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A Taste of Justice for the North Korean People
On November 18, the North Korean people were finally treated to a morsel of justice. With a vote of 111 to 19 (notable dissenters included China, Cuba, Iran, and Russia), a United Nations committee called on the Security Council to take action against North Korea for its systematic human rights violations. They include maintaining city-sized gulags, enforced poverty, torture, executions, and a total lack of basic freedoms for its people. Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person to have been born in a North Korean political prison camp and escape, was present for the landmark decision.
Since the publishing of Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14, Shin has become the face of North Korean human rights. Born to parents who were imprisoned in one of North Korea’s notorious gulags, Shin was expected to live and die in the camp where he experienced forced labor, torture, mutilation and beatings. He was even witness to the execution of his mother and brother. Since escaping, his story has exposed the horrors of North Korea like never before.
Posting on his Facebook page after the UN vote, Shin expressed hopefulness at the outcome:
“The dictator and [North Korean] officials tried so hard to turn down the resolution through myriad efforts. They put my dad in the media, and broadcasted [that] my life is a complete lie, threatened me and my family, and [the] list is exhaustive....However, I am grateful to say that we... have won. We are seeing the end.”
China’s expected veto in the Security Council will likely derail UN efforts to punish North Korea in the short-term. Yet free countries around the world cannot be deterred from improving the human condition in North Korea. They can do this by continuing to expose the regime’s crimes, supporting refugees that have already escaped, and integrating human rights into mainstream North Korea policy.
In an interview with the Bush Center, Ambassador Jung-hoon Lee, the South Korean Envoy for Human Rights, suggested this approach is already having an effect on Pyongyang, saying:
“Whatever the United Nations is doing…Whatever the international community is doing…It’s working. So this is not the time to make compromises…Stay the course. We believe there could be improvement in the human rights condition but the international community has to remain very firm.”
Let Shin Dong-hyuk and the millions of suffering North Koreans serve as motivation to stay the course.
Christopher Walsh is the Program Coordinator for Human Freedom.
Q&A with North Korean escapee Peter Oh
Peter Oh is a 2019 North Korea Freedom Scholarship recipient who is pursuing his master’s degree in international policy and practice at George Washington University. He and his younger brother escaped North Korea in 2000 in search for food. He lived in China for three years before seeking asylum in South Korea with the help of Christian missionaries. He became a reporter for Radio Free Asia in Seoul and in 2010 was transferred to the Washington, D.C. office to report on North Korean issues.
Q&A with North Korean escapee Debby Kim
Debby Kim, a two-time North Korea Freedom Scholarship recipient, is a sophomore biochemistry major at Wheaton College in Illinois and an aspiring doctor. She escaped North Korea when she was 13 years old.
Q&A with North Korean escapee LK*
LK, a three-time North Korea Freedom Scholarship recipient, is an electrical and computer engineering student at a university in Illinois. A former member of the North Korean Army, LK remains anonymous to protect family members still living in North Korea.