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Bush Institute Forum Makes Case to New Administration For Human Rights In North Korea Policy
Nearly 400 people gathered at the Bush Center in Dallas, Texas for Light Through the Darkness: A Forum on Freedom in North Korea. Featuring sitting members of Congress, policy experts, and North Korean freedom advocates, the forum sent a clear message to the incoming Trump Administration on the need to integrate human rights and security issues in its North Korea policy, and to support a growing community of North Korean refugees in the United States.
These ideas composed the backbone of two new reports released by the Bush Institute. The first, Light Through The Darkness: Toward a New Policy and Strategy for North Korea, lays out core principles of national security strategy for North Korea, and embeds actionable items that both establish and integrate human rights in a new policy approach. The second, Education and Employment Among U.S.-Based North Koreans, is a qualitative study of the challenges and opportunities faced by North Korean refugees in the United States.
President George W. Bush opened the forum by condemning the Kim regime and its treatment of the North Korean people, calling it “the greatest, sustained humanitarian challenge of our time,” and describing the totalitarian state as “a prison, run by a sadistic warden.”
Indeed, the Kim regime controls every aspect of North Korean society. As President Bush explained, “the North Korean people have suffered decades of oppression, and famine, and violence. By controlling access to the broader world, the North Korean government has tried to make this nightmare seem normal to its victims.”
Grace Jo, a North Korean refugee and freedom advocate living in Maryland, discussed why she is committed to exposing the Kim regime’s atrocities to the world. “The current Holocaust is happening in North Korea…This is why we feel it is our mission and it’s important for us to tell our stories.”
A powerful theme that emerged from the forum was the North Korean people’s great potential. As President Bush put it, “some argue that the spirit of the North Korean people has been beaten into submission so total that opposition is unthinkable. We don’t believe that here. The desire for freedom, like the dignity of the person, is universal.”
For this reason, the Bush Institute announced a new scholarship program for North Korean refugees living in the United States. The program will support escapees in pursuing a range of educational opportunities and help them realize their potential.
I was fortunate to meet the courageous group of refugees who attended the forum. One of them, her eyes beaming with pride, told me, “I thank God every day that I’m in the United States.” She had escaped a hellish existence in North Korea and managed to build a better life in the United States. Despite her new found opportunities, she hasn’t forgotten her people and hopes to help those still trapped in North Korea.
By helping North Korean refugees build new lives we bring all North Koreans closer to freedom. Refugees who become productive citizens are empowered to send remittances and information back into North Korea. This act ultimately chips away at the regime’s control over society. It also creates a cadre of professionals and experts who may one day facilitate change in North Korea.
The new Administration must seriously pursue a North Korea policy that integrates human rights and security, while also supporting North Korean refugees at home. As this forum demonstrated, both are tied to the United States’ long-term national security interests.
Christopher Walsh serves as Senior Program Manager for the Human Freedom and Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight.
Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.
A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.Full Bio
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