Speech by Suzanne Scholte, President, Defense Forum Foundation
June 17, 2006 Kwangju, Republic of Korea
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I am deeply honored to be hosted by Kim Kyong-Cheon and appreciate Pastor Lim Changho for arranging this opportunity to be your guest. I will provide an overview of the North Korean human rights situation including the refugee crisis; how our governments have responded, and then share my views on what I feel we must do about North Korea and then I am happy to take any questions that you may have.
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 highest ranking like Hwang Jang-yop to young people who spent their youth in political prison camps like Kang Chul Hwan and Ahn Hyok, from Ma Soon Hee and Cha Yeong Sook who along with their daughters were victims of trafficking in China to military colonels, diplomats and former security officials. Most recently we were honored to host in the United States for North Korea Freedom Week: Kim Seung Min, the director of Free North Korea Radio, and all the leadership of the North Korean defectors organizations: Hong, Soon-Kyung, Huh Kwang-il, Park Sang-Hak and Joo Sung-il for North Korea Freedom Week. 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 Kim Jong-il’s slaves. Every North Korean is raised to be a slave to serve Kim Jong-il.
How can such a repressive and evil regime survive? Kim uses at least three methods to maintain power in North Korea. First, he operates a system of political prison camps which were set up by Kim Jong-il’s father, Kim Il-Sung, to consolidate power. These camps originally were set up as prisons for what the regime defined as any Koreans considered disloyal, so called “counter-revolutionaries.” Counter-revolutionaries including landlords, businessmen and their families, people of religious faith and their families, returning prisoners of war, and anyone with a relative in South Korea. Between 1945 and 1948, 800,000 North Koreans fled to South Korea and there was also a mass exodus of North Koreans when United Nation’s troops withdrew from North Korea during the Korean War. As a result, the Red Cross determined that 10 million families were separated between North and South Korea. By 1972, Kim Il-Sung had established 12 separate political prison camps to imprison an estimated 200,000 citizens.
These camps instill a terrible fear among the people because anyone can be sent to these camps for such so called “crimes” as listening to a foreign radio broadcast or complaining about the food situation. To wipe out any dissent, not only the accused are sent to these camps, but their family members as well.
We know from survivors of these camps like Kang Chul Hwan and Ahn Hyok, that they are death camps as horrible as Stalin’s gulag or Hitler’s concentration camps, where those enslaved are worked to death and intentionally starved to death. South Korean governments agencies have in the past estimated that at least 400,000, but perhaps as many as one million people have died in these camps since they were first established.
I used to believe that North Koreans had at least one human right: the right to die at the hands of their own regime. However, when I got to know Young Kuk Lee, a former bodyguard of Kim Jong il, I realized that North Koreans do not even have that right. Before he was sent to a political prisoner camp having been repatriated from China, Lee was intentionally kept alive by the regime just to torture him and prolong his suffering.
A second method Kim Jong-il uses to maintain power is controlling access to any information -- Kim isolates the North Korean people from the rest of the world making it a crime for citizens to listen to radio broadcasts from South Korea, read newspapers from South Korea or any other nation. He has used this method to maintain the lie that North Korea is the greatest nation in the world and that South Koreans and Americans are their enemies, bent on destroying North Korea.
Finally, Kim Jong-il maintains power by controlling access to food. He has used food as a weapon against his own people by controlling its distribution blocking off entire sections of the country from getting any food. Furthermore, the very things that we take for granted – the freedom to travel, the freedom to produce and sell food are so strictly enforced that during North Korea’s famine, millions died painful deaths.
Sadly, it is this third method of control that 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 the elites in his regime and to the military, which is the largest per population in the world, has also caused the ongoing 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. North Koreans were told by the regime 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. They saw that the Chinese people had electricity, cars, televisions, and most important, plenty of food. The word quickly spread and at least 500,000 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 offering financial awards when they are caught and fines its own citizens if they try to help these poor refugees. The Chinese government repatriates them when they are caught, and jails people who try to help them. There are South Korean and American citizens sitting in jail in China today for the crime of helping North Korean refugees.
Despite this cruel policy, North Koreans keep fleeing to China because they are faced with a terrible choice: stay in North Korea and face starvation and persecution 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.
And what happens to North Koreans who are caught and repatriated to North Korea? Because North Koreans are not allowed freedom of travel, once they cross the border they are guilty of a crime against the Kim Jong-il regime. As a result, they are sent to detention centers where they are interrogated, tortured and beaten. If a North Korean woman is found to be pregnant, she is forced to undergo an abortion. If the baby is born alive, the baby is killed.
Do you remember what happened in December 2004? The world was shaken for days by the terrible Tsunami disaster. We were all overcome with grief trying to comprehend how in a single day, so many people, over 200,000 could have been killed in one single disaster. We were shocked and overcome 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 over 18 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 have responded with aid to this regime – aid that ended up maintaining the Kim regime. Those 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 terrible suffering of the North Korean people.
Late last year, 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 political prison camps; 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.
WHY DO WE IGNORE HUMAN RIGHTS
While they were presidents of their respective nations, D.J. Kim and Bill Clinton both hoped that negotiating and meeting with the Kim Jong-il regime would help lower the tensions and promote peace and stability. Their goals were noble and admirable.
Back in the summer of 1999, William Perry was given the task of preparing a report on North Korea for then President Clinton. I prepared a box load full of eyewitness testimony from North Korean defectors about the political prisoner camps and shipped this off to him. Several months later I had a chance meeting with him at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea and asked him if he had received the materials. He said that he had. I asked him if he had read the information. He said, "My tears were on the pages." I asked him, "Are you going to include the information about the political prisoner camps and the human rights conditions in North Korea in your report to President Clinton?" He said, "No."
At that time, the Clinton administration had decided that they would not even raise the human rights issues with North Korea, because they feared it would cause the North Korean regime not to continue to meet for talks and negotiations. Their concern, and only concern, at the time, was the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. They had successfully negotiated in 1994 the Agreed Framework but of course North Korea not only never complied with the Agreed Framework, but never intended to comply with the Agreed Framework. In 2002, North Korea admitted what was already suspected and believed, they had violated the 1994 agreement.
Similarly, DJ Kim began the so-called Sunshine Policy. A wonderful concept that promised no confrontation, no aggression but instead reconciliation and cooperation. It was believed that by South Korea created this open atmosphere of respect and trust, that North Korea would respond by opening up itself to reform and change.
There were fundamental flaws with these policies.
First, Clinton, DJ Kim, and those supporting this policy were negotiating in good faith. Kim Il-Song and Kim Jong-il were not. They were cynically using and manipulating the good will of free people to continue their regime and extract as much aid and concessions as they could with no intention of ever abiding by their agreements.
Just looking at the historical record how can anyone believe today that you can successfully negotiate any agreement with Kim Jong-il? If Kim Jong-il won’t even allow the monitoring of humanitarian aid, how can anyone think he will allow monitoring of his nuclear sites?
Second, the nuclear issue and the human rights issue are different. They are not different.
They are the same – the nuclear issue and the lack of human rights are the two sides to the same coin: they are totally related. Look at the regimes that abuse human rights -- the regimes that are the greatest threats, who proliferate weapons of mass destruction, who violate biological and chemical weapons treaties. They are also the regimes that terrorize their own people.
Today, South Korea’s Roh Government has intentionally ignored the human rights issues so as not to offend Kim Jong-il, while the United States has been reluctant to be more forceful on the human rights issues because it has placed great emphasis on the 6 party talks and the desire to reach some nuclear agreement with North Korea. It appears 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.
During all these years of non-proliferation treaties, the Agreed Framework, the Sunshine Policy, the Soft Landing policy, and the 6 Party Talks, millions of North Koreans have died.
Actually, died is the wrong word because it suggests they passed away. They were in fact starved to death, worked to death, beaten to death, executed, by the very deliberate and very intentional policies of the father and son Kim regimes.
What have we learned from this. We have learned that silence is death. That silence on the horrific human rights violations being committed by Kim Jong-il today cause more and more needless death and suffering.
There are other considerations as well.
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. When British parliamentarians Baroness Caroline Cox and Lord David Alton traveled to North Korea and when BBC journalists Olenka Frankiel and Ewa Ewart traveled to North Korea on separate occasions, they heard the same statements from North Korean citizens: the United States is our sworn enemy because the United States wants to destroy us. This is the steady brainwashing of the North Korean people that begins when they are children.
Because we live in free societies, we take for granted the very freedoms that we have. We find it hard to believe that while we raise our children to love others, to appreciate other cultures, that regimes, like North Korea, teach their children to hate us, to hate everything that South Koreans and Americans believe in.
The first North Korean defectors we brought to the United States were Colonel Joo Hwal Choi and diplomat Young Hwan Ko and they described the horrors of living in North Korea. What was particularly disturbing about their testimony was how the North Korean regime brainwashed its own citizens into hating us. Colonel Choi described a children's school book in North Korea in which students were taught how to add with such equations as "If you threw a grenade and killed two American GIs, and your friend threw a grenade and killed three American GIs, how many American GIs would you and your friend have killed."
Americans were shocked by the events of 9-11. We found it hard to believe that people could hate us so much. We found it hard to believe that there were people out there who devoted all their time and energy to figuring out how to kill as many of us as possible. But this is precisely how totalitarian regimes operate: they hate freedom, democracy, and the free expression of ideas. And the current war on terrorism is precisely a war over those very ideals.
If all we ever talk about at the negotiating table is the nuclear issue we give credence to Kim Jong-il’s lie that that is the only issue we care about. Yet, all I hear from the American people is: Suzanne, how can I get food to a starving North Korean family; how can I help the underground railroad and rescue those refugees at terrible risk in China; how can I adopt a North Korean orphan? That is what the American people care about and no one needs to know that more than the North Korean people.
We must also press on North Korean human rights to give hope to the new future 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.
ROH GOVERNMENT’S ABANDONMENT
In addition to the United States’ failure to forcefully press on human rights, another 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 maintaining 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 spent on maintaining and appeasing this regime – the billions given to the regime by South Korea for the sunshine policy, the 1.5 billion for KEDO, the $1.4 billion from Hyundai – and the billions Kim Jong-il has hidden in bank accounts – $4 billion alone in Swiss 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. Imagine the prosperity and peace for this peninsula when no one has to worry about a dictator with weapons of mass destruction and a million man army.
When I speak with North Korean defectors, all they want is the chance to build a free, democratic North Korea. They do not want to become a burden on South Korea. They are full of ideas and energy, and we should listen to them, not silence them.
While there would of course be an economic burden on South Korea at the beginning of re-unification, it is far outweighed by the great gains that would be made by a free North Korea.
Anyone who dismisses the potential of what could come to North Korea has forgotten what free people are capable of and most importantly what Koreans are capable of. How quickly they 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.
We also must convince China that a unified Korea would not be a threat. China keeps Kim Jong-il in power by giving him unlimited support and by controlling the flow of refugees trying to escape from Kim Jong-il’s hell on earth. I personally believe that the government in China would rather have a more stable leader in power in Pyongyang who does not regularly make nuclear threats and have periodic explosions. If there is some kind of nuclear accident, imagine the potential devastation that could be caused to China.
But, for China, Kim Jong-il is a fellow traveler, a fellow dictator, a loyal hater of the United States and all those things we stand for: freedom, democracy and human rights. He is a buffer between the mighty economic power, the free and prosperous South Korea that is such a close ally to the United States.
China fears a unified Korea. Yet, China too could gain if reform came to North Korea. Instead of having to send billions of dollars to regularly bail out Kim Jong-il, China could actually become a trading partner as it has done with South Korea. South Korea should stop acquiescing to China. It’s a national disgrace that both the United States and South Korea have allowed their own citizens to languish in China’s jails for the crime of helping North Korean refugees. South Korea should not only be demanding that China release Choi Yong Hun, but it should be demanding that China stop trafficking Korean woman, terrorizing fellow Koreans and sending them back to North Korea to face certain torture and even death.
Instead South Korea should be making every effort to stand up for its suffering brothers and sisters and use the great trade relations and growing friendship it has with China to make the case that great economic benefits could come to China if reform came to North Korea. A free North Korea will need electricity, roads, and infrastructure, new industry – all the very things the North Korean defectors are designing the plans for to bring to their homeland once it is free.
CONCLUSION: WHAT WE MUST DO
Our priorities must be to save the refugees, to support and empower the North Korean defectors, to pressure China to stop its violence against the North Korean refugees, and to reach out to the North Korean people.
First, we must make human rights for North Koreans the central part of any discussions, any negotiations at every level and at every venue. We should continue to raise the human rights issue every time we talk about North Korea and become dissidents for North Koreans, we must be their voices. North Korea does not have dissidents within their border because the repression there is among the worst the world has ever seen. Hence, we need to be their dissidents. We need to be their voice.
These are our brothers and sisters and we should do everything we can to let them know that we care about them and that all we want for them is freedom and food. We must do all we can to achieve this for them because we should not allow this genocide to continue against an innocent population whose only misfortune was to be born in this hellish country. Defectors will tell you that even the regime of Kim Jong-il is not immune from the outcries of the international community about the repression of his own people.
To save the refugees, we must demand that China honor its international commitments and end its violent repatriation policy. We must make it in China’s economic interest to comply with this request . China wants to be a world leader, why are we allowing it to cause the most avoidable human rights tragedy occurring in the world today? Why are we allowing a country that will host the Olympic Games in 2008, a celebration of goodwill among nations, to terrorize its starving neighbors while jailing the humanitarian workers who want to feed and shelter them?
We must also commend the hundreds of Chinese citizens who have been part of the underground railroad, who have sheltered, fed, and hidden North Korean refugees at their own risk of fines and imprisonment.
Additionally, we need to 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 must end all food aid to North Korea unless we are there to see it consumed. North Korean refugees in China tell us that they never saw any humanitarian aid. Well-respected humanitarian organizations, as well as North Korean defectors from every walk of life, have confirmed repeatedly that food aid is diverted.
I fully support humanitarian aid. Back in 1999, I called for the airlifting of humanitarian aid into North Korea so we could reach the areas that were being cut off.
However, if we are not ensuring that the intended recipients are getting this food aid, than we are simply becoming a party to the subjugation and repression and continual suffering of the North Korean people.
Let’s challenge one of the goals of the sunshine policy and propose that humanitarian aid instead be delivered by South Korean and Korean American family members. Let these families bring the aid to their relatives in North Korea.
We need to reach out to the North Korean people by getting as much information into North Korea as possible by sending in radios, newspapers, magazines and by supporting programs like Free North Korea Radio, Radio Free Asia, and begin re-broadcasting South Korean programs into North Korea. Through these programs, we should let the North Korean people know that we care about them, that we have been trying to get food aid to them but their "dear leader" has been diverting it for his own use.
We know that while many defectors tell us they never saw any humanitarian aid, fifty percent said they had listened to foreign radio broadcasts.
In conclusion, I hope that you will become involved helping save the North Korean people. I believe that after working on this issue now for ten years that the tide is finally turning and that change will be coming to North Korea.
I hope you will 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.