The Global Digest

Interview Story 2012 Oct - 2013 July

ASIA: Thorough police reform a prerequisite to end the culture of torture

The picture of Torture in Asia

The following is a series of reflections by experts, of what has gone wrong in Asia, that despite attempts, torture continues to exist in most Asian states. The response is released marking the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26.

Question 1: Is the use of torture widespread in your country?

In Bangladesh, torture is endemic. Every police station or office occupied by the police (or any of the law enforcement agencies) is a place where torture is used systematically, every day. Any place where a member of the law enforcement agencies or security forces stays, or passing through, or temporarily stationed, or the street - in either rural or urban setups - is a potential scene of torture. Torture is widespread in Burma, mainly in two particular places (1) in detention centres, where police interrogate and keep persons, and (2) in ethnic minority dominated areas, where the Burmese military is present. Torture is also widespread in ordinary criminal inquiries and in crime control, where it most commonly takes the form of beatings and other blunt methods intended to cause pain and obtain a confession, such as twisting and bending limbs into unnatural positions and burning of limbs. In criminal cases like murder, rape, and robbery, police have to take immediate action and give a monthly report to the upper authority. If police cannot solve the problem or do not find the right person, they get into trouble and are under pressure from senior officers or from the government, so they arrest many suspects and torture them to extract a confession. They often write-up a confession for the accused and repeatedly make them read it or force them to memorize it. The police have so many torture methods and they use them as official procedure to obtain confessions. In places dominated by the ethnic minorities, torture seldom takes place in formal detention centres but is meted out in military bases or remote rural villages. Torture is not criminalised in law as a separate or special offense.

In Cambodia, torture is commonly used during police interrogations. The policing system is very primitive and no modernisation has taken place. Torture in prisons is also very common. In India, not only is torture widespread, but the government intentionally promotes the misconception that a country like India cannot be administrated without the use of torture. Hence, the widespread use of torture in India is falsely justified by the creation of a perception, that fear is an essential component required to maintain law and order. In addition, even though torture is partially criminalised in the Penal Code 1860, the absence of an independent investigative mechanism that encourages the acceptance of complaints and prompts investigation and prosecution of these complaints facilitates the widespread use of torture. The use of force by state agents is the singular response with which the state reacts to all forms of political dissent. The use of force in investigations and crowd control occupies a prominent space in police training. Scientific investigation methods and psychological approaches for criminal investigation are not priorities in police training. Hence, police officers are trained and allowed to use force, including torture. They strongly believe that the use of force, including torture, is legally justified and expected of police officers in India.

In Indonesia, torture is widely practiced by the police against individuals - most of the time, individuals who are suspects in crimes. Several local NGOs in Indonesia have conducted research on this and they concluded that the police subject around 70-80% of suspects to torture and ill treatment. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited Indonesia in 2007, also pointed this out, stating that torture is routine practice in Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia. In the last five years, the AHRC has also received a considerable number of reports on individual torture cases. In Nepal, torture is widespread and it is believed to be an efficient crime investigation strategy. Torture is widespread because there is no effective law or mechanism, and resources insufficient to undertake criminal investigations. Hence, law enforcement agencies use torture or the threat of torture as a tool for criminal investigation. Crime investigators believe that they have a right to extract a confession from the suspect, based on which the investigation of the crime is often undertaken. The impression that law enforcement agencies are empowered to use force against suspects and witnesses in criminal investigation is widespread among the people also, since they do not know - or, in other words, they are often told - that the law enforcement agents are empowered to use all forms of torture upon suspects and even witnesses.

Yes, torture is very widespread and has become endemic in Pakistan. Every police station has at least one private torture cell; the reason is that the police then cannot be blamed for torture happening within their premises. The same issue is there with the armed forces, particularly the army, which runs torture cells in cantonment areas. The air force and navy are running cells too, even in their headquarters. Torture is thought of as the best way to control crime. Yes, in the Philippines, torture is the de facto standard procedure of the police and the military. In every arrest, interrogation, and detention, torture is applied in varying degrees, either physical or psychological torture. The police strongly consider the use of torture a necessity.

In Sri Lanka, police torture happens daily in almost every police station. Interrogation simply means torture. People are tortured even before they are asked any questions. AHRC is publishing a book of 400 cases of police torture in Sri Lanka. Methods of torture are extremely brutal. In Thailand, torture is widely used by the police, army, and other state security forces as a tool of repression and routine form of punishment. Throughout the country, police torture suspects during interrogation and/or to obtain a confession. While the techniques vary from station to station, the use of torture is ubiquitous. In the nine years since martial law and the emergency decree have been in force in southern Thailand, citizens report that people who complain about torture and arbitrary detention are intimidated and punished. Rather than fighting terror, the state security forces have also become agents of it.

Question 2: In your country, are torture and extortion connected?

Bangladesh: Of course! Undoubtedly! The police to extort bribe from the people purposefully use torture. Irrespective of the law, including the Constitution, torture, and bribery exists. In reality, the state's agents never abide by the law while arresting persons. They torture and extort money from detainees. It continues endlessly. There are no proper authorities that function well, for the people to seek remedies. It is a country where the rule of law does not exist and the concept of justice has disappeared. Burma: Torture and extortion carried out by police personnel is always connected. The basic problem in Burma is that the police are not paid enough - for example, many get only 40,000 MMK, which is approximately 40 USD, per month. Extortion is used to supplement their income.

Cambodia: Torture and extortion are very much connected. The corruption of the police is quite well known and there is no mechanism to control corruption and extortion. India: Murderer police officers often enjoy celebrity status by being referred as ''encounter specialists'', even promoted so, by the media. These encounter specialists are those who shoot to kill persons whom they suspect to be criminals. It is natural, that in a country where torture is actively condoned and expected to be the defining character of all law enforcement agencies, the law enforcement agencies use this possibility of generating fear upon the people as a means for extortion. That corruption is widespread in India in all walks of public life does not help in reducing the possibility of state agencies using torture as the most common tool for extortion. Indonesia: The two issues are related, as there have been many cases in which the police, as means to obtain money from suspects use torture. In Indonesia, the two issues are related also in the sense that torture and ill-treatment are often used to punish suspects who refuse or fail to provide money requested by the police officers. Typically, when somebody is being arrested and detained by the police, he or she will be asked to pay some money, which the police claim will be used for his or her meals or for other purposes. This practice is no doubt illegal as there is some money allocated by the government for all these things. Yet a suspect does not have many choices, as refusing to pay such money results in torture and ill treatment.

Nepal: Just as it is in any other jurisdiction where torture is not a crime, law enforcement agencies who engage in torture with impunity understandably use torture for extortion. The lack of discipline, poor wages, and rampant corruption are other factors that work as catalysts, encouraging state agents to extort favours in cash and kind from civilians. Private individuals to extort money from other citizens also utilize the threat of torture by the state agencies. Pakistan: Torture and extortion are well connected. The aim of torture is not only about getting information; in general, the purpose is extortion. People pay bribes so that, even if they are still tortured, that torture is to a lesser degree. After taking accused persons into custody, police do not formally arrest him/her for some days and ask for bribes to file cases in which bail is possible (bailable offences) and, if the bribe is not paid, then the person is arrested under a heinous crime as the punishment for not bribing the police.

The Philippines: Partly yes. Historically, torture has been used for the suppression of dissent - notably against communists and Muslim rebels. After the fall of Marcos in 1986, in addition to politically motivated torture cases, more and more non-political torture cases are coming to the surface, like police torture for purposes of extorting money. I do think that there is a correlation between torture and extortion; however, an understanding of torture for the purposes of extortion is not well developed in the Filipinos’ consciousness. It is not clearly understood. It explains why there is no sufficient documentation on this as well. Sri Lanka: Torture and extortion are deeply linked. There is a heavy criminalisation of the police, who are suspected of kidnappings and murder for hire. By threatening to torture people, police can make money by conniving with complainants or taking money from relatives of the suspects. There is no efficient mechanism to deal with police extortion. Thailand: Police corruption is common. There are no effective means to combat corruption in general and, naturally, the policing system is seriously affected by corruption.

Question 3: In your country, does the government have the political will to stop torture?

Bangladesh: 'Political will' is absent in Bangladesh to end torture. The ruling political party have been ignoring the legislation entitled "Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Bill-2011" since March 2011, despite the fact that the Parliamentary Committee on Private Members' Bills and Resolutions recommended the Parliament to pass the Bill. The ruling political party promised to end the on-going human rights abuses and claimed that they would bring the perpetrators to justice in their election manifesto in 2008, but has done nothing so far. Burma: Yes, they say so, always mentioning that torture and inhuman treatment is illegal and against the Geneva Conventions. The Ministry of Home affairs renews the police discipline rules and regulations on paper, has some training with foreign government departments and receives training on international standards on interrogation. The police structure is somewhat changed. However, the District, State, and Division Police chiefs come from the army. That is why the practice of torture continues unabated in the country. Cambodia: The Cambodian government has not shown any will to improve justice institutions, including the police. The political system resists reforms leading towards the rule of law.

India: In a political environment where corruption and the proceeds of corruption form the denominators with which political allegiances are forged and governments formed, having a civilian police that is capable of scientifically and impartially investigating crimes is not an environment that politicians and other policy-makers would want to prevail in India. Hence, they expect the law enforcement agencies to remain corrupt, to be brutal to the ordinary citizen and to enforce all forms of state writ upon the people. This leaves a narrow common space for politically questioning state actions. In the absence of any policy to reform the police from what it is today in India, to a civilian police that is fit to serve the requirements of a fast-advancing democracy, torture will remain the single largest impediment to the establishment of the rule of law. Having no policy of reforms is the policy of the government.

Indonesia: The Indonesian government does not have the will to stop the practice of torture. In addition to the fact that torture remains widespread as of today, the government’s lack of will can be seen conclusively from the fact that torture is yet to be criminalised and the fact that there is no effective and adequate protection provided for victims or their families who wish to file a complaint against police officers engaged in such abuse. The government has been planning to revise the current Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, which - if the current draft is enacted- may give some contribution towards the elimination of torture. Yet this revision plan has remained merely a plan for years without certainty about whether it will be enacted. Nepal: The government does not have the capacity or the political will to contain any form of crime, including the practice of torture committed by law enforcement agencies. The government fears the possibility that law enforcement agents may collectively revolt against the state if the government tries to discipline state agencies. In addition, the scandalous corruption of politicians who play pivotal roles in conceiving and implementing state policies facilitates corruption in state offices. Pakistan: We have not observed any serious effort from the authorities to stop torture. The present president was tortured severely. Yet, his political party has not initiated any effort to make a law against custodial torture throughout its five years in office.

The Philippines: Partly yes, but the government is also consciously aware that if they push too much, there will be strong resistance. Those in the police and the military are still very much the same people who were involved in widespread and systematic torture during the Marcos period. They remained unpunished. The Government knows the limit of their ‘political will’. Sri Lanka: The government connives to maintain a bad policing system as it benefits most politicians. There is no will at all to implement the law against torture. Investigations into allegations of torture have been stopped. There is no implementation of the recommendations of the CAT Committee or UN agencies. Thailand: Despite repeated attempts by victims and human rights defenders to push the Thai government to take action to stop torture, to date they have not done so. The supposed independent institution tasked with redressing complaints of torture by state officials -- the National Anti-Corruption Commission -- lacks both the will and the capacity to complete carry out its work. The judiciary has actively foreclosed the rights of victims by allowing state officials who have had complaints of torture filed against them to press charges against victims for bringing the complaints.

Question 4: Is it correct to say that without through police reform torture will continue to exist?

Bangladesh: It is impossible to get protection from torture without a thorough reform of the policing system and judicial system in Bangladesh. Burma: In order to eliminate torture in criminal cases in the long term, Burma’s police force should undergo drastic reforms. The police force relies on the “systemic” practice of “extreme” torture of people held on criminal charges. The judiciary should be independent and strengthened. Cambodia: Without a basic reform of the system of justice as a whole, there is no way to stop the use of torture at the police stations and in the prisons. Despite a new constitution being adopted in 1993, the old system of administration remains powerful and the separation of powers principle is not practically recognized, though it is in the constitution. Without basic reforms in this area, torture will continue to be practiced.

India: Yes Indonesia: It is certainly correct. The current legal setting in Indonesia gives much space for the police to torture individuals with impunity. The police can detain suspects for over 60 days without any judicial supervision. If any abuse happens during this period and the victims wish to file a complaint, they can only report it to the police, who are unlikely to do anything about it, as they themselves are the perpetrators. The reforms needed are not only those, which are legalistic and formal, but also those that are able to address substantive issues. For instance, although today the police are institutionally separated from the prosecutors and the judiciary, and when it comes to torture cases their power seems to be extended up to the prosecution and trial stages. They can influence the prosecutors and the judges. In rare instances when police officers who practice torture are criminally prosecuted and tried, the punishment has been excessively lenient and the judgment does not reflect what actually happened.

Nepal: Reforming the police is a subject that must be approached from different perspectives. It includes resources, training, changes in the legal framework within which the police force operates, including accountability, and the criminalisation of torture. Since the status quo facilitates corruption and all forms of non-accountability in government, people in power do not want to bring in civilian policing in Nepal. Pakistan: Torture will, to some extent, cease if police reforms are implemented. However, until the civil society resists and protests against the practice of torture, it cannot be stopped. When we fight against torture, it is actually fighting against the mind set in which it is thought that without this punishment society cannot be purified. Well-off persons bribe the police to torture their employees, servants or subordinates. Another issue is that police officers will lose their opportunity to demand and accept bribes. Other important reason for persistent use of torture is the fear of the powerful in Pakistan, that without the fear of torture, the people of Pakistan cannot be kept under oppression and that they will be free from fear that would help them think free.

The Philippines: Yes. It should start within the police establishment. Before 1986, our police and military functioned and operated as the same entity. They received similar training. After 1986, the police and military were structurally separated. However, despite formal separation, they still function as they did under Marcos. In theory, our policing is civilian, but in practice, it is not. Sri Lanka: It is entirely correct. However, due to constitutional changes made by the government by adopting the 18th Amendment to the constitution, no police reform can happen without constitutional reform. Thus, until such reforms take place, police torture will remain a serious problem in Sri Lanka. Thailand: What is required is a thorough police reform, concomitant reform of the judiciary, and extensive grassroots human rights education will be necessary. The police must radically shift their approach to fighting crime and dealing with alleged perpetrators. The accused is often treated as guilty until proven innocent, and this leads to a dangerous dehumanisation. This facilitates torture and simultaneously creates challenges for redressing it.

A Korean Human Rights scholar gives a special lecture on current issue

By Salai Thang
Staff Reporter
Jan 18, 2013

Prof. Hyo-Je Cho(C) with attendees in his lecture

A South Korean Human Rights scholar, Prof. Hyo-Je Cho gave a special lecture on current issues at the Amnesty International office in Seoul on Jan 12, 2013. He teachs human rights subjects in Sungkonghoe University in Seoul.

At the lecture he covered various topics, such as inter-Korea relations and prospects for peace, U.S. military bases in South Korea, migrant workers' rights, the rights of marriage migrants, LGBTI rights in South Korea, the struggle against the naval base in Gangjeong, past-dealing and historical clarification in regards to the Jeju Massacre (April 3), monoculture and multiculturalism in Korea, differentiating freedom of speech from hate speech, and the women's rights movement in South Korea.

Prof. Cho argued Jeju Massacre is connected to South Korea nation building during 1945 and 1950. However, he doesn’t agree that Korean is a homogenous people.

He condemned Japanese government not admits about confort women issue, which is the consequence of Japanese colonization. In fact, Japan has a vision to be a champion of Asia.

South Korea had a serious dictatorship problem in 1970s to 1980 which violated many human rights in the country. Nowadays, since 2008, conservative party continues undermining human rights, Prof. Cho said. In the election, President Lee Myung-bak was slogan as a market based conservative and Park Geun-hye is as anti-communist conservative, they were contested for presidency at the time, but President Lee was elected. But now, Park Geun-hye is also elected for president.

Inter-Korea relation, conservative hardly promote for relationship, said Prof Cho. On the other hand, North Korean’s constitution was based on Starlin order.

In case of same sex marriage, Prof. Cho comments there are a few cases, approximately 10%, exist in Korea history, but he just concerns for the cause of human rights of gay and lesbian.

The conflict in Northern Myanmar’s Kachin state pours thousands of Refugees at China’s boarder

By Salai Thang
Staff Reporter
Jan 4, 2013

Ethnic refugees running away for safety

As the latest report, there were thousands of refugees in Sino-Burma boarder in the Northern part of Myanmar’s Kachin state as the result of Myanmar’s army offensive attack against Kachin Ethnic (KIA).

According to Dr. Gerhard Baumgard, the situation in Kachin State is more desperate than ever. A friend just sent me the following information over the weekend: “… As I'm sure you know there is fierce fighting in Kachin State with the government using Russian-made Mi24/35 Hind helicopter gunships and air-to-ground attack aircraft (K-8 Karakorams made in China) for the first time ever in the history of the civil war. As usual, the UN in Rangoon is doing nothing…I was there about a month ago and wrote this – “More war than peace in Myanmar.”

He further said, the fighting intensified after that and the main assault was launched – on Christmas Eve, against a Christian people. This military campaign won't solve anything, just lead to ethnic hatred. Kachins I know say that "we don't want to feel that way, we know it's wrong to be anti-Burmese because of this, but we can't help it.

The military backed government doesn’t want genuine ceasefire but just surrender of Ethnic army(KIA), only one way. Actually, KIA wants political dialogue but Myanmar military government wants a war solution, said KIA General Dukaba Gunhtang Gam Shawng.

He boldly said at the interviewed, we, Kachin ethnic, are Christian we don’t like religious restriction in Kachin state, such as restriction on Church building. He accused Satan who works among Burmese military in-order to attack offensively to us. The cruel Burmese military doesn’t even want to received back theirs prisoners of war, which KIA is willing to return back them.

General Gunhtang determines to defend the ethnic Kachin people until the end even they are the only group remained and the rest of ethnic groups went for ceasefire, because KIA has a bitter experienced for the last 17 years ceasefire with untrustworthy Burmese military.

Many people warned current Ethnic ceasefire groups, "don't look only for an apportunity, also beware of Burmese military's trap." Senior Ethnic politician and expert from around the world also unhappy with the way Ethnic ceasefire groups dealing, and a Political Scientist argued it is just as a substitution of previous ceasfire groups, no genuine progress in political and structure changes for future nation building. The ceasfire groups are still lack of political knowledge.

General Gunhtang thanks God for helping during the war, in fact, which makes more unity among Kachin people, and even they can secure enough supplies, including financial and weapons which his army is in need, plus, to feed thousands of refugees. As Chief of KIA's Army, General Gunhtang prays at least three times a day and read at least one chapter of the Bible.

Book Reivew: “Escape from North Korea” by Melanie Kirkpatrick

By Barry Welsh
Staff Writer
Dec 14, 2012

Shin Dong-hyuk(2nd L)

Melanie Kirkpatrick, a former deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal, has written a powerful and meticulously researched new book – ‘Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad’ – on the desperate plight of North Korean refugees who attempt to escape their homeland by crossing the border into China. Kirkpatrick describes the arduous and often highly dangerous route these refugees must take to cross China in order to reach freedom in South Korea or elsewhere. She draws a parallel between the African American slaves in America 150 years ago (who used a so-called ‘underground railroad’ consisting of hidden paths and secret safe houses to escape slavery) and the North Korean refugees attempting to flee through China.

This new Underground Railroad starts at the North Korean border and takes several routes through China to a variety of third countries including Burma, Mongolia and ultimately South Korea. It comprises a loose network of Christian missionaries, humanitarian aid workers, people traffickers and dubious brokers who will help but for often exorbitant fees. The North Koreans who travel the Underground Railroad are fleeing a different kind of slavery; they are escaping from the world’s most unbending totalitarian political system. Kim Jong Eun’s North Korea is, like his father and grandfather’s before him, a modern-day slave state in which basic human rights such as the freedoms of speech, movement and religion are almost entirely denied.

There are several well known escapees who have successfully travelled the Underground Railroad. They include Shin Dong-hyuk, a young man who was born inside one of North Korea’s notorious political prison camps, who escaped to South Korea despite having almost no knowledge of the outside world. Shin Dong-hyuk’s inhumane upbringing was detailed in Blaine Harden’s book ‘Escape from Camp 14.’ There are also South Korean prisoners of war like Yoo Young-bok who make the journey and who recounted his story in an autobiography entitled 'Tears of Blood.' Mr. Yoo had been a prisoner of war for 50 years before, at 70 years of age, he crossed the Tumen River in a small boat to begin his journey on the railroad. He too eventually found safety in South Korea.

The audience at the gathering

However, there are many other men, women and children whose stories are less celebrated who also make the journey in search of food and happiness. Joseph Kim was a teenager who chose the auspicious date of Kim Jong Il’s birthday to escape by desperately running to the Tumen river and wading across. All his family members had either died of starvation or disappeared without trace. His escape was motivated by hunger. He was lucky; as he staggered into a small Chinese village on the other side of the river he was told to find a church and from there his journey on the underground railroad began.

Whereas Joseph was motivated by hunger Kim Cheol Woong, a celebrated concert pianist in his homeland, was motivated by a desire to play music. The regime had forbidden him from playing jazz music. He paid a broker to take him to China and worked there for a year in several menial jobs. He was eventually caught trying to use a forged South Korea passport to leave the country and put in a Chinese jail. As the Chinese authorities were transporting him back to North Korea he escaped by leaping from a moving train and eventually he too made it to South Korea.

Many are not so lucky. Kirkpatrick highlights the vulnerability and exploitation that North Korean women in particular often experience. Some brokers prey on and manipulate female refugees into prostitution or forced marriages with Chinese farmers by threatening to turn them over to the authorities. These women, even those who ‘marry’ Chinese farmers, have no rights in the eyes of Chinese law and are often given to the authorities if they fail to satisfy their husbands or handlers.

The plight of children conceived from these forced marriages is also terrible. The so-called ‘half-and-half’ children that result from such unions are often refused citizenship, denied an education, deprived of medical support and are regularly abandoned or separated from mothers who are repatriated to North Korea. Some of the most awful stories contained in the book concern the punishments suffered by North Korean women who are repatriated to North Korea and discovered to be pregnant by Chinese men. Most are given violent forced abortions. Kirkpatrick describes one story of a heavily pregnant woman who was forced to run in a circle until she collapsed and had a miscarriage.

The ‘conductors’ who help refugees along the underground railroad, be they Christian missionary, unscrupulous broker, or humanitarian aid worker, also risk their wellbeing, even in some cases their lives, and likely face imprisonment if they are caught by Chinese police or North Korean agents. The road is dangerous for everyone involved. Despite these dangers it is estimated that around 20,000 have made the journey in the last ten years. There is no way of knowing how many North Koreans remain in China either too scared to take their chances on the railroad or simply unaware of its existence.

Much scorn is directed at the policies of the Chinese, American and South Korean governments towards the North Korean refugees. Most of Kirkpatrick’s anger is directed at the Chinese policies that make the railroad so dangerous for the prospective passengers. She strongly criticises the Chinese governments much condemned policy of not recognizing North Koreans as political refugees and their policy of forced repatriation. Further criticism is levelled at the Chinese authorities who enable the trafficking of female refugees who are often powerless to resist brokers and traders.

Fears are mounting that Kim Jeong Eun has made efforts to stem the tide of escapees by issuing shoot to kill orders to the guards along the Tumen River. There has been a significant decline in the number of refugees who have entered China in recent months prompting growing concern from the humanitarian groups in the region. As such Melanie Kirkpatrick’s book is a timely wakeup call that seeks to shine a light on egregious human rights violations that are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Review by Barry Welsh

Book Review: “Tears of Blood” by Yoo Young-Bok

By Barry Welsh
Staff Writer
Dec 6, 2012

Young-Bok Yoo(C)

'Tears of Blood' tells the remarkable story of Young-Bok Yoo, the eldest son of a family torn apart in the aftermath of the Korean War. Mr. Yoo was separated from his father and sister for most of his adult life. He was finally reunited with them in South Korea after almost 50 years, when in 2000 he escaped from North Korea as a 70 year old man.

Tear of Blood is a moving eyewitness account that takes the reader inside the painful history of North and South Korea in the second half of the 20th century. Mr. Yoo’s life story embodies the human cost of the division of Korea after the Korean War.

In simple, spare yet honest language he carefully details the many abuses he suffered as a Prisoner of War for 50 years inside North Korea. Alongside approximately 60,000 other South Korean Prisoners of War he was denied repatriation, exploited as a labourer, constantly monitored, forced to endure self criticism sessions, suffered from tuberculosis and famine. Even amidst the awful conditions he describes what shines through is his overwhelming humanity and commitment to his family and loved ones.

Attendees at the 10th book club

The title ‘Tears of Blood’ is a Korean saying used when witnessing the pain of loved ones. His story is ultimately a moving testament to the human capacity for hope; it reveals how a human life can be shaped by the historical forces beyond our control.

There is a second inspiring, hopeful story behind this clear and precise English translation. The translator Paul T. Kim is a 16 year old Korean-American high school student. He was on holiday in Seoul visiting his grandparents when he was introduced to Mr. Yoo’s Korean language autobiography by his grandmother.

In the introduction he describes how he felt it must be translated for an international audience. He was correct. This is a story that needs to be heard. If you are interested in the history of Korea or the history of human rights then this is an essential text that deserves to be read by many people.

An interview with North Korea defector, Shin Dong-hyuk

By Barry Welsh
Staff Writer
Oct 30, 2012

Shin Dong-hyuk(2nd L)

Shin Dong-hyuk was 24 years old when he escaped from North Korea. Unlike many other defectors he was born inside one of North Korea’s notorious political prison camps. He was born into slavery, exploited as expendable labour, taught nothing of the outside world, tortured and, at the age of 14, witnessed the executions of his brother and mother; executions that happened as a result of his own actions. Five years have passed from the time he escaped and made his way to South Korea. In that time he has worked for an NGO and tried to come to terms with the events of his childhood. His life story was turned into a bestselling book, ‘Escape from Camp 14’, by Blaine Harden. Since its publication he has travelled the world telling his story. Last month he joined the 10 Magazine Book Club in Seoul to answer questions about his life in North Korea and how he is coming to terms with freedom.

1. What compels you to tell your story?

I think the answer is the same as why you are reading the book. The only thing I can do about North Korea is tell my story to others; it was, it is now, and it will be all I can do in the future too. I need your help and I think the people who are still living in the camp now really need your help more. You may want to find some key or some solution to help change and save North Korea from me. I think this is a waste of your time if you wanted that from me. The only thing that I can do here is tell you how much pain the prisoners in the camps are feeling. If you sympathise with me and you think the things I say are right then it is you who has to act.

2. What is the main Human Rights issue in North Korea?

Some people say that the reason so many people are starving to death in North Korea and suffering in the prison camps is because they are stupid. Is there anyone who agrees with this reason? No one said this when Nazis killed so many people during the holocaust. When that brutal thing happened people all over the world felt responsible. However, everybody thinks the North Korean problem is just a problem inside North Korea. International organisations just think they cannot help this problem. This is the human rights problem in North Korea. I cannot say that the problem can be solved by the North Koreans and it cannot be solved with South Korean help. The only hope is from the international community.

3. How do you respond to people who say your story is unbelievable or that you can’t verify the details?

Some people say to me they were shocked reading the book; it is unbelievable. I agree with them. It must be hard for people like you living in this peaceful place to understand life in the camp. However, all the cruel things you can’t believe or imagine have happened in the camps. I used to think people would think my story is unbelievable. I visited London in 2010. I had lunch with a person from the International Criminal Court. After listening to my story from beginning to end he said ‘I am really shocked to hear your story but there is nothing that I can do for you now. But if you have evidence I can help you.’ Everybody says this to me. The only thing I can do is tell my story and show you the scars I have. I want to say that when you find the evidence it is too late to do something. What could you do after you saw the evidence of the holocaust? What could you do after you watched the people die in the Cambodian killing fields? So I ask these questions to the people who require evidence. What can you do after you see the evidence? Punish the criminal? The reason I am telling my story is not to punish the criminals or save the people who are already dead. The only thing I want to do is save the people who are still living now. The important thing is not finding evidence; it is to figure out how we can save people in North Korea now. You can only find evidence when the thing is finished.

4. How have you changed since the book was published?

I arrived in South Korea in 2006. So for five years I have worked as a human rights activist. However, for five years I have told my story to everyone around me. I have not changed in five years. Though it is slow I can see there is a change around me in the international community. Many people now are starting to think seriously about the many human rights problems in North Korea. I have not changed at all and I have been telling the same story for five years. But I can see there is some change in the environment.

5. Do you ever regret telling your story?

I have regret. Is there anyone who wants to be famous by revealing their own scars? I feel that no one wants to be famous by revealing their privacy and past in this way. More and more I talk about my story and so more and more I feel pain. It is really hard for me to tell you my story because I also feel pain when I tell it. Sometimes I imagine what I would be like if I was born in America or some other foreign country. It is only because I was born in the camp that it has become my destiny to reveal my scars and my past to people around the world. If I had been born in South Korea I would be someone like you, sitting in this place listening to some other guy. It is both my fortune and my misfortune.

6. Why do you think the English language book was more successful than the Korean language book about your life story?

I published my book in 2007. I wrote that book on my own so maybe I was not that skilful or maybe South Korean people are not that interested in this topic. ‘Escape from Camp 14’ is now really popular and has become a best seller so I think Blaine Harden is a skilful writer who makes you sympathise with and understand this story well. However, both books are the same story. The readers, who have read this book, whether in Korean or English, are all shocked. However, I have thought of some reason. A church invited me to give a speech in front of some young people. While giving the speech I had an argument with them. They were angry with me because I talked about South Korean society. ‘Why,’ they said, ‘are you angry with South Korean society? You lived in a prison camp, so the only thing you should do is tell your story about living in this place. You should not criticise South Korea society.’ I thought at that time they are not coming here to figure out how to solve the North Korea problem, they just came to enjoy my pain. So I thought, ‘why am I sitting here telling my story to this type of people?’ Though I am the one who experienced this life it is still unbelievable to me. I only lived 24 years inside the camp. There are some people who live for 30 years, 40 years, and 50 years inside the camp. And the things that you think are so cruel and so unbelievable; those things are nothing to me. My story is just a part of the truth compared to the people who are still living there.

7. What do you think ordinary people in South Korea, or America, or the rest of the world can do about this issue?

I am always asked this question. As I told you the only thing I can do is just tell you my story. I don’t have an answer about what you should do or what kind of help you can give to North Korean people. However, I think that if you have read this book you know the answer. Anybody who witnessed the holocaust would think it should not happen again. After listening to what happened in Cambodia you will think it should not happen again. After listening to these kinds of stories you will have tried to figure out a solution. I think you know what ‘slave’ means. When someone becomes a slave he will think of himself as a slave until he dies. There is nothing that they can do as a slave. They take it for granted that their sons and daughters will be slaves too. The ones who can save the slaves are you guys who are reading this book and have no relationship with the slaves. Because in your perspective, living an ordinary life, you may think that you should do something. I think not only the people who are living in the prison camps but all North Korean people are also slaves of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-un.

8. What is the general opinion of the prisoners in the camps and North Korean people in general of South Korea and the international community?

Though I lived in North Korea I had no idea about what type of system North Korea had. The only thing I knew in the camp was that, as a slave, I should live as a slave until I died and my sons and daughters should live as slaves as well. I had no idea where South Korea is, where the West is, where Japan is. I heard some information about these things after, from the news, but not from people around me.

9. What was the transition from North Korean society to South Korean society like? Do you still think you are a slave?

I feel embarrassed when I am telling my story. Six years have passed since I left the camp. I count myself as six years old. Actually I still have no idea about human rights or democracy. I have no interest in those terms; to express my ideas I just the term ‘freedom’. Until I finish this job, telling my story around the world, my pain will not stop and I will still be six years old. The only reason I am telling my story is to show you that the North Korean dictators are bad. Many thousands of people around the world say words like ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ so I have heard these terms. You guys all know the meaning of the term 'democracy'. I think this term, ‘democracy’, can be used by a horse or a dog. Anybody can use this term. Even dictators use the term ‘democracy’. They use democracy to hide themselves and make their dictatorship seem better. Most dictators use the term democracy. Although I have not heard about this concept in any school or institution, I think the word ‘freedom’ is a word even dictators cannot use for hiding their dictatorship.

10. Do you think you will ever overcome your trauma?

I still have trauma and suffer from memories. This trauma is really painful. There is no solution to this trauma. I think this kind of thing will not heal until I die. So I have no choice, I have no choice. Even if I quit this job and just go to the mountain and hide myself it will not help at all. Even if I go to the hospital and get treatment it will not help at all. I escaped from the camp after living 24 years there. Now I am living in peace, eating what I want and wearing the clothes that I want. This is the only thing that I am satisfied with. I will do this job until I die while suffering from this pain or until the people who are suffering in North Korea get their freedom. I think my pain is so much less than the people who are suffering in North Korea now. I think this suffering is just a kind of destiny that I cannot resist.

This article also appeared in 10 Magazine (

Hartsell lecture at Thammasat University: Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology 2012

Oct 27, 2012

Layne Hartsell

Let me check again, can you hear me in the back over there…. ..Yes, ok?

I am very happy for the faculty to allow me to give a talk to you today. I will give a short talk, and then in the future, return to give a longer, more detailed talk. I teach at SKKU in the language institute and in bioscience. My research is in nanoscience and access to technologies. Currently, writing a paper with a physics professor at Sungkyunkwan Advanced Institute of Nanotechnology.

You may know of SKKU because of the famous television drama called SKKU scandal. It shows college students attending school, but about 400 years ago... Ha ha! Yes, I see you know the show. Ok, that is the school, but of course looks a lot different today.

The role I’m moving into, would be a researcher or philosopher in ethics and technology, with training is in biomedicine. So, your presentations on brain injury, thermoplastics, and even on the biochemistry of human sexuality I found to be interesting and understood quite a bit of it.

Recently, I am doing some things which are exciting to me in bionanoscience: especially biobatteries, medicines and renewable energy. Let me start with science and knowledge, then get to ethics. [On the board is the outline]

KNOWLEDGE, TECHNOLOGY AND ACCESS A view on science and ethics today Pythagoros/Democritus ----->Newton----->David Deutsche Buddha ----->Kant----->Pogge

How many of you know this person [pointing to Pythagoras or Democritus] How about this person [pointing to Newton] Yes, everyone knows... How about this person [pointing to David Deutsche] No?...ok, he is one of the world's leading physicists.

Ok, how about his second row of people Do you know this person [pointing to the Buddha] Yes, yes, of course, this is Thailand, right? How about this person [pointing to Kant]

No...not many. Kant was one of the leading thinkers in the Enlightenment Period and is still influential today, and why we can think about ethics categories and synthesis as we do. Pythagoras goes way back, more than 2,000 years...when you were young, you learned this one [draws a right triangle] Taking a look at Pythagoras [drawing a right triangle and pointing to the hypotenuse]

What is this?

Yes, the hypotenuse, and if you square all sides of the triangle you get a theorem or mathematical formula which has been useful and accurate up until today. Does anyone in here disagree with Pythagoras? [students erupt into laughter]

Yes, of course we agree with him and with Newton on many things. We would not walk into this concrete building with any confidence if it were not for Pythagoras or Newton and a basic reason. There is a reason why, which we accept everyday, unconsciously. There is uniformity in logic, mathematics and of course nature. This uniformity of nature lies at the very center of our attempts to understand the world and to live in it. The understanding we develop is called scientific epistemology.

When we move from Newton up to Deutsche we see the underpinnings of why and how it is possible for us to consider blood flow in the brain, fluid dynamics in the arteries, body 'mechanics.' [but also higher order emergent ‘things’]

When, as undergraduates we are bored with mathematics and physics and chemistry, it is because we cannot yet see how it fits together into a process of knowledge development or a nexus of knowledge. This is the scientific epistemology, which simply means a refined way that we generate and understand knowledge. [most scientific ideas are actually not taken into experimentation because many can be eliminated through thought experiments]

But there is a problem with knowledge or there can be. Matter and energy are two major scientific problems that need to be solved. And, can be in various ways. [David Deutsche writes that even in remote space there is plenty of matter, just less density, thus, there should be no reason why things could not be created anywhere in the known universe]

In philosophy, the physicist Greene writes that the two major theories of general relativity and quantum theory leave a send of incompleteness and thus need to be unified. And, Galileo, Newton, and Hume understood clearly that the term ‘machine’ was just for modeling.

Thus, we are left with incomplete knowledge. However, in this incomplete knowledge there is much to do. And, new knowledge is emerging almost daily, some which I believe will transform the way we live life, even for the very poor. This information is something to keep in mind when studying science, and this is information which goes way back in science, hinted at by Galileo and Newton, elucidated by Hume and then clarified by Mach, Einstein, Bohr and Deutsche.


Currently, in my work I am looking at what is called synthesis and analysis, something you do each day as a normal part of reasoning, of how nanoscience is being developed in the basic sciences, who is controlling the methods and products of the science, and how do we create access as a matter of global justice. Global justice is the recognition of the right of each person to a decent way of life which honors physical, emotional, psychological, religious, and cultural needs. It is based in the UN 1948 Human Rights Doctrine, but is not limited to that document

First of all, the science. The term nano, you know is around 10-9 …In the research, nanotechnology operates from around 10-7 to 10-9. If you go to the pico level...can anyone tell me about that?

Student: 10-12 That's right, so you understand the conceptualization of size and what we are dealing with.

Therefore, much research already being done today, such as in biotechnology, using x-ray diffraction, and DNA manipulation is actually nanoscience. I call this early nanoscience. There is much hype about nanoscience, but it is commonplace in the labs around the world today. The next level or mature nanoscience which you hear about mostly because of the hype, is the nanotechnology of tomorrow, perhaps 15 years from now, where actual atoms can be consistently moved around and control over self-assembling entities can form. [currently RNA assembly of proteins is a good example of natural processes] This is not an easy task because of nuclear forces at the atomic level and Van de Waals forces on the molecular level. Nevertheless, scientists believe that given the current rate of research, many astounding things will occur. Let me talk about a couple more reasonable applications:


In bionanoscience there are two interesting things I am looking at, at the moment, one is the development of medically related projects like biobatteries, and the other is the development of new energy systems, such as through reverse engineering of photosynthesis or developing various biological materials which absorb light at better efficiencies than silicon. In the case of the biobattery, a nanodevice can be placed in the diaphragm which is the large muscle under the rib cage and lungs, and which is under both autonomic and sympathetic control to keep us breathing. That muscle is in constant motion and thus would automatically deform a nanomaterial placed on it. I think in this case, scientists are using graphene which is an opened up nanotube. The electrical charge which is generated can be connected to a device on the node of the heart where there is a bundle of nerves which cause the heart to pump – a pacemaker. Sometimes, this pacemaker doesn't work, so surgeons can insert an artificial pacemaker which can be powered by a biobattery. Currently, an actually battery must be inserted into the body, such as sublclavial, (here) at the collar bone and then attached to a pacemaker. The battery has to be removed every few years.

Piezotronics - Ambient energy Another, very interesting area I am looking at is called piezoelectronics which indicates a developing body of research on how to 'pick up' various forms of ambient or environmental energy. As you know from thermodynamics, energy transforms but is not lost, therefore, each movement we make or each movement made by anything, a truck, a tree, your shoes releases energy in some form. Let’s take for example your shoes. When you walk, you create compression on the composite in the sole of your shoe. Each time you put your foot down, there is deformation and each time you raise your foot is an re-formation of the material. You can calculate the forces and directions of the forces along with the energy in each step. What piezoelectronics does is use what are known as Wurtzite crystals which are crystals which deform and then produce an electric charge when deformation occurs. Now, these are very small electrical charges, but they add up over the course of a day. It is my guess that students on a college campus take at least 10,000 steps per day, so that adds up to a bit of energy which at the end of the day could be used to charge your cellphone. This example, is a real example and there are many others just like it today.

One of the main issues is as John Weckert in Australia puts it, is that we must take necessary precautions, in the face of potential existential threats from the development of technology. This is where ethics comes into science. And, there is another aspect as well, about who will have access to technology.


If for example, we look at the teachings of the Buddha we see the Eightfold Noble Path and the ethics of how we interrelate with each other and all sentient beings. When we think of ethics we can think of the question, ‘what is a good life?’ and morals as in how we relate to each other. I would add that global justice is a matter of large scale investigation on the part of our relationship to others as a matter of justice found in basic duties and obligations. Simply put, it is about making accessible the essential and basic needs for living, for each person. For many, in fact the largest part of humanity, they either suffer from not enough access to technologies, or none at all, such as in malaria medicines.

An important aspect is in the development of what I call qualified technologies which are developed for those in need, under specific conditions. Since malaria is a major issue, then I would argue that there should be wealth, knowledge and technology directed at creating access to life saving and life maintenance medicines. And, if such action is not taken it is a moral duty to do something.

Another important point, is the development of new energy technologies to address the issue of climate change. You may know that they majority of the emissions problem has been created in the rich countries, and thus there is a moral obligation to act in a number of ways, the types of duties I will distinguish for you below.

First of all, the idea many are working with is what I call Peer-to-Peer Collaborations between developed countries, and developing and undeveloped countries. This can best occur with open sharing of knowledge and technology.

For ethics, from Kant and then up to political philosophy in Rawls and Pogge, they have shown not only how we can think in certain ways, but how we can universalize and generalize human rights, think about time and space, and learn how to form a synthesis in thought. In fact, the conceptual development during the Enlightenment, as mentioned, allows us to think scientifically and ethically as we do today. Thomas Pogge follows the same course, and expands Kant's and Rawl's work into a universalized and generalized manner such as to address the most basic needs of humanity. One note is that Global Justice is to be differentiated from charity. Charity might be useful in the case of a major catastrophe, such as the tsunami which was a very sad event for Thailand. Global Justice is a matter of addressing needs which are unmet because of human negligence, complicity or even aggression.

There are three steps in justice: 1. Negative duties are to stop committing injustices, including our lifestyles 2. To correct injustices through action to stop or reparation 3. To lend a hand where needed

Using these three basic steps of global justice, Thomas Pogge asks, and answers: Who Owes What to the Very Poor? and has an interesting article on the topic. That is the extent of ethics. I had better wind up here, because lunch is approaching.

Let me finish with a comment that The work I am doing is to see what science is being done and for what applications. Then, as a matter of global justice, evaluate what technologies can be qualified for technology transfer both from within the university to society, or between advanced technological nation-states to less advanced, e.g. Australia and Cambodia.

*adaptation from the full talk at Thammasatt

Lee Kuan Yew On Getting the Best out of Life

Special Contribution
By Subramaniam Masilamany
Oct 6, 2012

Lee Kuan Yew

“The human being needs a challenge, and my advice to every person in Singapore and elsewhere: Keep yourself interested, have a challenge. ...If you’re not interested in the world and the world is not interested in you, the biggest punishment a man can receive is total isolation in a dungeon, black and complete withdrawal of all stimuli, that’s real torture.”

MY CONCERN today is, what is it I can tell you which can add to your knowledge about aging and what aging societies can do. You know more about this subject than I do. A lot of it is out in the media, Internet and books. So I thought the best way would be to take a personal standpoint and tell you how I approach this question of aging. If I cast my mind back, I can see turning points in my physical and mental health.

You know, when you’re young, I didn’t bother, assumed good health was God-given and would always be there. When I was about 57 that was – I was about 34, we were competing in elections, and I was really fond of drinking beer and smoking. And after the election campaign, in Victoria Memorial Hall – we had won the election, the City Council election – I couldn’t thank the voters because I had lost my voice. I’d been smoking furiously.

I’d take a packet of 10 to deceive myself, but I’d run through the packet just sitting on the stage, watching the crowd, getting the feeling, the mood before I speak. In other words, there were three speeches a night. Three speeches a night, 30 cigarettes, a lot of beer after that, and the voice was gone. I remember I had a case in Kuching, Sarawak . So I took the flight and I felt awful. I had to make up my mind whether I was going to be an effective campaigner and a lawyer, in which case I cannot destroy my voice, and I can’t go on.

So I stopped smoking. It was a tremendous deprivation because I was addicted to it. And I used to wake up dreaming…the nightmare was I resumed smoking. But I made a choice and said, if I continue this, I will not be able to do my job. I didn’t know anything about cancer of the throat, or oesophagus or the lungs, etc.

But it turned out it had many other deleterious effects. Strangely enough after that, I became very allergic, hyper-allergic to smoking, so much so that I would plead with my Cabinet ministers not to smoke in the Cabinet room.

You want to smoke, please go out, because I am allergic. Then one day I was at the home of my colleague, Mr Rajaratnam, meeting foreign correspondents including some from the London Times and they took a picture of me and I had a big belly like that (puts his hands in front of his belly), a beer belly.

I felt no, no, this will not do. So I started playing more golf, hit hundreds of balls on the practice tee. But this didn’t go down. There was only one way it could go down: consume less, burn up more.

Another turning point came in 1976, after the general election – I was feeling tired. I was breathing deeply at the Istana, on the lawns. My daughter, who at that time just graduating as a doctor, said: ‘What are you trying to do?’ I said: ‘I feel an effort to breathe in more oxygen.’ She said: ‘Don’t play golf. Run. Aerobics..’ So she gave me a book, quite a famous book and, then, very current in America on how you score aerobic points swimming, running, whatever it is, cycling. I looked at it sceptically. I wasn’t very keen on running. I was keen on golf.

So I said, ‘Let’s try’. So in-between golf shots while playing on my own, sometimes nine holes at the Istana, I would try and walk fast between shots. Then I began to run between shots. And I felt better. After a while, I said: ‘Okay, after my golf, I run.’ And after a few years, I said: ‘Golf takes so long. The running takes 15 minutes. Let’s cut out the golf and let’s run.’

I think the most important thing in aging is you got to understand yourself. And the knowledge now is all there. When I was growing up, the knowledge wasn’t there. I had to get the knowledge from friends, from doctors. But perhaps the most important bit of knowledge that the doctor gave me was one day, when I said: ‘Look, I’m feeling slower and sluggish.’

So he gave me a medical encyclopaedia and he turned the pages to aging. I read it up and it was illuminating. A lot of it was difficult jargon but I just skimmed through to get the gist of it. As you grow, you reach 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and then, thereafter, you are on a gradual slope down physically. Mentally, you carry on and on and on until I don’t know what age, but mathematicians will tell you that they know their best output is when they’re in their 20s and 30s when your mental energy is powerful and you haven’t lost many neurons. That’s what they tell me.

So, as you acquire more knowledge, you then craft a programme for yourself to maximise what you have. It’s just common sense. I never planned to live till 85 or 84.! I just didn’t think about it. I said: ‘Well, my mother died when she was 74, she had a stroke.. My father died when he was 94.’

But I saw him, and he lived a long life, well, maybe it was his DNA. But more than that, he swam every day and he kept himself busy! He was working for the Shell company. He was in charge, he was a superintendent of an oil depot.

When he retired, he started becoming a salesman. So people used to tell me: ‘Your father is selling watches at BP de Silva.’ My father was then living with me. But it kept him busy. He had that routine: He meets people, he sells watches, he buys and sells all kinds of semi-precious stones, he circulates coins. And he keeps going. But at 87, 88, he fell, going down the steps from his room to the dining room, broke his arm, three months incapacitated.

Thereafter, he couldn’t go back to swimming. Then he became wheelchair-bound. Then it became a problem because my house was constructed that way.

So my brother – who’s a doctor and had a flat (one-level) house – took him in. And he lived on till 94. But towards the end, he had gradual loss of mental powers. So my calculations, I’m somewhere between 74 and 94. And I’ve reached the halfway point now.

But have I? Well, 1996 when I was 73, I was cycling and I felt tightening on the neck. Oh, I must retire today. So I stopped. Next day, I returned to the bicycle. After five minutes it became worse.

So I said, no, no, this is something serious, it’s got to do with the blood vessels. Rung up my doctor, who said, ‘Come tomorrow’. Went tomorrow, he checked me, and said: ‘Come back tomorrow for an angiogram.’ I said: ‘What’s that ?’ He said: ‘We’ll pump something in and we’ll see whether the coronary arteries are cleared or blocked.’

I was going to go home. But an MP who was a cardiologist happened to be around, so he came in and said: ‘What are you doing here?’

I said: ‘I’ve got this.’ He said: ‘Don’t go home. You stay here tonight. I’ve sent patients home and they never came back. Just stay here. They’ll put you on the monitor. They’ll watch your heart. And if anything, an emergency arises, they will take you straight to the theatre. You go home. You’ve got no such monitor. You may never come back.’

So I stayed there. Pumped in the dye, yes it was blocked, the left circumflex, not the critical, lead one. So that’s lucky for me. Two weeks later, I was walking around, I felt it’s coming back. Yes it has come back, it had occluded. So this time they said: ‘We’ll put in a stent.’ I’m one of the first few in Singapore to have the stent, so it was a brand new operation.

Fortunately, the man who invented the stent was out here selling his stent. He was from San Jose, La Jolla something or the other. So my doctor got hold of him and he supervised the operation. He said put the stent in. My doctor did the operation, he just watched it all and then that’s that. That was before all this problem about lining the stent to make sure that it doesn’t occlude and create a disturbance.

So at each stage, I learnt something more about myself and I stored that. I said: ‘Oh, this is now a danger point.’ So all right, cut out fats, change diet, went to see a specialist in Boston, Massachusetts General Hospital. He said: ‘Take statins.’ I said: ‘What’s that?’ He said: ‘(They) help to reduce your cholesterol.’ My doctors were concerned. They said: ‘You don’t need it. Your cholesterol levels are okay.’

Two years later, more medical evidence came out. So the doctors said: ‘Take statins.’ Had there been no angioplasty, had I not known that something was up and I cycled on, I might have gone at 74 like my mother. So I missed that decline. So next deadline: my father’s fall at 87. I’m very careful now because sometimes when I turn around too fast, I feel as if I’m going to get off balance. So my daughter, a neurologist, she took me to the NNI, there’s this nerve conduction test, put electrodes here and there.

The transmission of the messages between the feet and the brain has slowed down. So all the exercise, everything, effort put in, I’m fit, I swim, I cycle. But I can’t prevent this losing of conductivity of the nerves and this transmission. So just go slow. So when I climb up the steps, I have no problem. When I go down the steps, I need to be sure that I’ve got something I can hang on to, just in case.

So it’s a constant process of adjustment. But I think the most important single lesson I learnt in life was that if you isolate yourself, you’re done for. The human being is a social animal – he needs stimuli, he needs to meet people, to catch up with the world. I don’t much like travel but I travel very frequently despite the jetlag, because I get to meet people of great interest to me,

who will help me in my work as Chairman of our GIC. So I know, I’m on several boards of banks, international advisory boards of banks, of oil companies and so on. And I meet them and I get to understand what’s happening in the world, what has changed since I was here one month ago, one year ago.

I go to India, I go to China. And that stimuli brings me to the world of today. I’m not living in the world, when I was active, more active 20, 30 years ago. So I tell my wife. She woke up late today. I said: ‘Never mind, you come along by 12 o’clock. I go first.’ If you sit back – because part of the ending part of the encyclopaedia which I read was very depressing – as you get old, you withdraw from everything and then all you will have is your bedroom and the photographs and the furniture that you know, and that’s your world.

So if you’ve got to go to hospital, the doctor advises you to bring some photographs so that you’ll know you’re not lost in a different world, that this is like your bedroom. I’m determined that I will not, as long as I can, to be reduced, to have my horizons closed on me like that. It is the stimuli, it is the constant interaction with people across the world that keeps me aware and alive to what’s going on and what we can do to adjust to this different world.

In other words, you must have an interest in life. If you believe that at 55, you’re retiring, you’re going to read books, play golf and drink wine, then I think you’re done for.

So statistically they will show you that all the people who retire and lead sedentary lives, the pensioners die off very quickly. So we now have a social problem with medical sciences, new procedures, new drugs, many more people are going to live long lives.. …. If the mindset is that when I reach retirement age 62, I’m old, I can’t work anymore, I don’t have to work, I just sit back, now is the time I’ll enjoy life,

I think you’re making the biggest mistake of your life. After one month, or after two months, even if you go traveling with nothing to do, with no purpose in life, you will just degrade, you’ll go to seed. The human being needs a challenge, and my advice to every person in Singapore and elsewhere:

Keep yourself interested, have a challenge. If you’re not interested in the world and the world is not interested in you, the biggest punishment a man can receive is total isolation in a dungeon, black and complete withdrawal of all stimuli, that’s real torture.

So when I read that people believe, Singaporeans say: ‘Oh, 62 I’m retiring.’ I say to them: ‘You really want to die quickly?’ If you want to see sunrise tomorrow or sunset, you must have a reason, you must have the stimuli to keep going..’ Have a purpose driven life and finish well, my friends.

2011 Jan - 2012 Sep