decision of judges in DNA cases, even by using Facebook. Romania needs to repair not just its image, but the democratic accountability of these two very important for the country institutions.


A country’s judicial standards cannot be so heavily diluted without impacting the human rights of its citizens. In March of this year, a report published by our organisation found that Romania cannot currently guarantee a fair trial or minimum prison conditions that meet international law. Earlier this month, former Romanian judge Stan Mustata, who was serving a jail sentence of eight years and six months for bribery, suffered a heart attack on the night of Wednesday, August 8, to Thursday, August 9, and died in a hospital. The magistrate, who was imprisoned for over two years, suffered from cancer and some kidney problems, local Mediafax reported. Lawyers are filing an official complaint of medical negligence in light of the conditions in which he was confined in spite of existing knowledge of his health conditions.


This poor record does not only concern the citizens of Romania but of the EU and all member states. A number of Romanians living outside the country, as well as other EU citizens, have been indicted on spurious charges and wanted by Bucharest through the European Arrest Warrant. Without significant change, that goes beyond a change in leadership, Romania cannot assure the minimum requirements of human rights standards.


Specific steps need to be taken. Our report recommended that the EAW should only be used for the most serious crimes, that “wanted person” alerts can only be circulated throughout the EU with its stamp of approval after examination of possible abuses, and that the EU member state requested to hand over a “wanted person” should keep sufficient margin of appreciation in its decision-making process. We also suggested that victims of abuse should have access to redress mechanisms through a fair, open and impartial process.


As Romania’s political parties continue to point the finger at one another, the European Union now has a golden opportunity to force the country’s hand by demonstrating that the judicial standards by which all member states are expected to abide cannot be so easily flouted.


If the EU waits any longer, it will be too late. Romania is due to assume the bloc’s rotating presidency from January to June 2019, effectively putting it in charge of directing the EU for six months. This comes at one of the most critical moments in the EU’s history, with the UK due to exit the union at the end of March 2019. Moreover, between May 23-26, 2019, EU citizens will be called upon to elect a new Parliament.


It could not be more obvious that it is untenable for Romania to lead the institutions of the EU at one of its most pivotal periods before sorting out its problems at home. A state-wide political amnesty could be exactly what is needed to wipe the slate clean, and enter into 2019 with fresh thinking and renewed focus.


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POLAND: Ukrainian rights activist claims Poland banned her from Schengen zone

A Ukrainian human rights activist claimed on Thursday (16 August) that Warsaw had banned her from Poland and the rest of the Schengen zone in what she called “a political affair”.

Euractiv (17.08.2018) –– Lyudmyla Kozlovska, the president of the Warsaw-based human rights organisation Open Dialog, said she was stopped by Belgian border guards when she arrived in Brussels late Monday (13 August).


Kozlovska said the guards told her she had been put on a list of people to be deported from the Schengen zone -26 countries which are part of the European free movement area- at the request of Polish officials.


The guards informed that her name was on the highest alert level in the Schengen Information System (SIS), she said.


She was then put on a flight to Ukraine’s capital Kiev, where she remains.


Polish officials, including the government’s Office for Foreigners, refused to confirm or deny the allegation to AFP.


“I don’t know what I did wrong… We thought Poland wouldn’t do this… but we expected it,” Kozlovska told AFP in Kiev.


She is married to Bartosz Kramek, a Polish opposition activist who has repeatedly spoken out against the country’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government.


“We were under intense pressure. The foreign ministry wanted to change the management of our organisation and to exclude me. They didn’t succeed and so they decided to physically remove me from EU territory,” she added.


Kozlovska had been travelling to Brussels to visit an office of Open Dialog, which works with political prisoners most notably in Kazakhstan, Moldova and Russia.


The Schengen Information System was set up to allow police forces in European Union member states to share data and preserve internal security.


“It’s completely impossible for me to go to SIS countries,” Kozlovska said.


“And even my US and British visas risk being revoked or have already been cancelled because Poland marked me as… someone particularly dangerous. Without explanation,” the activist denounced.


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What went wrong with human rights

The conflation of ‘natural law’ with ‘positive law’ handed communism
a philosophical victory after the end of the Cold War

Interview of Dr Aaron Rhodes ( in Wall Street Journal

By James Taranto

Wall Street Journal (17.08.2018) – – When the U.S. withdrew in June from the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ambassador Nikki Haley described the council as “a protector of human-rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.” Aaron Rhodes agrees but thinks Ms. Haley was too gentle.

“The Human Rights Council has become a cover for dictatorships,” he says. “They assume the high moral ground of standing for ‘dialogue’ and ‘cooperation,’ a tactic for smothering the truth about denying freedom. Raising human-rights concerns is dismissed as divisive and confrontational, and a threat to ‘stability.’ Most of the debate there is technocratic blah-blah about global social policy-not about human rights at all.”

To U.N. watchers it’s a familiar critique, but Mr. Rhodes, 69, applies it far more broadly. In his recent book, “The Debasement of Human Rights: How Politics Sabotage the Ideal of Freedom,” he argues that virtually the entire human-rights enterprise has been corrupted by a philosophical error enshrined in the U.N.’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights-and that this explains the travesty of the Human Rights Council.

That error is the conflation of “natural law” with “positive law.” Mr. Rhodes explains the difference: “Natural law is a kind of constraint on positive law.” Think of America’s Bill of Rights, whose opening clause is “Congress shall make no law.” The idea is “that laws have to answer to a higher law,” he says. “This is a vision of law that is very deeply embedded in Western civilization,” finding premodern expression in the ideas of the Greek Stoics and the Roman statesman Cicero, as well as in biblical canon law. Natural law is universal-or at least claims to be.

“Positive law,” Mr. Rhodes continues, “is the law of states and governments.” A statute like the Social Security Act of 1935 creates “positive rights”-government-conferred benefits to which citizens have a legal entitlement. Positive law is particular to a nation or other polity: “I live in Germany,” says Mr. Rhodes, a native of upstate New York whom I met during his U.S. book tour. “I enjoy a lot of economic and social rights there, but they reflect the political values of that community.” The Germans are “keen on being a moral society, where the state helps people. They’re statist. This is their mentality, but I don’t think it’s the same mentality here.”

Not everyone, however, accepts the idea of natural law. Adherents to the doctrine of legal positivism assert, in Mr. Rhodes’s words, “that all law is positive law, and the rest of it is just an illusion.” In this view, there is no difference in kind between, say, the right to free speech and the right to collect a Social Security check. Neither right is intrinsic to human nature, and both are bestowed by government.

Even in the U.S., the boundary between natural and positive law began to blur decades before the U.N.’s founding. Early-20th-century progressives, including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, “were arguing vociferously against natural rights,” Mr. Rhodes says. “Their thing was that the constitutional rights were something archaic and an obstacle.” Franklin D. Roosevelt enumerated his “Four Freedoms” in January 1941, including two natural rights (freedom of speech and of “worship”) and one positive one (“freedom from want”). The fourth, “freedom from fear,” Mr. Rhodes calls “meaningless,” observing that fear is a “basic instinct.”

In 1944 FDR exhorted Congress to enact a “Second Bill of Rights,” all positive-including the rights to “a useful and remunerative job,” “a decent home,” “adequate medical care” and “a good education.” Four years later his widow, Eleanor, chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads like a mashup of America’s real Bill of Rights and FDR’s aspirational second one. “They tried to have it both ways,” Mr. Rhodes says, by acknowledging that positive rights are “not the same as civil and political rights” while also insisting “they’re human rights.”

Mr. Rhodes is careful to add that he doesn’t intend his argument “as an attack on welfare states, or even on socialism.” Those arrangements are fine by him as long as they are chosen freely and democratically. What, then, is wrong with an expansive concept of human rights? For one thing, it leads to a kind of inflation that devalues natural rights. “The European Union, and its Charter of Fundamental Rights, says that the right to have free employment counseling is a human right,” he notes. That “equates something as banal as employment counseling with something like the right to be free from torture, or the right to be free from slavery.”

The corollary is that abolishing torture and slavery-or protecting the freedoms enumerated in America’s Bill of Rights-is no more important than employment counseling. Which brings us back to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Mr. Rhodes describes it as “controlled” by “Islamic theocracies” and “heavily under the influence of China.” Those unfree countries “are forming a human-rights vision of their own,” he says. “It’s human rights without freedom. It’s human rights based on economic and social rights, where freedoms are restricted in the interest of ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ and power-their power.”

That in turn has “instilled a kind of passivity among people” living in unfree countries, Mr. Rhodes says: “They expect that they can fix their society through human rights. But the human-rights system is impotent; it doesn’t have any teeth. There’s an illusion of ‘the U.N. is going to force my government to protect me.’ No, it doesn’t do this. So civil society puts all of its energies into this structure, which can’t do anything.”

The problem has worsened since the end of the Cold War, which provided the clarity of “an ideological battle about human rights,” as Mr. Rhodes puts it. The communists, like today’s repressive regimes, embraced “this fraud of economic and social rights, which provided this derisory standard of living” but was actually “a cover for their power.” Some Western diplomats argued in favor of natural law. And the Soviet Union and its satellites abstained from the U.N. General Assembly’s vote on the 1948 Universal Declaration-because, Mrs. Roosevelt believed, they couldn’t abide Article 13’s provision that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own.”

Natural rights enjoyed something of a renaissance beginning with the 1975 Helsinki Accords, in which the Soviet bloc joined the West in pledging to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.” Helsinki included positive rights too, “but nobody paid attention to them especially,” Mr. Rhodes says.

“The importance of the Helsinki Accords was to stimulate civil society behind the Iron Curtain,” he says. That took the form of national “Helsinki committees,” whose members would go to international conferences for the purpose of “talking about human rights and embarrassing these dictatorial states.” In 1982, at the suggestion of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, the committees formed an umbrella nongovernmental organization, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and Mr. Rhodes became the IHF’s executive director in 1993. He held that position until 2007, when the federation dissolved.

His work in post-communist states could be dispiriting. “Some of the new governments-they didn’t want NGOs around. They’d say, we are human rights; we don’t need civil society to tell us what to do,” Mr. Rhodes recalls. “But of course they needed criticism, especially with regard to minorities, and civil liberties as well. They needed to be observed and constrained in their policies.” Among citizens of the newly liberated lands, Mr. Rhodes observed what he calls “the notorious mentality problems”: “As a result of living under these communist systems, people are very subdued. There’s a lack of-their panache has been removed from them.”

The end of the Cold War felt like a victory for the free world, but in Mr. Rhodes’s view it proved a “disaster” for the concept of human rights. The U.N. held its World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, the same year he began his work at the Helsinki Federation. It was “a period of chaos,” he says: “You have all of these ridiculous theories, like the ‘end of history’ and ‘new world order’-and meanwhile, wars in Tajikistan and Yugoslavia and Georgia.”

To which the U.N. answered, in Mr. Rhodes’s paraphrase: “Let’s call everything a human-rights problem.” The Vienna Declaration concerned itself not only with natural rights and the familiar positive ones, but also with policing private conduct and attitudes, including crimes like domestic assault, civil offenses like sexual harassment, and “socially determined barriers,” even “psychological” ones, that exclude the disabled from “full participation in society.”

“The irony of it is, with the end of these communist regimes, their theory of human rights was victorious,” Mr. Rhodes says. “The Soviet idea of human rights found legitimacy in the international system.”

Can anything be done? “I wish that the Trump administration would talk about human rights once in a while,” Mr. Rhodes says. “They should talk about freedom.” He adds: “I think the only administration that really promoted natural rights was Reagan.”

Mr. Taranto is the Journal’s editorial features editor.

NORTH KOREA: Thousands of North Korean workers enter Russia despite U.N. ban

Moscow’s approval of new North Korean laborers keeps cash flowing to Pyongyang and may violate sanctions, U.S. officials say

By Ian Talley in Washington and

Anatoly Kurmanaev in St. Petersburg, Russia


WJS (02.08.2018) –  – Russia is letting thousands of new North Korean laborers enter the country and issuing fresh work permits—actions U.S. officials say potentially violate United Nations sanctions aimed at cutting cash flows to Pyongyang and pressing it to give up nuclear weapons.

The U.N. Security Council in September barred governments from issuing new work permits to North Koreans, though some existing labor contracts were allowed to continue.

Since the ban, more than 10,000 new North Korean workers have registered in Russia, according to Russian Interior Ministry records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, at least 700 new work permits have been issued to North Koreans this year, according to Labor Ministry records.

The labor prohibition, part of a broad array of sanctions, is aimed at eliminating an important revenue stream for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime. Most of the money North Koreans earn abroad ends up in government coffers, U.S. and U.N. officials say. Often, workers toil in grueling conditions.

Russian government records also show that some companies hiring North Koreans are joint ventures with North Korean entities, an apparent violation of sanctions banning “all joint ventures or cooperative entities” with North Korean companies and citizens. Many of the companies appear to be expanding even as they are supposed to be scaling down.

While sanctions have reduced North Korea’s total labor force overseas, a U.S. official said, those numbers haven’t fallen in Russia and China. “We don’t want to underestimate the extent to which there may be serious violations.”

U.N. officials are probing potential violations of the sanctions, which contain narrow exceptions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Russia’s Interior and Foreign ministries didn’t respond to requests for comment. In the past, the Foreign Ministry has said it accepted the U.N. sanctions.

Efforts to reach North Korea’s embassy in Moscow were unsuccessful. A man who answered the phone at North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva said he had no knowledge of the matter.

China and Russia have drawn U.S. ire in recent months, accused by Washington of allowing North Korean illicit activity and sanctions evasion. Chinese and Russian firms continue to help the pariah nation import oil products in excess of U.N.-mandated caps, including through previously sanctioned tankers, according to U.S. and U.N. officials and a declassified intelligence briefing prepared for the U.N.’s committee on North Korea sanctions and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

North Korean laborers have helped feed the construction boom in St. Petersburg, according to local businessmen.

“They work till they drop,” said a contractor who hires North Koreans across the city. Workers arrive at construction sites at 7 a.m. and work until 10 p.m. or even midnight, taking just two half-hour breaks for meals of rice and dried fish, he said.

Local developers say they pay companies that hire out North Korean workers—firms they say often represent North Korean institutions such as the military or state conglomerates—about 100,000 rubles ($1,600) a month per worker. In government filings and job advertisements, such companies list monthly worker salaries of 16,000 to 20,000 rubles.

That 80% difference is in line with U.S. assessments that North Korea’s government takes the bulk of earnings.

U.N. sanctions mean these laborers should be gone by September, a year after they went into effect, because the workers are required to leave once their permits expire, usually within a year. Even workers with multiyear permits must be out by the end of 2019 under the sanctions.

Yet many firms contracting out laborers—Russian companies owned and run by North Koreans, according to corporate documents and researchers—are investing in new offices, applying for new work permits and negotiating new projects.

“The Kim regime continues to dispatch citizens abroad,” said C4ADS, a nonprofit that advises the U.S. government on security risks, in a report released Thursday. “In doing so, it continues to flout international sanctions to generate foreign currency.”

About 100,000 or more North Korean laborers have been working overseas in recent years, the U.S. State Department said. Pyongyang’s labor exports earned as much as $2 billion a year for the Kim regime, analysts say.

According to Russian government data, around 24,000 North Koreans were officially working in the country at the end of last year.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. envoy to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said recently that while Russia has helped pass North Korean sanctions, they questioned Moscow’s enforcement.

“We’re going to demand that every country in the world do their part,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Kuwait, Poland and other countries have said they have stopped renewing North Korean worker visas. The clampdown, along with other sanctions, is credited by U.S. officials with helping compel Mr. Kim to start denuclearization talks.

C4ADS has mapped out networks of firms and individuals using North Korean workers, mainly in Russia and China. Cross-referencing corporate registry documents, official labor statistics, tax filings and trade records, C4ADS said many firms contracting North Korean laborers from St. Petersburg to Siberia appear to violate sanctions.

One such company identified by C4ADS and examined by the Journal is Sakorenma Ltd., which has employed North Korean workers since at least 2015 and whose ownership structure appears to put it in breach of U.N. sanctions.

According to Russian corporate documents, one of its owners is North Korea’s General Corporation for External Construction, or Genco. The U.S. sanctioned the firm in 2016 for employing North Korean labor overseas, alleging that some Genco revenues are funneled into Pyongyang’s Munitions Industry Department, which supports Mr. Kim’s weapons programs.

Local Russian authorities on Sakhalin Island awarded this year Sakorenma two contracts valued at a total of $180,000, according to public records.

Sakorenma and Genco didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Genco appears to operate elsewhere in Russia through firms with similar names, C4ADS said. Some of those firms are seeking new permits for North Korean laborers, according to records reviewed by the Journal.

Zenco-39, a firm based in Krasnodar that was approved to hire 1,550 North Korean workers over the past three years, posted ads in late July seeking Korean translators. In Russia, companies must post jobs to see if locals are available before applying for permits for foreigners.

That firm was linked through C4ADS’s research to more than half a dozen others using the same email address, physical addresses, directors or corporate names.

Another company, agriculture giant Yuzhny-Agrokombinat, obtained authorizations to hire 91 North Korean vegetable growers this year, according to Russian Labor Ministry data. The company is owned by Russian billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov.

A spokesman for Mr. Evtushenkov’s holding company, Sistema Financial Corp. , said the vegetable company’s North Korean workers were hired before the U.N. ban in September 2017 and fully comply with Russian law. He said the company doesn’t plan to hire any new North Korean workers.

In St. Petersburg, the Journal reviewed copies of new work permits issued by local authorities to North Korean workers as recently as June. Those hires aren’t reflected in Labor Ministry data, which indicate there were no applications for North Korean work permits in the city or surrounding region this year.

Three of the firms that received local permits—Mokran Ltd., Bu Khyn Ltd. and Kanson Ltd.—list addresses in a warehouse inside a dilapidated industrial estate south of the city center.

Neighboring businesses said the firms have been upgrading the facility. Several sought Korean-speaking translators in job postings in February and again in July.

When contacted about the positions, representatives said they were filled. Other calls to the companies went unanswered.

Some real-estate companies say they are aware of sanctions and are gradually winding down use of North Korean labor. But they said they were given no guidance by the government. Some plan to keep using the workers until the next decade, hoping Mr. Kim’s promise to end weapons programs will lead to relaxed sanctions.

“They are like soldiers. They’ve got the discipline,” said an executive at a large real-estate firm in St. Petersburg. “We want to keep working with them.”


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