The United States Mission to the United Nations hosted "Victims' Voices: A Conversation on North Korean Human Rights," a panel of testimonies from North Korean defectors at the United Nations headquarters in New York on April 30 at 10:30 AM.
Delegates from each country, 30 defectors, leaders of Korean human rights organizations, and international press were present. Joseph Kim, Jin-Hye Jo, and Hye-Sook Kim testified regarding the human rights conditions in North Korea.
Hye-Sook Kim shared that she was taken to a concentration camp at the age of 13 without being told of any reason that she was arrested, and was sentenced to forced labor for 16 hours each day for 28 years. Once Kim was released from the camp, she learned that the reason she was arrested was that her grandfather had defected from the country. Kim, who did not even know her grandfather's face, shared the experiences she had as she had to spend her youth and almost 30 years of her life as a slave, barely surviving from starvation.
Joseph Kim said that his family constantly lacked food to eat, and as a result, his mother and sister fled to China. Kim, who became homeless as a result, shared his experiences of childhood on the streets.
"North Korea may be a country that is isolated, and one in which communication with the outside world is cut off," Joseph Kim said. "But even in such a dark place as North Korea, if we come together, we can shed a light in this place."
"So many people died of starvation in North Korea," he continued. "Please grant freedom to the North Korean people to speak for themselves, and share the pain that they are enduring."
Jin-Hye Jo detailed the destitute conditions in which the North Korean people live, and the families that are dying due to poverty and lack of food.
"Before my grandmother passed away, something she said was, 'If only I tasted just one steamed potato.' And even today, the people in North Korea are enduring suffering from poverty," Jo said.
After the testimonies of the three defectors, diplomats from each country responded saying there is a need to pressure the North Korean government internationally to improve human rights conditions in the regime. To note, one of the delegates of the DPRK interrupted the panel session to read a speech that criticized the panel meeting, and left, accompanied by one of the UN's security officers.
This panel was one of the activities of the North Korea Freedom Week (NKFW), which took place from April 26 to May 2, a series of events that took place mostly in Washington, D.C., to spread awareness of the human rights issues in North Korea.