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North Korea is one of the most secretive regimes in the world. But this week, we get a glimpse inside its sprawling prison complex thanks to a new report that is based, in part, on interviews with more than 210 North Korean defectors. The report, according to the English language Korea Herald, found that there are more than 130,000 political prisoners living in five squalid labor camps and thousands of others crammed into other facilities across the country. These prisoners suffer harsh treatment and malnutrition and live in deplorable conditions. These findings – released by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights – are in line with and seem relatively conservative compared to reports released by Amnesty International. In May, that organization released satellite images that suggest that the North’s labor camps may be expanding, and it also estimates that the regime is holding something close to 200,000 of its 24.5 million people as political prisoners. As discouraging as such reports might be, they are also critically important. Victor Cha, a professor at Georgetown and former director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council, explained recently how spotlighting human rights abuses can pressure even regimes as repressive as the one that controls North Korea. He noted that several years ago the United States created a special envoy for human rights in North Korea, a simple act that forced South Korea, Japan, and other nations to question whether they were doing enough to expose abuses in North Korea. The United States also turned up the heat on the North with another simple act. In 2005, President George W. Bush met with Kang Chol Hwan, a North Korean gulag survivor and co-author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang, and then released a photo of the two of them shaking hands. That photo “spread like wildfire across the entire world,” Cha said. Soon enough, “people in Asia were asking, ‘Well, why doesn’t our government have a North Korean Human Rights Envoy?’” The power of that question stems from basic assumptions: that every human life has value and that every person yearns to be free. Those are the same assumptions that lead us to feel anguish over severe human rights abuses. Spotlighting such abuses compels free peoples to insist that all human life be treated as precious.
Amanda Schnetzer is Director of Global Initiatives at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. In this role, she is responsible for developing innovative research, programmatic, and policy efforts to advance societies rooted in political and economic freedom and to empower women to lead in their communities and countries. Previously she served as the Bush Institute’s founding director of the Human Freedom Initiative.
Amanda has twenty years of experience in the international arena and a background in public policy research and analysis, public affairs, and management of diverse, high-level stakeholders. As senior fellow and director of studies at Freedom House in New York, Amanda guided research for the organization’s definitive studies of freedom. She began her career at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, supporting research on U.S. foreign policy and international politics. Amanda is a published writer and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and Southern Methodist University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
Chinese Prisoner’s Death Holds a Message for Americans and China
Liu Xiaobo, China’s most prominent dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner died this week. His death holds a message for Americans and for China.
Release of Chinese Political Prisoner a Timely Reminder to Support Freedom Advocates Abroad
More than half the world’s population still lives in countries where basic political rights and civil liberties are only partly respected, if at all.
Bringing Freedom to the Forefront of 21st Century Politics
Is the global liberal democratic order in danger? Purposefully constructed in the aftermath of World War II, this order -- and the American leadership that is central to its success --has contributed to securing peace and expanding prosperity in the United States and around the world. Today, that order appears to be dissolving. This crisis is not new or sudden; it has been mounting for several years. Global challenges like authoritarian capitalism, violent extremism, demographic pressures, and displaced populations have placed global freedom in decline. Fraying traditional alliances united by core values of freedom are increasingly weak to respond. It is alarming that the downdraft in democratic resilience over the past decade or more includes countries that have long been part of the consolidated democratic West. This is democratic deconsolidation. In much of the Western world, we see a rise in demagogic populism, illiberalism, nationalism, protectionism, and waning conf
The Importance of Speaking Truth to Tyrants
What the president of the United States says matters. Even during the realpolitik policies of détente under Richard Nixon, it was still clear that American policy was based on a set of core values. Nixon’s practical goals of reaching deals with America’s adversaries was never based on the “great chemistry” with himself or praising the Soviet or Communist Chinese leadership doing a “fantastic job.” When the president aligns himself with the autocrats and dictators, he aligns America with their oppression. He sends a message that corruption and brutality are not our concern. Contrast that with how Ronald Reagan defied much of world opinion in calling out the brutality of the Soviet system. Natan Sharansky, then a refusenik imprisoned in a Soviet gulag, later wrote for the Weekly Standard of his thoughts on Reagan’s pronouncement that the USSR was an evil empire: “It was the great, brilliant moment whe