There have been periodic reports of cannibalism in North Korea since its chronic food crisis began in the 1990s.
The latest claims are based on a 791-page manual for North Korean police printed in 2009. The report uses previous events as examples to help train police what to look for and how to deal with different situations. The manual listed five cannibalism-related cases but did not give a great deal of detail on them.
A pertinent question would be whether the cannibalism was done by way of scavenging the already dead or through predation on the living. In at least one case, it was the latter*:
In one account, a male guard who could not bear his hunger killed his colleague using an ax, ate some of the human flesh and sold the remainder in the market by disguising it as mutton, the report said, without giving any further details such as when the alleged crime occurred.
Starvation in North Korea is tied to the political system since food distribution is based on being among those considered to be politically reliable by the regime. The emergence of private markets after the collapse of the central distribution system in the late 1990s has alleviated the worst of the problems, but not completely so and there are concerns that North Koreans will have to go through another round of hunger this summer.
Information coming out of North Korea is spotty at best and that which does come out is subject to highly selective editing or interpretation by those who provide it, so it is important to try to know who is getting the documentation and to corroborate the information they provide as much as possible.
So what is Caleb Mission?
Voice of America did a profile of the group last September:
The Caleb Mission has gained some recognition in recent months for releasing clandestine video of life inside the reclusive North. And now it has provided VOA with what it says is a secret North Korean military manual that regional security analysts consider authentic.
One of South Korea’s smallest and most obscure religious communities is making a name for itself by providing rare glimpses of life inside North Korea, and revealing some of its secrets.
Reverend Kim Sung-eun runs Caleb Mission from the small college city of Cheonan in North Chungcheong Province (about an hour’s drive southeast of Seoul).
The group gets its information from a network of informants in North Korea connected to 30 or so North Korean defectors who are members of the mission. Those defectors include Reverend Kim’s wife, whom he says is a former officer in the North Korean army.
The group brings more than just information out of North Korea, it also helps defectors rescue relatives from the North. Reverend Kim told the Daily NK, “We could not ignore the pleas of devout defectors to bring their families left behind in the North.”
*Hat tip to One Free Korea for the first link.