The Battle for Human Rights in North Korea: Is There Any Hope?
(Suzanne Scholte, September 28, 2016)
Transcript available below
Robert R. Reilly:
We are very pleased to have our distinguished speaker tonight Suzanne Scholte who has had a multifaceted career. Since this is a bipartisan audience, I will not mention every aspect of it, but as she was a congressional candidate in the district in which I live I can at least say I would have been very happy had she been our congressperson.
In any event, she is speaking tonight about the difficult subject of North Korea, an area in which she has worked for over 18 years to promote freedom, human rights, and dignity for the Korean people. Suzanne Scholte began in 1996 to host the first North Korean defectors in the United States and she has led international efforts to pressure China to end their horrific repatriation policy of Koreans who escape into China. Currently, she serves as the President of the Defense Forum Foundation, Chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, Vice Chairman Committee for Human Rights in Korea, and honorary Chairman of Free North Korea Radio. Quite deservedly she was awarded the 2008 Seoul Peace Prize Laureate [and] the very distinguished Walter Judd Freedom Award in 2010. She was made an honorary citizen of Seoul in 2008. Please join me in welcoming Suzanne Scholte.
I want to thank you so much for having me tonight. I have been working on this issue since 1996 so this was the twenty-year anniversary and I have so much I want to talk to you about North Korea, but I am going to focus on three main things. First of all, why I have claimed that North Korea is the world’s worst human rights tragedy: what sets it apart from other tragedies in the world? What changes have occurred in recent years that should give us a lot of hope and what we should be doing in response to the things that are happening inside North Korea. So to start out how we can set North Korea apart as the world’s worst human rights tragedy.
North Korea is the only country in the world where the citizens do not enjoy a single human right as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a tragic irony that that document was passed in 1948 by the UN in reaction to the atrocities that had been committed by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II and 1948 is also the year Kim Il Sung, the current dictator’s grandfather, came to power to ensure that North Koreans would have none of these human rights. North Koreans for example do not have the right to live where they want to live, to go to school where they want to go to school, to even choose their professions. They do not have the right to travel, freedom of movement, or even access to information beyond the regime’s propaganda. In fact, listening to a foreign radio broadcast can result in you and your family being sent to a political prison camp. Any sign of discontent or disloyalty to the regime can lead [to] you and your family up to three generations being sent to a political prison camp.
One of the first defectors I hosted back in the 1990s was Kang Chow Huang. Kang was sent to a political prison camp with his family when he was eight years old because his grandfather had complained about the Kim regime. Another unique aspect of North Korea is the political prisoner camps. These camps have existed eleven times longer than the Nazi death camps, four times longer than the Soviet gulag, and have even existed longer than China’s laogai system. Today, North Korea is the only country in the world where children can be sent to a political prisoner camp and where children can be born there and spend their entire lives.
Now, we know all Communist systems have to have political prisoner camps in order to exist and to function so, of course, Kim Il Sung established these camps when he founded the DPRK. As a result, millions of people have died in these camps and today there are hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children that are suffering at this very moment in these concentration camps.
North Korea’s also the only country in modern history to have suffered massive starvation while in the absence of war. At least three million people have died of starvation because of the famine in North Korea. That has never happened in modern history… in an industrialized nation, to have millions of its citizens starve to death. The starvation was caused by the regime’s policies, including using food as a weapon against the people of North Korea.
Before the famine, one of the defectors that I got to know, his name was Lee Ming-Bak and he was an agricultural specialist, and he traveled the country, studying the farm output. He realized that private farms were outperforming the collective farms in North Korea, so with great excitement he prepared this report to show how North Korea could avoid starvation if adjustments were made in the Kim regime policies. After turning in this report, he was contacted by those in authority believing he was about to achieve a great reward for these findings, but a friend warned him immediately to flee the country because he was about to be sent to a political prison camp for questioning the dictator’s policies. During the North Korean famine, enough humanitarian aid was sent by the international community to ensure not one single person needed to starve yet the Kim regime intentionally allowed millions of people to starve to death.
This starvation was directly triggered by another method of control used by the regime, which is the Songbun classification system also set up by Kim Il-Sung. This is a system that ranks every person in the country based on their loyalty to the regime. This system determines where you will live, what food you will have access to, the kind of material wealth that you will have, what school you can attend, the employment… In fact, the highest people on that classification system are known as the elites and it is the elites that are considered the most loyal to the regime. It is the elites that are allowed to live in Pyongyang, the capital city, but they also have all the key positions of authority throughout the system in North Korea.
Some areas of North Korea that were determined to not be loyal to the regime, in particular North Hamyong province, they were considered to be disloyal to the regime and that is an area where the starvation was most severe because the regime decided that they would not allow any aid and any food to get to that area of North Korea because they considered the citizens there not loyal enough to the regime. So as a result of that, withholding food aid, this led to another horror for the North Korean people to face, but it also opened up the country and that was when the refugee crisis started.
Starvation led North Koreans to cross the border into China to try to find food for their families. In the early days of the famine, the regime through its government propaganda tried to warn the North Korean people not to go to China, explaining that China was experiencing a civil war and that even though the situation was bad in North Korea, they would be worse off if they went to China. But people were starving to death, so they had a terrible choice: wait and starve to death in North Korea or take their chances in China.
North Koreans started crossing the border.
In the words of one North Korean doctor, she was one of the elites, her name was Dr. Kim Jae Eun and she tells the story of crossing the border during the famine. She had already seen her family starve. She wanted to live so she crossed the border. What she discovered in China shocked her. One of the first things she saw when she crossed the border from North Korea to China… the farmhouse and in the farmhouse outside the door was a bowl of rice with meat just sitting on the ground outside the door. She was shocked when she realized this was food for a dog. She concluded and this is a quote, “Dogs in China eat better than doctors in North Korea.”
So these first refugees who crossed the border in the 1990s to avoid starvation came back with these incredible stories. China had regular electricity which North Korea does not have. They had cars, they had prosperity, but most importantly plenty of food. Word of mouth spread and soon hundreds of thousands of North Koreans were crossing the border into China. This led to more horror because of the way China decided to treat these North Korean refugees.
Instead of abiding by its international treaty obligations, China determined starving men, women, and children of North Korea were economic migrants. Ignoring that they were risking their lives when they crossed that border. This is another unique thing about North Korea. The North Korean refugees are the only refugees in the world who have a place for immediate resettlement because they are citizens of South Korea under the South Korean Constitution, but because of China’s policies they are being hunted down and sent back to North Korea. This started during that period, and it has happened even today.
Think of this for just a moment. We have a crisis right now with refugees fleeing ISIS and instability and war in the Middle East and North Africa and we are debating the question: how can we take care of these refugees? Where can these refugees go to be safe? But North Koreans are unlike any refugees because they have a place to go and immediately resettle yet China refuses to allow them safe passage and will not allow them access even to the UNHCR, but actually hunts them down and arrests them. This is in complete violation to the refugee convention that China has signed because China knows when they force North Koreans back to North Korea, they will face certain torture, certain imprisonment, and even execution for fleeing because as I mentioned before North Koreans do not have the right to travel, leaving the country without permission is considered a crime punishable by death.
So they face more suffering when they are forced back by the Chinese authorities. And because of China’s one-child policy there is a shortage of women in China. So you have a country with a shortage of women, China, and a country where women are trying to feed their starving families, and this has created a horrific situation. As a result of China’s cruel repatriation policy, North Korean refugees are extremely vulnerable and over 80% of North Korean females are exploited by traffickers. Most North Korean females who cross the North Korean border end up being sold to Chinese men as so-called ‘wives’, forced into prostitution, and more recently into internet pornography.
I believe that the North Korea-China border is one of the most dangerous areas of the world as China allows North Korean agents to freely operate there, but blocks any relief effort, any UNHCR access to these refugees. I have had the honor of giving many brave North Korean women the opportunity to testify before the U.S. Congress about their suffering. Many have been sold multiple times [and are] cruelly treated. The buying and selling of North Korean females is happening today and I believe the border is even more dangerous today than ever before. No one is reporting about this. The last two reporters who tried to expose this were Laura Ling and Euna Lee. And if you recall they ended up in prison in Pyongyang until Bill Clinton went to get them out. These two women had bravely gone in to [film] the markets where North Korean women were being sold.
This region is also dangerous for those assisting North Koreans as seen just recently in the suspected abduction of a South Korean deacon named Kim Wang Ho. He was abducted and disappeared in March and the murder of a Chinese pastor Han Choong-ryeol [who was] killed in April. Both of them were involved in trying to assist North Korean refugees. Many of us believe that David Sneddon, a young American college student, was abducted by North Korea in 2004 from this region. There have been credible recent reports that people have seen him in Pyongyang. This is another example of what sets North Korea apart. I do not know of any other nation whose government is openly involved in the abduction of citizens of other countries as North Korea is. Where else in the world does a government turn its back on the buying and selling of its own citizens as the North Korean regime instead of trying to help these people who are at risk, works with China to terrorize its own people trying to escape and to try to abduct and kill those that are trying to assist them.
I want to show you just a few slides that underscore this tragic situation. This is someone I know you all will recognize. This is Malala, the young girl who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan when she was just fourteen years old because she felt girls had the right to go to school. She has become an international heroine. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and she is a true inspiration to all of us. This photo became one of the most recognized, one of the most viewed photos in the world not too long ago. The international community was awakened to the tragedy that was going on with the Syrian refugees because of the tragic situation when this young boy died with his family who were refugees trying to escape and his small body washed up onshore. But this awakened the international community to try to take action to help the Syrian refugees.
This slide is of someone I am sure none of you have ever heard of. This young girl is named Noh Yea Ji. Noh Yea Ji fled North Korea when she was the same age as Malala, fourteen-years-old. She was simply trying to survive like the Syrian family of that three-year-old boy. She was the youngest of a group of nine children who escaped from North Korea because she was starving. In China, like so many females, she was sold. She was sold to a Chinese farmer as a slave laborer. The hardship on that farm was so unbearable she fled, but she was sold again. She said, “I am only fourteen years old, but life is too hard for me to bare.”
Fortunately, she was rescued in China and sheltered by a South Korean and his wife. Under their protection, she and the other orphans regained their health. And they made the dangerous trek escaping out of China to get to South Korea. They made it all the way to Laos, but on the day [that] she thought she was leaving Laos for South Korea, which is the picture at the bottom. On that day the Laotian government working with the Chinese government and the North Korean regime forced her back to North Korea. If you can imagine three governments conspiring together to force a fourteen-year-old girl back to the hell that she was trying to escape in North Korea on the very day she thought she was going to have her freedom in South Korea.
We are shocked at what happened to Malala, and we are shocked about the refugees from Syria, but there is no shock, no one is doing anything about these refugees that are trying to escape out of North Korea. This is a situation that I have been working on for twenty years and fortunately because of the UN Commission on Human Rights in North Korea finally February 2014 they concluded about North Korea, “The gravity, scale, and nature of the violations in North Korea reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” The commission of inquiry concluded that the Kim regime in North Korea was committing unspeakable atrocities and crimes against humanity. You know when the full scale of Nazi Germany’s atrocities against the Jewish people was finally recognized by the world, the international community vowed never again would they stand by and watch these things happen, but this is what is happening to the people of North Korea.
For decades our governments have emphasized the nuclear threat from North Korea and not the human rights issues. This has been a huge and deadly mistake for the North Korean people. It has taken the human rights movement twenty years to finally get the human rights issues at the forefront. The mistake that was made about the nuclear issue was two-fold. Our government held to the false belief that North Korea would give up its nuclear program. That was never possible. Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking defector repeatedly warned us when he defected in 1997. He said, “North Korea will use negotiations to extract aid and concessions, but they will never give up their nuclear program. You have to talk about human rights.” “Human rights is their Achilles heel,” he kept telling us repeatedly and repeatedly, and sadly his words proved true.
But a second tragedy about this is focusing on the nuclear issue exclusively, which was the policy of the Clinton administration and then the Bush administration recently was to feed into the North Korean regime’s narrative that the regime used to justify their nuclear program and that narrative was that we wanted to destroy them, that we were their enemy. This is the narrative they fed to their people and when we failed to raise our concerns about human rights issues and the people that are suffering, we fed into that lie and helped justify the reason why the North Koreans needed to build the nuclear program to defend their country against the Yankee imperialist wolves.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth because as you know as Americans there is nothing we care more deeply about than human rights and helping people that are in danger, in trouble, and suffering. So for the North Korean people, the people that escape, there is no group I have found that are more pro-American than North Koreans because they understand that once they found it out about America.
I want to give you just one really powerful example. Every year the North Korean defectors and our coalition work together to sponsor an event that we call North Korea Freedom Week. This is a week of events to promote the freedom, human rights, and dignity of the North Korean people, but we always begin North Korea Freedom Week at the Korean War Memorial.
Imagine this: North Koreans who were raised from their childhood to hate Americans, these North Koreans who served in the North Korean Army, they lay a wreath to honor the Americans and others who died to ensure South Korea’s freedom. At this very emotional event these North Koreans pledge their lives to honor the Americans who died to make South Korea free, to pledge their lives to do everything to make North Korea free. That is how we begin every North Korea Freedom Week because that is how the defectors want to start it.
Now I want to talk to you about why I have great hope for the future in light of all those things I told you that set North Korea apart from the tragedies that are occurring there. I have great hope because Kim Jong-Un’s regime is not the North Korea of Kim Il-Sung or Kim Jong-Il. There have been dramatic changes that occurred in North Korea. For starters there has been an unprecedented information explosion and it is a result of so many people crossing that North Korea-China border.
Part of the ability of the regime to remain in power is the ability to isolate and literally brainwash its citizens. They are taught from childhood to believe they live in a great paradise, that South Korea is way behind them economically, and is occupied by the cruel Yankee imperialist wolves who they are raised to hate. North Koreans have learned a lot about South Korea and the outside world through the abundance of South Korean soap operas and Western films that have illegally flowed into North Korea. More and more North Koreans are listening to foreign radio broadcasts, watching South Korean soap operas and Western films.
They know the regime has been lying to them.
Defectors told me that the Western film Titanic became so widely watched in North Korea that the regime felt compelled to respond to that movie. As you know in this film a man gives his life to save the woman he loves. This concept – to value another person’s life – is something absolutely revolutionary for North Koreans. So this movie, Titanic, was a revolution for them because North Koreans are literally raised to be slaves and owe their undying allegiance to the dictator. The thought of sacrificing for anybody but the dictator is just beyond their comprehension. North Koreans who watched this movie saw something that was foreign to them: that concept of sacrificing for another. They saw what I believe is humanity.
The regime had to respond to this, and through their propaganda they informed the North Korean people that the movie Titanic was not so much a love story but was, in fact, the depiction of the failure of capitalism because the great ship Titanic, symbolizing capitalism, sunk on the same day as Kim Il Sung’s birthday, April 15, 1912. I understand that today, the 2015 Mad Max Fury Road has become very popular, which is great because it shows a female heroine bringing down a dictator and most of the North Korean defectors, most of the people who have escaped from North Korea, are North Korean women and many North Korean women are very, very involved in the North Korean human rights movement.
It is estimated that over 60% of North Koreans today are getting information beyond the regime’s propaganda. I believe that may be even higher, probably as high as 80%, but the ability to cut the North Korean people off from the world is no longer possible. The flow of information is undermining a half century of propaganda that convinced the North Korean people they were the most advanced nation living in a wonderful paradise.
But another major method of control has also disappeared: the public distribution system, the PDS system. This is the way the regime distributed food and material goods, using the Songbun classification. So, for example, if you were elite, you had access to rice while the less loyal may have only had access to corn. The same applied to material goods. This system made the entire population completely dependent on the regime for survival.
But this system broke down in the 1990s, which triggered the massive starvation. However, the resiliency of the North Korean people themselves on their own led them to start trading and selling themselves leading to an explosion of private markets throughout the country. It was to such an extent that the majority of the population today now survives on their own, using the market system. Through their own determination, North Koreans have avoided more starvation.
Attempt after attempt by the regime: first they tried to control these markets and then they tried a currency devaluation. This happened [in] December 2009. They tried to shut down the growing market system and this growing middle class in North Korea by devaluing the currency, essentially wiping out everyone’s savings. The purpose of the action was to try to reassert control of the economy, but it completely failed. The overwhelming hostile reaction from the burgeoning middle class led the regime to do something it had never done before. It apologized and it backed off and that market system is what is functioning today.
Now the regime accepts these markets, and the elites are now trying to profit off the free market system. The famine not only led to these private markets, but it also led to something very, very significant in the minds of the people and that is they no longer trust the regime. Defectors tell me that in the past it was everybody’s strong desire to become part of the Korean Workers’ Party and work yourself up through this elite system. But now their hope and their desire is to save money and to take care of their families. Their goals have completely changed.
There is something else very important that has happened also that changes the dynamics today and that is eyewitnesses. There is nothing that the regime fears more than those that have escaped. It is why they go to such great lengths to silence the voices of the defectors, stopping them from escaping China. Also going so far as to send assassins to kill those in South Korea who are the most outspoken. It is constantly threatening those who have escaped by threatening the family members who have remained behind in North Korea.
Many of these defectors that have escaped – there are up to 30,000 now – are also communicating with their family members. They are hiring brokers in China, contacting them by cell phones and then these brokers on the China border are contacting family inside North Korea. This is amazing because this is another flow of information that is coming in and because it is their family members, they know they are getting truthful information from the people that they trust that have escaped. So here you have a population increasingly getting information from the outside, that is no longer dependent on the regime to survive, and after twenty years of working on this issue we have come to the point today where people internationally, all over the world, understand now the importance of the human rights issues in North Korea. And this is another important thing for them to hear, that we are talking about these issues.
So I want to talk to you now about what we should be doing in light of these changes about North Korea and the first one I want to bring up is saving lives. That is the first priority that we always have, saving lives, and one of the ways to do that is pressure China on the refugee issue, and to try to help those people trying to escape. We are very much involved for example in the underground railroad, a system which tries to get North Koreans out of China.
But the important thing here is for the international community, but also for our governments to pressure China on this issue because China continues this horrible repatriation policy, and the situation today is even worse than ever before because Kim Jong-Un and Xi Jinping have escalated this brutal crackdown on those trying to escape. This is an issue that I am afraid even though we have won on the human rights issue, we are losing on the refugee issue. We need to publish the stories of what is happening to these North Koreans that are suffering inside China, but also to expose the fact that China is complicit in crimes against humanity by supporting the Kim regime. The UN has concluded this is a regime that is committing crimes against humanity. We need to hold China accountable for being complicit in this.
Just this last Friday we organized the annual Save North Korean Refugees Day. This is an event that is held worldwide around the time of September 24 because that is the date of the anniversary of when China became a signatory to the Refugee Convention, which obligates it not to force refugees back to North Korea. Governments need to encourage China instead to work with South Korea to resolve the North Korea issue. We know that the people of China support us on this. They know that the future is with South Korea and not North Korea even Chinese leaders and writers have expressed this view and I want to quote Chinese General Wang wrote in the Global Times in December 2014 that China had cleaned up that DPRK mess too many times and that quote, “Collapse is just a matter of time.” While he was the editor of the Study Times, the journal for the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, Dang Yuan wrote that “China should give up on Pyongyang and press for the unification of the Korean peninsula,” working with South Korea. Now he did lose his editorship as soon as he wrote that but more recently he wrote, “North Korea will ultimately fail no matter how much money you throw at it and it is in the process of collapse.” So these are intellectuals in the military that are speaking out in China about this issue, about what we all know to be the truth. These Chinese leaders realize the future is with South Korea and it is time for China to stop being complicit in North Korea’s crimes.
China right now is very, very much opposed to South Korea’s deployment of the missile defense system. This THAAD system has been in the news a lot, but South Korea only needs to develop a missile defense system because of Kim Jong-Un’s threats. So this past Save North Korean Refugees Day we focused on a call to Xi Jinping to stop repatriating refugees and work with South Korea for peaceful reunification in appeals that were delivered in 24 cities around the world we cited Kim Jong-Un as the source of the tensions. The only way to achieve a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, which is what China wants, and peace in the region is for China to work with South Korea for peaceful unification and end its support for Kim. We also pointed out that China’s support, as I mentioned before, makes it complicit in crimes against humanity as long as it continues to support Kim Jong-Un.
The second very important thing we need to continue to focus on is never again sidelining these human rights issues. I can tell you that when we hosted the first North Korean defectors back in 1999 the first hearing that had ever been held on the political prisoner camps in 1999, there was a reporter from Voice of America who wrote a story about that hearing, about the political prisoner camps but the State Department spiked the story and would not allow it to air. The reporter who wrote that was so upset he faxed me that.
It could have cost him his job.
But the reason why the State Department blocked that story from getting out about the political prisoner camps was because they cited two reasons: the witnesses were not credible, they were not sure about the credibility of the witnesses, and number two, they were about to have the Four Party Talks and they did not want the human rights issues being brought up because they wanted to negotiate with North Korea on the nuclear issue. Now, the reason why I bring that up is because all these years when we ignored this human rights tragedy, we have had the Four Party Talks, we had the Agreed Framework, we had the Sunshine Policy, we have had the Engagement Policy, we have had the Six Party Talks, [and] during all that period millions of North Koreans have died.
The third thing we need to consider at this point is never again fund this regime and ensure that if we provide any humanitarian aid, that it is consumed to the point of consumption. I am a big advocate of food aid, but I absolutely believe it must be monitored to the point of consumption. We have to see that orphan eat that food because I can guarantee you it will be diverted unless we actually see that aid, that food, consumed. And we saw this happen during the famine. Highly respected groups like Action Against Hunger [and] Doctors Without Borders with no political agenda, purely humanitarian groups, they left North Korea in protest when they realized their aid was being diverted. When North Korea was gripped with massive starvation Kim Jong Il continued to spend millions on North Korea’s nuclear program and his own lavish lifestyle. Today Kim Jong-Un is continuing the same reckless but cruel policy. Today most North Koreans if they are not part of the regime’s elites face chronic hunger and malnourishment while Kim Jong-Un diverts billions to develop these nuclear weapons, threatens South Korea, and destabilizes the region. The cost of just one rocket launch is roughly $850 million U.S. dollars. That is enough to feed 19 million North Koreans for an entire year.
Fourth, and this is the thing I am most passionate about, we must empower and support the work of North Korean defectors. There is no more powerful tool that we have to reach the people of North Korea than the truth spoken by those who have escaped, the North Korean people themselves. I want to share with you that during North Korea Freedom Week, the North Korean defectors wrote this declaration stating we are North Korean defectors who left parents, siblings, and other family behind in North Korea.
Those we love are still in North Korea and because we know better than anyone how they are living we are working for the rights of the North Korean people. Our goals are to make North Korean society a democracy and a reunified Korea a country that can play a role in spreading peace throughout the world, starting in East Asia. Those are the words of the North Korean defectors.
That is exactly what we desire as well and we need to partner with them. For example, our coalition actively supports the work of the defector NGOs, including radio broadcasting and groups getting information into North Korea through the border area, but also through balloon launches. These defector NGOs, including one led by Kang Chow Huang, the defector I mentioned that was sent to a political prisoner camp. He is also one of the first defectors I hosted. He testified at that 1999 hearing. Kang Chow Huang and his group, North Korea Strategy Center, are sending in information on USBs and flash drives while others like Park Song Hak and Lee Min Bak – Lee Min Bak is the one that was the agricultural expert – they are doing balloon launches and they are getting in information through leaflets, sending short wave radios and even money.
One year, working with Park Song Hak, we sent in hundreds of thousands of leaflets that included excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, explaining that all North Koreans were entitled to these rights. It is also important to reach out to the North Korean military. I believe that this is a very crucial group, and we also are involved with the North Korea Peoples’ Liberation Front and those are former North Korean military. They are the ones that lead the way on laying a wreath at the Korean War Memorial. The NKPLF is perhaps the most successful at getting information in and out of North Korea and we have been able to turn over all kinds of information that they have smuggled out of North Korea that we have turned over to the South Korean government and to the U.S. government. Perhaps most important, we know that the only time there was organized opposition against the regime, the only time we know of that was from military leaders who had studied abroad in the Soviet Union, come back to North Korea, they were there during Glasnost, saw what happened in the Soviet Union and they wanted those same reforms in North Korea. They actually operated secretly from 1989 to 1994 until they were discovered.
But I want to give you one example of an organization we support. We finance the cost, the daily cost, of short-wave transmission of Free North Korea Radio, which is a defector staff radio program that according to surveys is the most popular single program broadcasting into North Korea. It is also one of the most heavily jammed by the North Korean regime which is proof of its effectiveness. The director of Free North Korea Radio Kim Sung-Min is also a regular target of assassination by the Kim Jong-Un regime and that is another proof of its effectiveness.
I want to tell you a story. You may recall last August North Korea had planted landmines at the DMZ that severely injured South Korean soldiers. In response to this provocation, South Korea turned the loud speakers back on at the DMZ. These are loud speakers that had gone silent during the sunshine policy.
For three days the South Korean government played K-pop, the South Korean pop music, which is very popular. They played K-pop music and regular news programs for three days but on the fourth days they took the programming – by the way without our permission – they took the programming from North Korea radio and put that on the loudspeakers on the fourth day.
North Korea immediately demanded a return to negotiations. During those negotiations North Korea did not ask for a peace treaty, which it is always asking for. North Korea did not ask for an end to the U.S.-ROK military exercises, which it is always asking for. They only asked for one thing during those September negotiations: turn off those loudspeakers. We believe, and I confirmed this when I visited South Korea, it was because they were playing Free North Korea Radio programming.
North Korea could not have those people who had escaped from North Korea speaking the truth to their soldiers at the DMZ. We also broadcast special messages from members of Congress, sharing their hopes and dreams with North Korea. The response to the recent broadcast that we did with members of Congress was amazing and I want to quote from two actual North Korean citizens on their response to the messages we sent in from members of Congress.
One man, I do not want to say the city he lives in because he is one of the informers for the radio station, but he said, “The North Korean government always mentions that America is our total enemy, but a lot of people already know that America is the most developed and democratic country. I never imagined that politicians from the U.S. would have participated in this radio show, which is run by North Korean defectors and send messages to North Koreans.” He was so touched that American leaders would take the time to send a message and do it on a defector radio broadcast. Another citizen said, “We never dared to say Kim Jong-Un’s government should be collapsed so that people can live peacefully. However, I am extremely happy that someone else could say it for us.”
A program we just started recently, which I am looking forward to finding out the reaction to it, is called Coming to America, which features interviews with North Koreans living or visiting the United States so that they can share the truth about our country, and we are really excited about this program that we just started broadcasting. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of response we get.
But this is all done by private citizens and churches that support this broadcast. This is a U.S. American people churches paying, every month faithfully paying, the cost for that trip and the North Korean defectors in Seoul producing that program every day and we are doing it all on our own and they are supporting… What the North Koreans do to support this broadcast is they all tithe and they all give towards it, and it is amazing. It is actually a miracle that we have been able to stay on the air for all these years.
One of my biggest frustrations [is] that too many resources are being spent by governments and government-financed institutions to talk now, to talk about the North Korean human rights tragedy, but there are not enough resources being invested to try to end it. That is a huge challenge that we face. There is another important thing that we need to focus on and that is internal opposition. I mention the importance of reaching out to the military. The fact that there is no internal opposition in North Korea is another thing that makes it unique. This underscores just how repressive the regime is. This is to me the last stronghold, internal opposition. Right now, if you are an elite in North Korea, you have absolutely no incentive to oppose the regime because your entire life is wrapped up in Kim Jong-Un’s success. You cannot see any choice.
But I know that I met with a high-ranking North Korean defector not too long ago who defected recently. He told me that the reason why he defected was because he knew how evil Kim Jong-Un was. And you saw the defector that defected out of London, the diplomat. Same thing. These are people in the elites that are turning against that regime. But in their cases… The defector in London, obviously he was in London, so it is easy for him to try to defect and in this other case this gentleman was so high up he was able to get out.
Imagine the elites that are in Pyongyang today, running that place. We have to reach out to them. We have to let them know that they will have a stake in the future when Kim Jong-Un is gone and there are several groups of defector organizations that are formed that are composed of the elites but this is a very important thing that we need to do. We need to show them an alternative to the Kim Jong-Un regime and let them know they will be part of the future.
It is also critical of the United States enforce the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement bill, which was passed earlier. We worked on this bill for years to try to get it passed and it was very frustrating. When it finally passed earlier this year people came up to me and said, “Oh, Suzanne, what a great job. Congratulations! You finally got the sanctions bill passed.”
And I so no I owe it all to Kim Jong-Un. Because of the last missile provocations that happened earlier this year that Congress was like ‘Oh my gosh we need to do something’ and then that gave it the final push, but this is something critically important: enforcing the sanctions because the flow of money that is going to the regime is the only thing that is keeping Kim in power. His ability to reward the elites, through that classification system to reward them. That is what is holding the system together, so cutting out that money flow is hugely important.
Also, this is especially important I think to the South Korean government, but one of the things I have tried to appeal to the South Korean government to do is to start naming names and to begin a legal process to hold accountable those in the regime that are guilty of these crimes against humanity whether it is people running the political prisoner camps, whether it is people that were involved in the diversion of humanitarian aid. There was a report done some years ago by the North Korea Human Rights Commission that identified 834 cases that were compiled by North Koreans that have escaped, citing 834 different cases of human rights violations.
And it has been my belief that the South Korean government really needs to start naming the names of the perpetrators of these crimes. And the reason why I had proposed this back in 2009 is because I met a young woman who was working for Free North Korea Radio. Her name was Ko May Hua. She escaped North Korea with her fourteen year old daughter, another fourteen year old.
The two got separated in China and Ko’s daughter was repatriated back to North Korea and Ko found out that she was beaten to death by a North Korean border guard and when I heard that story, I just thought how can you stop such cruelty? How can a fourteen-year-old girl be beaten to death because she was trying to survive? Because she was trying to eat? How can a border guard be so cruel to a child? But my urgency with the South Koreans to start naming names is if the people know they are going to be held accountable, if they know that this is happening, then it has to put pressure on them to stop these kinds of atrocities.
So in closing I want to show you a couple more slides. This is a cartoon that North Koreans made, attacking us several years ago and I was pretty shook up when I first saw it but then I realized no, this is good because this shows what they fear. That is supposedly me. This was North Korea Freedom Week. We used to do North Korea Freedom Week in the United States in Washington, D.C. every year.
We moved it to Seoul. When we moved it to Seoul, this is how the North Korean regime responded. They put this propaganda out on their website. It is ‘North Korea Freedom Week events,’ but look what is in my pouch. This is what I thought was kind of fascinating. First of all, there is a microphone, which symbolizes broadcasting, and I realized that this is something they fear: the flow of information. To me that microphone represents that flow of information they fear.
There is also the leaflets. The other thing in my pouch is the leaflets because this is another form of communication. But also the red dot. You may know that Japan actually passed a North Korea Human Rights Act right after the United States did. It took twelve years for South Korea to finally pass a North Korea Human Rights Act, but there has been a very strong human rights movement in Japan partially driven by the abductee issue because the Japanese have had so many of their citizens abducted by North Korea but the Japan-South Korea-U.S. democracy alliance, the human rights groups working together… This is something North Korea does not want. They want to break these alliances apart. That is one thing they fear is the Japanese.
But finally, something that I was most proud of is something in my pouch. It is a cross, symbolizing the Christian faith. My main motivation for doing this work is my Christian faith. The North Koreans obviously realize this. We know that the Kim regime’s greatest fear is Christianity. Christianity is a greater fear to this regime than South Korea, America, Japan or even capitalism.
Why is that? Because North Korea was set up as the complete antithesis of the Christian faith. I believe, my personal view is that Kim Il-Sung saw as a child and growing up under Japanese colonization, he saw the power of the Christian faith. He was raised a Christian. Because who were rising up and standing up against Japan? Who were the signers of the Korean Declaration of Independence? Even though Christianity was not predominant, probably only 25%, 30% of the population that were Christians. Over half of the signers of the Korean Declaration of Independence under Japanese colonization were Christians, so I believe that Kim Il Sung saw that it was the Christians that were trying to preserve Korean culture.
It was the Christians who were standing up against the Japanese colonizers, and so he set up the regime to be the antithesis of that, but he used the tenets of Christian faith. He set himself up as God, his son up as the Christ figure, and Juche as the Holy Spirit. And they have all of their doctrine, their prayers at night; “Thank you Father Kim Il Sung” is their prayer at night. They have an apostle’s creed that is all to the dictatorship. They have thousands and thousands of centers to study the Juche ideology, to study the teachings of the dictatorship. So this is why they really feared [Christianity] and I was really proud that the cross was there.
I want to show you another slide. This is Kim Oh Gum and my youngest son. I want to share her story with you because she has come to represent to me the hope we have for North Korea I hosted her in Washington, D.C. and at the United Nations some years ago. My son is in high school now, so this is an old photo, but this is her picture with my son giving the thumbs up but because Oh Hum’s family was starving, she, like so many North Korean mothers, had gone to China to try to get food, but she was caught and repatriated back to North Korea. She was tortured and then sent to a political prisoner camp for the crime of trying to feed her family.
She told me she was very fortunate. She was sent to a political prisoner camp where she worked outside as a slave on a farm so she had access to plants and bugs. I remember her showing me as we were riding the Amtrak train from D.C. to New York for her to testify at the UN. I remember her showing me vividly how she forced herself to eat grasshoppers because she knew grasshoppers were full of protein.
She was so determined to survive the horrible ordeal of being in this political prisoner camp so that she could be reunited with her ten year old son. When she was finally released from prison she returned home only to find out that her son had died of starvation. Her husband had divorced her while she was in the political prisoner camp.
With no reason to stay in North Korea, she fled to China again only to be caught and sent to a Chinese detention center. While in the detention center, she met another mother, crying over the welfare of her daughter back in North Korea as she had come to China just like Kim Oh Gum had to try to get food for her daughter but she had been caught by Chinese police. Mrs. Kim knew exactly what this woman was experiencing so she helped her escape from that detention center.
As a result, Mrs. Kim was brutally beaten to the point that she nearly became paralyzed. All North Korean defectors have similar stories of this heart ache and this terrible suffering, but Mrs. Kim’s story illustrates something very powerful about humanity. Even though she was raised in North Korea to be a slave to the dictatorship, Mrs. Kim felt in her own heart this great compassion for someone that was suffering. She could not be stripped of her own human dignity.
Now, I mentioned I happen to be a follower of Jesus Christ, so I believe that every human life has value and dignity, but Mrs. Kim grew up enslaved to this dictatorship and she knew none of these values. In fact, she suffered greatly and through her own suffering she put her own life at risk to save another not because she is a Christian like me, but because she felt in her heart the pain of another mother and compassion, and she took action.
And she was beaten, as I mentioned, for this heroic act of kindness and love, but she escaped again and she has triumphed over the evil in North Korea to live in freedom in South Korea. Now she helps other North Koreans and she has become a Christian and a leader in the church where she attends. To me Mrs. Kim represents the indomitable spirit of humanity. She gives me hope that soon all North Koreans will live as free people.
My last slide is a photo from last Friday’s Save North Koreans Day. I mentioned we had twenty-four cities where activists went to the Chinese embassies and consulates. Well, this is the first city where a petition was delivered to Xi Jinping: Pretoria, South Africa. How fitting. This is my dear friend and colleague, Atabongwoung Gallous, delivering a petition to the Chinese embassy that day. They tried to throw him out of the embassy, but he refused, insisting they accept his appeal on behalf of the North Korean people, his appeal to Xi Jinping.
Now I know that Ata, I call him Ata for short, Ata’s parents probably believed that apartheid would never end in South Africa, but it did. Both Ata and I know that the North Korean people must feel the same, that the Kim regime will never end, but it will, and I hope that all of you will join in this fight, and I want to thank you so much for hosting me and I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much for your remarks and for your courage. I have always understood that one of the reasons that China supports North Korea is because they are terrified by the refugee prospect themselves. Understandably, it would be overwhelming to them. I do hope that the raised consciousness gets more people out of North Korea and to freedom, but I do not see how the Chinese can possibly support it. I do not know how they can stand aside because if it becomes commonplace, there will be a flood.
You are saying if they start to give refuge, [more will come]. Let me make two points on that because that is an excellent question, and you are exactly right. Let us say the set up a process with the UNHCR and gave UNHCR access, and then the North Koreans heard about that, you are saying there will be a flood of refugees. The point I always make to the Chinese on that is, first of all, is that what China is doing by forcing them back is relieving any pressure on the Kim regime to reform because it is relieving them of that pressure. Therefore, China as long as they cut them off from being able to escape, it gives the Kim regime no reason to try to change things that would make people not want to leave in the first place. So, they are prolonging the regime. They are preventing any pressure to reform. This the argument I try to make with the Chinese when I meet with the Chinese leaders.
But the other most important thing is regime collapse, their fear of regime collapse. Well, I have a completely different view of what is going to happen when the regime collapses because there is this view that all of these people are going to pour out of North Korea, and that is just not so. The problem we are going to have when the regime collapses is there are going to be so many people that are wanting to go to North Korea, including the thirty thousand defectors who have escaped, but also the Korean Americans that live in the United States of America. The majority trace their ancestry to North Korea because when the Korean War ended, you had so many people fleeing. The Koreans in the north felt they would have a better opportunity of being able to go back to North Korea one day if they went to America to resettle, so the percentage of Korean Americans here predominantly trace their roots to North Korea. And let me tell you, every time I meet with one of them, they talk about going back. The thing is when that regime collapses, I believe we are going to have to control the flow of people trying to go in there because when that country opens up, the potential to change things is going to be so amazing.
And I also tease all of the Baptists and the Methodists and the Presbyterians, they are all trying to plant their churches, there are a lot of South Korea churches that have stored up treasure to build churches in North Korea when North Korea opens up. I always tell them your churches are already here because you have so many defectors who need your help, but all of the Baptists and the Methodists are going to be fighting. All of the real estate prospectors, all of the businesses that are going to want to go in there, Samsung, Hyundai, I mean the potential that is there for North Korea [is exciting].
The point that we try to make with China is that they are perpetrating this situation, and the only way to resolve the concerns that China has [is to change]. It does not want the nuclear race to escalate. It is going to escalate unless Kim Jong-Un is gone. That is the argument that we continue to try to make with China, but I hear you. I understand the point on the refugee thing. But the other thing that I think about is that is I believe that when the regime collapses, which is destined to happen, that the cities and towns in North Korea are going to look a lot like New York City, the day after 9/11 because you are going to have families posting pictures of the daughter who got trafficked in China, the mother who got sent to a political prison camp, the uncle they heard about who made it to South Korea. People are going to be trying to connect. And that is what I believe it is going to be like, but I am very hopeful that that day is coming soon, but China is a huge roadblock and that is why we have to continue to do these [things], speak out and continue to pressure China.
Yes, I wanted to ask [about how] for decades, the North Korean government has kidnapping people, not just Americans, but also Japanese and Taiwanese. Can you comment on the scale of kidnappings and what do we know about how bad the situation is today?
I can tell you that there are at least fourteen countries where they have identified a citizen of their country that was kidnapped. The scale is probably several hundred. This is a program that was actually established by Kim Jong-Il when Kim Il Sung was still a dictator. Kim Jong-Il started this program. The purpose of it was to help train their spies. And there is an institute, the Kim Jong-Il Military Institute, where their spies are trained, and they need these people abducted from different countries to perfect their language skills, and that is why the abductions happened from Japan and other countries (France, China).
We believe that one of the reasons why David Sneddon is in Pyongyang, [and] we absolutely believe he was abducted by North Korea, was because one of the people who defected from the United States, the guy who served in the military who crossed the border, he was American [and] he had finally left North Korea, so they lost an asset who could teach them an American dialect. We think that is one of the reasons why David Sneddon was kidnapped because they needed another American speaker that could train their spies. But also, it happened right after the passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act, and some people think it may have been retaliation, but I would say there are at least fourteen countries that have been impacted by that and there are several hundred [people abducted]. I do not know of any recent abductions except for the David Sneddon case. And, of course, not everyone believes that that is what happened, but we absolutely believe he is in Pyongyang.
And there is actually a Resolution in the Congress now. Nicole and I were going door-to-door to the U.S. Senators to try to get them to support this Resolution that is in the Congress. All that this Resolution does is ask for the State Department [and] Intelligence Community to investigate these claims that we believe he was abducted out of China, and [he] is in Pyongyang.
Robert R. Reilly:
If I can just take the privilege of the last question: The other geostrategic perspective from China would be that first you have a regime in the north hostile to the United States, which it at least says it is attempting to encircle China. Then you have a unified Korea, which as a U.S. ally, right on its border, so how do you reassure the Chinese on that [issue]?
Well, first of all, if they want a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, that is only going to be achieved with unification and the end of the Kim regime. But also, the fact that the United States is in Korea today, and will continue to be in Korea, is because of Kim Jong-un, because of the threat from North Korea. In other words, the U.S. could bring their troops home if they did not have to protect South Korea from possible North Korean aggression.
But then, I would make the financial argument. South Korea and China have a very robust trade relationship. Korean culture is extremely popular in China, and I would make the argument that for prosperity for both countries would be very beneficial for China and South Korea if they could be unified, and instead they would have on their border another economic partner, which would help bring up China, as well. So, that is the argument because they do have an incredible $20 billion, $30 billion annually [in trade]. I mean their trade relationship is really robust, and that is the argument I am trying to make.
The problem we have, and something that we forget often, is that we are dealing with a communist dictatorship, and trying to argue with a communist dictatorship about that [is hard] because they would rather have the devil they know rather than a prosperous Korea, unified, free country on their border, which is why we have to keep saying, yeah, but you are committing crimes against humanity. We have got to point out what China is doing because the Chinese citizens, I promise you this, the Chinese citizens are on our side on this whole issue. They are very sympathetic, and they are ashamed that their dictator, that their government is propping up this dictatorship that is loathed by humanity and is loathed by the entire world. They are ashamed of that.
And I can tell you that just from meeting with people from China, but also, every time I give remarks at any university across the United States of America, you know, I am happy to go visit and talk to different schools and universities. There are always Chinese students in the audience, and they always come up to me and they want to get involved in everything we are doing, and I am like, you have got to be able to go home, but you know you talk to the average Chinese citizens, and they are just appalled at these stories. That is why we have to get the stories out about what is happening in China, like Anna Lee and Laura Ling were trying to do, get these stories out because it puts pressure on the Chinese government.