Hannah Lucinda Smith in the Times (£) interviews the widow of a Syrian rebel fighter who escaped to Turkey:
A primary school teacher, mother of three and widow of a Syrian rebel leader killed in action in early 2013, Um Abdo, 30, thought that she could tough it out when Islamic State came to town.
The extremists infiltrated her area of Aleppo province in the summer of 2013, and six months later they were in full control. It wasn’t until the beginning of last month that they discovered her connection to the rebels and arrested her. A friend and a former colleague had passed on information about her when they were arrested and tortured.
She was taken to a former arts centre that had been converted into a women’s prison and torture centre. Down in the basement, the Chechen wives of Isis fighters meted out beatings and punishments. Sometimes they put a bag over her head and suffocated her until she thought she had taken her last breath. On other days, they whipped her about the head with a belt that was studded with nails. Once, they fired pieces of coal up into a white heat before pressing them on to her breasts, sending searing agony through her skin that penetrated right to her bones.
“It was always women who tortured me,” she said. “They said that it would be haram [forbidden under Islam] for the men to do it.”
Think about that. Torture is fine, but it has to be done by a woman - otherwise it's haram. Christopher Hitchens' "religion poisons everything" comes to mind. Or that Steven Weinberg quote, "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." It's not quite true, though, as it stands. What makes good people do evil things is the application of any rigid system of ideology that's imposed from above to replace our natural morality. Religion may be the prime example, but Communism, or Nazism, are just as effective. Still, you won't find a clearer statement of the monstrous perversion of morality that religion can inspire than this.
At first she resisted giving them any information, but as the torture wore her down she cracked. She gave them the names of two women, also wives of rebel fighters, who she believed had already managed to flee Isis territory to a Kurdish-controlled area. A day later, she realised her mistake.
“They covered my face and put me in a car,” she said. “When they uncovered my face, I saw that I was in a stadium and that the two friends I had given information on were also there. They forced me to watch as they cut their heads off with a sword.”
A Chechen Isis fighter told her that it was her turn next. She had been sentenced to death for her supposed crimes and her execution was scheduled for the next day. There was however, an added brutal twist. Later that night she was given a tranquilliser pill, blindfolded and shoved into a car. This time she was taken to the countryside, where an Isis leader called Abu Durjan al-Mekhi was waiting. He was the one who had signed her execution papers.
“They took me to a room and left me there alone with him,” she said. “He told me that he was going to make me go to my god dirty, and then . . .” At this point she broke down again. In stilted words, she told how he had raped her.
It was a combination of an airstrike and a loyalty not quite yet erased that saved her on the day she was due to be murdered. As she was preparing to leave the prison, the international coalition launched a wave of airstrikes and a bomb hit the building next door. As the confusion grew around her, she spotted a man who had once fought alongside her husband in the Free Syrian Army. He recognised her too, and led her out, across the courtyard of the prison swirling with dust and scattered with the bodies of Isis fighters killed in the strike.
From there, she ran to the home of a friend. “He gave me his sister’s ID card, and we drove out through the checkpoints until we were out of Isis’s area,” she said. In Afrin, a Kurdish-controlled town next to the Turkish border, she waited while the friend went back and told her parents what had happened. By then they had already been visited by Isis, who told them that their daughter had died in the airstrike.
The next day her mother brought her three children to her and they said their goodbyes at the border. It was the last contact they had; the next day Um Abdo and her children crossed into Turkey with a people smuggler. “I cannot call my parents,” she said. “It is too risky — everyone is being watched by Isis. The most important thing is that no one from Isis can know that I am still alive.”
With all the talk of Putin and his clever outmanouevring of the hapless and incompetent Obama administration over Syria, it's worth noting, with David Ignatius here, that the Russians may in fact be making a huge miscalculation:
Putin’s air force may prop up Assad temporarily, but the Russians are playing a dangerous game in backing a leader despised by Sunni Muslims across the Arab world. A blunt warning comes from Maj. Issam al-Rayyes, a rebel spokesman: “Any power that stands with Assad in killing Syrians is an enemy of the Syrian people.”
As the Russian military goes to war against jihadist fighters, 36 years after its ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan, Putin may imagine that he’s banishing another ghost of the fallen Soviet Union. But he might review a 1991 study of lessons from Afghanistan, prepared by Russia’s Frunze Military Academy and translated into English with the title “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” The Russian authors cite the mujahideen’s “cunning,” “surprise,” “very broad agent reconnaissance network” and “intimate” knowledge of the battlefield. Russian citizens “did not understand why their sons were being conscripted for battle in a strange land,” notes the translator.
Obama may have misjudged the danger of Russian military intervention in Syria. But the same may prove true of Putin himself.
The new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery looks at the work of Palestinian artist Emily Jacir:
Known for her poignant works of art that are as poetic as they are political and biographical, Jacir explores histories of migration, resistance and exchange....
Winner of a Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, Material for a film (2004–ongoing) is a large-scale, immersive installation based on the life of Palestinian writer Wael Zuaiter who was assassinated near his home in Rome by Israeli Mossad agents in 1972. Jacir reimagines chapters of Zuaiter’s life through materials unearthed by the artist including family photographs, correspondence and documents relating to his death.
It's a hagiographic, almost religious, installation - a shrine - and the centrepiece of the exhibition. You enter the first pristine white gallery, then make your way into a special room within a room where all the materials of Zuaiter's life are paraded before us, with pride of place given to a photograph of his blood-spattered body lying on a Rome pavement. Shot by Mossad. Nowhere, as far as I could see, was there any mention of why he was shot by Mossad. That's just what those Israeli bastards do, right? - kill people. Kill Palestinians. To know who his assassins were is enough to ensure the man's sainthood - his martyrdom.
Some digging uncovers more:
Zwaiter was held for questioning by Italian police in August 1972 in relation to a bombing by the group Black September against an oil refinery, but was later released. The Israeli Mossad suspected him of being the head of Black September in Rome, and put him on an assassination list after Black September's attack in Munich. When he returned to his apartment building on the night of 16 October 1972, he was killed by two Israeli agents who shot him 11 times.
One bullet for each Israeli athlete killed.
At the time Zwaiter was the PLO representative in Italy, and while Israel privately claimed he was a member of Black September and was involved in a failed plot against an El Al airliner, members of the PLO have argued that he was in no way connected. Abu Iyad, deputy-chief of the PLO, has stated that Zwaiter was "energetically" against political violence.
Well, the truth is, we don't know. The Israelis have never released their information, as far as I'm aware. It was an eye for an eye operation conducted by Mossad, in the knowledge that no one else was going to do much about the Munich massacre: Operation Wrath of God, later dramatised in the Steven Spielberg film Munich. Whatever one thinks about the morality of Mossad's revenge, it's surely relevant to Zwaiter's assassination. Not to mention it suggests we've moved past any claim to enlightenment - never mind art - into straightforward propaganda. As though any hint of murdered Israeli athletes might distract from the message here; might tarnish the pure image of Palestinian victimhood.
Pro-Palestinian propaganda in a London art gallery? I know. Who would have thought?...
The rest of the exhibition is dreary in the way only self-regarding modern art exhibitions can be dreary. Naturally enough the Guardian's Adrian Searle was impressed:
In another work, Linz Diary, Jacir records herself in the Austrian town every evening, on one of the CCTV cameras watching the square. We see her distantly, down by the fountain. Some evenings she’s under a white umbrella. Or curled up like a ball. A little printed remark accompanies a succession of grainy stills. One evening, there’s a little gathering in memory of Edward Said, who had died the week before. On 14 October 2008, she’s “standing perfectly still. disenchanted. on the left. a boring day in Linz. 1800 hours.” And so it goes. Made before we filled the world with selfies (was it really so recently?), she marks her place in the world with a daily routine as night falls. It is absurd.
Jacir leaves things hanging. You feel their weight. “The artist lives and works around the Mediterranean,” reads the biographical note at the back of the catalogue. Born in Palestine, Jacir often returns there. She is currently based in Rome. For a while, she lived in Linz. A circular baggage carousel sits on the floor and lurches into movement as you approach. No one waits and no luggage comes. It just turns, blankly.
The more you look, the more there is to this exhibition. Jacir films a concert, destined for East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, that never took place. The oud player Marwan Abado – an Austrian national of Palestinian origin, according to Whitechapel Gallery’s press release, based in Vienna for 20 years, with his visa and papers all in order – was detained in an Israeli airport overnight, then summarily deported. Later, he and his two fellow musicians, a trumpeter and a percussionist, performed the concert anyway at Jacir’s behest, in an empty theatre back in Austria. Abado introduces songs to an audience that isn’t there. Halfway through, they take a break and the camera watches their instruments on the silent, empty stage.
You get the idea.
Linz, though. Why Linz? Odd choice for a Palestinian artist, surely? It's not famous for much, really, Linz. Apart from a certain Adolf Hitler, who grew up and spent his formative years there.
Not that I'd wish to suggest that there's a connection or anything. Let's just say, though, that there does seem to be a certain lack of consideration for the Jewish point of view here. But what else is new?
This piece in the Weekly Standard pretty much nails the level of incompetence and denial we've been seeing from the Obama administration:
It was the middle of the night in Washington, D.C.—the early morning of September 30, 2015, in Iraq—when a three-star Russian general walked into the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, announced that Russian jets would soon begin airstrikes in Syria, and demanded that the United States stop flying combat missions in the country.
Several hours later, in remarks at the United Nations, Secretary of State John Kerry signaled approval of this Russian military action. The Russians had told their American counterparts that their efforts would be directed against ISIS, and that, apparently, was good enough. If the Russians are targeting ISIS, Kerry said, “we are prepared to welcome those efforts.”
The Russians were not, in fact, targeting ISIS. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter acknowledged this in a late-morning press conference at the Pentagon, saying that none of the Russian strikes had taken place in ISIS-controlled areas. And yet when reporters pointed out the inescapable conclusion—the Russians had lied—Carter refused to accept it. “I take the Russians at their word,” he said.
The bad news soon got worse. Reports out of Syria made clear that not only were the Russians not targeting ISIS, they were methodically attacking and destroying positions held by opponents of ISIS and of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, including rebels supported by the United States. They weren’t going after our enemy in Syria, as they’d said; they were targeting our friends.
U.S. officials might have been expected to condemn the Russian aggression in the strongest terms. They might have been expected to confront directly the Russians who had misled them. They might have been expected to threaten to respond swiftly in the event of further provocation. Instead, Kerry appeared alongside his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and announced that the United States and Russia had many “big agreements” about the right course in Syria. Kerry gently raised “concerns” about “the nature of the targets, the type of targets, and the need for clarity with respect to them,” but he went out of his way to emphasize the goodwill in their “constructive meeting.”
So at precisely the time the Russians were undertaking military action that they’d forsworn, senior Obama administration officials were downplaying the importance of those actions and the breach of faith they represented. It was an extraordinary show of weakness. And it was all the more remarkable because the very same thing had happened before, involving some of the very same officials.
On February 28, 2014, Kerry briefed reporters after a phone call with Lavrov to discuss developments in Ukraine, where the Russians were infiltrating the military and menacing their neighbor. Kerry conveyed assurances he’d received from Lavrov, who insisted Russia’s motives were benign. Kerry said Lavrov had told him “that they are prepared to be engaged and be involved in helping to deal with the economic transition that needs to take place at this point.”
What was actually taking place, just as Kerry offered reassuring words about Russia’s intentions, was a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Within hours, news channels across the world broadcast images of Russian soldiers moving across the Crimean Peninsula and Russian artillery rolling through Sevastopol. An Obama administration official told CNN’s Barbara Starr that the incursion was not so much “an invasion” as an “uncontested arrival” and that understanding this distinction was crucial to making sense of the developments.
Then, as now, Obama administration officials downplayed the reality of Russian aggression by arguing feebly that such actions wouldn’t be in Russia’s interest. Five days before Russian troops poured into Ukraine, National Security Adviser Susan Rice dodged a question about a possible invasion, saying onMeet the Press that a return to a “Cold War construct” would be counterproductive because such thinking is “out of date” and “doesn’t reflect the realities of the 21st century.” A week before Russian fighter jets pounded targets in Syria, administration officials shrugged off warnings about possible military action by Moscow, and Kerry dismissed the Russian buildup as a mere “force protection” measure.
It has become perhaps the defining characteristic of the Obama administration’s foreign and national security policy—a stubborn insistence on seeing the world not as it is but as the president wishes it to be.
Al Qaeda was said to be on the run, even as it strengthened. ISIS was alleged to be junior varsity terrorists, even as it amassed territory. Iran was treated as a diplomatic partner, even as its leaders shouted “Death to America.” China was feted at a state dinner, even as it escalated cyberattacks against the United States. Russia was said to want peace, even as it made war. And on it goes.
Historians may well record the last day of September in the seventh year of the Obama presidency as the nadir of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, a day that illustrated the weakness and self-delusion of the administration perhaps better than any other. Unfortunately, the consequences of this weakness and self-delusion won’t end with the exit of this president. They will pose a challenge to the next president the magnitude of which we haven’t seen in a long time.
From a Fanack article earlier this year:
In December 2014, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, rejecting foreign criticism of the constraints placed on the media, claimed that Turkey has “the world’s freest press”. Two years earlier, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) declared Turkey the world’s worst jailer of journalists, ahead of Iran and China, with 49 reporters in prison. Turkey remained at the top of the list of worst offenders in 2013, but by 1 December 2014, many detainees had been released and Turkey had dropped to tenth place on the CPJ list, with seven journalists behind bars.
While fewer journalists are languishing in Turkish prisons, this does not signal a more tolerant attitude toward the media. Rather, it suggests that the authorities are resorting to different means, often more pervasive and subtle, to control the media. Since becoming Turkey’s first popularly elected head of state in August 2014, Erdoğan has filed 220 court cases for alleged insults, many directed at journalists who expressed their views on Twitter or re-tweeted other people’s comments. In March 2015, two cartoonists were given an 11-month sentence, later commuted to a fine, for insulting the president. Anadolu Ajansi, Turkey’s state news agency, recently followed his example, filing insult charges against 58 people, including prominent members of the media, who had criticized the agency.
Judicial investigations, even if they do not result in prison sentences, are widely used to harass and intimidate outspoken members of the press. They also send a powerful warning to their colleagues, encouraging them to exercise self-censorship.
Then of course there's straightforward thuggery. From today's Sunday Times (£):
Turkey's leading political broadcaster was arriving home early on Thursday after recording his show when a black Honda smashed into his car on an Istanbul side street.
Four burly men stormed out of the vehicle, held down a bodyguard and inflicted a savage beating on 48-year-old Ahmet Hakan.
Hakan, one of the most vocal critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was taken to hospital for emergency surgery after suffering a broken nose and fractured ribs.
Surveillance footage showed that the Honda had followed Hakan from the studio. Three of the four attackers proved to be members of Erdogan’s conservative AKP party. “We know now: if they went after Ahmet, they can go after any of us,” said Barcin Yinanc, Hakan’s fellow columnist at the leading opposition newspaper Hurriyet. “From now on, all critical journalists will fear for their safety.”
Not that such indiscretions bother an EU desperate to make a deal:
The increasingly authoritarian Turkish leader stands accused not just of curbs on the press but also of ramping up a military campaign against Kurdish insurgents in the southeast of the country. Yet tomorrow Erdogan will be given the red-carpet treatment in Brussels from an EU desperate for his help in stemming the flow of hundreds of thousands of migrants to Europe, many of whom pass through Turkey.
His hosts, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, who heads the European Council, hope to seal a deal to stop Syrians and other refugees from reaching the continent in exchange for substantial funds and political concessions.
Turkish government sources believe Erdogan, initially hailed as a reformer when he came to power as prime minister in 2003, holds a whip hand in the talks.
His officials are demanding not only a fast-tracked decision to allow visa-free travel for 75m Turks and billions in funding, but also unfreezing of his country’s negotiations to join the EU.
An additional demand is said to be the resumption of energy trade talks that have been vetoed by Cyprus, part of which has been under Turkish military occupation since 1974.
With Russia’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom keen to channel much of its supply to southern Europe via Turkey, the move would transform the country into an energy hub for EU states....
Yet Juncker believes he has “full backing” from Britain, France and Germany to host Erdogan.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said: “The protection of the external borders between Greece and Turkey will not be possible if we don’t win Turkey as a partner.”
Europe’s reliance on Erdogan’s help has been intensified by signs that the initial enthusiasm with which migrants were greeted in Germany and several other countries is giving way to misgivings and leading to gains for far-right groups.
Next Sunday Austria’s Freedom party hopes to seize control of Vienna from the Social Democrats, who have governed the city for more than two decades. Populists are also making gains in Holland, Sweden and France.
A senior EU diplomat said leaders had no illusions about the “balancing act” they had to perform in their dealings with the Turkish leader.
The source said: “This is the worst time to strike any deals with Erdogan — but we are acutely aware that he controls the influx of millions of people into Europe.”
Saudi Arabia has used its position on the United Nations human rights council to block an international inquiry into the conflict in Yemen, where Saudi air strikes have been blamed for killing civilians.
A resolution passed yesterday by the council instructs the body’s representative in Yemen to “provide technical assistance” to the Yemen government in its own investigation. However, a provision to set up an international inquiry, and deploy outside experts to investigate possible war crimes, which was proposed by the Netherlands, has been stripped from the resolution which was presented to the council following Saudi opposition. Western nations consented to the toned-down resolution, which was passed yesterday.
“The US, the UK and France allowed Saudi Arabia to quash an investigation into its own abuse, as well as others, dealing a severe blow to the credibility of the HRC,” said Philippe Bolopion, of Human Rights Watch, a non-profit group which investigates human rights abuses.
What credibility, you may be forgiven for wondering, is that?
This week the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said 2,355 civilians had been killed in the conflict, with more than 4,862 wounded, between July 1 last year and June 30 this year. It blamed a naval blockade, by Saudi Arabia and its allies, for deepening the humanitarian crisis.
As a commenter sourly notes - "No Israel involvement - what did you expect?"
The new exhibition at Tate Modern, The World Goes Pop, looks at the development of Pop Art outside the US and UK:
From Latin America to Asia, and from Europe to the Middle East, this explosive exhibition connects the dots between art produced around the world during the 1960s and 1970s, showing how different cultures and countries responded to the movement.
Politics, the body, domestic revolution, consumption, public protest, and folk – all will be explored and laid bare in eye-popping Technicolor and across many media, from canvas to car bonnets and pinball machines.
The exhibition will reveal how pop was never just a celebration of western consumer culture, but was often a subversive international language of protest – a language that is more relevant today than ever.
That last paragraph captures it, really. There are plenty of artists in the show, doing plenty of different things, but overall the tone is one of protest against the the evils of capitalism and the hegemony of the big bad US of A. So whereas the familiar Pop Art greats, like Warhol or Lichtenstein, have a complex, ironic attitude to commercial pop culture, this lot, on the whole, just plain hate it. Which - you get the feeling - is something the show's curators very much approve of, dressing up the art as they do with much learned talk of subversion and protest: "a language that is more relevant today than ever".
[T]he strategies and visual techniques of pop have been applied to issues beyond consumerism, addressing social imbalances, censorship, the role of women, sexual liberation, tradition, war and civil rights.
That's more like it! Forget your Campbell's Soup tins, or your comic book visuals; what we want are full-blooded critiques of capitalist excess and imperialist crimes.
The problem with art as agit-prop, unfortunately, is that it lack subtlety, and it dates very quickly. To take a couple of examples from the show: Bernard Rancillac's At Last, a Silhouette Slimmed to the Waist (Enfin silhouette affinée jusqu’à la taille), from 1966, which shows glossy adverts for women's corsets next to images of torture:
This painting can be hung either way, emphasising one of the two juxtaposed images: US soldiers plunging a Viet Cong prisoner head-first up to the waist into a cauldron of water or a corset promotion. Mimicking the relationship between images in newspapers and magazines in which photographs of warfare abut advertisements, this work seeks to show the flip-side of glossy American consumer society.
And Erro, American Interior Nos 1 , 5 and 9, from 1968, with fierce-looking Asian soldiers invading scenes of American domestic bliss:
In this series, Erró stages the invasion of peaceful American bourgeois homes by Viet Cong and Maoist troops. These juxtapositions of imagery from opposing sides of the Cold War are a reversal of American military intervention in Vietnam. At the same time, they gesture to advertising’s invasion of the Western domestic sphere.
Clever, eh? And, of course, subversive. But about as subtle as being beaten repeatedly over the head with a rolled-up copy of Socialist Worker. It's perhaps no accident that both these efforts are French.
I particularly enjoyed Nicola L's Red Coat:
Visually striking - a coat for eleven people to wear at once, all joined up, "protecting them from the rain and from the risk [of] losing one another" - it comes with a video of the monstrous garment in use, with the poor wearers shuffling ludicrously along like some giant alien insect.
Created during the socio-political upheavals of the late 1960s, the work became, as the artist recalls, ‘an ephemeral monument to freedom’.
The idea of people believing they were partaking in a monument to freedom, all the while parading around imprisoned in a ludicrous red costume, could hardly be bettered as a visual metaphor for the Sixties counterculture - a time when so many, shouting about freedom, adopted the ideology of Marxism and paraded around as Revolutionary Socialists. Sadly this particular interpretation of the work isn't touched upon in the catalogue.
It's not all like this, of course. There's far too much going on for that. Even the political art isn't all aimed at the US. Works by Brazilian or Spanish artists, for instance, attack their own governments. Still, you have been warned...
You can't go wrong with the Louvin Brothers. Here we are in 1961:
With Nashville A-team member Jimmy Capps on lead guitar, looking - understandably - rather pleased with himself.
It's a shame poor Charlie gets squeezed out of the shot so much, but no doubt he was used to it, with Ira being lead vocal and charismatic and all. Alex Abramovich:
Ira Louvin was a full head taller than his younger brother, played the mandolin like Bill Monroe and sang in an impossibly high, tense, quivering tenor. Charlie strummed a guitar, grinned like a vaudevillian and handled the bottom register. But every so often, in the middle of a song, some hidden signal flashed and the brothers switched places — with Ira swooping down from the heights, and Charlie angling upward — and even the most careful listeners would lose track of which man was carrying the lead. This was more than close-harmony singing; each instance was an act of transubstantiation....
Charlie and Ira came up hard, on a tiny Depression-era cotton farm in southern Appalachia. Their mother taught them songs from the Sacred Harp hymnal, while their father worked and beat them, mercilessly, until they felt they had no choice but to sing their way off the land. “We were two determined little bastards,” Louvin recalls. “We were no good at quitting at all. Whether or not he meant to, I’d say that’s one of the greatest gifts Papa gave us.”
That gift (a great inspiration to the Everly Brothers, the Byrds and many other harmony singers who followed in their footsteps) carried the Louvins through two difficult decades — it took them years to make it, and just as they did, Elvis Presley came along and swept the music world they’d known aside. The ups and downs were bad for Ira, who’d gotten the worst of his father’s beatings and turned into a mean-spirited, self-destructive drunk....
And then there was the womanizing and spousal abuse. In February 1963, Ira Louvin wrapped a telephone cord around his wife’s neck. She shot him six times with a .22-caliber pistol, and when the police arrived on the scene she was said to have told them, “If the blankety-blank don’t die, I’ll shoot him again.” Ira lived, and Charlie stuck by him (and, amazingly, the wife) and ignored Ira’s threats to quit the duet. But the Louvin Brothers broke up that year.
Ira was traveling with a new wife (his fourth) and another couple on the night of his wreck. Atypically, according to Charlie, Ira — who had a D.U.I. warrant out for his arrest — seems to have been sober that night, while the driver of the car that hit him was “nine times over the legal limit for drunkenness.” Oddly, given his habit of smashing mandolins, Ira’s new mandolin — a four-stringed, electric instrument he’d designed himself — was “the only thing that wasn’t smashed to splinters.”
That was in 1965. Charlie died at the age of 83 in 2011.
The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) has issued a report, The Will of the State: North Korean Forced Labour, downloadable as a pdf document here. The report lists 18 countries which use North Korean forced labour - in effect slave labour - including two, Malta and Poland, within the EU. From the Telegraph:
While most of the 50,000 North Koreans on such schemes are currently working in Asian and Middle Eastern countries - some 1,800 are believed to be helping Qatar in its preparations for the 2022 World Cup - up to 1,000 may be working in the EU, the report's authors said.
Among them is a group working in Malta, which has issued 93 visas to North Korean citizens since March 2013, according to Michael Glendinning, the director of the EAHRNK. Most are understood to work for a Chinese-owned firm based in the Maltese capital, Valletta.
Malta historically had a close relationship with North Korea after Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, studied English in the former British colony in the early 1970s.
A larger number of around 800 North Koreans are also believed to be working in Poland, where in recent years they are known to have been employed in shipyards and orchards.
The EAHRNK, which works with members of the North Korean diaspora around the world, said both countries' governments should investigate.
"The European Union has taken an active lead in pushing for greater international accountability and justice for North Korean human rights - but now it must look to its own shores," said James Burt, the EAHRNK's research and policy officer.
"Forced labour generates hundreds of millions of euros for the North Korean leadership each year and this revenue is, most likely, invested in luxury goods, weapons production, and the maintenance of the most repressive regime on earth."
He added: “North Korean labourers are often the cheapest source of labour and are often exposed to risks without any recourse to local health and safety or justice mechanisms. Workers are rarely provided with individual contracts, passports are confiscated, and the bulk of wages are paid in foreign currencies and transferred directly to the DPRK.”
Joshua Stanton, at One Free Korea, draws attention to the section of the report on slave labour within the North Korean prison camp system - including witness accounts of rampant sexual violence. For instance:
“From China, when we were being repatriated back to North Korea, the guards from the Ministry of National Security stripped women naked to conduct examinations. They checked their vaginas to make sure there was no money hidden. If there were attractive women or girls, they were quietly taken away by the guards and sexually abused. These girls were unable to speak about what happened, because if they did they would be beaten further” [Park XX, 45, North Hamgyeong Province]
“Younger and more attractive girls are often sexually abused. The guards take them out to the hall [of the detention facility] and sexually molest them. Other guards who are passing by just pretend not to see anything. They do not report what they see to their superiors” [Kim XX, 49, Pyongyang]
Stanton calls out Gloria Steinem and the recent WomenCrossDMZ charade:
I cannot, for the life of me, see how anyone can go to Pyongyang, take part in staged propaganda theater, remain silent about the worst abuses of women imaginable, and dare call herself a women’s rights activist.
From a UK perspective, I cannot, for the life of me, see how anyone can go to Pyongyang, receive an official welcome, bring gifts for Kim Jong-un, and claim to represent Labour - supposedly a progressive party. And not just represent, but sit on the Labour Front Bench in the Lords.
A while back I suggested that Jeremy Corbyn had managed to maintain his position of ideological purity because, for thirty years, he'd represented one of the most solid Labour constituencies in the country. He'd had no need ever to dirty his hands with the sordid business of real politics - compromises, negotiations and the rest - because he could play the eternal rebel, constantly defying the Labour whip, without any fear of repercussion. All he'd get was the applause of the faithful, and the contempt - behind the scenes - of the real party workers who were trying to make Labour electable. Of course he never had a whiff of power - till now.
That kind of thinking becomes ingrained. It's the nirvana fallacy - the belief that there are perfect solutions to problems. Ian Leslie:
A politician who uses the nirvana fallacy gains an easy rhetorical advantage. He can paint inspiring pictures of his perfect world, and attack the existing state of affairs for not living up to it. He can accuse anyone who doesn’t accept its plausibility as cynical, lacking in vision, or principle.
But this advantage comes at a cost, because the nirvana fallacy makes you stupid. It stops you from doing the hard, gritty thinking about how to improve the world we have, since, faced with a series of complex, imperfect options, you overleap them to reach the sunlit uplands of an ideal scenario. Soon, you forget how to think about the real world at all.
The left is particularly susceptible to this problem. Should we intervene in Syria? No, because we want a peaceful Middle East. Fine. That saves you the onerous work of confronting the truth that Syria is on fire, that hundreds of thousands have died there, and that many of the survivors are now pouring into Europe, and what the hell are we going to do about it?
Should we be making hard choices about public spending? No, because we want a high-growth economy in which only the rich pay more tax. Should we reform the way in which the NHS allocates resources, or schools are run? No, because we want a country in which everyone, regardless of background, receives the best healthcare and education, for free. Thank you for the applause, comrades.