From 10,000 feet, you can’t see North Korea but you can see the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), where my wife Margaret and I, through our organization The Forerunner Project, presented with CIGI, Behind Closed Doors – The Human Rights Crisis in North Korea.
How did we get involved in Human Rights in North Korea? It all started when we reviewed a film for the Forerunner Film Festival called “Seoul Train” which documented the underground railroad which had sprung up among Christian groups in China to help North Koreans escape the country. The film followed a small group of defectors as they made their way to the border of North Korea and into China. It also followed 4 adults and two children whose strategy of escape was to storm the Japanese embassy in Pyongyang. The most compelling and life changing scenes for us came as 2 adults made it through the barrier but two women and their children were repelled by the North Korean police. This was not just a failed bid for freedom. Attempting to defect is a crime in North Korea for which the defectors will be tortured and executed. Later in the film, it is revealed that the defectors and their underground railroad ‘connection’ who went into China were arrested. It has been the policy of China to deny North Koreans refugee status and to return them knowing they will be imprisoned and starved to death. Extreme hunger makes going double or nothing on escaping their only hope.
And so, we offered a moment of silence to commemorate the lives of more than 1.5 million North Koreans who were systematically starved to death by their government. It was our way of showing respect and honour for the people of North Korea whose sinister government has disregarded, disrespected and has systematically and intentionally starved millions of their own people.
Behind Closed Doors featured renowned experts on human rights and was aimed at raising awareness of the atrocities taking place in North Korea – a country widely regarded as the worst human rights offender in the world.
“It’s a land where only the very fittest survive. Starvation, horrific living conditions and brainwashing from birth are constant realities; and attempting to escape across the border results in execution if caught,” said Dr. Howard-Hassmann, the Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights Department of Global Studies and Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University. Other participants in the event included online commentator, Dr. David Hawk (NYC), whose most recent book, “The Hidden Gulag – Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps (Second Edition)”, is regarded as the most comprehensive report on North Korea’s “slave labour camps”.
Kim Hye Sook is among only 3 people known to have escaped the North Korean prison camps. She was imprisoned at age 13 and spent 28 years in the gulag for a crime of which her grandfather was accused. Her drawings, on display in the CIGI auditorium lobby, depicted the horrors of slave camp life, the most notable of which was her 9 meter by 2 meter (30’ x 6’) map of Bukchang camp.
Mr. Kyung B. Lee, founder of “The Council for Human Rights in North Korea”, advocated for the UN to launch a “Commission of Inquiry” into the human rights abuses in North Korea and to also invoke the “Responsibility to Protect (R2P)” resolution. R2P requires the international community to intervene when a nation’s government can’t or won’t protect and provide for its citizens. Even though it is the law, no one seems willing to challenge North Korea and its ally, China.
Escapee/defector Young Hee Kim (an assumed name), with her face and head covered to disguise her identity, testified of the horrific trials she endured. North Korea’s policy of “Guilt by Association” punishes the families of defectors and other crimes to the 3rd generation. Young Hee Kim’s gripping story told how 1/3 of her neighbours died of starvation and how she, to her shame, was reduced to stealing food to survive. Young recounted tearfully, how her husband would cross into China to get food and medicine, but was eventually caught, resulting in his imprisonment, torture, starvation and death.
During the Kim dynasty period (1948 – present), approximately 4.7 million people have been imprisoned in North Korea. Currently, there are more than 200,000 political prisoners in the slave camps. The North Korean government denies that these camps exist but satellite pictures prove otherwise. These prisoners face torture and starvation for “defying” their country. They are fed based on the amount of work that they do; the diabolic irony is that they are extremely malnourished and therefore unable to do much work.
It is estimated that the late leader Kim Jung-Il (1994 – 2011), legally declared“Supreme Leader”, was responsible for starving more than a million and a half of his own people, while he spent 6 billion dollars developing nuclear arms. Though he was portrayed as a god in North Korea, his “Military First” policy has diverted western aid to the elite class leaving more than 6 million people at risk of starvation. Every day, 100-200 people are found dead of starvation on the streets of Pyongyang, the capital. Dr. Howard-Hassmann has called it “state induced famine” something she is working to have classified as genocide in international law.
“Totalitarian regimes are built on lies and can be damaged, even destroyed, when those lies are exposed. The greater and more detailed evidence that can be provided, the more damage the truth can do.” Dr. David Hawk
What Can We Do? We are small and without power, but we know that the truth is very powerful and we intend to spread it and you can, too. Please pass this article along to others. You can also join the common voice of those who insist on change by signing a petition at: www.theforerunnerproject.com