Malaysiakini Letter

End use of North Korean labourers to work here

Gooi Hsiao Leung  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Six days ago, on Dec 18, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity following a 400-page UN inquiry report released in February this year - detailing wide-ranging abuses in North Korea, including prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.

The UN inquiry report contained in great detail the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the country arising from “policies established at the highest level of the state”. The report highlights that, “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,”

The report also states that, “These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”.

The report also highlighted enforced dissapearance from other countries, inlcuding the abduction of four Malaysian women and one Singaporean in 1978 by North Korea.

In light of the UN inquiry report, I find it shocking that on Nov 26, Umno had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with North Korea’s ruling party, the Worker’s Party (WPK) on the sidelines of the Umno general assembly to foster closer relations between the two political parties.

During the signing of the MOU, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor had even praised the long-standing relations between Umno and WPK - in which WPK’s deputy head said that the MOU and cooperation between the two parties would contribute towards peace, stability, cooperation and development between both countries.

This shocking MOU was signed just four days after a coal mining accident in Sarawak on Nov 22, in which Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the Deputy Home Minister, admitted that North Korean labourers have been working here under a special agreement between Pyongyang and the Sarawak state government, in which the Malaysian Immigration Department had given the go-ahead for their recruitment.

What was even more shocking was Wan Junaidi’s defence of the use of North Korean labourers when North Korea has been widely condemned for sending labourers overseas to be exploited as “state sponsored slaves” to earn hard foreign currency for WPK’s Office No 39, which is known as the source of slush fund maintain Kim Jong-un’s lavish lifestyle.

‘Salaries remitted thorough Office 39'

It is widely alleged that almost all of the labourers’ salaries are remitted back to Kim Jong-un’s regime through the PKW’s Office 39.

Wan Junaidi’s excuse that North Korean labourers are needed because the job required in the mining industry are too dangerous and no local or Sarawakians would do the job is totally disgraceful and bordering on inhumane acceptance that its ok to use slaves for jobs too dangerous for other human beings to perform.

In light of the most recent  damning UN resolution condemning the atrocities committed by the North Korean government on its own people, I urge the government to put an immediate stop on the use of North Korean labourers in the country.

In just over a week’s time, on Jan 1, 2015, Malaysia will assume its official role as a member of the UN Security Council representing the Asia Pacific region with its main task to maintain and promote international human rights, peace and security.

When Malaysia was elected to the Security Council, our foreign minister remarked that “the number of votes received bear testimony to Malaysia’s longstanding reputation as a responsible member of the international community, particularly in the context of international peace and security”.

If Putrajaya does not act immediately to review its diplomatic relations with North Korea, and continues to make internationally embarrassing headlines - starting with our PM praising the IS militants’ bravery, to our ministers brazenly  threatening to sever ties with the US over its remarks on the PM’s reversal in decision to abolish the Sedition Act, and now, with Umno signing an MOU with WPK, I fear Malaysia will quickly lose all our international standing and respect we have left in the international community even before we assume our role in the UN Security Council.


GOOI HSIAO LEUNG is Member of Parliament, Alor Setar and PKR International Bureau chief.

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