The truth behind Kim Jong-un's 'cute' K-pop sign

The truth behind Kim Jong-un's 'cute' K-pop sign

This photo of Kim Jong-un trying to form a South Korean gesture of friendship has melted hearts in Seoul.

But focusing on this one image means losing sight of the bigger picture.

For the uninitiated, the Korean heart is formed if you put the tips of your thumb and index finger together.

It started as a gesture of love used by K-pop stars to thank their fans, and has morphed into the pose of choice for selfies with friends in South Korea.

We first heard about Mr Kim’s attempt at the gesture from a spokesman for South Korea’s Blue House, who told a press conference that he tried to do it alongside South Korean cabinet ministers.

“How do you do it? I can’t quite make the shape,” Mr Kim was quoted as saying.

It was another Instagram moment for the North Korean leader. We saw one when he took President Moon’s hand on their very first meeting and helped him across the line dividing their two countries.

We saw it in the selfies during his walkabout in Singapore the night before his summit with Donald Trump.

These social media-friendly snapshots have prompted many in the South to describe him on Twitter as misunderstood, or even cute.

They are taking this gesture made at the sacred and mythical home of the Korean nation as a sign he is serious about developing a relationship with the South.

It’s easy to be swept up by the burgeoning friendship beamed onto our screens.

I was watching the images from Mount Baekdu stream into the press room and it was difficult to recognise Kim Jong-un as the “madman’, “maniac’ and “sick puppy’ that President Trump described last year.

The young leader was laughing and joking with President Moon and his wife. They all clutched hands by the pristine lake.

It was a moment of unity in a beautiful setting that would have been unthinkable this time last year.

“We had a small group today but in the near future, we hope many South Koreans and expats will be able to come here,” the North Korean leader said.

“We should write another chapter of history between the North and the South by reflecting our new history on this Heaven Lake.”

Is this really the murderous dictator with a nuclear arsenal that we are told is a global threat?

And then, a few days later the Blue House released the photographs of Mr Kim forming the heart.

It is designed to play to a South Korean audience. To further soften his image as he starts to gain almost celebrity status in the South.

There was even a suggestion that they could use it as a screensaver.

What has gone unsaid is that with a click of those same fingers, Mr Kim could put an end to the crimes against humanity committed in North Korea.

With just one command he could free tens of thousands of political prisoners from gulags, including six South Koreans, many of whom are forced to do hard labour.

Nor is it mentioned that this gesture so loved by K-pop stars is unknown in the streets of Pyongyang, because even listening to South Korean music is a crime.

A UN report released in 2014 concluded that the North Korean government was perpetrating “unspeakable atrocities” against its own people on a vast scale.

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The Chair of the Commission on human rights said they were “strikingly similar” to crimes committed by Nazi Germany in World War II and that the crimes included execution, enslavement, starvation, rape and forced abortion.

Mr Kim himself is suspected of ordering the assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia, as well as the execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, in 2013.

It’s not popular to talk about human rights right now. I alluded to some of North Korea’s crimes in a Twitter post and it earned me a stream of criticism from some in the South.

I was accused of being a foreigner, pouring cold water on the peace process and of misunderstanding the Korean people.

A senior adviser to the Blue House has acknowledged that Pyongyang’s violations are a “fundamental dilemma”. I spoke to him during the first inter-Korean summit and was told I was the only interviewer that day to bring up the issue of human rights.

Now is not the time to enter into those discussions, is the answer I was given.

“If we push too hard for human rights, then North Korea would regard us as taking a hostile act against North Korea. Then peace would be jeopardised,” said presidential adviser Moon Chung-in.

The Blue House adviser went on to tell me that the key was to build trust between the two countries first.

The North has issued warnings. Weeks before the first inter-Korean summit, state media told South Korean officials to “behave with discretion” and said criticising the North’s rights record was tantamount to “throwing a stone to the thin ice-like North-South relations”.

As a result, South Korean officials have not made human rights a major feature of the three summits.

They have also agreed to stop propaganda broadcasts and leaflet distributions on their border.

Instead, the focus is on helping with economic reforms which may in the long-run help North Korean people.

President Moon took business leaders to Pyongyang. Professor John Delury from Yonsei University wrote in the New York Times that “we have all grown so accustomed to thinking about North Korea in terms of threat, that it takes some unthinking to see the possibilities”.

He outlines Mr Kim’s dream of being “a great economic reformer”.

There is certainly a lot of evidence to back it up. Mr Kim has visited factory after factory this year, even chiding officials over building delays and other perceived failures.

This approach is beginning to yield some results.

Mr Kim has made diplomatic progress with President Moon. The Pyongyang agreement, if fully implemented, has the potential to put the two Koreas on a path towards peace.

They announced what amounts to conventional arms control measures, including joint measures to reduce guard posts and manage tensions along the Demilitarised Zone.

Mr Kim has agreed to allow international experts to watch the dismantling of Tongchang-ri facility, also known as the Sohae Satellite Launching Station – a well-known site associated with various aspects of the country’s space and ballistic missile programmes.

President Moon told reporters that Mr Kim was also willing to allow experts to verify the destruction of its only known nuclear weapons testing site at Punggyeri.

But there is an element of showmanship at these summits which could give viewers the impression that North Korea is already changing and that it is slowly opening up.

There is no evidence of that.

It remains a secretive state and its people are not allowed to offer an opinion on how it is run. Nor are they allowed to leave.

The secret police are always watching, according to sources who’ve visited Pyongyang. The media is also not allowed in unchecked. Defectors continue to document stories of widespread human rights abuses.

The truth behind Kim Jong-un's 'cute' K-pop sign

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“North Korean refugees with contacts in the North warn that the dictator has been presenting a smiling face for the world, but that he has cracked down domestically,” said Casey Lartigue, co-founder and international director of Teach North Korean Refugees.

“The world may see him as a cute smiling guy, but to North Korean refugees, that would mean that he is a comedian with a guillotine.

“And any North Koreans who approach the border or want to communicate with the outside world know that their heads will be rolling.”

Every image from North Korea is tightly controlled. We are shown what they want us to see.

Kim Jong-un may look cute forming the Korean heart, but it is the job of journalists to look at this photo from all angles with clear eyes.

Even if it is what some South Koreans don’t want to hear.

Will organic revolution boost farming in India?

Will organic revolution boost farming in India?

In 2016, Sikkim, a small state in India’s northeast, was declared the country’s first fully organic state. Since then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been trying to promote chemical-free farming across the country.

It’s been nearly half a century since the “Green Revolution” introduced modern farming techniques that included the use of pesticides, to make India a self-sufficient food producer.

So will Sikkim’s organic revolution be able to reinvent agriculture once again across India?

Reporter: Yogita Limaye; Producer: Pooja Aggarwal; Filmed and edited by Vishnu Vardhan

Cameroon atrocity: Finding the soldiers who killed this woman

Cameroon atrocity: Finding the soldiers who killed this woman

In July 2018 a horrifying video began to circulate on social media. It shows two women and two young children being led away at gunpoint by a group of Cameroonian soldiers. The captives are blindfolded, forced to the ground, and shot 22 times.

The government of Cameroon initially dismissed the video as “fake news.” But BBC Africa Eye, through forensic analysis of the footage, can prove exactly where this happened, when it happened, and who is responsible for the killings.

Investigation by Aliaume Leroy and Ben Strick

Produced by Daniel Adamson and Aliaume Leroy

Motion Graphics: Tom Flannery

UN agency's U-turn after unpaid internships row

UN agency's U-turn after unpaid internships row

The World Health Organization (WHO) is to offer paid internships for the first time to boost access for those applying from developing countries, the BBC has learnt.

About 1,200 interns are accepted by one of the UN’s largest agencies each year to support its work improving public health and tackling global diseases.

Yet fewer than one in four of those chosen are from low-income countries.

For the past 50 years, the WHO has expected its interns to move to their headquarters in Geneva, or one of its six regional offices, and work unpaid without travel expenses for up to six months, costing each person around £5,000 ($6,540).

But after a campaign led by a former intern, the UN agency has agreed to provide full financial support for its young workers by no later than 2020.

It told the BBC that targets are also in place to ensure that 50% of interns come from developing countries by 2022.

“It’s unacceptable that 80% of WHO’s work goes into supporting people in developing countries, yet only 20% of their interns come from them,” says Ashton Barnett-Vanes, 29, a British doctor of English and Jamaican heritage from Wolverhampton, who started the campaign after his internship in 2012.

He spent six years rallying the international community before eventually working with ministers across the Caribbean and Africa to persuade the 194 members of the UN to reach the agreement.

“All it took was for one country to say ‘no’ for it to be stopped,” Dr Barnett-Vanes said. “If you don’t have trained staff, you can’t develop an effective health system,” he added.

“This change could see more than 500 young people each year from developing countries receive professional training that they can invest back into their communities.”

In 2015, Dr Barnett-Vanes and Tara Kedia, 27, a fellow former intern who now works in health policy in Washington DC, launched a crowdfunding campaign to create a $10,000 scholarship to enable two young people to intern at WHO.

Christabel Abewe, 28, from Uganda, and Yassine Kalboussi, now 29, from Tunisia, were chosen.

“I wouldn’t have been able to participate without the scholarship,” Ms Abewe said.

Dr Kalboussi agreed: “It would have cost two full years of my salary.”

“Professional public health training is not currently provided in Tunisia,” he added. “I was one of only three interns from a low or middle-income country out of my group of 162 people.”

Dr Kalboussi now serves on the executive committee of the Tunisian Center for Public Health, and Ms Abewe is researching the early detection of breast cancer in developing countries.

More than 100 UN states have no participants each year, while 50 countries – including Angola, Barbados, Cambodia, Cuba and Libya – did not have a single WHO intern between 2015 and 2017, according to WHO data.

Jamaica has had one WHO intern in the past two years.

Dr Christopher Tufton, the Jamaican health minister, championed the campaign in Geneva. “We should make it easier for young people to access these facilities and view it as an investment in the people who participate,” he said. “They should be valued.”

The WHO has admitted its selection process is not “merit-based” and told the BBC that it recognised its unpaid internships were unfair.

It said that funding for 50 interns per year had already been secured from the Wellcome Trust, a London-based medical research charity, but said “more support was needed”.

“If we are to nurture the next generation of global leaders who truly come from all four corners of the earth, we need to facilitate them spending time with us,” the WHO media team said.

As a whole, the UN had more than 38,000 interns between 2009 and 2017, but more than 80% (about 30,400) were unpaid.

Based on these figures, this would amount to nearly two million interns in the past 50 years – more than the entire population of Trinidad and Tobago.

A report by the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit found that interns had to “endure harsh living conditions” to last the duration of the programme or work “after hours” and informal jobs such as dog-walking to make ends meet.

Headlines were made in 2015 when former UN intern David Hyde, who was then 22, was found sleeping in a tent on the shores of Lake Geneva after finding the cost of living in the city too expensive.

He later admitted it was a stunt to spark a discussion about “unjust unpaid work”.

The WHO is the first UN agency to pass a resolution on internships that was brought about by its member states.

As the UN General Assembly is about to start its session, the campaigners hope the issue of unpaid internships will be back on the agenda in light of this year’s theme – “Making the United Nations relevant to all people”.

“It’s about time the UN solved this issue,” said Dr Barnett-Vanes. “It’s within its gift to and it should follow WHO’s lead. “If the UN isn’t willing to act, its member states should.”

Fentanyl crisis: Is China a major source of illegal drugs?

Fentanyl crisis: Is China a major source of illegal drugs?

Amid tension between China and the US over trade, there’s also friction over another issue – the illegal trade in synthetic drugs.

The US believes factory-produced opioids – powerful painkillers increasingly abused by US citizens – are being made in China and sold from there too.

One of the main ones is fentanyl – 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine – which is only approved in the US for severe pain arising in cases like treatment for cancer.

President Trump has called out China publicly.

China, while not denying there’s a problem, has hit back at claims that most illegal fentanyl is from China.

A senior Chinese official, Yu Haibin of the National Narcotics Control Commission, said there was “no proof” of this, and described President Trump’s comments and “unacceptable” and “irresponsible”.

Mr Yu had earlier spoken about growing drug demand in the US as the real problem, and suggested there should be better intelligence sharing with China.

There’s no doubt a lot of these chemicals are produced in China – although in exactly what quantities is impossible to tell.

And despite the rhetoric, China has been taking some steps to address the problem.

Dangerous chemicals

These synthetic drugs are cheap to make, are sold on the internet and supplied by post.

On arrival at their destination they can be mixed in very small amounts with other drugs, especially heroin, to increase their potency.

“Fentanyl is potentially lethal, even at very low levels. Ingestion of doses as small as 0.25mg can be fatal,” states the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

It’s also relatively easy to alter its chemical structure to produce similar substances – known as fentanyl analogues – to bypass legal controls.

“The countless possibilities to create new compounds by small changes in chemical structures pose a growing challenge to international control of the opioid trade,” states the UN Office for Drugs and Crime.

Growing concerns – not just in US

The US authorities are increasingly worried about opioid abuse, and have now put all fentanyl-related products into the most dangerous class of drugs.

In testimony before Congress, Assistant Secretary of State Kirsten Madison described the situation as the most “severe drug crisis” the US has ever faced.

She said that in 2017, more than 40% of the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the US involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Health statistics from Canada show that last year, 72% of deaths related to opioid abuse were believed to involve fentanyl or related substances – up from 55% in 2016.

Europe’s drug monitoring agency the EMCDDA, which covers the EU plus Turkey and Norway, said in a report this year that “the number of synthetic opioids has grown rapidly in Europe since the first substance was reported in 2009”.

The China connection

US officials are unequivocal that China is the main source for fentanyl and similar drugs.

In October 2017, the US authorities announced the first ever indictments against two Chinese individuals for conspiracy “to distribute large quantities” of fentanyl as well as other opioids.

Katherine Pfaff, spokesperson for the US Drug Enforcement Agency, told the BBC that interceptions from the US postal system, information from people on the ground, and tracking cyber footprints, leads them to believe a “significant amount” comes from China.

The European drug monitoring agency report states: “It appears that most shipments of new fentanyls coming into Europe originate from companies based in China.”

However, it added that there have also been some examples of illegal production by laboratories in Europe.

And, although the Chinese authorities don’t officially accept that most fentanyl is produced in China, they have taken some action.

Martin Raithelhuber, an expert on synthetic drugs with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, says China now has restricted more than 150 chemicals that can be used to create synthetic drugs.

“They have been quite active in introducing national controls,” he adds.

The DEA’s Pfaff told Reality Check that China is “recognising the problem” and that there’s an “on-going, strong working relationship” with the Chinese.

Regulation and corruption

But do the Chinese have a problem regulating their large and rapidly growing pharmaceutical industry?

Drugs policy expert at the Rand Corporation in the US, Bryce Pardo, describes their regulatory capacity as “limited”.

“Gaps in regulatory design, the division of responsibility between provincial and central governments, and lack of oversight and government and corporate accountability, increase opportunities for corruption,” he says.

“I think it is fair to say that a lack of regulatory capacity, perhaps regardless of the letter of the law, certainly limits their ability to control the industry,” says John Collins, head of the International Drug Policy Institute at the London School of Economics (LSE).

The other problem is that as more controls are introduced, new chemical substances are produced to get around them.

“The lessons from other countries suggest that effective regulation and enforcement does not ensure the absence of an illicit market,” adds Collins.

“In the presence of a demand, supply finds a way.”

He believes a more comprehensive approach to managing the overdose crisis in the US is needed, not simply relying on control of supply from abroad.

And that is also part of China’s argument – that the US needs to address its growing demand for such drugs, rather than just blaming Beijing.

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Tackling climate change to be key talking point at UN summit

Tackling climate change to be key talking point at UN summit

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BERLIN — With global temperatures rising, superstorms taking their deadly toll and a year-end deadline to firm up the Paris climate deal, leaders at this year’s U.N. General Assembly are feeling a sense of urgency to keep up the momentum on combating climate change.

That’s why, in between discussing how to tackle wars, poverty and deadly diseases around the world, leaders will be devoting substantial time in New York this week to the question of global warming and how to rein it in.

There’ll be talk of emissions targets and the need to adapt to the inevitable changes already underway when small island states take the floor at the annual gathering. Ministers from major economies, meanwhile, will be meeting behind closed doors to discuss who will pay to help poor countries avoid the worst effects of global warming — and prevent a wave of climate refugees in future.

Outside the confines of the United Nations, campaigners and businesspeople will meet during New York Climate Week, while Wednesday will see the second edition of French President Emmanuel Macron’s One Planet Summit.

About the only leader not expected to dwell on climate change is President Donald Trump, who last year announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris accord. He says it represents a bad deal for the American people.

His stance isn’t shared by many U.S. governors, mayors and businesspeople who met recently in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit, an event designed to show that parts of America are firmly behind the Paris agreement, with its ambitious goal of limiting the worldwide temperature rise by 2100 to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees C.

“These meetings are incredibly important for building confidence and cooperation,” Svenja Schulze, Germany’s environment minister, told reporters on a recent conference call from Canada, where she was meeting with her counterparts from other Group of Seven countries.

By December, leaders need to agree on what’s known as the Paris rulebook, which sets out how countries will track their climate efforts in a way that is transparent, fair and meaningful, Schulze said. “All the conferences are building blocks leading up to that,” she said.

Like many European countries, Germany experienced an unusually dry summer this year, forcing the government to bail out thousands of farmers whose livelihoods were threatened by crop failures. Still, Europe’s largest economy keeps burning coal, considered the most harmful of all fossil fuels.

Failure to reach an agreement by the time the annual climate meeting is held in Katowice, Poland, would mark a major setback for the 180 countries that have ratified the Paris accord.

If the combined glamor, wealth and power assembled in New York don’t do the trick, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, being released at the beginning of October might well focus minds.

The report, condensing the findings of the world’s top climate scientists, is expected to say that the toughest target set in Paris three years ago — of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius — will be almost impossible to meet. Average global temperatures have already risen by almost 1 degree Celsius since the start of the industrial age, and the existing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere mean a further rise is inevitable.

Speaking two weeks ago, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world must shift away from fossil fuels by 2020 to prevent what he called “runaway climate change.”