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Evidences: Defectors - Suzanne Scholte North Korea Speech
Keynote Speech by Suzanne Scholte for Seoul Summit: Promoting Human Rights in North Korea
December 8, 2005
I am deeply honored to be a part of this Seoul Summit: Promoting Human Rights in North Korea and thank the Organizing Committee and Freedom House for asking me to be one of your key note speakers. It is an especially great honor to be here with you with a man I greatly honor and respect, Hwang Jang-yop, who has been such an outspoken leader and champion for the North Korean people. He has inspired so many of us in our common cause for North Korea freedom. I also appreciate sharing this opportunity with my brother, Kim Seung-Min, who has been a brave and courageous leader among the North Korean defectors.
Today, I want to provide a brief assessment of the North Korea Human Rights movement and then discuss what I feel are the greatest obstacles we are facing in the fulfillment of our goal for unification of the Korean peninsula as one free and democratic people.
My own involvement in this issue began in 1996 in working to bring defectors to the United States to speak out about the Kim regime. We have hosted defectors from every walk of life - the most important and respected like Hwang Jang-yop to young people who spent their youth in political prison camps like Kang Chul Hwan, from Soon Ok Lee, who witnessed terrible atrocities in these camps to Ma Soon Hee and Cha Yeong Sook who along with their daughters were victims of trafficking in China. We have hosted former military and security officials in the United States, and even North Korea’s most famous gymnast, Oh Young-Hui.
It is because of the courageousness of these defectors, their willingness to speak out despite the attacks and threats against them that the North Korea human rights movement has made such tremendous progress. These defectors confirmed what we all suspected: Kim Jong-il is the worst violator of human rights in the world today by the sheer number of people he has killed directly through his polices, his involvement in international drug trafficking, counterfeiting, continuing to hold South Korean POWS and Korean War abductees, abducting South Korean and Japanese citizens, and proliferating weapons of mass destruction.
These defectors confirmed that North Korea is a land of horrible repression and evil with no human rights or freedom for its citizens. It is a regime unlike any other in modern times for the sheer brutality of its system and for the complete control by Kim Jong-il and his party elite. It is a totalitarian state in which the people are enslaved to serve Kim Jong-il.
Kim uses at least three methods to maintain power: the political prison camp system which instills a terrible fear among the people; controlling access to any information - isolating the North Korean people from the rest of the world; and by controlling access to food. This third method of control has triggered yet another horror on the North Korean people... massive starvation. A man-made famine caused by Kim Jong-il’s policies and his diversion of donated food aid to his military - the largest per population in the world - has triggered this refugee crisis.
Ironically, this refugee crisis opened the door for information to get into North Korea. North Koreans had been warned in the 1990’s not to go to China - the regime tried to convince the people that the situation was even worse in China, that China was undergoing a civil war and worse famine conditions existed there. But hunger drove many North Koreans over the border in search of food and what those first refugees found instead was what they described as a “paradise” in China compared to what they were enduring in their homeland. The word quickly spread and now 100s of 1000s of North Koreans have made the trek into China.
And how does China treat these starving men, women, and children who come hungry and desperate. The Chinese government puts a price on their heads, repatriates them when they are caught, and jails people who try to help them. Despite this cruel policy, North Koreans keep fleeing to China because they are faced with a terrible choice: stay in North Korea and starve to death or flee to China and take your chances. If you are a man you could become a slave laborer on a Chinese farm or if you are a woman you would hope for that because it is more likely - a 70 to 90% chance - you will be sold into sexual slavery, to a brothel or to a Chinese farmer.
Last December, the world was shaken by the terrible Tsunami disaster. We were all overcome with grief for the tremendous loss of life by that terrible natural disaster. Yet, just to put the Kim regimes in perspective: Kim Il Song and Kim Jong-il have killed 22 times the number of people that were killed in the Tsunami disaster last December. Theirs has been a man-made disaster and a slow, silent killing of the North Korean people.
The world responded with the greatest humanitarian outpouring in history to help the nations affected by the Tsunamis. Yet, the deaths from this natural disaster were just 5% of the number of lives destroyed by father and son Kim in North Korea.
Where is the world today in responding to the man-made disaster of North Korea?
Many governments responded with aid to this regime - aid that ended up maintaining the Kim regime. Those organizations and individuals who have tried to directly help the refugees in China and the North Korean people are hunted down and jailed.
Here we have a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions and a world community that is ready to respond with assistance and what does the government of China and the regime of Kim Jong-il do? China terrorizes the refugees, sends them back to North Korea where they face imprisonment and execution and jails the humanitarian workers who try to help them. Kim Jong-il uses the humanitarian aid as a weapon against his own people, blocking aid from entire regions of North Korea he considers disloyal.
Furthermore, our governments, so concerned about Kim’s nuclear threat intentionally downplay the human rights of the North Korean people.
Fortunately, the North Korea human rights movement has made tremendous progress because of dedicated groups around the world. Among the earliest were the Seoul-based Citizens Alliance for North Korea Human Rights and the Japan-based Society to Help Returnees to North Korea. Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy these organizations were able to host and sponsor beginning in 1999 the International Conference on North Korea Human Rights and Refugees which served as a critical time for human rights groups to gather from around the world to be further informed, inspired, and to act.
Recently, significant landmark events have occurred that directly challenge Kim Jong-il’s methods of maintaining power.
First, last year’s unanimous passage of the North Korea Human Rights Act showed how the United States had become one voice over this issue. It passed during a very contentious Presidential campaign. Sponsored by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers including Senators Sam Brownback and Evan Bayh, and Congressmen James Leach and Tom Lantos, the legislation worked to address human rights, starvation, the refugee crisis, and the promotion of democracy and human rights in North Korea.
The North Korea Freedom Coalition, which worked aggressively for its passage included people of many ideological views: we had strong John Kerry supporters and strong backers of George Bush, as well as different faiths: Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and most recently members of the Muslim community have joined our coalition.
We may disagree on political issues and religious matters, but in one voice we came together to declare: North Korea must be free.
The formation of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea in September, 2001, and their publication in 2003 of the Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps written by David Hawk, dramatically raised the level of awareness of this issue. Yet, again, the Committee has just published another critical report linking together the absence of human rights protections with the food-shortage crisis.
This report, Hunger and Human Rights: The Politics of Famine in North Korea, authored by Dr. Marcus Noland and Professor Stephen Haggard, found that ongoing food shortages in North Korea are directly linked to systematic human rights abuses and the complete absence of political and personal liberties.
As Debra Liang-Fenton of the US Committee has pointed out: “Despite the best intentions of the international community, North Korea has placed a variety of roadblocks in the way of assistance by both government and non-governmental organizations. Furthermore, this regime actually exploited its own severe floods in the 1990’s to belatedly admit the country was in the midst of a famine.
“North Korea is taking advantage of the generosity of the donor countries. At the same time they have been accepting food aid to alleviate their man-made crisis, they have been cutting their commercial food imports drastically,” Fenton has explained, “Because of the international aid, they now only pay for about ten percent of their food imports. The money they should be
spending on food has been shifted to other priorities including their military.”
Earlier last month, South Korea’s own National Human Rights Commission, finally released their own survey of 100 North Korean defectors to find that 75% of them had witnessed public executions; 94% knew about the gulags; 64% witnessed their neighbors starving; 90% cited discrimination in the allocation of materials based on class distinction; over 80% witnessed or had heard about North Korean women being trafficked while 60% were aware that pregnant women of the lesser classes were being forced to abort their babies.
On the heels of this important report comes yet another devastating indictment of the Kim Jong-il regime: the recently published report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Their report: Thank You, Father Kim Il-Sung provides eyewitness testimony of the severe violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion in North Korea. At this conference you will be able to hear from Scott Flipse of the US Commission, who helped instigate this report and David Hawk who prepared it.
Another significant event in the movement for North Korea Human Rights was the vote by the United Nations General Assembly in November on the resolution regarding North Korea’s human rights. This European Union led-resolution was the first time such a vote had been placed before the General Assembly. It illustrated the growing concern and awareness of the international community over this issue and their frustration with the regime’s refusal to allow Vitit Muntabhorn, who was appointed last July as the UN’s Special Rapporteur for North Korea, access to North Korea.
The resolution calls for North Korea to improve its human rights and allow humanitarian groups to monitor the distribution of aid. Just last week, under the leadership of Pastor Peter Sohn, the Korean American Church Coalition (KCC) held a prayer vigil for North Korea freedom - over 12,000 participated in the event in Los Angeles which was the culmination of prayer vigils that have been held all across the United States and Canada by the KCC that have attracted 1000s and 1000s of Korean Americans at each vigil.
Because we are fighting a great evil in North Korea, their focus on prayer is absolutely vital. As U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf has pointed out, what ultimately brought down the evil empire of the Soviet Union was so many folks praying to God for the freedom of those under Soviet domination.
With all this tremendous progress on the human rights agenda for North Korea, why is North Korea still enslaved to Kim Jong-il? There are several reasons:
1) the reluctance by the U.S. government to be forceful on human rights because of the 6 party talks
2) the lack of progress on the implementation of the North Korea Human Rights Act, which we are hopefully going to see change with Jay Lefkowitz’s appointment as Special Envoy;
and the most important:
3) the South Korean government’s abandonment of the North Korean people.
Regarding the United States, I fear that the Bush administration is on the same course taken by the Clinton administration because it believes that we can make an agreement with North Korea over the nuclear issue and then we can talk about human rights. We continue to believe that if we negotiate with Kim Jong-il in good faith, he will do the same. Anyone who believes this should take the time to read Chuck Downs’ book Over the Line, which documents the way in which North Korea uses negotiations - it makes agreements to extract aid by making promises it never intends to keep.
The current strategy appears to be: We first talk with North Korea over the nuclear issues and make an agreement, and then we can talk about human rights. I heard this exact strategy from Dr. William Perry in October of 1999 while he was preparing a policy paper on North Korea for then-President Bill Clinton.
The Bush administration seems to be following the same strategy. It is clear that Ambassador Chris Hill is a very skilled and able diplomat. I was deeply impressed with him when he took the time to meet the South Korean POWs who had recently escaped from North Korea who we hosted in Washington, D.C. last year for North Korea Freedom Week.
But how can anyone believe that you can successfully negotiate any agreement with North Korea? If North Korea won’t even allow the monitoring of humanitarian aid, how can anyone think they will allow monitoring of their nuclear sites? Being silent on human rights while negotiating on the nuclear issue means more death for the North Korean people. How many more North Koreans have to die before we stop this failed strategy? As Hwang Jang-yop has pointed out Kim Jong-il’s boasts about his nuclear capability are totally aimed at getting us off the human rights agenda. Human rights is our most powerful weapon to help the North Korean people.
Ignoring the human rights issue as South Korea has done, and making it a secondary issue as America has done, is a betrayal of everything we stand for as free people. The nuclear issue and the human rights issue are the same issue because the same regimes that terrorize the world are the same regimes that terrorize their own people. When we fail to press on human rights we betray our own values as a free people.
Furthermore, we contribute to the lie that Kim Jong-il has told his own people: He has convinced the North Korean people that we are bent on destroying them when in fact billions of dollars of aid from South Korea and the United States has poured into North Korea to help them.
We also demoralize the very people who will be the new leaders of North Korea - the people in the Kim Jong-il regime that know in their hearts that he must reform; the defectors in South Korea; the refugees who have shown their dissent by leaving the country - 500,000 of them; and those within the underground Christian church who keep the faith alive.
We need to reach out to the “double-thinkers” within the Kim Jong-il regime who know he must reform or be replaced. In addition to the United States’ failure to forcefully press on human rights, the major reason North Koreans remain enslaved to Kim Jong-il is the Roh administration. The current government in South Korea has turned its back on the North Korean people. Among the reasons given are fear of regime collapse, fear of the nuclear threat, the idea that Kim will eventually die and we should “wait it out” until a new leader comes to power, and the chilling theory that the Roh administration is part of Kim’s grand scheme to unify the peninsula. The fear of regime collapse is the reason I hear most: the fear that it would cause a great economic burden on South Korea. I think it is immoral to have this view, but even those who are selfish and only concerned for their own well, being cannot fail to consider that the cost of containing and appeasing Kim Jong-il exceed the GNP of North Korea.
When you add up what America and Korea spend to contain this regime because of its threat against us - the $9 billion we spend annually on South Korean and American forces at the DMZ - and what we spend on maintaining this regime - the billions spent for the sunshine policy - and the money Kim Jong-il has hidden in bank accounts raised through counterfeiting, drug trafficking, and selling weapons of mass destruction, you surpass the GNP of North Korea. Containing and maintaining Kim’s regime is more costly than regime collapse. Imagine if he were gone and reform minded leaders came to power working with the defectors who have fled North Korea to rebuild that nation bring in roads, electricity, create jobs and businesses.
Anyone who finds this implausible forgets what Koreans are capable of. How quickly we have forgotten the year 1953 when North Korea was the economic power, it was industrialized and far move advanced than South Korea. South Korea had the agrarian economy. Many thought Seoul could never rise above the devastation of that war. It was in ashes. But, out of those ashes, Koreans built the world’s 11th largest economy.
In conclusion, we must make human rights the central part of any discussions, any negotiations at every level and at every venue. Our priorities must be to save the refugees, to support and empower the North Korean defectors, and to pressure China to stop its violence against the North Korean refugees. To save the refugees, we must call on the countries in the region to establish temporary resettlement facilities for the refugees and negotiate a first asylum policy with our regional partners, as we did for the Vietnamese boat people.
We should be funding, as individuals, as organizations, and as governments, the programs already proven and successful led by North Korean defectors like Free North Korea Radio, Democracy Network Against the North Korean Gulag and the Exile Committee for North Korea Democracy. We need to reach out to the North Korean people through the defectors themselves who are actively engaged in rescuing North Korean refugees, getting information and radios into North Korea, and reaching out to average North Korean citizens as well as elites in the regime who desire reform. Tragically, these groups are being harassed and shut down by the South Korean government but their programs are vital to reaching out to the North Korean people.
We also should be providing additional funding to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America for increased radio broadcasts and the hiring of North Korean defectors to help broadcast news and information into North Korea Regarding the government of China, it should be condemned for its violent treatment of North Korean refugees, its violation of the international agreements it has signed regarding refugees, and its complicity in perpetuating the greatest human rights tragedy of our time. Here’s a country that terrorizes starving men women and children and jails humanitarians workers including its own citizens as well as South Korean and American citizens who were caught trying to feed and shelter them.
Because the government of China has continued to repatriate North Korean refugees and ignored the international agreements it has have signed, we need to put pressure on them in every way possible. One is to continue with the International Protests that are being held at the embassies and consulate offices around the world that began in December last year and continued on to April 28, the anniversary in the USA of North Korea Freedom Day.
Lawmakers in the USA have introduced legislation calling for the Beijing Olympics to be moved to another city. Why should a country that treats its neighbors so cruelly be the site of any event celebrating good will among nations? Other NGOs, especially those concerned with China’s own human rights violations against its own people, are calling for an Olympic Boycott in Beijing. Other NGOs are calling for boycotts of Chinese products and that governments enact penalties against China unless the government stop its violent repatriation of North Korean refugees.
We must answer the call of Proverbs 24: To rescue those being led away to death!
I want to close with one final point: Kim Dong-Gil, a South Korean Christian and civic leader, has pointed out that during the Japanese occupation many loyal Koreans gave in because they did not know their day of liberation was coming. They lost hope that there would be such a day as August 15, 1945.
The day of liberation is coming for North Korea. With the power of prayer and the wonderful way that God has raised up so many defectors and individuals in South Korea and around the world to fight in this cause, I believe the North Korean people will soon be free.
And at this very critical time in history, we will be judged on whether we stood up for them or not.