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January 7 & 10: from New York - Rome - The Hague - Port-au-Prince

Inside North Korea. Defectors tell stories of hunger and horror.

Italy's fascination with prime-time porn. Why TV there treats women like sex toys.

Some say you could raise billions to fight poverty and nobody would miss it.  Why won't governments go for it?

In Congo, paramilitaries stole an entire fifth grade and turned it into child soldiers.  We revisit the courtroom and the man back on trial for it.

And a story of self-help in Haiti -- which needs all the help it can get.

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The darkest nation

Arhuaco village, Colombia
Women standing in line for food at the Public Food Distribution Centre in Chongjin, North Korea. (World Food Program)

There are dogs that eat better than  doctors in North Korea do.

American journalist Barbara Demick knows that because she met a pediatrician who found out the hard way.

Demick is a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. She spent seven years documenting the dangers North Korea has unleashed upon the world. The nuclear threat. The famine. The prison camps.

But thanks to her interviews with several who defected, we now have a sense of what it was like to live under the volatile regimes of Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il.

They're in her new book, Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea.

Barbara, from New York....

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Nothing To Envy is published by Random House.

Arhuaco village, Colombia
A child in a North Korean orphanage. (World Food Program)


Since 2001, it's estimated that more than 100,000 North Koreans have defected. Next June will be the 60th anniversary of the Korean War -- which technically isn't over. The two sides signed a truce, but not a peace treaty.


Photo Gallery: North Korea - a gallery of 12 images related to the interview with Barbara Demick

Bimba Italiana

Picture this. Long day at work. You get home. Flop on the couch. Flip on the TV. And there's a woman hanging on a hook, her backside posed to look like one of the hams on other hooks around her.

Now that's entertainment in Italy, apparently.

Italians won't put up with nudity and degradation of women in public, but for some reason it's okay on television.

Whatever happened to the country's feminist movement?

Maybe a little decorum is too much to expect in a  country led by a prime minister with a famously roving eye -- who also controls all the TV networks.

We asked our Rome contributor, Megan Williams, to consider why women are seen -- naked -- but rarely heard, on Italian television.

Megan's dispatch...

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Il Corpo Delle Donne on YouTube.

A modest proposal to raise billions for aid

By all accounts, the model for international development isn't working too well.

There's a big debate about it in the foreign aid community.

Some say the model is broken. Others argue it's just underfunded. And they've got a scheme to raise billions without tapping any particular government's treasury.

It's a tax, as you might suspect. About .005% on currency transactions around the world.

The idea's been around awhile, but the North-South Institute thinks its time is coming closer.

The Institute is an independent agency that studies international development, funded in part by the Canadian government.

Rodney Schmidt is the principal researcher at the North-South Institute, which recently issued a report advocating such a tax.

Rick's interview with Rodney...

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Congo's "little fish"

Seven years ago, paramilitaries forced their way into a school in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and kidnapped the entire fifth grade.

This month, the trial of the man accused of directing that raid is resuming after a five-month break.

It's the first time the International Criminal Court in The Hague has tried a man for sending children to war, a practice that goes on worldwide.

Observers hope a guilty verdict from The Hague might act as a deterrent.

The prosecution's evidence has been harrowing, as we hear in this week's essay from Meribeth Deen, a Canadian journalist who covered the trial's earlier session.

Meribeth's essay...

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The Haiti Chronicles

Haiti, which often seems to live in a state of constant disappointment, was recently disappointed again.

An international donors conference failed to come up with anything close to the cash the country needs to address poverty and an economy ravaged by hurricanes.

Haiti's President says he's grateful for the 324-million that was raised, without dwelling on the 600-million that was not.

But he also took pains to emphasize that his country must become self-reliant.

And that message is getting through to some.

The CBC's Stephen Puddicombe travelled to the capital with some resilient Haitians attempting to lift themselves out of squalor without outside help.

Stephen's documentary...

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Your letters

After our recent interview with Joan Baxter, regarding the disparities around the mining industry in Africa, we received some of your dispatches. From Ottawa, David Lorge Parnas writes:

My heart went cold as I listened to Ms. Baxter talking about the way foreign countries control Africa, how they support leaders who help them and undermine those who don't. Then, I had a more chilling thought.

Doesn't her description apply to the Middle East as well? We all know leaders there who are "democratic" only because they support us.

Then, I thought of South America and countries like Chile or Nicaragua or Venezuela or Cuba. Suddenly, the most frightening thought of all - Ms. Baxter's book is not about Africa; it is about us.

Ian Martin of Toronto had a more personal take on Canada's role in the extraction industry.

My first negative experience of being Canadian occurred in 2004 in  Kyrgyzstan.  I was at a dinner party in Bishkek, the capital, and when I was introduced as a Canadian, the table of University teachers fell silent.

One of them asked: "Are you with the mine?"

"What mine?" was my answer, and I spent most of the rest of the evening being brought up to speed by my hosts on the Kumtor gold mine... (and) the spill of cyanide into pristine Lake Issyk-Kul.

(That mine by the way, was one-third Canadian-owned at the time.)

In the following week I visited the site and spoke with the local group of villagers who lived downstream from the mine. They had never met a Canadian not associated with the mine, and pleaded with me to help. They wanted an independent study of the mine's safety.

It's not only in respect to climate change policy that Canada is a dinosaur.  With respect to our mining practices abroad we are a predator.

I. Young of Montreal heard Brian Calvert's recent story on the scramble for resources in Papua New Guinea -- and notes a couple of Canadian angles there.

In 2006, Natural Resources Canada reported 12 Canadian-based mining companies to be working in Papua New Guinea, with a total investment of $600 million.

In 2008, Norway's Government Pension Fund withdrew its investments in Canada's Barrick Gold due to (risk) of "irreversible" and "severe environmental degradation" caused by riverrine tailings disposal at the Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea that was deemed "in breach of international norms.

That from I. Young of Montreal. Barrick by the way, argues Norway didn't have the "resources to review (its) environmental performance."

Your letters. Our thanks. And do keep them coming to dispatches@cbc.ca

By the way, next week Joan Baxter reports on a huge ethanol agribusiness project coming to Sierra Leone.

This program is the work of producers Dawna Dingwall, Alison Masemann and Steve McNally, technical producers Victor Johnston and Greg Fleet and senior producer Alan Guettel.

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