On Tuesday, the Heritage Foundation held two panels in Washington D.C. for the topic of human rights violations in North Korea. The focus of the panels were based on an inquiry report made by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry.
The first panel started out by explaining the importance of the U.N. report, which was an authoritative source on the violations occurring in North Korea. The inquiry labeled the North Korean government as committing “systemic, widespread, and gross violations of human rights." These crimes were on such great a level that it deemed North Korean as committing crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, not much has been done after the publication of the report, which was a year ago. Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow of Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, stated that the Obama administration has done little to address the human rights violations in North Korea.
"If we know of these crimes, and we acknowledge these crimes, and we do nothing, it means the report means nothing," said Suzanne Scholte who moderated the first panel. "Today's session is about what do we need to do in light of the fact that crimes against humanity are being committed in North Korea as we are sitting here today." Scholte is the chair of the North Korean Freedom Coalition and the President of the Defense Forum Foundation.
The first panel members included Kim Seong-min the founder and director of Free North Korea Radio, Choi Jeong-hun commander of North Korea People's Liberation Front, Lee So-yeon a representative of the New Korea Women's Alliance, and Park Kun-ha a representative of the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity. The four leaders are all defectors of North Korea.
Kim Seong-min spoke first. He shared his background as a native of North Korea, explaining that his father, a professor, was purged as a revisionist by the North Korean government. Kim defected in 1996 to China, but was repatriated; he escaped while he was on a train back to North Korea to be executed. After he jumped off the train and found himself alive, Kim promised to dedicate the rest of his life to something meaningful. Kim later established Free North Korea Radio in 2004, which has shared a message of freedom to those still in North Korea. The radio has broadcasted every day without fail for the past decade.
Despite difficulty the radio station faced, such as protests and threats by pro North Korea groups, Kim says that the struggles "prove that this radio is necessary for the North Korean people." He explained that what the nation of North Korea needs for change is not "bread or milk," but nourishment for their minds. The North Korean people are "mentally enslaved by the North Korean regime," he said. Though food is important the North Korean people need to be told of their humanity.
"We need to tell them that 'you are a human just like us, you are a free person who has rights,'" said Kim.
Kim hopes to share this message of human rights to North Koreans through his broadcast. Information censorship is the most powerful tool of the North Korean regime, he says. Allowing the North Korean people to "compare" their lives with those outside of the nation will spur a revolution, argues Kim.
The rest of the panel shared their stories, personal accounts, and recommendations for liberating the North Korean people. In the second panel, Jared Genser shared his views on the human rights violations in North Korea. Genser is the managing director at Perseus Strategies and founder of Freedom Now.
"If we look back 15 years, we only had the first defectors coming out of North Korea, refugees coming out of North Korea and finding themselves in Seoul back in the year 2000. There were a hundred or less. Today, we have 25-30,000 or more. And back then we knew that things were terrible in North Korea, but we did not have the data or the information or the stories to be able to explain how bad things really were in North Korea," he said.
Ginser stated that there has been a large increase in the amount of reports and focus on North Korea and its human rights violations.
"Although I do not believe that this has had a great impact on the life of the average North Korean person, in terms of engaging the international community we have come, actually, a very long way," he said.
Roberta Cohen a nonresident senior fellow at the Brooklings Institutions and Co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and Lee Sung-yoon a Professor in Korean Studies at the Fletcher School in Tufts University were also on the panel.
The panels sponsored by the Heritage Foundation were held during the 12th annual North Korea Freedom Week. Some North Korean defector leaders will address Congress later this week. The activism of North Korean defectors has allowed for great progress in human rights advocacy for the nation, says the Heritage Foundation.